To most, Eritrea is but a mystery.
A former Italian colony, it sits in East Africa, by the horn of Africa.
But this small country has a very underrated and unknown piece of heaven. An unspoiled island group located in the Red Sea near Massawa, it boasts an archipelago that consists of two large and 124 small islands.
A few years ago, I had a friend who lived in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, for two years. She visited the Dahlak Archipelago Islands for a weekend with her friends and described her experience to me, saying, "It's like the ultimate dream island holiday, minus all the luxury."
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Here, tourism is hardly visible. She said they camped on the beach, and paid their local guide - who transferred them there and back in a traditional sambuk boat - to provide them with essentials and meals. The 'catch of the day' was their staple.
Isolated and underdeveloped, camping in dome-like tents is really the only option on most of these islands. Apparently, the watching stars here at night is something wild to experience, as there is absolutely zero light-pollution.
Journey By Design says that the weather is hot all year-round at 25°C between November and April, jumping to a high of 45°C between June and September.
Perfect for snorkelling and, undoubtedly, a diver's paradise, the marine life in the archipelago is apparently unparalleled. Also expect larger animals like dolphins, dugongs, sharks and turtles.
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The islands also play host to pearl fisheries, which still produce a substantial number of pearls.
So really, it has A LOT going for it.
But why is it so unknown?
Eritrea has a very tumultuous history. From border war to its current totalitarian political climate, it is not particularly open to visitors.
It has been called the 'North Korea of Africa', which doesn't exactly scream "Welcome!"
Visas are difficult to obtain and even then, you need travel permits for certain areas. You can't even leave the capital without one, says Unusual Traveller. South Africans can apply for a visa and pick up a pre-approved one on arrival.
Saying that, there are more and more flights to Eritrea, particularly from Dubai with carriers like Turkish Airlines flying there more frequently. Plus, as of last year there are more cross-border flights between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which could see a boost in tourism in the area.
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