At a Glance
Dates: January 7th - January 18th, 2023
Extension: We offer a six-night extension to Gash Barka to search for Bush Elephant and Tora Hartebeest.
Prices: £8,450 pp sharing (with a £180 single supplement), excluding international flights. The extension is priced at £4,595 pp sharing, with a £250 single supplement.
In a sentence: Eritrea is the last refuge for some of Africa's rarest wildlife, including the exceedingly elusive African Wild Ass and the possibly-extinct Tora Hartebeest - this trailblazing tours seeks out these species in their only remaining stronghold.
Eritrea is not always in the headlines for the right reasons. Under authoritarian rule, this beautiful country has seen turmoil on its border with Ethiopia and an exodus of refugees, both of which understandably paint Eritrea in a poor light. This is a huge shame, as Eritrea is in fact strikingly beautiful, with extraordinary scenery, stunning architecture and a rich coastline. Its people are friendly and hospitable, and any visitor is assured a warm welcome. As one might expect of a country that has been through such hardship, wildlife conservation has not been high on the agenda since independence. However, Eritrea's wild areas are becoming more and more accessible, revealing some of its secrets. The Buri Peninsula, jutting out into the Red Sea, is part of Eritrea's largest national park and is a true stronghold for the African Wild Ass. These gorgeous animals travel huge distances across this desert landscape, but with the help of an expert naturalist and tracker, we hope to locate these shy creatures here. In the south-west lies Gash Barka, home to some of the most politically-sensitive Elephants in the world - this herd, one of the northernmost on the continent, regularly crosses between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Their ability to survive in such a harsh environment is truly remarkable, and a real draw. This area is also home to Heuglin's Gazelle, Striped Hyena and perhaps even the possibly-extinct Tora Hartebeest.
On arrival into Asmara you will be met by your Pictus Safaris representative and transferred to your hotel. Once you are settled in, we will head out into Asmara itself to take in this beautiful city - a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017. Perhaps most striking in Asmara is its eclectic architecture, a hallmark of influence from the country's metropole, Italy. Our tour will take in the former headquarters of the colonial power, as well as the old opera house, the national museum, the main post office, cathedrals, mosques and much more. A real highlight is the vibrant market, full of an array of spices and seafood. There is no denying, however, that our view of Asmara will be choreographed carefully, something all clients should be aware of. We will brief you before the tour about the need for care when photographing Asmara's many sights, and we encourage discretion at all times in Eritrea. Once you have seen the city's main attractions, we will return to our mid-range hotel.
It's an early departure today as we drive east to the 'Pearl of the Red Sea'. Asmara is at a relatively high altitude, so our drive takes us down an escarpment, providing sensational views as we drop towards the much warmer climes of Massawa. If we're lucky, we may catch glimpses of sea mist rolling into the mountainous terrain from the east, making the impressive views even more spectacular. Massawa itself is a pleasant city, with gorgeous architecture in parts, although it is primarily an industrial port city. After lunch, we will tour Massawa, where you may notice a shift towards Arabic and Turkish, rather than Italian, influences. We will be sure to visit at least one of the city's mosques, and time will be spent at the 'tank monument', erected to remember the brutal liberation of Massawa. If desired, we can head to the beaches just a short distance from the city itself. We will overnight at a mid-range hotel in the city.
Driving south this morning, we aim to make it to the village of Foro before midday, depending on the condition of the roads. Beyond Foro, we are well into the Danakil desert. The scenery will slowly shift, becoming punctuated with black volcanic rocks, making travel by vehicle slow going on occasion. By nightfall we aim to be deep within the Buri-Airori-Hawakil National Park, on the Messir Plateau. This area is known to hold a good population of African Wild Ass, one of the rarest species of equids on earth. During out stay on the Buri Peninsula, we will use tents with mattresses/pillows as overnight accommodation, with all meals freshly prepared for us. This expedition is an impressive undertaking, and we will be accompanied by vehicles and a train of camels throughout our stay for our safety and comfort.
Days Four to Ten
We have seven full days ahead to explore the peninsula with the help of our convoy of camels, and our expert naturalist escort. Our days will begin early with a trek in likely areas for Wild Ass activity - in particular, we are likely to focus on areas holding water and shade. Whilst we are very unlikely to locate any Wild Ass straight away, we will focus on locating their tracks to guide us in the right direction. Whilst we walk, we may encounter some of the region's other wildlife, including Rueppell's Fox, African Golden Wolf, Striped Hyena and Dorcas Gazelle. After each morning trek, we will return to camp to rest and, if necessary, move camp to better areas on the plateau. As the heat of the day fades, we will strike out again into the desert in pursuit of our quarry and, whenever possible, will also traverse the area around camp after nightfall with spotlights and thermal monoculars, to maximise our chances of encountering some of the nocturnal species that call this area home. On our return, a fire will be waiting for us - welcome as the desert temperatures drop!
After an enjoyable stay on the Buri Peninsula, we will today retrace our steps through the Afar villages scattered across the region to Massawa, where we will be able to relax and rest in the surrounds of our hotel.
After a morning drive back to Asmara, we will be treated to a farewell party hosted by our local partners and guides. Guests are treated with a warm and friendly welcome and goodbye in Eritrea, and we'll be able to enjoy some excellent Eritrean food, drink and hospitality, before those of us not opting to take the extension are escorted to the airport for our flights home. For those staying in Eritrea, you will have the afternoon at leisure in Asmara.
Day Thirteen (extension)
It's a full day of driving today as we head west through the town of Keren to Barentu. Barentu has a real 'frontier feel', being the gateway to the Gash-Setit Wildlife Reserve. On each of the following three days, we will use Barentu as a base, taking day-trips to three different areas of Gash-Setit. As the Bush Elephant herd in this area uses a variety of habitats and is highly mobile, tracking them down is always a challenge, but we hope to get lucky on at least one of the next three days. Even if the pachyderms elude us, there is a rich variety of wildlife in this area, including Striped Hyena, Caracal, Black-Backed Jackal, African Golden Wolf and many smaller mammals. We will spend the night tonight at the basic Marhaba Hotel.
Day Fourteen (extension)
Heading deep into Gash-Setit, we will spend the day exploring the banks of the Setit river near Antore. Whilst Bush Elephant will be our main target, we should keep a special eye out for any and all antelope species. This region is where some of the most recent reports of Tora Hartebeest originated from. Whilst many consider this animal to be extinct, the reality is that no detailed surveys have been completed here since hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia ended in the late 2010s and, as such, there is a real possibility that these special animals may be hanging on here.
Day Fifteen (extension)
Just as we explored the Setit river yesterday, today we will explore the area around Gogne and the Gash river. This sparsely populated area is a good bet for Caracal and Striped Hyena and, with diligence, there's no telling what else we might see here.
Day Sixteen (extension)
If the Elephants are not to be found near Gogne or Antore, it is likely that they will have moved to Haikota and, with the help of an expert local guide, we hope to locate them today. If we have already found them, we may choose to still visit Haikota in the hopes of finding another herd, or locating more exciting species.
Day Seventeen (extension)
Today we must sadly say goodbye to Gash-Setit and return east to the city of Keren. Arriving just after midday, we should have plenty of time to explore the market and pick up some souvenirs. We will overnight at the Sarina Hotel.
Day Eighteen (extension)
After a quick breakfast in Keren, we will return to Asmara to catch our flights home.
Please be aware that whilst we make every effort to follow the above itinerary as closely as possible, circumstances may
occasionally arise that mean the tour deviates from the itinerary.
Dates and Prices
This tour will run in January 2023, aiming to take advantage of the relatively cool, dry weather in this period. The tour will run from January 7th to January 18th. The extension to Gash Barka will end January 24th.
The cost of this trip is £8,450 per person excl. flights. This includes all meals, accommodation and wildlife-focussed activities. Drinks are not included. We regret that we must levy a single supplement of £180 pp for this trip. The extension is priced at £4,595 with a £250 single supplement. To secure a booking, a deposit payment of £3,000 must be paid.
Flights and Visas
Pictus Safaris do not offer flight booking services. However, we do recommend the use of travel comparison websites such as skyscanner.net or momondo.com to identify the best fares, and then booking with the airline directly where possible. This will reduce the likelihood of complications and fees should any issues with your booking arise. If you wish to spend an additional night in Asmara at the beginning or end of your tour, we can arrange this for you at an extra cost. We strongly recommend booking flights leaving Asmara after 15.00 on your return, if leaving on the same day that we return to Asmara to avoid disruption to your plans.
British nationals do require a visa to enter Eritrea. Clients of other nationalities are advised to check well before travel whether they require an entry visa. Details of the process of obtaining a tourist visa for Eritrea will be provided to you upon booking. The cost of a Eritrea entry visa for UK citizens is $50 - these may be obtained before your arrival into Eritrea.
Weather and What to Bring
The weather in Eritrea in January is relatively cool and dry, with maximum temperatures of around 29 degrees Celsius. At night, temperatures will drop to around 18 degrees Celsius.
A full packing list will be circulated at least two months prior to departure. Pictus Safaris will be able to provide one extra set of binoculars and two spotlights per group, and clients are welcome to bring additional camera, videography and scope equipment should they wish to. Please note that the use of drones is not permitted in many protected areas. We strongly recommend bringing comfortable, loose-fitting and neutral-coloured clothing on safari - please do not bring camouflage clothing. We recommend against dark coloured clothing (e.g. black or dark blue) as this attracts biting flies. Worn-in hiking boots with ankle support are a must, as are sunglasses, sun protection and a hat.
Do also remember to budget for any expenses not included in the cost of the trip, including for gratuities and additional activities. We recommend bringing US Dollars.
Safety and Security
We recognise that Eritrea is an unusual holiday destination and, as such, you may be concerned by the security situation in Eritrea. We are closely monitoring the security situation on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and will not run this tour if we feel there is any chance of insecurity during our visit. We are in constant contact with our partners in Eritrea to understand the security situation in detail. All Pictus Safaris clients must have appropriate travel insurance for high-risk areas before joining this trip.