Eritrea has a rich and complicated history. In the ancient past its people traded gold, incense, ebony, ivory and slaves with Arab nations - mainly the Egyptians. The renowned kingdom of Aksum, hailing from northern Ethiopia, controlled much of the trade on the Red Sea. The Ottomans maintained their dominion over the northern coastal areas for nearly 300 years.
Italy colonized Eritrea and after World War II the British took control. Later, Ethiopia provided support to Eritrea to win independence and then annexed the region in 1962. Eritrea finally gained independence in 1991. In the years that followed, Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a vicious border war and relations between the two countries remain strained.
Eritrea has a population of more than four million people and there is a roughly equal division between followers of Islam and Christianity. English, Tigrinya, Tigré, Arabic and other ethnic languages are spoken. Ethnic groups include Tigrinya (the largest group), Afar, Bilen, Hedareb, Kunama, Nara, Rashaida, Saho and Tigré. A large aspect of any major event such as marriage, birth or a religious festival is dance. Eritrea and Ethiopia share the same taste for their world-renowned food. Among the most popular dishes are silsi, which is a spicy fried tomato and onion sauce, egamat, which is a serving of deep-fried dough, and capretto, or roast goat. In Eritrean homes, coffee or tea are always offered to guests and a 'coffee ceremony' complete with aromas from the roasted beans and incense, may follow.
There are a number of resorts in Eritrea, perfect for relaxation and activity after going out on the town. One option is to stay in the five-star rated Intercontinental Asmara Hotel. It has an Italian restaurant and bar, live music entertainment, a gym, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, Turkish bath and massage rooms. Another resort is the more economical Amba Soira Hotel, which has a private lounge, full service restaurant and satellite television.
Eritrea's international airport is located near the capital, Asmara. There are regular flights from Egypt, Sudan and Djibouti. Road conditions are good so renting a car is a good way to get around. There is also a bus network that is relatively comfortable, efficient and inexpensive.