Bordering Ethiopia are north-south trending highlands that drop to a coastal desert plain on the east, mountainous terrain on the northwest, and rolling plains on the southwest. When Eritrea declared independence in 1993, it kept the whole Ethiopian coastline along the Red Sea.
Eritrea is a tiny nation (by African standards), approximately the size of Pennsylvania or England, but the unique terrain of the Great Rift Valley, which runs across East Africa, the Red Sea, and the Middle East, has resulted in a varied and contrasted environment.
Natural attractions are the most fascinating places to visit in the country. In the nation, there are six major topographical characteristics. The central and southern highlands, the western lowlands, the Sahel in the north, the subtropical eastern escarpments, the northern coast and archipelago, and the southern coast are all part of Eritrea.
The capital, Asmara, is located in the highlands, which are between 1500 and 3500 meters above sea level and have a moderate, Mediterranean, and dry climate with minimal seasonal fluctuation. The wet season lasts from May to September, whereas the dry season lasts from December to April. The temperature in the highlands, however, varies significantly depending on height. Valleys, hills, and huge stretches of plateaus are interspersed by spectacular chasms and gorges throughout the terrain. The scenery, which resembles pictures from Mars, is red-brown, rusty, beige, or black (stone and rubble-colored) during the dry season, which lasts from December to April. In the villages and towns, the vegetation consists mostly of shrubs, eucalyptus, aloes, cactus, and the occasional explosively colored specks of bougainvillea, jacaranda, or other decorative plants. The rainy season provides torrents of rain and nutrition to the soil, which in the post-rain months of August through October turns into a lush, emerald, and grassy landscape.
Rural highlanders live in communities with stone homes, tiny plots of land, old Christian and Muslim temples, people farming and herding with traditional methods and minimal technology, and carrying their products (as well as themselves) with mules and camels. The suburbs of Asmara, the capital, are a wonderful location to explore the highland scenery. The Martyrs National Park was established in 2000 near the hamlet of Tselot. At the crest of the highland plateau, where the capital was constructed, there is a hilly forest and wildlife preserve.
The western lowlands are located between 1500 and 100 meters above sea level and have a tropical climate with high humidity and heat during the day during the rainy season (which runs from May to September, as does the Highlands) and dry hot days with chilly nights during the dry season. During the wet season, the plains are grassy, muddy, and green, whereas during the dry season, they are dry, dusty, and sparsely covered with vegetation.
The plains are broken up by odd hills and mountains, as well as three seasonal rivers that begin in the Eritrean highlands and one permanent river that originates in the Ethiopian highlands and forms part of the Ethiopian border (the Setit, also known as Tekeze in Ethiopia and Atbara in Sudan). These rivers run through the lowlands, and all of the main towns are located on or near them. The southern part of the lowlands is covered with classic African Savannah, with occasional herds of wild African elephants and other Savannah-type vegetation and wildlife. The Sahara desert encompasses the northern half of the lowlands, which consists of large swaths of sand dunes and rocks punctuated by a few poorly inhabited oasis. Because it sits exactly between the dry and green sections of the lowlands, the market town of Tessenei near the Sudanese border and its environs is the ideal location to experience both sides of the lowlands. Tessenei serves as a crossroads for both nomadic desert peoples and sedentary agricultural populations in the Savannah. Tessenei provides tourists with some of the most basic facilities, such as hotels with showers and flush toilets, stores (including photo shops where visitors may purchase film and bottled beverages), and restaurants offering well-prepared meals. It takes approximately 10 hours to get there via asphalt road from Asmara’s capital, passing through Keren and the cities of Agordat and Barentu. Buses leave Asmara every day. It is also accessible by dirt road from the Sudanese city of Kassala, which is just 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. However, given the border bureaucracy, even small trip might take a whole day to complete.
The Sahel in northern Eritrea is located on the eastern outskirts of the vast Sahara desert, and it stands in stark contrast to the sandy deserts of the western lowlands and the eastern coast. The Sahel is a tall narrow range of mountains that stretches all the way north to Sudan and Egypt, varying in height from 1000 to 2500 meters (3280-8200 feet) (a feature of the Great Rift Valley). Herding nomads are sparsely inhabited on the east and west slopes. The rainy season on the western slopes coincides with that in the Highlands and western lowlands, while the eastern slopes have a climate similar to that of the Red Sea, with intermittent precipitation from December to March. This region receives much less rainfall than the majority of the country’s populated areas. The environment is desert-like, with minimal humidity, dry hot days and chilly nights, and little seasonal temperature change. Temperature differences do exist, though, between various elevations. The advantages of the wet seasons have also been severely hampered by heavy erosion caused by conflict and prior overgrazing. As a result, the terrain is dry, suitable only for the most tenacious of nomadic herding tribes. Impenetrable and hair-raising mountain passes, gorges, and valleys make up the center and northern core. When Eritrean rebels (who now make up the country’s government) battled Ethiopia for Eritrea’s independence, this was their primary stronghold. Anseba, a seasonal river that originates in the highlands and bisects the mountain range before draining into a delta on Sudan’s Red Sea coast just north of the Eritrean border, bisects the mountain range and bisects the mountain range. The village of Nakfa, which was the primary base of the Eritrean resistance and gave the national currency its name, is the finest location to visit in the Sahel. A war museum honoring the independence fight is also located in Nakfa, as well as a pleasant but modest government-run hotel with a restaurant and satellite television. It may be reached by road from Asmara through Keren and by dirt road from Keren via the town of Afabet. Because the route between Keren and Nakfa is bad, it takes 10 to 12 hours. Buses to Nakfa leave early in the morning from Keren, thus a journey from Asmara would need an overnight stay in Keren (which is served many times daily from Asmara). Afabet may also be reached by an asphalt route from Massawa’s harbor through She’eb. The drive from Massawa to Nakfa will still take approximately 10 hours since the inevitable Afabet-Nakfa section is the most difficult. Massawa to Nakfa buses operate once a week.
The eastern (seaward) slopes of the highland area make up the subtropical eastern escarpment. This sliver of land is unique in that it contains the country’s sole subtropical rainforest and one of the world’s biggest collections of seasonal (winter-migrant) and indigenous bird species (tropical). Because it is so hilly, it has never been extensively populated (fortunately), as farming is very difficult. Nonetheless, there are a few modest coffee and spice farms in the country’s central highlands, as well as tropical fruit plantations in the lower reaches. The Solomouna National Park, which is accessible by asphalt road from both the capital Asmara and the port of Massawa, is the finest location to visit in this region. The only method to go to the national park is to take a guided trip with one of Eritrea’s tour companies, all of which are based in Asmara. This area is also passed over while traveling from highland Asmara to seaside Massawa. The towns and villages between Nefasit (25 km from Asmara) and Dongollo Alto are representative of the region’s character (50 km from Asmara).
The northern shore and archipelago are mostly composed of a sandy red-brown and beige semi-desert, with occasional vegetation and volcanic basalt-rock near the mainland coast. The elevation ranges from 0 to 500 meters (1640 feet) above sea level, and the climate is always tropical and humid, with uncomfortable highs of 37 to 50 degrees Celsius (99-122 degrees Fahrenheit) from May to September, before cooling to breezy and warm “lows” of 25 to 35 degrees (77-95 degrees Fahrenheit) from October to March. On the coast, the rainy season is a meaningless notion since it seldom rains, except for the occasional year when a big storm hits. Although there may be some little precipitation and cloudiness from November to March, the coast is mostly reliant on runoff from the highlands and eastern escarpments for its water supply (from aquifers and table water). The hot springs resort, approximately 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Massawa’s port city, offers hot mineral water baths and the water is also bottled as one of the country’s most popular mineral water sources and brands (Dongollo, sold in brown glass bottles).
The coast and archipelago are home to some of the most pristine coral reefs in the Red Sea, teeming with marine life ranging from dugongs and manta rays to large schools of tigerfish, dolphins, and, of course, sharks. Eritrea’s coast has some of the finest diving in the world, but it also has some of the most restricted diving and tourism facilities in the world, all of which are located in Massawa and are very costly. Due to pollution, floods, and erosion from the adjacent hills, the beaches in and around the port city of Massawa, as well as to the north, are of moderate to bad condition. Large mangrove wetlands dot the northern shore, which are excellent for fishing and bird viewing but not for beach life.
The beaches on the Dahlak islands, on the other hand, are immaculately clean, white, and beautiful, with turquoise lagoons. The Dahlak islands may only be reached by chartering a boat from a permitted firm in Massawa. The largest island, Dahlak Kebir, is just 90 kilometers (56 miles) distant, as are several smaller deserted islands like Dissei, which may be visited for a reasonable day trip from Massawa. Beyond Dissei, the archipelago stretches considerably farther and has much more to offer. Because of Eritrea’s poor infrastructure, lengthier voyages and seeing more of the country’s attractions are prohibitively costly and only accessible via a few European-run firms headquartered in Massawa. It is difficult to cruise freely on one’s own boat or a hired boat in the nation due to the country’s increased security. The port city of Massawa is clearly the finest location to explore the northern coast and archipelago.
Because of its volcanoes, quicksand, boiling sulfuric mud pools, salt lakes, coastal cliffs, and interior depressions, Eritrea’s southern coast is arguably its most spectacular but unforgiving terrain. The height varies from nearly 2000 meters (6,560 feet) above sea level to more than 100 meters (330 feet) below sea level, with salt pans and oddly formed rocks, and temperatures that are among the hottest on the globe. Eritrea’s southern coast has the highest recorded temperatures, reaching 55°C on a regular basis (131 F). Humidity keeps temperatures high all day, and seasonal fluctuations are similar to those seen on the northern shore. The contrast between the background of the towering mountains of the highlands to the west and the wide stretches of coastal desert to the east creates a striking scene in the northern interior regions of the southern coast. Because of the highland rainfall and runoff, it is the only place with significant vegetation in the whole region. Mountain goats and ostriches are among the fauna that may be seen in the region. The area is about 500 kilometers (310 miles) away between the port towns of Massawa and Assab. The area is best explored as part of a tour between the two towns, although excursions from Massawa and/or Assab may also be included, particularly for journeys focusing on interior scenery. Due to the severe temperature and political unrest near the Ethiopian border, any trip to this area without a guide is prohibited. The sole public transportation in the region is a few times weekly bus service between Massawa and Assab. Nasair from Asmara also visits Assab twice a week.
Eritrea is situated in East Africa’s Horn of Africa. It is bordered on the northeast and east by the Red Sea, on the west by Sudan, on the south by Ethiopia, and on the southeast by Djibouti. Eritrea is located between 12° and 18° north latitude and 36° and 44° east longitude.
A branch of the East African Rift cuts the nation almost in half. To the west, it contains rich fields, whereas to the east, it is desert. The fork in the rift is located in Eritrea, near the southern end of the Red Sea. Off the sandy and dry shore is the Dahlak Archipelago and its fishing grounds.
There are three ecoregions in Eritrea. The scorching, dry coastal lowlands extend down to the southeast of the nation to the east of the mountains. A distinct habitat may be found in the colder, more fertile highlands, which can reach elevations of 3000 meters. The sub-tropical rainforest near Filfil Solomona gives way to the southern highlands’ steep cliffs and gorges. The Afar Triangle, also known as the Danakil Depression in Eritrea, is thought to be the site of a triple junction, where three tectonic plates are pushing apart. Emba Soira, Eritrea’s highest peak, is situated in the country’s center, at 3,018 meters (9,902 feet) above sea level.
The capital city of Asmara and the port town of Asseb in the southeast, as well as the towns of Massawa in the east, Keren in the north, and Mendefera in the center, are the country’s major cities.
Eritrea is a member of the Global Environment Facility’s 14-nation constituency, which collaborates with international organizations, civil society groups, and the business sector to solve global environmental problems while supporting national sustainable development efforts. There is known to be local fluctuation in rainfall patterns and/or decreased precipitation, which may lead to soil erosion, floods, droughts, land degradation, and desertification. Eritrea also declared in 2006 that it will be the first nation in the world to create an ecologically protected zone along its whole coastline. The 1,347-kilometer (837-mile) coastline, as well as another 1,946-kilometer (1,209-mile) of shoreline around the country’s more than 350 islands, would be protected by the government.
Eritrea has a diverse mammalian population and a diverse avifauna with 560 bird species.
Eritrea is home to a diverse range of large game animals. Enforced restrictions have aided in their steady increase in numbers throughout Eritrea. The Abyssinian hare, African wild cat, Black-backed jackal, African golden wolf, Genet, Ground squirrel, pale fox, Soemmerring’s gazelle, and warthog are among the mammals frequently observed today. Dorcas gazelles may be found in abundance along the seashore and in Gash Barka.
The highlands of the Gash-Barka Region are believed to be home to lions. In certain areas of the nation, there is also a small population of African bush elephants. Dik-diks may also be found in a variety of locations. Denakalia Region is home to the endangered African wild ass. Bushbuck, duikers, greater kudu, Klipspringer, African leopards, oryx, and crocodiles are among the other native fauna. The spotted hyena is a very common and widespread species. There were no recorded sightings of elephant herds between 1955 and 2001, and they are believed to have perished as a result of the independence struggle. A herd of approximately 30 animals, including 10 youngsters, was seen near the Gash River in December 2001. Elephants and olive baboons seemed to have developed a symbiotic connection, with the baboons utilizing the elephants’ water holes and the elephants using the tree-top baboons as an early warning system.
Eritrea, the most northerly of East Africa’s elephants, is believed to have about 100 African wild elephants remaining. The rare African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) was formerly present in Eritrea, but it is now thought to be extinct across the nation. Snakes like the saw-scaled viper are abundant in Gash Barka. The puff adder and red spitting cobra are also common, especially in the highlands. Dolphins, dugongs, whale sharks, turtles, marlin, swordfish, and manta rays are all frequent marine animals in coastal regions.
Eritrea’s climate is influenced by its varied geographical characteristics and tropical position. Eritrea’s highlands and lowlands have different landscapes and terrain, resulting in different climates throughout the nation. The climate in the highlands is mild throughout the year. Most lowland zones have arid or semiarid climates. Rainfall and vegetation types are distributed differently throughout the nation. Eritrea’s climate is affected by seasonal and altitudinal variations.
Eritrea may be classified into three main climatic zones based on temperature variations: temperate zone, subtropical climate zone, and tropical climate zone.
Between 1990 and 2014, Eritrea’s population grew from 3.2 million to 6.4 million. Eritrean women have an average of 4.7 children each year.
According to Eritrea’s government, there are nine recognized ethnic groups. Eritrea’s population is ethnically diverse. Although an impartial census has yet to be performed, the Tigrinya make up approximately 55 percent of the population, while the Tigre make up about 30 percent. Afroasiatic-speaking populations of the Cushitic branch, such as the Saho, Hedareb, Afar, and Bilen, account for the bulk of these ethnic groupings. There are also many Niloticethnic minorities in Eritrea, which are represented by the Kunama and Nara. Each ethnic group has its own native language, although many minority speak more than one. The Rashaida ethnic group makes up approximately 2% of Eritrea’s population. They live in Eritrea’s northern coastal lowlands as well as Sudan’s eastern coastlines. In the 19th century, the Rashaida arrived in Eritrea from the Hejaz area.
There are also populations of Italian Eritreans (concentrated in Asmara) and Ethiopian Tigrayans. Neither is usually granted citizenship until they marry or, in the rarest of cases, the state bestows it on them. In 1941, Eritrea had a population of approximately 760,000 people, including 70,000 Italians. After Eritrea gained independence from Italy, the majority of Italians fled.
According to current estimates, 50 percent of the population follows Christianity, 48 percent follows Islam, and 2% follow other religions like as traditional beliefs and animism. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 63 percent of people believe in Christianity and 36 percent believe in Islam. The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church (Oriental Orthodox), Sunni Islam, the Eritrean Catholic Church (a Metropolitanate sui juris), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church have all been formally recognized by the Eritrean government since May 2002. A registration procedure is needed for all other religions and denominations. The government’s registration system, for example, compels religious organizations to provide personal information about their members in order to worship.
The Eritrean government opposes reformation or radicalization of the country’s recognized faiths. As a result, extreme versions of Islam and Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Bahá’ Faith (albeit the Bahá’ Faith is neither Islamic nor Christian), the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and a slew of other non-Protestant Evangelical groups are not allowed to worship freely. Since 1994, three identified Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned, along with 51 others.
Only one native follower of Judaism, Sami Cohen, remained in Eritrea as of 2006.
For the third year in a row, the US State Department designated Eritrea as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) in its religious freedom report.
Eritrea is a one-party state with a history of postponing national parliamentary elections. Human Rights Watch considers the government’s human rights record to be among the worst in the world. The Eritrean government have been accused by most Western nations of making arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as holding an unknown number of individuals for their political activity without trial. The Eritrean administration, on the other hand, has consistently rejected the allegations as politically motivated.
The G-15 are a notable group of Eritreans who were imprisoned in September 2001 after releasing an open letter to the government and President Isaias Afewerki asking for democratic discussion. These people, along with thousands of others who are believed to be associated with them, are being held in jail without any legal charges, hearings, trials, or judgment.
Eritrea’s human rights record has been criticized at the United Nations since the country’s war with Ethiopia in 1998–2001. Human rights abuses are reportedly perpetrated regularly by the government or on its behalf. Speech, press, assembly, and association are all restricted. Those who follow “unregistered” faiths, attempt to leave the country, or refuse to serve in the military are arrested and imprisoned. Many crimes were perpetrated by Ethiopian authorities against unarmed Eritrean people during the Eritrean independence movement and the 1998 Eritrean-Ethiopian War.
In a 500-page UN Human Rights Council report released in June 2016, Eritrea’s government was accused of extrajudicial killings, torture, indefinitely extended national service, and forced labor, as well as pervasive sexual harassment, rape, and sexual slavery by state officials. The study revealed “extremely severe human rights abuses,” according to Barbara Lochbihler of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, who stated that EU development assistance will not continue as is without reform in Eritrea. The Eritrean Foreign Ministry reacted by calling the Commission’s findings “wild accusations” that were “completely baseless and without substance.” Several nations, notably the United States and China, contested the report’s wording and veracity.
All Eritreans between the ages of 18 and 40 are required to serve in the military as part of their national duty. After Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia, this national service was established as a preventative measure to preserve Eritrea’s sovereignty, promote national pride, and build a disciplined population. Eritrea’s national service entails long, indefinite conscription, which some Eritreans attempt to escape by fleeing the country.
Eritrean government officials and NGO representatives have attended many public forums and discussions in an effort to improve the country. They have addressed such basic issues as “What are human rights?” “Who decides what are human rights?” and “What should take priority, human or community rights?” at these meetings. Eritrea’s government also outlawed female genital mutilation in 2007. Eritreans themselves continue to speak out against female circumcision in Regional Assemblies and religious circles. When they say this, they cite health issues and individual liberty as top priorities. They also urge rural residents to abandon this old cultural practice. In early 2009, a new organization called Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea was established with the goal of bringing the government and opposition together in discussion. The organization is made up of regular individuals as well as certain government officials.
Eritrea’s economy has grown significantly in recent years, as shown by a 7.5 percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP) in October 2012 over 2011. The start of full operations at the gold and silver Bisha mine, as well as the manufacture of cement from the Massawa cement plant, is a major element in Eritrea’s recent economic development.
The real GDP (estimated for 2009) is $4.4 billion, with an annual growth rate of 14% (estimated for 2011).
Remittances from overseas workers are projected to contribute for 32 percent of the country’s GDP. Copper, gold, granite, marble, and potash are among Eritrea’s abundant natural resources. The Eritrean economy has changed dramatically as a result of the War of Independence. Eritrea’s GDP increased by 8.7% in 2011, making it one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
Agriculture employs more than 80% of Eritrea’s workers. Sorghum, millet, barley, wheat, legumes, vegetables, fruits, sesame, linseed, cattle, sheep, goats, and camels are among Eritrea’s major agricultural products. 
Eritrea’s economy was badly harmed by the Eritrean–Ethiopian War. In 1999, GDP growth was less than 1%, while in 2000, GDP dropped by 8.2 percent. The conflict caused $600 million in property damage and loss in May 2000, including $225 million in cattle and 55,000 houses.
As part of the Warsay Yika’alo Program, Eritrea improved its transportation infrastructure by paving new roads, upgrading ports, and restoring war-damaged roads and bridges. The building of a coastal highway linking Massawa and Asseb, as well as the restoration of the Eritrean Railway, were the most important of these projects. Although services remain intermittent, the train connection between the port of Massawa and the capital Asmara has been restored. For gatherings of enthusiasts, steam locomotives are sometimes utilized.
Eritrea has a national airline, Eritrean Airlines, in principle, although services are patchy.