Where is the Dahlak Archipelago?

The Dahlak Archipelago off the coast of Eritrea.
The Dahlak Archipelago off the coast of Eritrea.

The Dahlak Archipelago is a group of islands situated in the Red Sea, close to Massawa in Eritrea. It has two big islands and twenty-four small islands. Dahlak Archipelago is very popular due to the renowned pearl fisheries. Since the Roman times, the pearl fisheries in the archipelago have acted as a main source of pearls. To date, the fisheries still offer a considerable amount of pearls.


Of all the islands of Dahlak Archipelago, only four are inhabited on permanent basis. The largest and the most populated island is Dahlak Kebir. The other islands of Archipelago include Nakura, Nahaleg, Harmil, Isra-Tu, Harat, Erwa, Dissei, Dhuladhiya, Dohul, Shumma, and Nora. Besides the main island, other permanently inhabited islands are Dohul and Nora. The islands attract a large number of tourists as they are home to vast marine-life and sea birds. The residents of Archipelago islands lead a traditional way of life. Their main activities include herding and fishing. The residents speak the Dahlik language. From Massawa, the islands can be accessed by boat. The archipelago islands are very popular among snorkelers and scuba divers.


The inhabitants of Dahlak Archipelago were among the pioneers in the horn of Africa to embrace Islam. This early Islamic connection is well indicated by the presence of several tombstones bearing Kufic script. An independent Islamic state emerged in Archipelago in the 7th century. Yemen later conquered the state and later on, the kingdom of Medi Bahri conquered the state. In 1517, the Ottoman Turks conquered the islands. The islands were placed under the rule of Suakin and Pasha and they formed part of the province of Habesh. In 1890, Eritrea, an Italian colony, was formed and it included the Archipelago region. At the time, the archipelago islands served as home to a prison camp run by the colonial Italian forces.

Ethiopia assumed control of the Dahlak Archipelago during the cold war after it allied itself with the Soviet Union. Dahlak Archipelago served as a base for the Soviet army. Ethiopia lost control of archipelago islands as well as the northern Eritrean coast in 1990. The regions were controlled by Eritrean Independence Movement. By the year 1991, Ethiopia had lost all control over Eritrea. In 1993, Eritrean Independence was recognized internationally making Dahlak Archipelago a part of Eritrea.


The main vegetation in Dahlak Archipelago consists of salt brush scrub and mangroves. Shoals and coral reefs that are rich in marine life and diverse species of sea birds surround the islands. Animals such as dugongs, turtles, sharks and dolphins are common in the islands. The islands are also home to a wide variety of invertebrates.


The numerous islands create a great opportunity for yacht cruising as well as pearl fishing in Dahlak Archipelago. The islands also offer attractive dive sites that are a key tourist attraction. Some of the renowned dive sites in the Dahlak Archipelago include Madot, Nakura, Durgam, Durgella, Desie, and Dehl Bahot among others. The archipelago islands are complete with long white sandy beaches that offer ample grounds for recreation. The waters are also suitable for swimming, water sports, and sport fishing.

The largest of the Archipelago islands, Dahlak Kebir, measures 643 square km and it lies 58 kilometers from Massawa. It lies on the southern part of the Red sea and serves as the chief port for pearl fishing. From Dahlak Kebir, tourists can visit the Afar fishing villages and the ancient Islamic ruins. Guests can also visit the historical Nakura Island that is located west of Dahla Kebir.


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