Expert-Led Group Tour

Eritrea Pioneering Group Tour - Inside Africa's Forgotten Kingdom

From Axumite ruins and Italian architecture to Red Sea reefs

12 days

from $2,995pp
  • Explore the charming capital city of Asmara, rebuilt as Africa's 'Little Rome' by Mussolini
  • Cruise through the Dahlak Archipelago, with its coral reefs, desert islands and marine life
  • Admire Ottoman buildings, as well as Aksumite ruins, such as Qohaito
  • Discover a wonderfully friendly country that remains isolated after decades of war

This trip successfully departed in October 2018. We are currently in the process of arranging a second edition, set to depart in 2019 or 2020. We can also arrange similar tailor-made trips at various times of year. Please enquire for more details.

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 pristine coral reefs and blue waters of Dahlak, 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, whis is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, before venturing 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.

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 several days exploring the remarkable Dahlak Archipelago. This remote and untouched cluster of islands is home to an incredible array of marine life.

Afterwards, return to Massawa and have time to discover this ancient coastal city, which still bears the scars of decades of war. The next day, leave the city behind and return to the highlands, visiting the dramatically located ruins of Qohaito - once a thriving Aksumite settlement.

Finish by returning to Asmara, hopefully completing the journey by train (cannot be confirmed currently), pulled along by a colonial-era steam locomotive.

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 coral riches of the Dahlak Archipelago and the Art Deco architecture of Asmara, make it an incredibly rewarding destination.

Accompanied by One of Our Team

As with our other Pioneering Group Tours, this trip will be accompanied by one of the Steppes’ team. This not only means that a friendly face will be there at all times – willing to help out and deal with any issues that might arise – but it also gives us the chance to explore a destination that is just as new for us as it is for you.

This trip will be joined by Illona Cross, one of our Travel Experts. Formerly, a safari guide in Southern Africa, Illona is always open to new adventures. After numerous visits to neighbouring Ethiopia over the years, she is keen to see how Eritrea compares.

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?

This is a destination that we have not visited before and so the comfort of the hotels can be changeable and unpredictable. However, we have it on good authority that the hotels in Asmara, Massawa and Keren have rooms that will be clean and ensuite, about three-star in quality.

The hotel in Adi Keyh will be a local rest house, which will be very basic with shared bathroom facilities. On the boat trip, you will be sleeping either on the boat or in tents on the beach. A mattress, tent and camping equipment will be provided. You will need to bring a towel and sleeping bag, if you wish. Keep in mind it will be quite hot, so a liner may suffice.

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.

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

  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • 1 night's accommodation in the Central Hotel
  • 1 night's accommodation in the Sarina Hotel
  • 2 nights' camping on Dahlak Islands
  • 3 nights' accommodation in the Grand Dahlak Hotel
  • 4 nights' accommodation in Albergo Italia
  • All meals in hotels and local restaurants
  • All transportation with driver
  • Boat in the Dahlak islands (motor yacht with tender, electronic navigation and lifeboats)
  • Camping equipment (tent, sheets, mattress, pillows)
  • Experienced English-speaking guide throughout
  • Steppes Travel expert
  • Travel permits and museum fees

what is excluded

  • Gratuities
  • Insurance
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Visa


Itinerary at a glance

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Day 1

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

EgyptAir MS778, scheduled to depart London Heathrow at 15:00 on 18th October, arriving into Cairo at 20:40. This connects with MS833, which departs at 23:20 and arrives into Asmara at 03:10, early the following day.

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.

You will be staying at Albergo Italia, full board

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. Here, the restaurant serves traditional dishes and entertainment comes in the form of local dancers.

You will be staying at Albergo Italia, full board

Day 3

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.

You will be staying at Albergo Italia, full board

Day 4

Drive from Asmara to Keren

Depart Eritrea's capital and drive north, towards the Valley of Keren, almost 1,000 metres lower down. 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.

Explore Keren
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.

Have lunch and dinner at a local restaurant or at the hotel.

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.

You will be staying at Sarina Hotel, full board

Day 5

Morning Visit to the Market
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.

Drive from Keren to Massawa

Head south, in the direction of Asmara, before following the road east, towards the coast. This beautiful journey of around four hours takes you down off the highland plateau, towards the lower-lying coastal plains.

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.

You will be staying at Grand Dahlak Hotel, full board

Day 6

Three Days Cruising the Dahlak Archipelago
Spend the next three days exploring the Dahlak Archipelago, combining island visits with swimming and snorkelling. This is the perfect way to discover this little-visited part of the Red Sea. On the uninhabited islands - all but four of them - look out for seabirds and birds of prey, as well as crustaceans. Off the reefs, the marine life is spectacular and encounters with dolphins, barracudas, turtles and sharks are all relatively frequent.

The boat is well maintained and safe, but simple. Accommodation on board is basic, and camping on the beach is preferable when possible. Water for cooking, washing and drinking will be carried for the entire trip, but will be limited.

This cluster of almost 130 islands is spread along Eritrea's coastline, scattered amongst the warm waters of the Red Sea. Famed for its pearl fisheries, which have operated since Roman times, the archipelago is also home to a diverse range of marine life.

Although humans have left their mark on the islands - four of which are still permanently inhabited - the Dahlak Archipelago has gained recognition as a pristine marine wilderness, largely untouched for more than 30 years, due to the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Coral reefs and white beaches fringe the islands, which are dry and rocky. Overhead seabirds circle, preying on the fish that feed off the reefs. Some of the Red Sea's more elusive marine species can sometimes be spotted here, including dolphins, dugongs, sharks and turtles.

You will be staying at Tents, full board

Day 7

Another day on the boat, exploring the islands.

You will be staying at Tents, full board

Day 8

Day at leisure in Massawa

You will be staying at Grand Dahlak Hotel, full board

Day 9

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.

You will be staying at Grand Dahlak Hotel, full board

Day 10

Drive from Massawa to Adi Keyh

Leave the coast and return to Eritrea's highlands, following a winding road into the area south of Asmara. The journey takes around four hours, passing through varied agricultural and rural landscapes, as well as the industrial town of Dekemhare.

Visit the Ruins of Qohaito
Drive a 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.

You will be staying at Central Hotel, full board

Day 11

Travel from Adi Keyh to Asmara (Possible Rail Journey)

Leave Adi Keyh in the morning and drive north to Asmara, which is around two hours away by car. However, it is possible to do the last leg of the journey, from Nefasit, by train. This cannot be confirmed until much closer to the time, but every effort will be made to arrange this.

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.

You will be staying at Albergo Italia, full board

Day 12

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

EgyptAir MS834, scheduled to depart Asmara at 04:10 on 29th October, arriving into Cairo at 05:50. This connects with MS777, which departs Cairo at 09:10 and arrives into London Heathrow at 12:35.

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.

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.

Enquire about this Expert Led tour:
Speak to an Eritrea holiday expert:

Group Size:

Min 3 / Max 10

  • 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.

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