Asmara is a diamond of a city. The sun shines down on its peaceful neighborhoods for eight straight months of the year, and the streets are lined with tantalizing pastry shops, vintage-style cafes and cheerful pizza parlors. This may sound like a small Italian village, but it really is the Eritrean capital. The European atmosphere and relaxed pace of life really make you feel like you are on an entirely different continent and so will the architectural wonders that are relics of the colonial era. It is one of the most enchanting and agreeable cities in Africa, and you will leave wanting more, no matter how long you stayed.
The best thing to do in Asmara is to let your feet and heart be your guide. Wander the streets, taking in the stunning Italian architecture, and let your mind wander to another time and place. The palm-lined Independence Avenue is a good place to start. Known by locals as ìKombishtato,î the avenue is lined with old cinemas, mom-and-pop shops and cafes that have perfected the art of the cappuccino. The city’s tallest building, the Nyala Hotel, towers above the avenue’s south end, and to the right of the cathedral is the capital’s bustling and colorful marketplace. Stroll through the stalls taking in the incredible array of goods, including detailed olivewood carvings, gold-embroidered handmade garments, intoxicatingly aromatic spices and traditional goat-skin rugs.
The nearby National Museum is worth a visit for a small but still impressive glimpse of Eritrea’s history. The most interesting exhibits detail traditional countryside life and introduce the country’s many ethnic groups.
The Biet Ghiorghis Zoo and Park is located near the city outskirts, and it is worth the short trip. The zoo itself is not anything special, but the views from the eastern escarpment can’t be beat.
If the architecture in central Asmara makes you feel like you are in another land, the lifestyle in the nearby village of Tselot will convince you that you are in a completely different time. Located just outside the city, the village exemplifies the traditional rural lifestyle. Stone houses sit on small, dusty plots of land, herds of goat and sheep graze in front of ancient Christian and Muslim temples and locals transport themselves and their goods on camelback or mule.
Martyrs National Park is a short walk away from the village. Founded in 2000, the wildlife reserve offers spectacular scenery and views, from serene valleys to dramatic ridges. If you trek to the highest viewpoint, you will feel like you are standing above the clouds because of the thick fog that usually covers the mountaintops and gorges. It is a remarkable experience, and the park is one of the highlights of Asmara.
After working up an appetite strolling through the city, feast on an authentic Italian meal at one of the many restaurants in the city, or try some delicious traditional Eritrean food. It is quite spicy, so be prepared to sweat a bit, and most dishes are served with ìinjera,î a sour-dough staple that resembles flatbread or pancakes. Follow your meal with a cup of strong Italian-style coffee or a lager from the country’s only brewery, located in Asmara.
Asmara Geographical Location
Asmara is located in the Maekel Region near the center of Eritrea.
The population of Asmara is approximately 650,000 people and is the largest city in Eritrea.
Eritrea’s three official languages are Tigrinya, Arabic, and English. Tigre, Kunama, Afar, and other Cushitic languages are spoken in smaller populations throughout the country.
Asmara Predominant Religion
- 50% Christian
- 48% Muslim
- 2% Indigenous Beliefs
There is almost an equal split between the populations of Muslims and Christians and for the most part they live geographically separate with the Muslims living in the lowlands and Christians living in the highlands.
The official currency of Eritrea is the Nakfa.
Asmara experiences warm summers and mild winters with subtle temperature changes between the two seasons. July and August are the rainiest months in which it rains a large portion of the annual rainfall within the two-month timeframe.
Asmara Main Attractions
- Asmara Theater and Opera House
- Cathedral of Asmara
- Nda Mariam Orthodox Church
Other Attractions in Asmara
- National Museum Asmara
- Synagogue of Asmara
- Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque
- Denkalya Desert