Journaling The Journey

Eritrea – 5 Reasons To Visit and Expose the Abuses

Eritrea Horn of Arfica North Korea

Most of you have probably never heard of Eritrea?  Well, it is a small country in the Horn of Africa that has been called the “North Korea of Africa” due to its repressive government and isolation from the outside world.  The country was ruled by the Kingdom of Italy from 1882 – 1941.  Due to this history, the architecture of much of it’s capital, Asmara is very much early 1900’s Italy.

Few people visit Eritrea and the visa process is not an easy one.  Read on to find out how we got in and what we discovered about this secretive and insular country.

A Bit of History

Asmara Eritrea

Eritrea was a colony of Italy from 1882 to 1941, when it was occupied by British forces during World War II. After the war, it was administered by the United Nations until 1952, when it was merged with Ethiopia.

The federation was a disaster, and Eritreans soon began to demand independence. In 1961, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) was founded to fight for independence. The EPLF waged a long and bloody war against the Ethiopian government, which ended in 1991 with Eritrea’s independence.

Interesting fact about the EPLF is that over 30% of the Freedom Fighters were women.  That is more than any other liberation movement in the world!

Situation in Eritrea

Asmara Eritrea

The country has been ruled by President Isaias Afwerki since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991. This guy was one of the Freedom Fighters.  Yup, same “leader” ruling this tiny nation for decades – and the only President that  Eritrea has ever had!

Most heinously, this President has been accused of gross human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary detention, and forced labor.

Eritrea is also one of the most closed countries in the world. It has no independent media, and the government restricts access to the internet and foreign travel.

Eritrea has one of the longest conscription periods in the world. Men and women are required to serve in the military for at least 18 months, and many are forced to stay in service for much longer. The country has also been accused of using child soldiers.

The situation in Eritrea has led to a mass exodus of people, with an estimated 500,000 Eritreans living in exile. The United Nations has called for an end to the human rights abuses in the country and for the government to respect the rule of law.  Unfortunately these pleas are to no avail.

Getting a Visa and Permits

Most passport holders do need a visa to enter Eritrea.  We were very lucky to have found a wonderful travel agency inside of the country that organized all of our paperwork for free.  Yes, for free!  We really wanted to repay them by doing a tour with them, but due to Googlemaps not working in the country, we were not able to find their company.

Keep in mind that in order to travel outside of Asmara (the capital), you will also need to apply for a travel permit at the Ministry of Tourism located on Harnet Avenue in Asmara. Processing usually takes around 24 hours. When applying for permission to travel outside of Asmara, you will be asked to provide details of the car you will be travelling in.

PRO TIP:  If you would like to know the name and contact information of the organization that helped us, send me a message in the comments section.  I will then provide the information.

I am keeping the organization’s name out of this post as I do not want to get it in trouble with the authorities as they may disagree with my writing.  

Internet Connection

Eritrea Africa North Korea
One of the many Internet Cafe’s in Asmara

Be prepared for almost no connectivity while traveling in and through this country.  Our hotel was listed as one of the best places for wifi, however without a local VPN we were not able to use Gmail, What’s App or any Social Media.

Outside of Asmara, connectivity is even worse, so download whatever you may need in advance of entering the country.

PRO TIP: There are a few Internet cafe’s in the city that for $1 USD (15 Nafka) will download a local pirated VPN onto your phone which will allow you to use Gmail, What’s App and Social Media, albeit very slowly.

5 Reasons to Travel to Eritrea


Many of you may be thinking, why the heck go to a country that has so many internal problems and difficulties for travelers to get to, stay in and travel through?  Well, although a good question, there are a few reasons that we went.  And we are really glad that we did!

1. Asmara’s Italian Architecture

Asmara Roma Cinema Eritrea
Roma Cinema

Asmara is such an interesting place!  Walking though the streets of the capital we felt like we were in 1950’s Rome.  It isn’t just the architecture.  It is also the cafes, the shops and the spirit of the people.  And to boot, we would often hear older folk speaking to us in Italian.

An espresso at the Roma Cinema is a must!

2. For Military Buffs – Tank Graveyard

Tank Graveyard Asmara Eritrea
Tank Graveyard

On the outskirts of Asmara we found the famous Tank Graveyard.  Old rusting tanks and all other types of military vehicles are piled high in rows of twisted metal craziness.  For the Eritreans this is holy ground as it represents the 30 years of sacrifice and loss that they endured to gain independence.

We learned after our visit that a tourist permit was required to come here.  However, since there is no gate to enter, no one stopped us and luckily we were able to explore independently.

3. Ancient History – Million Year Old Skull

A one-million-year-old skull bearing traits associated with both Homo erectus and Homo sapiens was found in the Afar region of Eritrea.  This supports the theory that human beings arose in and radiated out of Africa.

Knowing that this skull was found in this country got me incredibly excited and wanting to travel here!

4. Alexander Pushkin’s Roots

As a lover of Alexander Pushkin’s poetry, I really wanted to visit the country of his roots.  And his roots have been traced back to Eritrea!

One of the greatest world poets, Alexander Pushkin’s great grand-father—Ibrahim—was indeed an Eritrean. He was the son of a Prince and was kidnapped from his palace by invading Turks in the early 1700s.

5. Helping the Amazing People of Eritrea

Asmara Eritrea

The people of this country have endured so much and unfortunately continue to suffer!  Despite their circumstances they are some of the most generous and lovely people that we have encountered through our travels.

By coming to this country and bearing witness to their struggles, sharing their stories and strife we shine a light on their issues.  The more that we can all do this and speak up against the atrocities, the more that we will be able to help them.  And that is our goal.

Wrap Up


The situation in Eritrea is a cause for concern. The country is ruled by a repressive government that is responsible for atrocious human rights abuses. The economy is in a state of crisis, and the people are among the poorest in the world. The international community should work to pressure the government  to improve the situation of its people.

Rob and I believe that everyone has the right to freedom and dignity, and we are committed to reporting on issues that affect people’s lives.  Furthermore, we believe that the situation in this beautiful land is a serious human rights issue, and we urge the international community to take action to improve the situation of the wonderful people of this country.

If you are interested in some of the other interesting countries that we have visited in Africa, here are a few other stories that we would love for you to read:

  1. South Sudan – Mundari Tribe
  2. Uganda – Mountain Gorillas

Have you been to any of these places?  We would love to hear your thoughts and impressions.

Please follow and like us: