Somaliland and Eritrea – Horn of Africa Independence Tour
YPT are proud to bring back our Africa tours for the third year! So join us for a truly off the beaten track experience to two of the planet’s least visited destinations – Somaliland and Eritrea.
We begin in the former British protectorate and self-declared republic of Somaliland. This de-facto state declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991; however, no international organization has recognized its sovereignty.
Still recovering from a brutal civil war, today the area is very safe and the local people are extremely welcoming and interested in foreign visitors. Somaliland is fundamentally different from the other countries in the region — and almost anywhere else on the planet. We’ll take you to smoke shisha with the locals, swim in untouched waters and visit ancient cave art!
Next we move onto Eritrea. This fascinating country falls well below most travelers radars which makes it a unique off the beaten track experience. Eritrea boasts pristine coastline and untouched Red Sea islands as well as some of the best-kept colonial architecture in Africa. On top of all that we take part in the two-day festival to celebrate Eritrea’s independence!
Having been colonized in part by the Turks and Egyptians, Eritrea took on a European flavour with the arrival of the Italians in 1885 during their belated entry in the “scramble for Africa”. The legacies of successive foreign forces, combined with a rich mix of nine local ethnic groups have created a diverse cultural landscape that offers the best of African, Middle Eastern and European influences.
The Eritrean capital city of Asmara is like a film set from an early Italian movie, with vintage Italian coffee machines and outstanding examples of Art-Deco architecture. Although the country faces numerous hardships, it paradoxically remains one of Africa’s most peaceful, secure and welcoming destinations.
Dinner at a newly opened and popular Syrian restaurant run by refugees from Damascus. We’ll have a chance to chat with them and hear how they find life in Somaliland.
After dinner you can walk around the bustling city center in Hargeisa, and have some chai with the friendly locals or do some shopping for t-shirts and flags for Independence Day.
Wednesday 16th May
Visit the two hills called Naaso Hablood (“Girl’s Breasts”) also known as Hargeisa’s landmark. On the way we visit the cemetery for British Soldiers who died here battling against the Italians during the Second World War. Hargeisa is the former capital of British Somaliland, while Italy controlled what is now Somalia.
We will have lunch at a Somali-Yemeni restaurant with some Somalilander intellectual icons who will give us the political, social, historical and cultural introduction of the country.
We will then take a walking tour around the city center of Hargeisa to get a sense of the people and the city. Here you will see street money exchangers and their “chunk” of bills, the central market, and the MiG Jet fighter War Memorial which stands for the atrocities committed by the dictator during the Civil War. The War Memorial is in the middle of the buzzing centrum and a great place for a coffee and chat with Somalilanders about politics and history.
Visit to the busy market in downtown Hargeisa for some evening shopping and people watching.
Dinner and a night out to hang around with Somalilander people.
Thursday 17th May
After breakfast a visit to the livestock market where you can purchase your own camel or goat! For those who can’t fit a camel in their luggage, this market will provide great photo opportunity and a chance to see how the locals do business.
Afternoon visit to Laas Geel, the most important rock art site in Africa. These caves contain some of the oldest cave paintings on the horn of Africa; the vibrant colors and well preserved paintings are estimated to be around ten thousand years old.
Make the 60km drive back to Hargeisa and spend the evening at your leisure.
Friday 18th May – Independence Day!
We’ll get up nice and early for a quick breakfast before hitting the streets to observe the military and civilians’ parades. Everyone will be dressed in the national colors on the street, and this is one of the only places on earth to take part in an independence day in an unrecognized country!
After lunch and a short break, we will visit ex-child-soldiers’ house, who now are successful investors and entrepreneurs. We will listen to their stories with some Somali tea and chaat, the local drug, and have a chance to ask them some questions about their experiences.
After sunset, we will hit the main drag of Harnett street for a huge party!
We will have traditional dinner accompanied by traditional music and dance – the night will finish very late with all of the celebrations taking place. Feel free to wear national costume!
Saturday 19th May
We will head to the most important port of Somaliland, Berbera. Upon our arrival, we will visit historical Ottoman Mosque and Ottoman houses.
Late lunch will be served at the Ottoman houses, and we will relax a bit (it will be VERY hot).
Short boat trip to see the ship wrecks in the Gulf of Aden.
We will relax and swim at untouched beach, where local youth and families come and enjoy their down time. (Due to local culture, ladies will need to cover their body while in water.)
Tour the historic town of Berbera in early evening, where you will find more Ottoman, Persian, and British architecture of historic interest. This will be a great chance for some amazing photographs.
We will have fresh seafood at the waterfront for dinner.
Sunday 20th May
After breakfast, we will have a short free time in Barbera.
We head to the Berbera Airport to see one of the longest runways in Africa. It was built by the USSR in the 70s and used by The USA as an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle..
We’ll drive to the small town of Sheikh in the mountains, have tea, and walk around and enjoy the pleasant climate.
We’ll make the drive back to Hargeisa, followed by dinner and a night at the arcade and bowling center, sheesha lounge, and girls’ basketball and boys’ football matches.
Monday 21st May
End of Somaliland tour – continue onwards to Eritrea!
For Part 2 – Eritrea group: Airport transfer to the airport to catch the 7:35am flight to Dubai, for a noon arrival. We will have a hotel room booked so we can either crash, relax in the hotel or go out exploring.
Tuesday 22nd May
Combo group get the 3:40am flight to Asmara, arriving at 6:30am
Eritrea group arrive at Asmara airport and meet up with the rest of us
Our local guide will meet our flight at the airport and we will be transferred to our hotel, the “Crystal Hotel”.
We will meet our new group members at the hotel before heading out for our first group dinner and drinks in Eritrea!
Wednesday 23rd May
After breakfast we will have a walking tour of the center of town. We will see the spectacular art deco of Asmara built by the Italians at the turn of the last century, such as the Post office built 1916, Albergo Italia built in 1899, the presidential palace built in 1907, and the Hotel Hamasien built in 1916. Great photo opportunities!
We check out the Tank graveyard where we can see out-of-use tanks that were demolished during the war with Ethiopia.
Visit the City Hall to see various photo displays in commemoration of the thirty-years bitter struggle and the post-independence progress. The City Hall was established by the Italians in 1890, and is one of the oldest institutions in Africa. There will also be various inventions on display by young people.
Continue our tour of Asmara where we check out the various pre-Independence Day celebrations including modern and folklore dances, and even the Independence Day Marathon. Visitors are encouraged to join in, so bring your running shoes!
Pick up some amazing street food at one of the many festival stands!
Trip to the revolution square where we will watch various cinematographic dramas and performances.
Festival continues into the night culminating in a massive fireworks show at midnight to celebrate independence.
Thursday 24th May – Independence Day!
For those brave enough, there will be a 6am 21-gun salute to mark Independence Day.
Free time to walk around the city after breakfast and mingle with locals.
There will be various art exhibitions along the pedestrianized streets of the Main liberation avenue.
After lunch, we join the celebrations at Asmara Stadium. There will be various displays by the Military music band and the Eritrean Air force will fly over the stadium in a spectacular color show! Various dramas will be shown by many artists during the afternoon.
The Eritrean President will deliver a speech on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee. The show will come to an end by about 7pm.
Dinner and drinks to close out the Independence celebrations at a traditional restaurant, where you can sample injera and local alcohols… Followed by a dance party!
Overnight at the hotel in Asmara..
Friday 25th May
After a mini sleep in and some breakfast, we will board a 100 year old train and ride all the way to Nefasit.
Along the way we will go through thirty tunnels. This is definitely a trip highlight!
On board the train we will be offered a traditional coffee ceremony.
After breakfast our male visitors will go to Debre Bizen monastery on the top of a nearby mountain.
Unfortunately the ladies are not allowed to enter, so female visitors will stroll through the town of Nefasit or go hiking in the nearby mountains.
Drive back to Asmara.
Dinner at the best pizzeria in Asmara, “Spagetti and Pizza House”
Overnight at our hotel in Asmara.
Saturday 26th May
Hit the road for Massawa.
On the way we descend from 2400 meters above sea level to 0 meters. There will be a sharp rise in temperature, and we will pass through some incredible mountain scenery.
We have a coffee break on the way, and a late lunch of seafood injera. Arrival into Massawa at 4pm.
After some rest at the hotel, we’ll visit the town in late afternoon/ early evening and check out Gurgusum Beach, where we can swim and relax with local people.
Walking tour to take in the unique mixture of Turkish and Italian architectural design.
Dinner at the “Salam Restaurant”. Fresh fish prepared in traditional oven. This is a real local experience.
After dinner we explore the nightlife of Massawa and find some bars.
Overnight in Massawa.
Sunday 27th May
After breakfast we visit a local school in Massawa to learn about Eritrea’s education system and meet with the children.
Take a boat to Dahlac Marine National Park, the Red Sea’s largest archipelago of which just four islands are inhabited.
We visit ruins from the early Arabic/Islamic settlers of the 8th century, and also some local Tigranyan villages.
Those who have a diving license can check out Ethiopian weapons and vehicles dumped into the sea during the war. These have created large artificial reefs which are great for diving (additional cost for diving). Don’t dive? No problem – snorkeling equipment is also available.
In late afternoon/early evening, we will make our way back to Massawa.
Dinner, drinks, and overnight in Massawa.
Monday 28th May
After breakfast we head to Kohaito archaeological site. Drive is again on hair-pin roads in stunning mountain and village views which keep changing every few minutes.
We will take a coffee break in a small town on the way.
Up on arrival, we will have a picnic lunch and stunning view of “Grand Canyon”.
Tour around the ancient city and visit to the remnants of an old palace.
We will camp in Kohaito – bonfire, stars, local folk songs and conversations.
Tuesday 29th May
After a late breakfast, we will hit the road back to Asmara.
Arrival in Asmara at around 4pm – we will have free time in Asmara before joining up for a farewell dinner. We may be lucky enough to watch football in the famous Cinema Roma or, if interested, have a chance to briefly talk about your country or profession to young Eritrean students.
Farewell dinner and group drinks in Asmara.
Airport transfers for those who require, depending on flight times.
Please note that the itinerary may change depending on the Somaliland government. Your safety is our top priority. Safety and security are the first questions in many people’s mind when travelling to a foreign country. If you are considering joining us on this exciting adventure, please note that Somaliland is NOT Somalia; and the country has been free from terrorist attacks since 2008. The Somaliland government does everything to ensure the security of their country, especially foreign visitors. We have a strong network in the country to provide us with the most up-to-date security information, including a leading international travel security consultant firm and the local government. We only lead our tours to protected regions. We will travel with 2-3 SPU (Special Protection Unit) soldiers when outside of Hargeisa. They are trained specially to protect foreign visitors. We also have several backup itineraries – i.e., in the unlikely event that an alert occurs in our destination, we will immediately change our itinerary. Please feel free to contact us if you have any particular questions. Thanks and happy travels! Tour Cost: €1990 (€2590 with flights)
•Visa Fees (Somaliland 100 USD, Eritrea 70 USD subject to change) For information on the visa process, please read this.
•Flight from Somaliland – Eritrea (€700, subject to fluctuation)
•Local guide tips