The East African nation of Eritrea lies along the Red Sea, just across from the Middle Eastern countries of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, giving it some 1200 kilomters of coastline. It also borders the African countries of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.
It has been said that Eritrea isn't one of the best places to backpack on the planet, but that's your call if you want to go. Human rights issues have been reported--amazing since the government has total control of the media but add to that the new social media sites like facebook and twitter and you can see where total control is now unrealalistic.
Eritrea is a small country, just about 117,000 square kilometers (around 45,000 square miles including its 350 islands) with a population of just about 6 million people. It was once part Ancient Egypt, dating to around 2500BC, lying along the East African Rift.
In the eastern part of the country you'll find it nothing but desert; whereas in the west it is a fertile land--and even has highlands, that can get downright chilly. It's OK if you get a bit cold, just find one of Eritrea's hot springs. If you speak Arabic, Italian, or English you'll get by quite nicely--although some health precautions are recommended since malaria and tuberculosis can be common.
Yes, Italian is widely spoken as the country used to be an Italian colony up until 1941. Italian influence is seen in the capital city of Asmara with its architecture and its small cafes that serve up Italian drinks and specialites. The only way to get into Eritrea by land is via Sudan; so long as you've got a passport (with at least 6 months on it) and a return ticket. You can get a visa upon arrival for US, United Kingdom, Canadian, South African, and New Zealand citizens.
Flights from Europe, Egypt, and other countries make it easy to at least get to fly into the country. Getting around in Eritrea isn't easy, as fuel is quite expensive so renting a car isn't a very good option. Trains make the best economical option. Besides, you don't need to drive--since you'll most likely be glued to the beaches that line the Red Sea. Keep a lookout for dolphins, sea turtles, and if you're a diver--the coral reefs are extraordinary. Another must-do in Eritrea is to see the local wildlife. There are some 530+ species of birds, as well as elephants, leopards, and lions.
Spiritual and history lovers will no doubt love the old churches and monasteries. While party-goers will appreciate the annual Film Festival and other events; even if some are religious events. Gourmands will love the Breakfast Houses, alled Bet Qursii in Asmara; and you'll always find the right accommodations since the city is filled with guest houses and hotels. Whatever you choose to do (or eat) please remember to respect local customs like not showing the soles of your shoes, or reaching for food with your left hand, and try to dress conservatively. Most importantly to know, homosexuality is illegal, subject to imprisonment if convicted. If you heed a few warnings, use some common sense, and don't mind not having access to private new media--you'll definitely enjoy your stay in Eritrea.
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