Expert-Led Group Tour

Eritrea Group Tour - Inside Africa's Forgotten Kingdom

Departing 4th - 14th March 2020

11 days

from £2,995pp
  • Explore the charming capital city of Asmara, rebuilt as Africa's 'Little Rome' by Mussolini
  • Visit the low-lying Red Sea coast and the dramatic highlands
  • Admire Ottoman buildings, as well as Aksumite ruins, such as Qohaito
  • Discover a wonderfully friendly country that remains isolated after decades of war

Explore this nascent and isolated country, only officially recognised as independent from Ethiopia in the 1990s. From the Art Deco Italian architecture and Coptic churches of Asmara to the Aksumite ruins and dramatic canyons of Adi Keyh, Eritrea is alive with culture, history and natural beauty.

Begin in Asmara, with its out-of-place Italian feel and architecture. Spend time exploring this fascinating city, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, before escaping to the southern highlands, visiting the dramatically located ruins of Qohaito - once a thriving Aksumite settlement.

Return to Asmara for a trip aboard a colonial-era steam train - remarkably preserved and operating along a short but incredibly beautiful stretch of track. Then venture north, through the country’s highlands, to Keren. Famed for the decisive battle that took place here in World War Two, the city sits beneath mountain peaks. Arrive in time for the Monday market - a highlight of any visit.

From the mountains, drop down to the coast, to the historic port of Massawa – occupied for thousands of years. Here, board a boat on the Red Sea and spend a night camped on Dessei Island, in the idyllic Dahlak Archipelago. Also, visit the Aksumite-era port of Adulis, preserved beneath a flood of mud and sand. Finish by returning to Asmara and visiting its various churches.

WHY WE LIKE IT

Eritrea has not yet been on maps three decades, yet it has a rich history and culture dating back millennia. From the outside, it is often seen as an isolationist state, but the few who have visited talk only of the warmth and friendliness of the Eritrean people. This, combined with the Aksumite history and the Art Deco architecture of Asmara, make it an incredibly rewarding destination.

In October 2018, we successfully visited Eritrea for the first time. Read about Illona's experience here.

WILL IT BE SAFE?

Eritrea is a diamond in the rough and the areas we are visiting are deemed safe to travel to by the Foreign Office (at the time of writing) and the threat of terrorism is low. We are not travelling close to the borders of Sudan, Djibouti or Ethiopia.

HOW WILL I GET A VISA?

British nationals need a visa to enter Eritrea, and Steppes Travel will help provide the supporting documents for your application. There is an Eritrean embassy in London.

WHAT WILL THE ACCOMMODATION BE LIKE?

The quality of hotels in Eritrea is changeable. In every place, however, we have chosen the best available option. Rooms are generally clean and have en-suite bathrooms. The nicest hotel is easily the Albergo Italia is Asmara. Therefore, we have chosen to return here when feasible.

In contrast, the hotel in Adi Keyh is a local rest house, which is very basic with shared bathroom facilities. This is, unfortunately, the only available option, despite the proximity to some of Eritrea's most eye-catching landscapes.

WILL I NEED TO BE FIT?

You will need to be relatively fit, and will certainly need to be mobile. It is also essential that you are able to travel fairly light and manage your own luggage. There will be some walking involved, as well as the opportunity to swim and snorkel when on the boat.

WHAT WILL THE ROAD JOURNEYS BE LIKE?

The roads are largely asphalted, but may be quite bumpy and windy, making journeys slow and tiring. The days will sometimes be long and temperatures may vary, due to the difference in climate between the coast and highlands.



Departing on:
  • 4th March 2020

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

STARTFINISHPrice Excluding Flights £Flight cost fromSingle SupplementTour ExpertStatus 
4th Mar 2020 14th Mar 2020 £ 2,995 £ 700 £ 330 Local Eritrean Guide Available
  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • 1 night camping on Dessei Island
  • 1 night's accommodation in the Central Hotel
  • 1 night's accommodation in the Grand Dahlak Hotel
  • 3 nights' accommodation in the Sarina Hotel
  • 4 nights' accommodation in Albergo Italia
  • All meals whilst not in Asmara
  • All transportation with driver
  • Breakfasts in Asmara
  • Experienced English-speaking guide throughout
  • Travel permits and museum fees

what is excluded

  • Gratuities
  • Insurance
  • Lunches and dinners in Asmara
  • Visa

TO ALLOW FLEXIBILITY, OUR GROUP TOURS DO NOT INCLUDE INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS AS STANDARD. WE CAN ARRANGE INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS ON YOUR BEHALF AND THE ABOVE IS AN INDICATION OF COST, BASED ON RETURN FLIGHTS DEPARTING FROM LONDON. ALL INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS FROM THE UK ARE ATOL PROTECTED.

Itinerary at a glance

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Day 1

Suggested Group Flights
The suggested group flight for this tour is:

Ethiopian Airlines ET701, scheduled to depart London Heathrow at 21:00 on 3rd March, arriving into Addis Ababa at 06:35 the next day. This connects with ET312, which departs at 09:30 and arrives into Asmara at 10:55.

For those making their own way to Asmara and not taking the suggested group flight, the starting point for the group is the Albergo Italia. Please speak to one of our team should you need help organising an arrival transfer.

Referred to as "La Piccola Roma" - Africa's little Rome - by Mussolini, Asmara is still littered with 1930s-era Italian architecture, with Art Deco style found in abundance. All this is the result of the Italian dictator's mad dream to make the city the new capital of a second Roman Empire in Africa.

This odd mix of African and Mediterranean culture and style makes Asmara an intriguing place to explore. And the residual effects of Italian colonialism go beyond the buildings - Fiat Bambinos are still spotted on the street, whilst excellent Italian food is served at a number of restaurants.


No meals included.


You will be staying at Albergo Italia, bed and breakfast

Day 2

Explore Asmara
Set out on a tour of Eritrea's relaxed capital. Stop for lunch at a local restaurant that serves typical Italian dishes. In the late afternoon, return to the hotel for dinner.

Asmara has the highest concentration in the world of 1930s Art-Deco architecture. Simple geometric shapes are enhanced by slender horizontal curves and soaring stepped towers. Look out for portholes, loopholes and elongated windows; circular balconies and jutting wings; cylindrical stairwells and arched canopies, curved shelves and bizarre zig-zag chimneys.

Originally whitewashed, this beautiful city has been enriched by the colours of Africa. One of the greatest monuments is the Catholic Cathedral of Santa Maria, with its frescoed interior. Also visit the National Museum, home to archaeological finds and a rich collection of objects from the country's nine ethnic groups.

Visit the Medeber, a 200-year-old market, where artisans in small shops mould objects of all kinds by recycling metal. The Cemetery of Asmara, located on a small hill, allows an interesting insight into the Italian adventure in Eritrea. And of course, pass by the iconic Fiat Tagliero garage, built in 1938 by Pettazzi.


Only breakfast included.


You will be staying at Albergo Italia, bed and breakfast

Day 3

Drive from Asmara to Adi Keyh (Road Journey)


After breakfast, continue out of Asmara towards Dekemahare. Stop for lunch in a restaurant along the way.


Visit Senafe and Matara
Another historically important place is Matara, located near Senafe, about an hour's drive from Adi Keyh. Among the many remains in this area are some fallen steles, (10 metres in length), five stone pillars bearing Sabean writings, remains of large and small walls and cemeteries.

Also scattered throughout the area are various crafts, stone tools and brass ornaments. Although no detailed scientific research has been conducted so far, based on the study of the materials found on the surface and on the findings written in the Sabean language, it is believed that Matara developed around the ninth century BCE.


Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.


You will be staying at Central Hotel, full board

Day 4

Visit the Ruins of Qohaito
Drive just beyond the outskirts of Adi Keyh, to visit the ruins of Qohaito, also known as Kohaito. This city thrived during the Aksumite period, in the first millennium, although it was established as a pre-Aksumite settlement.

Located over 2,500 metres above sea level, the ruins sit on the edge of a high plateau, at the very tip of the Great Rift Valley. The site is remarkable for the spectacular views over the rugged Eritrean mountains, as they fall away towards the Red Sea.

Sadly, Qohaito has yet to be fully excavated, but the visible ruins include the pre-Christian Temple of Mariam Wakino and the Sahira Dam, which might also be pre-Aksumite.

Qohaito is thought by some to be the ancient town of Koloe, which is described in the Periplus of the Eritrean Sea. This Greco-Roman document is thought to have been written towards the end of the first century and mentions the town thriving as a stop on the trade route between the ancient port of Adulis and Aksum.

Nearby, rock art decorates a number of sites, including several caves. This appears to indicate habitation in the area since the fifth millennium BCE.

Travel from Adi Keyh to Asmara


Leave Adi Keyh and drive north to Asmara, which is around two hours away by car. 


Breakfast and lunch included.


You will be staying at Albergo Italia, bed and breakfast

Day 5

Train to Nefasit
After breakfast, you will be driven to the railway station, where you will board the train from Asmara to Nefasit and back to Asmara. The entire train journey will take about four hours. Eritrea's railways were a remarkable feat of colonial-era engineering and it is even more remarkable that they are still operational, complete with their antique steam engines.

Drive from Asmara to Keren


After lunch, depart Eritrea's capital and drive north, towards the Valley of Keren, a descent of almost 1,000 metres. This is a scenic journey of around two hours, passing through rural landscapes that are dotted with a mixture of traditional dwellings and colonial-era Italian farms. Stop at interesting intervals along the way. After checking in, have dinner at a local restaurant.


The second-largest city in Eritrea, Keren sits in a wide valley, overlooked by mountain peaks. The site of key battles during the country's war for independence, as well as during the Second World War, the city is of historical significance. However, in spite of its war-torn past, it remains a pleasant place to explore, dotted with a number of attractive colonial buildings.

Keren's busy markets, which take place every Monday, are well worth a visit. As well as a bustling general market, there is a very traditional livestock and camel market. Here, Eritrean men inspect the animals on offer, haggling to get a good price.


Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.


You will be staying at Sarina Hotel, full board

Day 6

Explore Keren
In the morning, explore Keren's market, which only springs into life once a week. Still of great importance, the market is the perfect place to mix with locals and merchants alike. It is an unforgettable experience and one that is alive with sounds, smells and colourful clothing.

After visiting the bustling market, take a guided tour of Eritrea's second largest city, visiting the main sites. These include St. Michael's Cathedral, the city's first Catholic church; the Grand Mosque; and the former villa of the Italian governor. The last of these was vacated after the Italians' defeat in The Battle of Keren, in World War Two. Lunch will be taken along the way in a local restaurant.


Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.


You will be staying at Sarina Hotel, full board

Day 7

Day Trip to Barentu
Travel west from Keren to the town of Barentu, which is around 150 kilometres away. This market town acts a trading hub in this western highland region and is home to the Kunama and Kara people. Until recently, this area was off-limits to tourists, so this an opportunity to venture further into Eritrea's interior, learning more about cultures, traditions and ways of life. En route, pass through the town of Agordat, which is another key market town and was the site of several important battles in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.


You will be staying at Sarina Hotel, full board

Day 8

Drive from Keren to Massawa


After lunch in a local restaurant, head south, to Asmara. Continue past Asmara and on to Massawa. Due to the condition of the roads, no shortcuts can be taken to the coast. This beautiful journey of around five hours takes you down off the highland plateau, towards the lower-lying coastal plains.
The weather will change and become humid. 


A historic port on Eritrea's Red-Sea coast, Massawa dates back to the times of the Kingdom of Axum, when it was just a small fishing village. Now, it is a city of 50,000 people, spread across two islands and a portion of coastline.

Although badly damaged during Eritrea's bloody war of independence, the city is still dotted with older buildings, both Ottoman and Italian, that survived the Ethiopian bombing. It is also perfectly located for accessing the remarkable Dahlak Archipelago, with its myriad islands.


Explore Massawa
Spend the day visiting the sights that dot this ancient city. Walking through the narrow streets of the old town is the best way to explore, with beautiful Ottoman architecture decorating the buildings on either side. Sadly, the city suffered brutally during the decades-long war for independence and many of the buildings' facades show signs of this. Two of the most impressive colonial constructions to survive are the old headquarters of the Bank of Italy and the former Governor's Palace - both of which are heavily scarred from bullets and bombs. Stop for lunch at a local restaurant.


Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.


You will be staying at Grand Dahlak Hotel, full board

Day 9

Day Trip to Adulis
Travel to Adulis, which is around 90 minutes south of Massawa. Sometimes referred to as the Pompeii of Africa, Adulis was once a strategic Axumite port and flourished throughout the period. However, it eventually declined in significance and was flooded by water, mud and sand brought by a flood from the Haddas Wadi, which flows from the plateau to the coast.

Return to Massawa in the afternoon


Boat Trip to Dessei Island
Explore the Dahlak Archipelago by boat, heading to the idyllic Dessei Island. This is the perfect way to discover this little-visited part of the Red Sea. Look out for seabirds and birds of prey, as well as crustaceans. Have the chance to swim and snorkel off the reefs, where the marine life is spectacular and encounters with dolphins, barracudas, turtles and sharks are all possible.

Spend the night camping on the island, sleeping in simple dome tents. 


Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.


You will be staying at Tents, full board

Day 10

In the morning, travel back to Massawa, which is about two hours away.

Drive from Massawa to Asmara (Road Journey)


In the afternoon, return to Asmara, a drive of about two hours.


Visit the Churches and the Old Town
Spend time visiting some of Asmara's older buildings, including religious edifices of various denominations. These include the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, a Catholic church built in 1922; the Enda Mariam Cathedral, a Coptic church built in 1920; and the Great Mosque of Asmara, built in 1937.

Also explore the city's old town, which is made up of a number of different districts, each dotted with traditional artisans and craftsmen still practicing their trades. Have lunch at a local restaurant, before returning to the hotel for dinner.


Breakfast and lunch included.


You will be staying at Albergo Italia, bed and breakfast

Day 11

This morning is free. You have a day room at Albergo Italia until you depart in the evening.


Suggested Group Flights
The suggested group flight for this tour is:

Ethiopian Airlines ET312, scheduled to depart Asmara at 18:15 on 14th March, arriving into Addis Ababa at 19:40. This connects with ET700, which departs Addis Ababa at 01:15 and arrives into London Heathrow at 07:00.

A departure transfer will be provided to connect with this flight. For those not taking the suggested group flight, please speak to one of our team should you need help organising a departure transfer.


Only breakfast included.

Destination Experts

Our experts have unrivalled firsthand knowledge of Eritrea

Illona Cross, Travel Expert

"Illona was quite simply brilliant. She listened and carefully noted what we thought we wanted, made suggestions and came up with an itinerary which suited us down to the ground."

"Excellent personal service; well-informed local knowledge; dependable outcome; quality of experience."

Read More

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Tour Lecturer

Local Eritrean Guide

Your trip will be led throughout by a local Eritrean guide. Who this will be cannot be confirmed until 30 days before the trip departs, but they will be an experienced, English-speaking, professional guide.
Enquire about this Expert Led tour:
Speak to an Eritrea holiday expert:

Group Size:

Min 4 / Max 6

Tour Expert:

Local Eritrean Guide

Departure Date (S):

  • 4th March 2020


  • Active - The tour may involve daily walks and will have a faster pace in certain areas. Walks will be no longer than 6 hours. The pace of this tour will be quite busy, expect long travel days and very little time at leisure.

Holiday Ideas in Eritrea

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