The nafka is the official currency of Eritrea. At the time of writing it is pegged with the US dollar, and indeed the currency is divided into 100 cents.
There are several coins available that are denominated in cents. These are the 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cent coins. Aside from this there is also one other coin and this is the one nafka coin.
You will also see several banknotes when you go to Eritrea. These are denominated as follows – 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 nafka banknotes.
Some of the currencies we have looked at in this section have a history stretching back for decades or even centuries. This isn’t the case for the nafka, which came into being only in late 1997.
Before the country created its own currency it used the Ethiopian birr. Originally it replaced it at par, which meant one Ethiopian birr was worth one nafka upon introduction. As mentioned above it is now pegged to the US dollar at a different value.
Finding this currency is not the easiest of tasks. You won’t be able to order it from a bureau de change before you leave for Eritrea so this reduces you to finding some when you arrive in the country. Cash machines are exceptionally few and far between and they may not accept foreign cards anyway. It is also problematic to try and pay for anything with a credit card so don’t rely on this as a form of payment.
The good news is traveller’s cheques are welcomed so you can stock up on these before you leave home. Make sure you get them in US dollars rather than pounds (or any other currency) as this seems to be the preferred currency to exchange in Eritrea. You could also take in US dollars and change those for the local currency if you wish.
You can change your traveller’s cheques and cash at Western Union offices as well as banks, although there aren’t too many banks in the country as a whole.
Just find your preferred currency converter and type in ERN to quickly locate the Eritrea nafka. You can then compare the exchange rate it has with your own currency, and also with the US dollar if you wish.
There doesn’t seem to be an official website for the Eritrean embassy in the UK but you can visit our official UK government website if you need more information. The latest updates are issued at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/eritrea. Check all details regarding where in the country you can or should go, as this can affect your travel plans.
As mentioned above it is a good idea to check in advance of travel to see which areas you should steer well clear of. Generally speaking the border areas are the most problematic, partly because it is virtually impossible to see where the borders are.
As for crime, the normal procedures and safety measures are always a good idea. This is particularly true given that you’ll be relying on cash more than anything else. It’s a good idea to keep a separate note of your traveller’s cheques numbers and information just in case they should be taken or lost. Keep a safe hold on your passport too. If you stay in a hotel make sure it has good security and keep it in the safe. Wear as little jewellery as possible as things like this tend to wave red flags as far as attracting the potential of pickpockets and muggers is concerned.
Eritrea is situated in the Horn of Africa. It is a relatively small country in relation to some others nearby. Its entire eastern border from north to south faces the Red Sea. Its western border faces Sudan, while next to that is Ethiopia. Finally Djibouti is located to the very southernmost tip of Eritrea.
The capital of Eritrea is a city called Asmara. While you are exploring the city you may well feel an Italian influence, and you’d be right. There are some architectural influences here from that part of the world and it makes for a fascinating study. The city has a history that is barely 100 years old, and if you were to travel back that amount of time you’d probably find you were standing in a small village rather than a city. It has certainly developed in a major way since then.
If you have a passion for Art Deco you should definitely check out the Cinema Impero, which has been built in this style. It dates back to the mid-Thirties and you may even be able to see a film there to appreciate it from the inside as well as the outside. Elsewhere in the city you have the chance to visit the National Museum of Eritrea. This is the ideal place to go in order to learn a little more about the country and its history.
There are some lovely markets in the city as well that are well worth browsing round. Take the Shuq for example, the best-known market of its kind. This market is filled with ingredients for all kinds of meals and recipes; if you are self-catering a trip here is not to be missed. Elsewhere you can try the market known as Edaga Lakha, which is ideal if you want to take some gifts home with you. There are many items to buy, many of which are made by locals.
Finally you can try visiting the zoo. It is a small zoo but it is very cheap to enter (then again a lot of the prices in Eritrea are very cheap by comparison to many Western locations). You won’t see as many animals here as you would in other zoos around the world but there are some interesting species including hyenas.
If you head for a mountain called Debre Bizen you can visit the monastery of the same name that perches on the top. It really does seem to perch too – some views of it almost make it look as if it is daring itself to peer over the edge of a sheer drop. The monastery has been there for six centuries and the climb to see it is well worth making. You can enjoy wonderful views for miles, especially along to the Red Sea coastline. Monks still live here today, shunning modern society and living a simple yet independent existence at Debre Bizen.
Of course the country also has some national parks and more rural areas you can enjoy. One good example of this is the Dahlak Marine National Park. As you may guess from the marine part of the name, this includes both land and water. The park consists of some areas of the Dahlak archipelago of islands and the waters that surround them. We’ve mentioned the civil war that took place in the country; the people of Eritrea also went to war with those in Ethiopia in the past. There was actually a silver lining to this war as far as the park was concerned, as hard as it may initially be to believe. The area was all but abandoned during the war, which meant the fish were allowed to grow and expand in number quite easily.
Fortunately the park was then properly protected by the government and now welcomes visitors while still protecting the wildlife that has developed and grown in the area. The good news is you can go scuba diving in the area if you wish – there will be plenty of colourful fish to greet you there!
Another city you may wish to visit is called Massawa. This is on the eastern side of the country and has enjoyed a long history as an important Red Sea port. If you have an interest in architecture you will notice there are many buildings dating from the Ottoman period. There is a famous bazaar here too which is worth a closer look.
Eritrea is an interesting country to visit but the climate can take some getting used to. It might be worth considering which areas of the country you want to visit before working out the best time of year to go. This will help you assess the most comfortable time – some regions can get very hot indeed at certain times.
Few people ever consider going to a country such as this, and yet as you can see there are several superb opportunities to see attractions, sights and even slices of history. With the Red Sea meeting one side of the country and mountainous regions elsewhere, the scenery and the list of things to see and do can change with every hour.