Visit to Asmara experienced by Rachel Berhane Araya

All Asmara photos by Flagote Yilma

There is tremendous joy and great excitement in Ethiopia and Eritrea with the recent reconciliation and reconnection of the two countries reuniting family members. Ethiopian Airlines lost no time in resuming flights from Addis to Asmara and soon flights from Mekelle to Asmara will be introduced. Ethiopians do not need visas to visit but currently other foreigners still need to apply for visas and it is anticipated that the newly reopened Eritrean Embassy in Addis will be able to process them.

The capital Asmara “City in the Clouds” is situated 2 kilometers high is also known as “little Italy”. Asmara is undoubtedly renown globally for its wonderful collection of amazing architecture, wide boulevards and sidewalks inviting pedestrians to amble and explore. The range of Italian colonialist architecture includes Modernist, Futurist, and perhaps most famous of all Art Deco. The wonderful eclectic architecture includes art deco cinemas, the amazing Futurist airplane inspired Fiat Tagliero service station and the Cinema Impero with a circuit-board-inspired façade. In the early 1930s, Italian dictator Mussolini, injected a vast amount of funds into the country with the brazen goal of turning Asmara and Eritrea into a second Roman Empire. The majority of this construction was completed within a short span of time from 1935-1941. The legacy after Italy’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt at colonialisation resulted in exquisite and unusual architecture and these buildings have remained mostly untouched since they were built adding an extra appeal for the viewer.

For sightseeing the main attraction is most definitely the colonial Italian architecture. The main street of Asmara is lined with shady and picturesque Palm trees with cafés, bars, shops and old cinemas. You will definitely want to indulge in some great Italian style coffee and pastries along the way! The café culture is alive and well and cafes are packed with people of all ages at all times of day.

At one end of the main street is the Stadium and at the other the cities tallest building Nyala Hotel (check out the café on the top floor which has a great view of the city while you sample a local brew – Asmara beer). Behind the hotel on a side street you will find The National Museum and you will find Asmara’s vibrant and bustling marketplace behind the cathedral. There are also Churches, Mosques, Theaters and Stadiums and Funeral Buildings among other buildings reflecting the different cultures and faiths of the city.

The nightlife is thriving with clubs and bars open until 1.00am becoming very crowded from 10pm. We visited Zara Pub, which has started playing Amharic songs now that it is allowed again.

The city is very clean and known as “Asmara Tsead’a” and the people are very sociable welcoming visitors with smiles and the elderly with smiles and “elelelele” the sounds of a warm welcome extended after a long period of time apart. The pavements may be filled with people but the roads are much clearer than Addis – no traffic jams! Youths and Elders alike can be seen riding bikes to get around town. The crime rate is also very low.

The seasons are similar to Ethiopia although Asmara is hotter than Addis and probably the best time to visit is between September and May if you want to avoid the rainy season. Rains do tend to last only a few hours at a time and dry up quickly however and the weather remains warm.

If you are visiting Asmara – our suggestion for gifts to bring people in Asmara: Kitfo, Ethiopian Coffee, Ethiopian Butter and last but not least BerBere!

Other What’s Out Asmara Travel Tips/Recommendations:

  • Enda Jaber very popular for the best breakfast Ful and Feta (next to Meda Eritrea at the Bus Station – opens early and closes by 1pm)
  • Enda Tsehai restaurant Tel 138118 cost for one person for food and soft drink is around 12-15$
  • Bar Vittoria for the best macchiatos
  • Street restaurants/cafes (rather than hotels) serve the best Italian and Habesha food
  • Enda Tshai for fish and Key Tibs (near Nakfa House next to the old Caravel Hotel)
  • Book a hotel directly through Asmara (online bookings are currently unreliable due to poor internet connectivity)
  • Taxis are easy to find for example from the airport to your hotel and Mini Buses in town (even Horse transportation)
  • Car rental is available starting from 1000-2000 Nakfa depending on type of car
  • It is currently not an easy process to get your own Sim card so try to ask a friend or relative to provide one for you on loan for your visit in advance
  • Current rate of exchange at time of writing (end July) is 1$ = 15 Nakfa
  • Languages spoken: Tigrigna and English

Finally we offer our Thanks and Appreciation to our Eritrean friends Ebtisam Hussein, Tomas mengesteab and Tesfalem belay who kindly showed us around.

And for restaurant and hotel recommendations we thank Arman Tour in Asmara and recommend them to plan your visit to Asmara.

Tel: +2917169873/ +2917259002

Information Compiled by Arabella Stewart