Wow, wow, and again… Wow! What a beautiful surprise that was waiting for me hidden among the mountains in my last stop in the Horn of Africa: Eritrea! This ex-Italian colony, also known as “The Rome of Africa” by the locals, definitely deserves its title! I could go as far as calling it “The Best Kept Secret of Africa!”… Arriving here was like a miracle after the desertic landscapes of Djibouti and Somalia. Just a few months ago I rated Algiers as my #1 most beautiful city in Africa. I guess we have a contender for the title, Asmara, the Capital of Eritrea, is definitely in my top 3 that’s for sure!
Beautiful Asmara at Sunrise
The city is by far the cleanest city I’ve ever been in Africa, as well as one of the safest! Being at about 2300 meters above sea level, I first felt like arriving in a Spanishish colonial town up in the Andes in Peru or Ecuador, but with a punch of Italian Flavours! This is the first place I have ever been that can be called an “Italian colonial town”. I even had a conversation in Italian with M. Telkeste, an extremely friendly Man who has worked with me to organize logistics for the trip. However, Italian seems to have been lost through the latest generations in favor of English which everybody seems to speak fluently.
Italian Style Cathedral
The city still clearly breaths Italy and its influence it everywhere! The Cathedral in the middle of the city is of “Lombard style” and the clock tower resembles those of Venice! The grand boulevards are amazingly set up with beautiful palm trees on its sides and kept as clean as a street can be. Even the dressing style of Eritreans can look like those of southern Italians, with a clear preference for fashion over traditional cloth.
Central Market with Many Columns
In a way, I felt transported back in the 1920s in Italy, period where much of the city has stayed after the Italians left. There are still vintage style cinemas that have been converted to cafes, I counted 4 through me walks around the city. Asmara can easily be a best-kept secret in Africa as it has changed so little over the last 100 years as it is one of the closest countries in the world. Some have even titled it “The North Korea of Africa” referring to its harsh politics of its government. But as a tourist, it is kind of hard to see this side of the story. there are still hints here and there, as I was told by some friendly locals I met in a cafe, explaining to me the situation with the internet. It is still prohibited to have a private connection without a special permit, the internet is accessible only at the dozen internet cafes around the Capital provided an ID to track all activity.
Clock Tower, Similar to the one in Venice
But this hidden gem may not stay hidden for too long… Just this year, Asmara was awarded UNESCO World heritage title, which has sparked a lot of media attention and tourism is now following. According to locals, I talked to, tourism is growing rapidly especially this year! In my opinion, it is a little like Cuba where people should hurry to come to see it before it gets too much hyped and invaded with tourist attractions.
Boulevards of Asmara
Being in the birthplace of Coffee plantations, and having countless Italian style cafes spread all over town, it is no wonder why I had the best macchiatos in the world! I was literally hopping from cafes to cafes to sip countless macchiatos to try to find the best I could in the city! I lost count of how many coffees I had in my whole stay, probably over 30. They still use vintage Italian espresso machines, and with fresh coffee beans, it can’t get better! At a traditional dinner, I was invited with M. Tekeste, I witnessed some Eritreans doing the traditional way to make coffee, where they roast the green coffee beans on hot coals, then grind the grains on the spot, then make the coffee, all of that in 30 minutes! It can’t be fresher than this!
Another interesting fact about Eritrea is the women. They seemed to me so confident, intelligent and I must admit, very seductive. This is the first place in Africa that I see local women wear high heels in the city during the day! Most probably this style comes from the Italian influence that fashion has left on the local population. Even so, they are definitely the most beautiful women I’ve seen in the 42 countries I’ve been in Africa! I was also explained that women play an important role in Eritrean society, and an interestingly their army counts 1/3 of their soldiers being women! that is probably the highest rate of any army in the world!
Palm Trees on the Main Street of Asmara
Overall, Eritrea has really fascinated me! I already know I want to come back to spend more time exploring the other parts of the country. I really didn’t expect the Asmara to be such a shock to me as it has been, thanks to a unique style that I haven’t seen anywhere else around the globe! This all reminded me why I love traveling… Even after 182 countries visited, I keep discovering new places I had no clue existed!
My Friend M Tekeste
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So inspiring Ian!
Thanks Jurinda! Make sure you put Eritrea on your “must see” places in the world 🙂
Very genuine impression of this small but beautful and charming city….with time Eritrea has more to offer to travellers besides Asmara – pristine 2000km + seaside, chains of mountains and welcoming people ! Your blog will definitely encourage others to discover this hidden gem!
I Am leaving now in Edmonton Ab Canada , but I raised up in this extraordinary beautifull city ASMARA…Indeed a hidden marvelous beautifull city thanks for sharing this blog of my city . . VIVA ASMARA
Glad to hear you are enjoying my country as much as I am enjoying yours 🙂 I beleive amazing hospitality is what makes us similar countries Canada and Eritrea
Indeed Canadians are humble people as well. Thanks again Ian.
Hej my name is berhane just to say that dispite what The media says. I am glad to haer it from such a guy like You Who have seen The Word With his own eyes and still testify that eritrea is a piecefull beutifull country and admits The True reality of Eritrea and its People and I would like to thankyou from all my heart Realy and Godbless You my friend
Hi! thanks for your beautiful message! I always bring an unbiased opinion to me readers, and it reflects what I really felt. Truely, you have an amazing country! Hopefully more people get to discover it
i am glad you enjoy your trip to Eritrea as you did in Djibouti. we met at The Gulf of Tadjoura and we drove to Assel lake together was wonderful to meet you and learn about your adventure good luck
Hi Abdella! Nice to hear from you, I am surprised you found my blog, how did you find about it? As you can see, Eritrea was an amazing experience!
I am happy to read your short and inspiring story of your trip to Asmara, Eritrea. Indeed, Eritrea has a lot to offer to the tourists of the world with all the beauty that you mentioned as well as its two seasons of every second (its highland about 2.3 Km above sea level and its lowland of 1.3Km along the sea side) and its beautiful mountains combined with its beautiful and generous people.
I thank you very much, Ian, for sharing your experience which I try to do everyday in Montreal, where I live
Great to know you are in Montreal! I am from Quebec City originally. Hopefully you get to visit my hometown and love it as much as I loved yours 🙂
It is great nation ,NEVER NEEL DOWN !!!!! people . These are the people fought for more than thirty years. They have start to built the country from zero . It is one in my agenda to visit this friendly country .
I am so glad you liked my beautiful city Asmara. It’s refreshing to know that hopefully people will know more and more about Eritrea. It’s a hidden gem indeed!! Hope you I’ll go back and explore it more in the future!!! Thanks for your beautiful blog!!!
I miss my beatifual city indeed !! One day one day I’ll be back ..🙏🏽🙏🏽🇪🇷🇪🇷
Thank you so much for your amazing input. I was Born and raised there until I was around 12 years old. I’m traveling back home next month September 2018 and I am so excited and it’s been 30+ years since I left so again thank you. It’s AWESOME to hear this review from an American like yourself so that others around the world realize we are not just some POOR THIRD WORLD COUNTRY WITH NOTHING BUT POVERTY!!! It is extremely the most beautiful place on the planet. (in my opinion)
Hello lan Greetings,
Very inspiring pictures to see my amazing city Asmera where I born and raised in those photos you captured. I bet you enjoyed the climate fresh breath and cappuccino coffee. I really apricate the interest in this beautiful country and the small African Roma (Asmera). thumps up.
I am local tour guide in Eritrea. I speak French ,English and Italian. Thus, I guided a number of people from different part of our globe. I am so happy to read you . I found your impression about Asmara. Thanks for all your beautiful words.