A fantastic insight to this little visited corner of Africa, this tour allows you to discover the highlights of the country. We start and end with the charming capital Asmara, at 2,300m pleasant at any time of the year. You will have plenty of time to check out some of the Italian style cafes and bars before we head north to Keren, famous for its Monday camel market. Next we travel towards the Red Sea Coast and the city of Massawa, a place with an engaging, exotic character and a delight to explore. Returning to the capital, we make an excursion to the interesting town of Decamhare and also the historical site of Quohaito. A great trip through a truly exciting part of Africa.
Fitness ●●○○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●○○○
- Discover the amazing Art Deco architecture of Asmara, one of the most charming cities on the African continent.
- Visit the highland town of Keren and its famous camel market and a British War Cemetery
- Travel to the Red Sea coast and evocative Massawa with its Ottoman heritage
- Visit the archaeological site of Quohaito which legends say was built during the time of Queen Sheba, in approximately 750BC.
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.
Day 1 - Asmara
Arrive in Asmara and transfer from the airport to your hotel. Overnight Sunshine Hotel or similar.
Day 2 – Asmara
Explore beautiful Asmara on a city tour to see many examples of Art Deco architecture dating from the Italian period, and enjoy the perfect year round climate by taking a cappuccino at one of the many outdoor cafes. Overnight Sunshine Hotel or similar. (B)
Asmara is renowned as one of the most pleasant cities in Africa, situated on the edge of an escarpment on the Rift Valley and Eritrean Highlands. Founded in the 12th century, it originally consisted of four villages, and by the 16th century had become a significant city. Its name derives from these original villages, being an Italianised version of the ‘four united’ villages. It gained prominence when in the 19th century, a local governor appointed by the Ethiopian ruler moved his capital there and established and important marketplace. In 1889 Asmara was occupied by Italian forces bent on creating an African empire, and was developed greatly, later with many superb examples of Art Deco architecture, many of which remain today. Asmara in the 1930s had a sizeable Italian community, but almost nothing of it remains today. After the Italians were pushed out of the country during the Second World War, Asmara was administered by the British before Eritrea was effectively transferred to the rule of Ethiopia. Asmara today, with its elegant palm lined streets, is a great place to wander around, taking in the old Art Deco buildings as well as admiring the numerous other styles of early 20th century architecture, such as the futuristic Fiat Tagliero building. You can also take a ride on one of the traditional horse and carts that still ply the streets. It also has a great market and is dotted with small Italian style cafes where it is possible to grab a cappuccino and lazily watch the world go by. Unlike many other towns in Eritrea, it was largely undamaged during the thirty year war for independence against Ethiopia.
Day 3 - Keren
Today we leave the capital and head north through the highlands past steep terraces of coffee and orange groves to Keren, set on a plateau at 1392m surrounded by dusty ochre mountains. One of the country's most attractive towns, Keren is also the heart of Eritrea's agricultural community. Visits include Keren’s popular markets, including one for livestock and camels, which attracts traders from a wide area. Overnight Sarina Hotel or similar. (BL)
Keren, whose name means ‘highland’, was once a small town, but developed quickly with the advent of the railway linking it to Asmara. Known as one of Eritrea’s prettiest towns, it wasn’t all roses for Keren – during both World War Two and the war for independence, Keren was the scene of much conflict including one of the fiercest battles of Britain’s fight against fascist Italy. Today it contains an interesting British War Cemetery as well as the Italian style railway station, and is overlooked by an old Egyptian fort dating back to the 19th century. It has an overtly Muslim feel to the town and is inhabited by a number of Eritrea’s different ethnic groups. The pace of life here is best reflected in the way that camels and donkeys still outnumber cars.
Day 4 - Keren
Today we will continue with tour of Keren focusing on the historical and architectural areas of the town. We will visit Mariam Da’arit a statue of Mary inside a baobab tree, The British and Italian cemeteries from Second World War and the architectural buildings that shows the creativity and beauty of the Italian era. Overnight Sarina hotel or similar (B)
Day 5 – Massawa
We continue from Keren to the Red Sea Coast and the city of Massawa. Our leisurely drive will take us through Filfil, home to Eritrea’s last remnant of tropical forest. It forms part of the Semenawai Bahri or ‘Green Belt’ area and, amid the arid starkness of the surrounding landscape, rises up oasis-like before you, cool, lush and verdant. It is also one of the best places in the country to see birds and mammals. There is a good chance of spotting vervet monkeys and hamadryas baboons. Overnight Grand Dahlak Hotel or similar. (BL)
Massawa has very much of an Arab feel to it, reflecting its trading links with the Arabian Peninsula. It consists of two islands connected to the mainland by a causeway, and is the largest natural deep-water port on the Red Sea. With its strategic position on the Red Sea Coast, it was much coveted by foreign powers and has been occupied by the Portuguese, Arabs, Egyptians, Turks, British and Italians. Originally it was the capital of Italian Eritrea, before a decision was taken to move it to Asmara. It gained prominence back in the 16th century when it was captured by Ottoman forces, who developed the old town using traditional Ottoman architectural styles, often with coral instead of bricks. Many of these old buildings remain today. One of the delights of Massawa is exploring its narrow streets, chancing upon old mosques, tombs and merchants’ houses dating back several centuries, and giving you a real feel for what the town was like in its heyday.
Day 6 – Massawa /Excursion to Adulis and the Gulf of Zula
Visit the ancient port of Adulis- one of the ancient ports once numbering among the greatest ports of the ancient world with links to the Roman, Egyptian and Greek Empires. From there continue to the Gulf of Zula - a deep cleft in Eritrea's coastline which is the birthplace of the Great Rift Valley on the African continent. Return to Massawa at noon. Spend the rest of the day exploring Massawa. Stroll among the many white Turkish, Egyptian and Italian buildings and through the maze of narrow alleyways to soak up the atmosphere and maybe sample some of the mouth-watering seafood available. Overnight Grand Dahlak Hotel or similar. (BL)
Day 7 – Asmara
Return to Asmara, with more time to explore the capital upon arrival. Overnight Sunshine Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 8 –Decamhare to Adikeyih
Travel to Decamhare, a charming town once called secondo Roma (Second Rome) designed to be the transport hub of the Italian Empire in the Horn of Africa. It was once a favourite settlement of the Italians and contains some good examples of old colonial architecture. The town was built by the Italians, planned to be the industrial capital of Eritrea. It was a favourite settlement of the Italians by all account and was a beautiful town. Then continue to Adikeyih passing by the beautiful sycamore valley and stay overnight there. Overnight Central hotel or similar. (BL)
Day 9 – Adikeyih – Qohaito – Senafe
Quohaito is the archaeological and historical site located about 20km from Adikeyih. It is 2600 meters above sea level and 121Km south of Asmara. As legends say, it was built during the time of Queen Sheba, approximately 750BC. The historical relics include an engraved stele 4-5 meters high and buildings of Axumite period and many cave writing and tombs. We will continue further north to a town called Senafe, close to the border and we have a chance to visit the second largest mountain in Eritrea. Overnight Sunshine hotel. (B)
Day 10 – Asmara
Free time to explore further until your transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes