Eritrea - Too many old people

How to visit the mountains?

The flight from Somalia to Eritrea's Asmara was on time and 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 cool climate, but no wonder when being in such a high altitude with 2300 meter. Very different compared to its almost-neighbor countries Sudan or Djibouti. But at the border to Ethiopia and Djibouti, Eritrea also lies at one of the worlds hottest places, in the so-called Danakil depression.

In Asmara it often rains for short amount of times and so it did before my arrival, resulting the clouds to be very dark blue and grey with the sun in the background and shining through them onto the blue sky. Such a nice climate.

In 1993, after a war of independence that lasted nearly three decades, Eritrea became its own country. However, even up until 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. To move outside the capital, it even requires a special travel permit.

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

Map of Asmara
Guide Map with things to see in Asmara

April 25 - Arriving in the capital

It’s a small airport in Asmara but ordinary and I had no 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 after once I had the contacts information and the real requirements, it wasn’t anymore. Didn’t even need an invitation letter, but it took about three weeks to have it completed.

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

Slow internet in Eritrea

A professional exchange office is 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 they told me.

As normal in many airports countries, I expected some aggressive taxi drivers but was surprised again when they accepted my offer of 200 Nakfa to the hotel immediately without argument. I thought they will rip me off and charge me something like 400 as there is no other way than a taxi or private transport to the center. And that is not just nearby, so walking no option.

When I arrived in the hotel it was already dark. 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.

April 26 - The graveyard closed on a public holiday

This morning I headed right way to the military graveyard. The place is a bit outside of the town but still in walking distance, especially when wanting to see something how people are living in the streets of Asmara. The graveyard is a big open area, like a park.

Walk to the graveyard

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

No Permit no entry

There is no military security and the park 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 one through or not. Back in the hotel, I've been told that it's 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, yes yes, office is open today.

Damn, it didn’t work. I tried to pay them some cash there but they were persistent and want the permit.

Tourism office also closed

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 at 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 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.

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. Although I noticed Eritreans look very similar to Indians, but when looking on the map it explains why. India is just a jump across the ocean and a long time ago the Indians came here to settle and create Eritrea.

Walking in the city center
Capital of the Country in the Horn of AfricaNorthwestern edge of the Eritrean highlandsIn front of the Fiat TaglieroWill it soon be bankrupt?Some kind of souvenir building from the FiatItalian ArchitectureKidus Michael Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo churchEritrea also has food stallsPeople go to work too

Bad food but 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 dollar, a plate with some kind of steak costs like 10 dollars. So here is not good food but at least there is always good coffee and cappuccino.

There is no spectacular building but like in many different places and cultures, its also here a unique experience to walk through the streets as it like no other place on earth. The old cars and the Italian influence in buildings are visible. The streets are all very clean and this is something I didn’t expect at all here. I thought it's like a war place full of dust and sand like, for example in Niger, but here it is like being in Europe, 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 mosque Eritrea 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 districtBehind the mosque is the souvenir and household utensils marketShortage of food in Asmaramany small well stocked shopsEritrea is trendingMany Eritreans walk aroundEconomy of Eritrea grows faster than its neighborsFriendly atmosphere in EritreaOne 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 prayingOutside of the church is the drumPeople like to take the bike thereBad hair day doesnt provide an excuse for not going to churchBirds sitting and shitting on the roof in AsmaraPraying with bending over in AsmaraThey renovated the MariamEritreans like to sit under treesAsmara has many religious institutions

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 too many people and especially not many young people around.

I thought maybe it's just my impression with 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.

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 that they want to protect the country from surrounding enemies. And the threat from Ethiopia is real and always present.

Hey young Eritreans, you are needed back home

With all respect in this to the young people of Eritrea, but when in my country would be Enemies around waiting to intrude the country, the government also would go to defense mode an order all the people with capabilities to defend the country to 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 reason and not only the military but economics. 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 talk with some locals and they said:

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

No Noise

Due to the fact that there are so many 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 normalOld kaefer cars in AsmaraPeople have a comfort living in the capital of EritreaIts nice to live in the capital as not too hotWith Eritrean car plateMany bicycles across the mainroadsAlong the streets in charming AsmaraCobblestone streetsOfficial taxis are the most expensive


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

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
Beginning of the mountain area outside AsmaraMountain Area DurfoMany people live in the mountains outside AsmaraAll year round is good time to visit the mountainsSitting on the streets to watch the mountainsStreet Sign along the roadThe 117 kilometer line to Asmara was completed in February 2003Nice to watch over the far valley30 Minutes with taxi outside AsmaraAlong the mountains are many temples and churchesHills and valley viewpointHow to see Eritrea from the Mountains?Old bridge and train trackOld church in the highlands of EritreaAlong the Durfo areaOutside 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 touristsThe mountains outside Asmara offer great viewpointsMountains of Eritrea in the backgroundNothing good to eat but open

April 27 - 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. I don’t know why it has something fascinating but to see the huge amount of soon ancient trash from an African country has something interesting.

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. First, they didn't want to let me go up there because they didn't want me to see the chaos on the top floor.

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 on the permit and let me freely walk through an 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 anarchy with all possible stuff that the military has used.

Asmara has a large graveyard
Used in war 14mm gunsHundres of trucks Graveyard is huge All visible in the Graveyard War has left many vehicles and can be seen in the Graveyard Everything is brought here after the Eritrean warIt takes a few hours to walk throughTo visit the Graveyard it needs a permitGetting the permit and the effort of it is worth it

Not too much cleaned up or dismantled. Big piles of armored vehicles and tanks in hundreds. Pickup trucks with guns fixed on it. Tank ropes and turbines, trains and all kind 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.
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 like a museum. And the fact that these objects here have been used to defend the country makes it some kind part of Africans 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 Graveyard Bomber shell from the plane

Other stuff
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 continue to the desert in Ethiopia

I was there at the graveyard for about an hour but could have spent more time here. However, had to get something for lunch and then to the airport to catch the plane to Mekelle in Ethiopia, to see the sulfur desert there.

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.