Asmara has eleven downtown bus routes that run on unique Red Mercedes Benz buses with a sign in front indicating where they’re going (oftentimes in Latin script). The bus stops are well marked (there are signs and a clear shelter with a bench), although the buses stop operating very early in the evening (about 7PM). They run every day at 15-30 minute intervals, although there is no set or advertised timetable. During rush hour, the roadways get very congested (in the morning, midday and around 4PM in the evening). The fee is 1 Nakfa, and the entrance is at the rear, where the ticket is purchased. It is not required to have precise change, although it is preferable to pay in smaller denominations.
Line 1 connects the airport, 3 kilometers south of the city, with the zoo at Biet Ghiorghis, 2 kilometers (1 mile) east of the city on the eastern escarpment (the windy road to the Red Sea begins after Biet Ghirogis). Number 1 also runs through the major streets of Asmara (Independence and Martyrs Avenues). All bus routes beginning with 2 (e.g., 21, 22, etc.) go between the marketplace downtown and the outlying towns, however only a handful run each day. As a result, prepare to depart early in order to return the same day. Only locals are aware of the timetable (through word of mouth). If you’re fortunate, one of them will speak English and be really helpful. Some settlements, such as Embaderho and Tselot, are well worth visiting because of their landscape and traditional way of life.
There are additional white minibus lines that travel on the city’s major streets, with defined routes but no fixed stops or signage. They generally stop at bus stops, but much like cabs, you must hail them when you see them. If the ticket-boy (called fottorino) doesn’t beat you to it by announcing it loudly, ask them where they’re going before boarding. Then, when you’re ready to get off, say so (“Stop!” is a globally recognized demand). Nakfa = two.
Finally, there are the yellow taxis, which, like the white minivans, follow regular routes on major thoroughfares. They use a system similar to minivans, and the fee is 5 Nakfa. You’ll most likely be riding with three other folks. Because some taxis may not follow set itineraries, some will drive you directly to your destination. These cabs are known as contract taxis, and the price must be negotiated with the driver. The cost varies on how far you go, but most contract drivers charge at least 70 Nakfa. When an aircraft arrives, these taxis normally wait outside the airport, the city’s principal hotels (Asmara Palace Hotel, Nyala, Ambassador, etc.), the road to the right of the main cathedral downtown, and other visible locations. They may also be called on any street, however many taxis follow a set route and have customers already aboard.
Renting a vehicle is prohibitively costly, and gasoline rates are far higher than in Europe. Renting a taxi to go about town is also pretty pricey, but manageable. Expect to spend between 3000 and 6000 Nakfa for a weekend with a driver. It could be best to take the bus or call one of the national trip companies (ask at the information desk at the airport upon arrival).