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Discover Eritrea: Highlands & Dahlak Archipelago of The Horn of Africa



  • 11 Oct
  • -
  • 19 Oct 2024
  • |
  • 9 days


per person

Availability: 12 places

    A land abundant in cultural diversity and contrasting landscapes, Eritrea is without doubt one of Eastern Africa’s most intriguing and compelling gems. From the rich coastal waters of the Red Sea to the fertile slopes of the Eritrean Highlands, this is a destination with old-style adventure written all over it. Largely undiscovered, its unique mix of natural and ethnic highlights make for a perfect off-beat destination.

    Beginning amongst the captivating Art Deco architecture of its capital, Asmara, we’ll have time to explore this charming World Heritage city before departing for the ethnically diverse landscapes around Keren. After a visit to the town’s famous livestock market we then head for Barentu, whose tribal and religious contrasts provide us with some of the most authentic experiences of our journey.

    Heading next to the Red Sea coast we then travel out to the idyllic islands of the Dahlak Archipelago, where we spend two nights "wild glamping" Eritrean-style amongst the protected landscapes of the Dahlak Marine National Park. The drive back to Asmara then takes us through some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the country - an inspiring end to a quite remarkable journey.

    Day 1

    DAY 1: Tour Starts In Asmara

    Eritrea’s surprisingly enticing capital lies at the tip of an escarpment on the north-western edge of the Eritrean Highlands. Home to a captivating assembly of stunningly preserved modernistic architecture and Art Deco design, it can lay claim to being the first modernist city anywhere on the planet to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety. Due to the arrival times of our suggested flights, accommodation for this night is included in the tour cost. Those on the suggested group flight will arrive in the early hours of Day 2.

    Day 2

    DAY 2: In & Around Asmara

    Today we will start to explore the jewel of Eritrea, Asmara. One of the most entrancing cities in Africa and crammed full of Italian architectural gems of the 1930s it is a city of a bygone era. One iconic building that defines most of the notable Italian-era buildings in Asmara is the former petrol station, Fiat Tagliero building, one of the most photographed structures in the city. We will also get to visit two of the most prominent religious landmarks of the city, Asmara cathedral and Nda Mariam Coptic Church. Asmara Cathedral, thought to be one of the finest Lombard-Romanesque style churches outside of Italy, is a useful landmark for the city as its tall Gothic bell tower is visible from any viewpoint. A combination of Eritrean and Italian religious styles can also be found in the Nda Mariam Coptic Church, rebuilt by Ernesto-Gallo in 1920 it houses an impressive mosaic structure depicting various religious scenes. We'll finish our day with a visit to the cemetery of Asmara a place filled with light, colour and sound and one of the most important places to gain a historical insight into the Italian influence in Eritrea.

    Day 3

    DAY 3: Asmara - Keren

    Subject to (admittedly erratic) availability we hope this morning to be able to take a short but stunning journey on-board Eritrea’s famed Asmara - Massawa railway. With construction having begun in 1897, the line dates back to the times of Eritrea’s colonial past and is considered an engineering marvel. If the train is not running, we will have more time to discover some of Asmara’s charms before, in any case, departing for the mountain city of Keren. Lying to the north-west, surrounded by an encircling ring of granite mountains, Eritrea’s second largest city plays host to the mainly Muslim tribes of the Bilen and Tigre people. A key battleground in both the Second World War and the more recent Eritrean War of Independence, the city can boast a number of interesting attractions including a 19th century fort, its former colonial railway station and the nearby 6th century Debre Sina Monastery.

    Day 4

    DAY 4: Keren - Barentu

    Before we leave Keren today – and one of our main reasons for coming here - we’ll pay a visit to the town’s famous weekly camel and livestock market, which sees villagers from across the highlands descending on the town every Monday morning to barter and banter with equal enthusiasm. An authentic slice of Eritrean life, the sounds, and smells, of Keren’s bustling market provides a chaotic and colourful highlight. From here we then head for the rich growing country around the town of Barentu, the capital of the north-western Gash-Barka region. On arrival in this region, which has only recently been able to be accessed by foreign visitors, we plan (subject to local permissions) to head out to a Kunama village before enjoying dinner locally.

    Day 5

    DAY 5: Barentu - Asmara

    A fascinating mix of indigenous and religious traditions, Barentu is largely home to the Kunama and Nara peoples. In recent years the town has grown to become a thriving hub for trade and the nearby market in Mogolo has become one of the largest in the region for the semi-nomadic Nara, who are particularly well-known for their skills with basketwork and saddlery. The afternoon then sees us retracing our steps to Asmara by road, to spend another evening back in the capital.

    Day 6

    DAY 6: Asmara - Massawa - Dahlak Archipelago

    This morning’s destination is the port city of Massawa, located on Eritrea’s Red Sea coast. Once the capital of the Italian Colony of Eritrea, and reputedly one of the hottest places on earth, the city is our gateway into the rich island diversity of the Dahlak Archipelago. Famed since Roman times for their pearl fisheries and home to an abundance of marine and bird life, the islanders of Dahlak were amongst the first in the Horn of Africa to embrace Islam in the 7th century. Accessible only by boat and rarely experienced by visitors to the country, the Dahlak Archipelago offers a unique opportunity to discover a Red Sea culture and a landscape very different from that available from better known Egypt.

    Day 7

    DAY 7: Dahlak Archipelago

    Encompassing part of the Dahlak Marine National Park, the archipelago and its surrounding waters are a haven for dolphins, dugongs, sharks and turtles, as well as large numbers of seabirds and some 325 different species of fish. Enjoying the simple rustic charms of an island camp, we aim to spend our time here embracing the unique character of these islands, with a chance for swimming and snorkeling in the clear waters, island visits and interaction with the locals.

    Day 8

    DAY 8: Dahlak Archipelago - Asmara

    At some 2,325 metres above sea level, Asmara is reputed to be the sixth highest capital in the world by altitude and the road back today takes us through some of the country’s most contrasting landscapes. From the coastal deserts of the Red Sea we head back up towards the highlands around the capital, passing through valleys, desert and bush as we meander our way back up towards the rocky plateau that separates the western lowlands from the eastern coastal plains. This evening we will have our final dinner as a group in Asmara, before those on the suggested group flights transfer to the airport for their flight departing in the early hours of Day 9.

    Day 9

    DAY 9: Tour Ends In Asmara

    Those on the suggested group flight will be transferred to the airport in the very early hours of the morning. For those with later flights the tour will end this morning after breakfast.