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General Information

Eritrea is located in North East Africa (between 12° and 18° north, and 36° and 44° east) and includes the Dahlak Archipelago and other islands along the Red Sea coast. It is bordered by Sudan to the north and west, Ethiopia to the south, Djibouti to the south-east and the Red Sea to the north and north-east.

With a land area of about 125.000 km2, Eritrea is about the size of England, or the state of Pennsylvania in the USA. The coastline measures around 1.200 km and off it there are over 350 islands, of which 210 comprise the area of the Dahlak Archipelago.

Sea floor spreading occurs in the Red Sea, creating new land, and in the Afar triangle, only one of the two places on earth were it occurs on dry land (the other being Iceland). Many of the mountains in Eritrea are remnants of when Africa was joined to the Arabian peninsula, millions of years ago.

Eritrea was known at times as Mareb Mellash ("This side of the Mareb River") or Bahrmeder ("Sealand"). The name "Eritrea" is of foreign origin and has been attributed to a derivative of the ancient Greek cartographic designation, Mare Erythrean ("Red Sea"), fragment 67 of Aeschylus:

There the sacred waters of the Erythrean Sea break upon a bright red strand, and at no great distance from the ocean lies a copper-tinted lake - the lake that is the jewel of Ethiopia - where the all-pervading sun returns again and again to plunge his immortal form, and finds solace for his weary round in gentle ripples that are but warm caress.

It was not until the arrival of the Italians in the 19th century however that the country was officially called Eritrea.

Eritrea looks like a funnel; wide in the northwest and tapering to a narrow strip in the south-east. Topographically, the country consists of three regions:

The first region is a narrow eastern lowland desert strip along the Red Sea coast that accounts for around 33% of the land area coast. The land in this area is mostly infertile due to the high salt content and a year round average temperature of 25 Celsius.

The second region is the northern extension of the Ethiopian Plateau in the north-central region which is dissected by the valleys of westward flowing rivers, which runs Eritrea's border with Ethiopia. This area is the most fertile area of the country, receiving up to 900 mm of rain per year; the area has been the site of the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia for 40 years. Elevation of up to 3000 meters above sea level makes the climate more moderate in this area than in the coastal region.

The third geographical region is the western plains, which occupy the vast area extending to Eritrea's western border  with Sudan. This is the most arid area in the country, receiving only 200 mm of rain per year.

The major rivers in Eritrea are the Anseba and Barka river flowing north; the Gash and Tekeze rivers on the border with Ethiopia flowing west into Sudan. The upper course of the Gash river is known as the Mereb river. These rivers are not year round rivers. They do not run on a regular basis, but fed by seasonal rains called azmera and kremti.

The highest point is the mountain called Emba Soira (9,880 feet or 3,010 meter). The lowest point is the Kobar Sink in the Danakil Depression (380 feet or 116 meter below sea level).

Eritrea is three hours ahead of GMT. There is a two hour time difference between continental Europe and Eritrea, except when Europe is on Summer time. Then the difference is only one hour (ahead). There is an eight hour time difference (ahead) between USA Eastern Standard Time and Eritrea, which is reduced to seven during Daylight Savings Time.

 Eritrea is located at the highest landmass of the African continent. As a result the highlands of Eritrea have ameliorating climate conditions. Resulting from these climatic conditions at higher altitudes we find vegetative cover and fertile soils which are suitable for agricultural purposes.

Eritrea has a variety of climatic conditions. Asmara at 2,350 meters (7,700 feet) has a pleasant climate all year (average temperature of 16° Celsius (60° Fahrenheit)) and receives 508 mm (20 inches) of rainfall annually. The eastern coastal areas receive the unpredictable, "little rains" (belg) during October to March, while the other areas get "main rains" (kiremti) from June to September.

    Eritrea: Three Seasons in two hours.

    Eritrea: Three Seasons in two hours.

In the highlands, further inland, with an elevation between 1,800 and 2,100 meters (5,900 and 6,900 feet) the hottest month is usually May (around 30°) and in winter (December to February) temperatures are near freezing point at night.

At sea level along the coast (Massawa, Assab), the period from June to September is very hot (40-50°). In the period December to February (rainy season) the temperature varies from 20 to 35°. Massawa at sea level has an average annual temperature of 30° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit) and an annual precipitation of 205 mm (80 inches).

In the western lowlands (Agordat, Barentu), the temperatures and the rainy seasons are comparable to those on the coast.

Best time to visit

Eritrea is a year-round destination for the highlands while at other places it depends on the place one spends most of one's holidays in or the activities one wishes to undertake. Eritrea is the land where one can experience three seasons in just two hours - from the rugged mountain peaks of Emba Soira to the arid desert heat of the Danakil Depression (100 meters below sea level and which is one of the hottest places on earth) to the cool breezes of the Red Sea.

Information courtesy of a website developing tourism in Eritea