Eritrea - Too many old people

How to visit the mountains?

The flight from Somalia to Eritrea's Asmara was on time. I didn’t expect to see mountains in Eritrea but soon found out this is a very mountainous area. Also while leaving the plane, I was surprised to have such a cold climate, but no wonder when being at such a high altitude of 2300 meters. 

Very different landscape compared to its neighbor countries Sudan or Djibouti. At the border, together with Ethiopia and Djibouti, Eritrea also lies at one of the world's hottest places, in the so-called Danakil Depression.

In 1993, after a war of independence that lasted nearly three decades (30 years), Eritrea became its own country. However, even today they are still under high tension and threat from Ethiopia. That made it since always very difficult to get into the country as a tourist. Moving outside the capital even requires a special travel permit.

Nowadays Eritrea is on the best way to being free of war and maybe soon this place becomes a frequently visited country by tourists?

My plan was to use the opportunity of a war-free time and see Asmara and its surroundings for 3 days.

Within this short amount of time in Eritrea, I mostly saw relatively old people and almost no people of younger generations. Why that is the case and why I was not wrong about that, I'll describe later.

Guide Map with things to see in Asmara

April 25 - Day 1 - Arriving in the capital

It’s a small airport in Asmara but ordinary and I had no visa complications on entering the country.

It was necessary to have a visa in the passport before arriving here. So had to arrange that back home. I expected the visa process for Eritrea will be a lot of effort but once I had the contact information and the real requirements, it wasn’t anymore.

I didn’t even need an invitation letter, but it took about three weeks to have it completed.

Sign on the way from the Asmara airport to the city
Nice weather in EritreaRusyt dusty EritreaAsmara slums

First impression of Eritrea

There is a professional exchange office at the airport and for one dollar they gave me 16 Nakfa. Probably this was a bad rate, but when asking around they told me that the black market rate still exists, but the government was successful to diminish it and so the black market rate is only a bit better.

As in many other airports in Africa, I expected some aggressive taxi drivers but was surprised again when they didn't ask for steep prices for the ride to the hotel. I thought they will rip me off and charge me something like double as there is no other way than a taxi or private transport to the center. And the center is not just nearby.

When I arrived at the hotel it was already dark outside. There aren’t many hotels available in Asmara, especially not ones that have free wifi. Internet is rare in Eritrea and when there is, it is extremely slow.

Day 2 - The military graveyard closed on a public holiday

This morning I headed towards the military graveyard. The place is a bit outside of the town but still within walking distance, especially when wanting to see something about how people are living in the streets of Asmara.

The graveyard is a big open area and shows a lot of history from the last 30 years. Basically, all that Eritrea has been doing for the last 30 years, was defending itself as a country. So the military graveyard is an important place.

Eritrea uses horses to cross the roads
Horses can freely walk in EritreaAsmaras Military Graveyard EntranceSomething to show the tourists that the graveyard is there

Permit necessary. Where to get a permit!

There is no military security and the park is surrounded by huge piles of military cars and trash, leaving only the entrance street open to enter the graveyard.

It's no booth around where it's possible to buy a ticket but a few older men sit there who are working in the graveyard. 

They are the ones who let in through - or not. Back in the hotel, I've been told that it was mandatory to have a permit to visit here, but as it was a public holiday, the office to get the permit was closed. So I tried my luck by just showing up and frankly asking and explaining my way into the graveyard without a permit. However, the discussion didn’t last very long:

Where is your permit? You need permit. No entry without permit. Go get permit.

So, it didn’t work. I tried to pay them some extra cash but they were persistent and wanted the permit.

The tourism office for the permit

On the opposite of the road from the Rosary Church My only option now to get in here to see all the old stuff was with a permit and so I took a taxi to the office which is supposed to be open today and issues the permits.

It’s the tourism office in the middle of Asmara on the main street.

However, somehow I already knew that it won't be open and that was correct. A woman next to the office told me to come back tomorrow as it then will be open.

As I will leave Asmara tomorrow I won't have much time but I have to try it and then go directly to the airport after visiting the graveyard.

But there are other things to see in Asmara

The graveyard was not possible but there are other things to see and walk to in Asmara.

Wandering through the streets felt like being at home as I'm already used to the Eritrean people from back home in Switzerland.

But in the market area and at the cathedrals there it's nice to watch locals as they pray, eat and walk like they do in Eritrea.

I noticed Eritreans look very similar to Indians and when looking at the map it explains why. India is just small gap across the ocean and a long time ago the Indians came here to settle and create Eritrea.

Walking in the city center
In front of the Fiat TaglieroSome kind of souvenir building from the FiatItalian ArchitectureKidus Michael Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo churchEritrea also has food stallsPeople go to work too

Bad food in Eritrea, but at least good coffee

The food is not good in Eritrea. Even though the menu cards are like brochures with several pages, they have a very limited selection. Meat is expensive. Compared to a plate of pasta which costs 2-3 dollars, a plate with some kind of steak costs like 20 dollars. No good food available, but at least there is always good coffee and cappuccino.

Like in many other places in Africa with their own cultures, it's also here a unique experience to simply walk through the streets.

The old cars and the Italian influence in buildings are still visible. The streets are all very clean and this is something I didn’t expect at all here. I thought it was like a war place, full of dust and sand, like the sub-Saharan country Niger, but here it is like being in Europe, like somewhere in Italy.

Around the Rosy cathedral and the mosque. The cathedral was built not so long ago in 1922.

In the middle of Asmara
The mainstreet in AsmaraIn front of the muslim mosqueEritrea has many religions

Market area in Asmara is behind the mosque.

Busy but not to hectic
Not far from the Cathedral is the busling shuq districtmany small well stocked shopsEritrea is trendingMany Eritreans walk aroundEconomy of Eritrea grows faster than its neighborsOne of the few mosques in Asmara

The "Enda Mariam Orthodox church" in Asmara. 

It serves as the big religious headquarter in Eritrea, the most important base for the Eritrean religious people.

The cathedral is located on Arbate Asmara Street.
This is the building where Eriteans go prayingPeople like to take the bike thereBirds sitting and shitting on the roof in AsmaraPraying with bending over in AsmaraThey renovated the MariamEritreans like to sit under trees

Around the streets of the 2-in-1 building: the stadium and concert hall.

It looks like a stadium but is a concert hall
Asmara has weak wifi and so people still use normal methods to check eventsLooks like a stadium but is a concert hallOn the harnet avenue

Why are there so many old people in Eritrea?

All over Asmara, I notice there are not many people and especially not many people from younger generations.

I thought maybe it was just my impression of the idea that all the young people have fled the country, but when talking to a few locals about this, they also confirmed that this is actually very true and way too many young people left the country.

Maybe because medical care is improving rapidly in Eritrea
All young people left the countryYoung people have to go to warWalks around in AsmaraIve seen many people but too many old ones. Very strange.They left to Europe for a better lifeYoung people in Asmara have to join the military a few days per week

Why does Eritrea have so few young people?

It could be that either the young people are now in the military service and put to the border to defend the country, or, have fled the country because of that and search for better live abroad (in Europe).

I don’t know how bad it actually is to be in the military here. Probably it's bad, but I also understand the government wants to protect the country from surrounding enemies. And the threat from Ethiopia is real and always present. So they need young people to defend the country.

Eritreans, you are needed back home

With all respect to the young people of Eritrea, but when in my country some Enemies would be around waiting to intrude the country, the government also would go into defense mode an order all the citizens with capabilities to defend the country and immediately grab the weapon and be prepared. 

So from that point of view, I don’t really understand the young Eritreans who are just escaping from helping their own country. But surely there are also other reasons and not only the military, but economic reasons. One of the locals told me:

My brother is in UK and there he have job, he work. And he has house, and bed. Maybe television, But house, and bed. Here, three people in tent for one people. In UK, he has house.

Another discussion with some locals:

We want our people to come back to Eritrea. They are important for us, it's our relatives and we need them to help develop the country and for the next generations. 
Also, they need to come back and pay taxes.

No Noise in the streets of Asmara

Due to the fact that there are mostly older people, the advantage is that they have calm neighborhoods in Asmara.

It's pleasant to walk through the streets.

Arabs and Christians in Eritrea walking the same streets
Ancient tower from italian centuryOne of the main street in the capital, no problem to walkThe old cinema in Asmara shows movies every dayAsmara can be busy but this road is normalIts nice to live in the capital as not too hotWith Eritrean car plateMany bicycles across the mainroadsAlong the streets in charming AsmaraOfficial taxis are the most expensive


Not far away from the city center and some kilometers outside of Asmara the rugged mountain area starts.

I asked a taxi to bring me to Durfo, the name of a village in the mountains.

After about 30 minutes the mountains street starts along the hills and with a good view over the valley in the Eritrean mountains. Also, a train track is leading through the mountains.

Eritrea is located at the highest landmass in Africa
Mountain Area DurfoSitting on the streets to watch the mountainsStreet Sign along the roadThe 117 kilometer line to Asmara was completed in February 200330 Minutes with taxi outside AsmaraOld bridge and train trackOutside Asmara the roads are well pavedNice to observe the towns from aboveThere are currently eight locomotives at work in Eritrea HighlandsAt the mountain areaGood climate for touristsMountains of Eritrea in the background

Day 3 - Military graveyard again and then to Ethiopia

This afternoon I will continue my journey to Ethiopia. But before that, I wanted to see for what I hoped to see when I'm able to come to Eritrea. The military graveyard.

As mentioned before, it's an open-air museum and contains the history of Eritrea's last 30 years.

Great view from Hotel Nyala

On the way to the graveyard, I made a quick stop at the Nyala Hotel. On the top floor, there is a deck with a good view of Asmara.

A long time ago this deck was used as a top-class restaurant, but nowadays it's not open anymore and they left chaos behind. They didn't really want to let me go up there because they didn't want me to see the chaos on the top floor. But then they joined me and made their own selfies from up there.

Its a pity they don't use it anymore as a restaurant, the view from up there with a coffee is great.

View over Asmara Main street
On the Nyala HotelBut not very spectacularAsmara is well maintained for African circumstances

Back to the military graveyard

To get the permit I once more had to go to the city center to the tourism office beside the Rosary church.

Today they had open and getting that piece of paper-permit only took five minutes and didn’t cost anything.

Back at the entrance to the graveyard the man took a glimpse at the permit and let me freely walk through the area of steel trash. It’s indeed a huge maze.

But it's not just a “normal” military graveyard with some tanks but there was some kind of chaos with all possible artifacts that the military has used over the last 30 years.

Asmara has a large graveyard
Used in war 14mm gunsGraveyard is hugeWar has left many vehicles and can be seen in the GraveyardEverything is brought here after the Eritrean warTo visit the Graveyard it needs a permitGetting the permit and the effort of it is worth it

Not too much was cleaned up or dismantled. Big piles of armored vehicles and tanks in hundreds.

Pickup trucks with guns fixed on them. Tank ropes and turbines, trains and all kinds of motors. 

Parts of AK47’s, communication stuff like field telephones. and missile shells and much much more, whereas most of it I wasn’t able to identify at all.

The Graveyard has everything from the war against Ethiopia
Lot of trash but still interesting because its old Eritrean stuffEquipment to use for telephony from the warsHas some pipes and switches insideLots of motors and engines lying around

Also, very old civilian cars and buses which I've never seen before. It is really like a museum. 

And the fact that these objects here have been used to defend the country makes them definitely artifacts of African history.

I've been told that already in one or two years the stuff here will be removed and recycled and then also a part of historical evidence will be gone.

Tons of empty shells
Missile and tank ammunitionLot of steel in the GraveyardBomber shell from the plane

Other stuff. Buses and very old cars.

Vehicles from the last century
Any vehicle can be found hereOldtimers are in EritreaBut also civil school busses and stuffIn Eritrea are all old carsIn the graveyard are many old busses to watch for touristsAmerican cars are lying around and are rusty

Now I'll continue to the desert in Ethiopia

I was at the graveyard for about an hour but could have spent more time, as there is so much to see.

However, had to get something for lunch and then to the nearby airport to catch the plane to Mekelle in Ethiopia, to see the sulfur desert.

Someone rides a bike
Streets of AsmaraNice old cars from the 1970One building from an averag street


  1. The military situation is terrible there, many die of abuses, no wonder why they are desperate to go to libya, then europe, everyone knows that...

    1. Totally agree with your comment. Not only the military situation but the whole story of Eritrea from the independence to nowadays... Its surprising how you you can depict a country so superficially when you have actually been there...

    2. Yes totally agree, bad things do happen there! Hopefully it soon changes!

  2. Having been to Ethiopia I can confirm this. I too thought it was all in my head until I really started to look around. One of the locals had said some just don’t have children, others have lost their children for one reason or another (health, moving, military, etc.). Not enough of the youth seems to be concerned. It has put some heartache inside me seeing this first hand. I was very close to my grandfather and see my parents at least once a week in person and talk several times a week on the phone or through Skype. I live 2 hours away and make time for them. I don’t know what went wrong here but I hope things change there.

    1. Glad that it isn't just my humble impression and so someone can confirm that there is a lack of young people, who should be there working and giving healthcare to older people.