Secretive and downtrodden, and in a state of seemingly endless quarrel with their sworn enemies (and former occupiers) in neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea is perceived as too unstable to make it onto many traveler’s itineraries. The border districts are certainly best left alone, but – despite a dubious reputation – most visitors report that the remainder of the country is peaceful, welcoming and, unsurprisingly, utterly devoid of tourists.
Capital Asmara has a Mediterranean feel to it, with abundant cafes spilling out onto the sidewalks, laid-back locals and sun-drenched streets. Wide, tree-lined boulevards and impressive architecture only add to the relaxing vibe. Massawa’s equally slow-paced lifestyle features whitewashed, arch-themed architecture and a beach reminiscent of many in the Middle East. It’s somewhat blighted by its derelict state, but look past that and you’ll see similarities to the scorching, luxury beaches of Dubai.
Outdoor types have plenty to enjoy, too. Head to the Dahlak Archipelago and you’ll find rarely dived on reefs, or climb to the hanging cliff-side monastery of Debre Libanos for some awe-inspiring views. At 2,500 meters you’ll find the degenerating ruins of Qohaito, tumbling pillars with views over seemingly endless craggy peaks and down into steep-sided valleys.
Down by the coast, The Deserts of Dangalia, are labeled by Lonely Planet as ‘some of the most inhospitable areas on earth, with a desolate magnetism’. Certainly not for the faint hearted, then, but they’re exceedingly memorable for it, and as the Eritrean part forms a strip only 50kms wide, you can always run to the nearby beaches to wash off the dust and recharge your batteries.
Even in the larger Eritrean cities, tourist numbers aren’t likely to be more than single figures, so if you’re a fan of the lone adventurer novelty treatment, you’ll love it. Off the beaten track travel here can be challenging, but - if you stay away from the Sudanese and Ethiopian borders - it’s safe, and locals are exceedingly welcoming. Which leaves one question: why not?