Eritrea Travel Information

Photo Eritrea was awarded to Ethiopia in 1952 as part of a federation. Ethiopia's annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a 30-year struggle for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean rebels defeating governmental forces; independence was overwhelmingly approved in a 1993 referendum. A border war with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 remains unresolved. The hot, dry desert strip along Red Sea coast; cooler and wetter in the central highlands (up to 61 cm of rainfall annually); semiarid in western hills and lowlands; rainfall heaviest during June-September except in coastal desert.

With independence from Ethiopia on 24 May 1993, Eritrea faced the economic problems of a small, desperately poor country. The economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, with 80% of the population involved in farming and herding. The small industrial sector consists mainly of light industries with outmoded technologies. Domestic output (GDP) is substantially augmented by worker remittances from abroad. Government revenues come from custom duties and taxes on income and sales. Road construction is a top domestic priority. In the long term, Eritrea may benefit from the development of offshore oil, offshore fishing, and tourism. Eritrea's economic future depends on its ability to master fundamental social and economic problems, e.g., by reducing illiteracy, promoting job creation, expanding technical training, attracting foreign investment, and streamlining the bureaucracy.

Traditionally, agriculture was the norm in the plateau region and in the north and west where rainfall was sufficient. In the drier coastal plain and the arid regions of the north and west, livestock raising predominated. Italian and British colonial policy in the 19th and early 20th centuries favored the production of raw materials for export. During this period, light industry was developed. By most accounts, Eritrea enjoyed a higher level of economic development than Ethiopia at the time of the 1952 federation. Ethiopia's annexation of Eritrea caused industrial expansion to be curtailed, and many factories were closed and moved to Ethiopia. After 1974, the Marxist government of Ethiopia placed most Eritrean industry under state control.

Most roads in Eritrea are in fair condition. The roads between the major cities of Asmara, Massawa, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Barentu, and Keren are paved and are in relatively good condition. However, the roads leading to the smaller villages are usually unpaved and in poor condition. Do not travel after dark in rural areas.

Many Eritreans make use of inexpensive public transportation, especially bus service. Avoid buses if at all possible due to the accident risks that come with extreme over-crowding. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive in Asmara, but they are also likely to be crowded with many passengers not wearing seatbelts. If an empty taxi is available, a customer may request a "contract," meaning that for a slightly higher price, the driver will not pick up additional passengers. This option increases comfort and safety for a small extra cost. The government of Eritrea introduced the country's new currency, the nafka, in November 1997. As of December 2000, only the airlines and one hotel in Asmara accept credit cards. Generally, foreigners must pay bills at major hotels in U.S. dollars or U.S. dollar-denomination traveler's checks.

Important: Travel to Eritrea may require a travel visa. Whether a visa is required for travel depends on citizenship and purpose of journey. Please be sure to review Travisa's Eritrea visa instructions for details. Visa instructions for other countries are available on our do I need a visa page.

Country Statistics

Full country name: State of Eritrea
Capital city: Asmara
Area: 117,600 sq km
Population: 6,086,495
Ethnic groups: nine recognized ethnic groups: Tigrinya 55%, Tigre 30%, Saho 4%, Kunama 2%, Rashaida 2%, Bilen 2%, other
Languages: Tigrinya
Religions: Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Government: transitional government
Chief of State: President ISAIAS Afworki
Head of Government: President ISAIAS Afworki
GDP: 4.037 billion
GDP per captia: 700
Annual growth rate: 8.7%
Inflation: 20%
Agriculture: sorghum, lentils, vegetables, corn, cotton, tobacco, sisal
Major industries: food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles, light manufacturing, salt, cement
Natural resources: gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, fish
Location: Eastern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan
Trade Partners - exports: Italy 30.5%, Sudan 24%, Saudi Arabia 8.8%, China 8.5%, UK 5.7%, Egypt 4.8%
Trade Partners - imports: Saudi Arabia 15.7%, Egypt 11.9%, China 11.1%, India 8.9%, Germany 7.2%, Italy 7.2%, South Africa 6.5%, Brazil 5.9%, South Korea 4.3%