On this planet there are still places where the appearance of a superyacht - if not a sensation, then the event. Moreover, it clearly testifies to the special worldview of the owner of the ship, his craving for unknown and healthy adventurism, multiplied by sober calculation and serious preparation.
And if the waters of Kuril, Easter Island or the archipelago Fire Earth because of its remoteness can indeed be considered a destination for «pure extreme», then there are very few places where you can relax from people and see something from the category «of wow».
In the familiar to any resort, the Red Sea suddenly discovers a real «terra incognita», visit to which usually causes sincere surprise to anyone, even far from the sea theme.
Eritrea, one of the youngest nations on the planet, the mythical country of Punt antiquity and one of the hottest places on Earth, is a true white spot on the tourist map of the world.
Every year, hundreds of superyachts pass by Eritrea on the Suez Canal. And no one dares to visit it.
It is understandable - long civil war, dubious media reputation and complete lack of infrastructure usually make yachtsmen bypass these waters.
However, there is something in the waters of Eritrea that is already very problematic to find elsewhere in the Old World - beautiful coral reefs with a lot of unexplored places, amazing landscapes, original culture and many other things that an enterprising yacht owner is unlikely to find in close proximity to the beaten routes.
In 2018, there was a superyacht owner who was ready to take a chance and discover Eritrea as a new destination for big yachting.
He turned to Pelorus, a company specializing in the preparation of non-standard yachting expeditions.
The first superyacht will visit the shores of Eritrea already in 2019. What awaits her passengers and crew there?
The most, the most in Africa.
So what is Eritrea really? It is the youngest state in Africa that gained independence only in 1993, and in fact in 2018, when the war with Ethiopia and Djibouti ended. It is the hottest place in the Old World where the air temperature at any time of year keeps above a mark in +37°С with peaks up to +48°С, and water - above +22°С. The dryest place of the African continent, practically without rivers and industry - for this reason sea water here is exclusively transparent. The most mountainous part of North Africa, more than 80% of whose territory is occupied by a plateau more than 1500 meters high and mountains up to 3248 (!) meters high.
Even the capital of the country lies at an altitude of more than 2,300 meters above sea level - a phenomenon unseen for Africa!
And yet only 200 kilometres away is the lowest part of the continent, the Afar Depression (-75 metres in the Cobar-Sink area).
It is the most unurbanized country in the Red Sea, with one third of the population living a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle, and livestock and handicrafts still make up a significant part of the economy. At the same time, Eritrea's biodiversity is very high - there is an entire «African population of five» (elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion and leopard) and over three hundred other animal species, while the Dahlaq archipelago is home to some 250 fish species. The list of records for such a small country is quite serious, don't you think?!
And there's plenty to see here. Eritrea is a unique historical region. Human settlements dating back to the 8th millennium B.C. have been discovered here. Cities of the legendary country Punt, or «Land of the Gods», which supplied gold, obsidian, ebony, ivory, precious myrtle and citrus to ancient Egypt and Greece, were buzzing here. The mighty kingdom of Axum, which traded with all of Europe and Asia, ruled here, while the underground catacombs and necropolises of the Barca Valley still stump the best historians in the world. The longest African war of the 20th century did not bypass the architectural monuments of Eritrea, but many historical sites are almost intact and still waiting for their researchers.
A capital that's not being stolen
Situated on the eastern edge of the elevated plateau, Eritrea's capital Asmara (Asmara) is famous for its mild climate, numerous Art Deco villas and beautiful streets with a distinctly Italian look. Its historical monuments include Corinthian columns of the neoclassical governor's palace, Romanesque porticoes of Opera House (1920), considered one of the best examples of pawnshop Romance style outside Italy Catholic cathedral, city mosque and impressive facade of Cinema Impero.
Also interesting are the excellent National Museum, the bustling local market, the surrounding city park and the famous «Tank»Cemetery, where you can find the remains of hundreds of samples of auto and armored vehicles of different periods and manufacturers.
And yet, surprisingly for many, Asmara has a well-deserved reputation as one of the safest capitals in Africa that is not stolen! At the nearest police station, you can easily find a lost item, and the bike left on the street will stand in the same place a week later.
Monuments of the War of Independence
Situated on a small plateau 100 kilometres northwest of the capital, the town of Karen (Karen) witnessed fierce battles between Italians and the British during World War II, and bloody battles during the independence war at the end of the 20th century. It is enough to visit British and Italian military cemeteries to assess the gravity of these events.
It is hard to find a more relaxed atmosphere than in Asmara, but Karen here is the main competitor.
The old quarters of the city are full of Italian architectural heritage, near the city market there is a local shrine - the Chapel of St. Maryam (Sainte-Mariam-Dearit) in the ancient Baobab, which is a symbol of wisdom and abundance, and Egyptian Fort Tigu (XIX century) on the slope of the mountain of the same name will give a wonderful panorama of the surrounding area.
220 kilometres north of Asmara lies the rather inaccessible town of Nakfa, which served as the headquarters for the resistance during the long war of independence.
At first glance, it's just a mountainous cluster of iron huts, but in fact, Nakfa is something much more.
The rebels dug a huge labyrinth beneath the city, with caves and tunnels housing gun shops, hospitals and printing shops. This underground city, along with a mosque - the only surviving Nakfa surface structure of those days - is now a kind of symbol of the national identity of the Eritreans.
The oldest coral reefs in the Red Sea
The island of Massawa and the port of the same name, with its maze of old streets and a mixture of colorful buildings, squares and religious buildings made of coral blocks are considered one of the most interesting places in the country. This deep harbour, which in ancient times was called «the Pearl of the Red Sea», has been used by people for centuries, and the Arabs, Egyptians, Turks and Englishmen have also left a mark of their own architectural influence here. However, the five hundred year old Sheikh Hanafi Mosque, with its stunning Murano glass chandelier, surrounded by beautiful mansions with carved wooden facades, the large square of Campo, the Ottoman-style mansions of Mammub Mohammad Nahari and Abu Hamdoum were severely damaged by Ethiopian bombardment, and the Governor's palace was left only in ruins. However, the beautiful beaches of Taulud, Arquico, Emberemy and Ras Nauret have not gone anywhere, and their pristine coral reefs are still considered some of the best in the Red Sea.
The most interesting object on the sea coast of the country is considered to be Dahlaq archipelago - about 350 islands of various sizes and shapes, lying 58 kilometers east of Massawa. The islands' water area is clean and abundant in coral reefs (the oldest in the Red Sea, by the way!), traces of shipwrecks of different eras and completely undeveloped diving sites, which will provide a lot of pleasure to visit them.
Dahlaq Kebir is so interesting that it may soon be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the largest island of the Dahlaq Kebir archipelago you can find several breathtaking salt lagoons, 360 (!) ancient underground water tanks, nine picturesque ethnic villages, an ancient necropolis and many archaeological ruins. Here is also built a huge tourist complex belonging to the royal family of Qatar, with a casino, numerous hotels and luxury infrastructure. And on the closing lagoon of Gubbet Mus-Nefit island Nokra remained notorious Italian prison and the former Soviet military base, very popular with a few tourists and divers.
Ethiopia's largest port...
And to complete your acquaintance with the Eritrean coast, you can visit the once largest port in Ethiopia - Asseb (Assab), lying at the entrance to the famous Bab el Mandeb Strait. From the Arabic Bab al-Mandab is translated as the «Gate of Mourning»- so complicated was the passage through its troubled waters in ancient times. Aseb is one of the hottest places on the planet, but beaches stretching to Cape Ras Darma, excellent reefs of the surrounding archipelago and the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Michael once attracted thousands of tourists. Now the city serves as a kind of example of «African post-apocalypse with»frozen forever port cranes, dead factories and dozens of abandoned houses literally melting in the desert mauve. However, this is where the most convenient route to mysterious Sokotra, Maldives, Oman and Gulf resorts begins.
Eritrea can also be considered a landmark for its original (and quite spicy!) local cuisine with its ubiquitous roasting tsebhi «sauce,»roasted goat capretto«, legamate «»cakes and, of» course, coffee.
Food and drinks are absolutely safe under normal personal hygiene rules, but their spicy and unusual mineral composition, combined with the local climate can make the result unpredictable.
When to go?
The best period to visit is spring (March-April) and autumn (September-October), when it is not so hot and the rains in the mountains do not add moisture to the air from the Red Sea. At the same time there are also the main religious festivals in the country - January Leddet (Christmas) and Timkat (Epiphany), September Meskel (Finding the true cross) and Kiddus Yohannes (New Year) and others.
This is all well said by any experienced tourist, but what does a foreigner really expect among Eritrea's antiquities and reefs? Why is it that traveling here is still not considered an ordinary event, and most embassies of the world dissuade their fellow citizens from this
«reckless act?»And the answer will be simple - not as scary as the devil's tiny.
You no longer need a bulletproof vest to visit Eritrea, you just want to appreciate the hospitality of the locals.
Indeed, the real obstacle that will have to be constantly overcome when visiting the country is only formalism and bureaucracy. Everything else, while respecting standard procedures and security standards, is handled on site without much difficulty. Given the simple fact that the existing government has been in power since 1993, the political conflict factor remains unlikely. However, the proximity to turbulent Somalia, the Sudan, Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti, as well as the security situation in the border areas, must be taken into account. The country has a permanent contingent of UN peacekeeping forces, so the overall situation is very calm, but do not discount the effects of years of war with its non-domain fields, border security zones and other «surprises».
Visa regime and currency
The country's visa regime is very liberal and raises no special questions. Extension of the visa is possible in the port of Massawa or Aseb, there are also special permits for refueling, procurement of supplies, repair or recharge of water, which is an important issue in local realities. However, movement within a country often causes some difficulties.
Most of the country is closed to the public, to travel you must obtain a free permit, which is checked at every corner.
And for individual visits to the Dahlaq Islands and the archaeological sites of Metera and Kohayto, for example, you must obtain a special paid «permit»from the National Museum of Asmara, the port or travel agency. And the prices are very high (from $20 per day) and do not exclude various additional permits (for example, for Metara - from the military administration in Senafa). And in order to visit the monasteries, one»also needs a «permit from the Patriarchate of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. And all permits are issued by different departments, which is quite confusing the situation.
The local currency is the Nakfa (ERN) almost everywhere, although the Ethiopian Birr (Birr) and the US Dollar (USD) have limited circulation. The use of credit cards and tourist cheques is only possible in public institutions in the capital. Exchanges are made only in banks or large hotels in Asmara, which is why, in general, low prices are increasing quite significantly (the vast majority of products in the country are imported). Exchanges on the black market are strictly prohibited and punishable by serious fines. It is necessary to declare foreign currency upon entry and all subsequent exchange transactions are entered into this declaration and then verified upon departure, so it is not recommended to lose this document in any case.
Features of local trade
Eritrea is one of the birthplaces of coffee, but at present it is hardly grown in the country, so it is prohibited to export beans without documents proving the legality of their purchase. Ivory products are sold in all souvenir shops, but it is prohibited to export them, which makes the purchase meaningless. And it is practically useless to look for any modern equipment, including electronic, in local shops.
And if something seriously breaks down on your ship, you can wait months for the necessary part to arrive - it's easier and even cheaper to order a tow to the ports of Egypt, Djibouti or Saudi Arabia.
Prices in local markets and shops are relatively low and usually the result of a bidding process, which is a true art. Price lists are almost nowhere to be found, so it is easy to make a mistake about the real value of a thing. At the same time, in many stores the cash register works separately from the seller, which, together with the prices that are not fixed in most cases, can confuse anyone.
The first visit to Eritrea by a superyacht is unlikely to be a dangerous event, but it is also difficult to call it simple. A thorough analysis of all factors and a serious approach to the issue of provision are therefore indispensable, and the only way to avoid all risks. However, "careful reconnaissance «on the ground" will still be necessary, if only to assess the competence of local personnel, who have absolutely no experience in servicing high-end yachts and working with modern equipment. It is equally important to understand with whom exactly and what to talk about on the spot, how the local decision-making system works, where and how permits for visiting specific historical sites are issued, landing of private jets at a military airport, ship servicing, diving to wreck sites and so on.
At the same time, it should be remembered that the traditional coffee ceremony, before which Eritreans are big hunters, may take several hours, and therefore the absence of an official at work is the norm.
«Initially we didn't think we would have to deal directly with the government," recalls Geordie Mackay-Lewis, co-founder of Pelorus agency. - On the spot, we realized that people who we thought should have given us permits, like the Massawa port authority, were too afraid to do»so.
In the end, with the help of local assistants and the participation of as many as seven (!) different ministries and agencies, all the formalities were respected and the real situation on the ground was clarified.
However, the start has been made, and it is likely that Eritrea will soon become not just a transit point for superyachts in the Mediterranean, to Seychelles, Maldives, Oman or Dubai, but will welcome them in its ports.