Capital | Asmara
Population | 5,647,168 (July 2009 est.)
Area | 121,320 sq km
Official language | Tigrinya, Arabic, Tigre, Kunama, Afar
Holidays | Independence Day, 24 May (1993)
Currency | nakfa (ERN)
Time Zone | UTC+3
Best time to visit | October to May, when the mercury settles at an agreeable temperatuere.
Connecting with the Culture | Starpping on a snorkel and marvelling at the unspoilt underwater treasures around the Dahlak Archipelago. Exploring Eritrea’s remarkable archaelogical ruins in Qohaito. Surveying war-torn Nakfa, once the heart of the Eritrean resistance. Discovering the lunar landscape of Dankalia, one of the most desolate areas on earth. Hanging out in one of Asmara’s Italian style cafes and enjoying a coffee or a pastry. Climbing up t o one of the isolated Orthodox monasteries, set amid specatcular scenery.
Read | Eritrea at a Glance. Edited by Mary Houdek and Leonardo Oriolo, for a fantastic introduction to the country, particularly the country Asmara. For a gripping yarn of the struggle for independence, read Even the Stones Are Burning, by Roy Pateman.
Eat | legamat, a deep fried dough sold hot in newspaper cones by little boys in the lowlands. A popular dish in the west is sheia, lamb drizzled with oil and herbs then barbecued on very hot stones until sizzles.
Drink | excellent espresso or machiatto coffee, ginger coffee, fresh fruit juice or sweet black tea.
In a word | Selam (hello)
Characteristics | Yello Fiat taxis; politeness; excellent coffee; classic architecture; stark landscapes; relaxed attitudes. Torrid deserts, fertile highlands and arid plains. Gold, frankincense, myrrh, ostrich feathers, antelopes, ebony and ivory.
Surprises | Legend credits Eritrea as the El Dorado of Africa. The Egyptian pharoahs held the land comprising present-day Eritrea in awe, referring to it as `The Land of Punt’. Perched on the horn of Africa, Eritrea is a tiny country with a strong sense of identity. Its richness and beauty did not escape the attention of the outside world and the country became a colony of Italy for more than fifty years. Evidence of Italy’s rule can be seen in the magnificient architecture of the capital, Asmara. Modern Eritrea is a lively country with and exuberant and optimistic population.