This is a country very unlike most of Africa and mostly off the tourist trail. If you really want an incredibly different and peaceful trip in Africa, I recommend a visit to Sudan. Read on to discover why!
Sudan has gone through a big transitional period in recent years and you might be wondering if it’s ok to visit Sudan. President Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power on 11 April 2019 after 30 years in charge. The country was stable for a period but unfortunately it slipped into civil unrest.
2024 update: At the moment the civil unrest means it is unsafe to visit Sudan and it is marked as red on the FCO website. However, hopefully this will change in the future and Sudan can begin welcoming tourists once again. (See https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/sudan for latest advise)
Here are my top 3 reasons to visit Sudan along with some things to consider before you go.
Why Visit Sudan?
1. The People
Sudanese people are incredibly friendly, helpful and generous. During our visit at the end of March 2019, upon crossing the border from Ethiopia we went to immigration to get our passports stamped. We were told we could get our passports registered for a fraction of the price agents charge in Khartoum so we went ahead told them to do it.
Just as they were about to start, a gentleman came in carrying a huge plate of food. The passport control officer then told us to come behind the desk and join all the workers in the office for for their breakfast meal – a mutton stew with freshly baked bread – delicious.
I tried to be polite and not take too much but the chief told me off for not eating enough, so I dutifully got stuck in with everyone else!
After breakfast our passports were stamped, visas registered and we were on our way. What a welcome to the country!
2. The Sights
The historical sights are incredible! Sudan has an amazingly rich history with a mix of cultures and religions. From Egyptian Pharaohs to Ethiopian Axumites, Christian Missionaries to Muslim Arabs, Sudan has had many influences which can be seen at the various archeological sights.
To get a good understanding of Sudan’s archaeological sights I would strongly recommend the use of a guide, as well a visit to the National Museum of Sudan to put everything into context.
Top Sudan tourist attractions:
- The Temple of Soleb – The name Sudan has it’s influence from the Arabic phrase bilād al-sūdān meaning “The Land of the Blacks” so historically the Nubians were known as the Black Pharaohs.
- The Pyramids of Meroe – pyramidal tombs from the Kushite empire. They’re mostly intact apart from missing their tops. These were blown off in the hunt for treasure during the 1830s, curtesy of Giuseppe Ferlini.
- The Temple of Mut at Jebel Barkal – Most people will visit Karima to see the pyramids and climb to the top of Jebel Barkal Hill. These are great and I definitely recommend doing these especially the at sunset. But the real gem is underneath the hill in the Temple of Mut, the Egyptian Sky Goddess. Here you will see incredibly colourful paintings from around 600 BC.
- Old Dongola – This Christian site was once the capital of Makuria.
- Naqa Temples – An almost intact, Egyptian inspired Colonnade of rams on show in one temple and a Greco-Roman inspired Kiosk on show at the other. Buildings with clear influence from two of the most powerful civilisations the world has known, on show in the middle of the Sudanese desert!
Here is the itinerary I put together for my group when we travelled around Sudan. This could easily be modified if you are travelling overland from Ethiopia to Egypt (or vice versa), by adding 2 extra nights to allow for travel from/to the borders.
Want to know more about overland travel? Take a look at this article!
Day 1: Sightseeing in Khartoum
Day 2: Drive to Old Dongola. Early evening tour of Old Dongola site and camp nearby
Day 3: Drive to Kerma for a tour of Western Deffufa site and museum. Continue drive to Wawa and stay at local guesthouse
Day 4: Sunrise tour of the Temple of Soleb. Drive to Karima with a stop en route at the 3rd cataracts of the nile. Early evening tour of The temples of Amun and Mut and sunset on Jebel Barkal. Stay in local guesthouse in Karima.
Day 5: Sunrise visit to the Karima pyramids then drive to Nuri pyramids for tour of that site. Finally, drive to Meroe, evening walk through site and camp nearby.
Day 6: Sunrise tour of the Meroe site followed by a visit to the newly opened museum. Drive to Mussawarat for a tour of the sites and finally on to Naqa for site tours and camp nearby.
Day 7: Drive to Khartoum
Things to do in Khartoum
Visit the National Museum of Sudan
I highly recommend visiting the National Museum of Sudan to view artefacts found in the archaeological sites of Sudan and to provide an overview of the country’s long and complex history.
On the ground floor you will find the main part of the museum and then on the second floor you will find a whole host of incredible Christian frescos. I bet you weren’t expecting that!
Finally, outside there is an outdoor museum where entire archaeological sites from the Lake Nasser area have been dismantled and reassembled, alongside a water feature resembling the Nile. Neat!
Visit The Camel market
If you have never been to a camel market I strongly recommend you visit this one. There are thousands of camels and other cattle on show and up for grabs. The wheelers and dealers there are all very friendly and welcoming to tourists and you might even find yourself a bargain.
The best quote we got for a camel was about $2000 so a little out of our price range unfortunately. It’s not the easiest place to get to as it is in the Omdurman area but definitely worth the trip.
Visit the confluence of the Nile
In Khartoum you can visit the place where the white and the blue niles meet. The White Nile bridge overlooks the confluence but no photographs are allowed.
If you want pictures it’s best to take a ride on the Ferris wheel in the Mogran Family Park which is next to the bridge. You can also take a ferry to Tuti Island and view the confluence from there.
Visit the Whirling Dervishes ceremony
The Sufi muslims in Sudan practise their ceremony every Friday at around 4pm. This is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I was expecting something similar to what I’d observed in Turkey but it is completely different. It’s like Sufism meets Reggae! I’m not kidding, go check it out, you won’t regret it!
3. The Tourists
There are none! Very few foreigners visit Sudan so you’re likely to get these amazing sights all to yourself. For example Meroe, arguably Sudan’s most famous sight, is approximately 2800 years old and is UNESCO listed, however, during our sunset and sunrise visits we saw only one couple. Cue lots of photographs of empty archaeological sites!
Since there are very few tourists it also means that you are welcomed with open arms by the locals as they are keen to show you their country.
Visas and registration
Although most nationalities can get visas on arrival at Khartoum Airport (cost $100-150), you will need an entry permit before you can board the plane (Also known as an authorisation code) These are provided by Sudanese Tour Operators in exchange for a fee typically of $150.
Upon arrival in Khartoum you will also need to get your passport registered, which again the tour operator can do for around $50. So be prepared for these costs. You can register your passport yourself in Khartoum but it’s a bit of a run around! The agency we used was Lendi Travel
If you are arriving from a land border you will need to get your visa in advance. Costs vary depending on nationality but we got ours at Addis Ababa and they cost $68. You need to arrive at the consulate around 8am then you can collect it the following day after 2pm. To obtain the visas you need:
- 2 passport photos
- A photocopy of the ID page of your passport
- A photocopy of the Ethiopian visa in your passport
- A contact name, number and address for your sponsor or hotel
- A visa or flight details for the next country you are travelling to after Sudan
- Money in USD with notes newer than 2006
Note: The border between Ethiopia and Sudan commonly has civil unrest. We spoke to travellers in Addis who were concerned about travelling overland to Sudan due to stories they’d heard from other travellers. However, we were able to cross the border both directions without any trouble (March 2019). You are now able to register your visa at this border.
Visas take up 1 full page in your passport and the registration stamp will take up another so be prepared for that. If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport you will not be able to get a Sudan visa. If you have Sudanese visa in your passport you will then require an interview before you can travel to the USA. (The same for Iran Visas)
Foreign bank cards do not work in Sudan so you will need to take enough USD to cover your costs for the duration of your stay. If you think you have enough, take some more, just in case! That being said the cost of food and accommodation is extremely cheap, for example we stayed in guest houses for around $2 per night!
Changing money is pretty easy to do at hotels or banks and they will give you the official rate. Due to Sudan’s struggling economy there is a very healthy black market for changing money but it’s up to you whether you want to take this option. During our visit to Sudan in March 2019 the official rate was 47 SDP to 1 USD and the black market was 60-65 SDP to 1 USD, so quite a big difference.
- A Headscarf – As mentioned below, as a tourist you aren’t required to wear a headscarf but it’s really hot in Sudan so it’s handy to keep the sun off and it covers up bad hair days!
- A SIM card – I bought a SIM card, calling time and 2GB data for 150 SDP. I had 3G coverage for most places, so it was pretty cheap and convenient to have.
- Google Translate or a phrasebook for Arabic – Not too many people speak English so it’s very handy to know a few basic phrases in Arabic.
- European and British plug adaptors – As a previous British Colony, Sudan has a few leftovers.
- net – March is breeding time for the annoying little midge type flies that live near palm trees, so you’ll get hounded by these at sites like Old Dongola and The Temple of Soleb.
- Water – It’s a desert and it’s hot so remember to drink lot’s of water! Use a water bottle to reduce plastic consumption.
Things to remember about travelling in an Islamic country
The weekends in Sudan are on Friday and Saturday as per the Islamic calendar. This will affect shop opening times, particularly on Friday during Friday prayers (between 12 and 2pm).
Women and men are expected to dress conservatively, which means shoulders and knees covered at all times. Sudanese women wear headscarves but as tourists you are not expected to follow this custom and locals won’t look down on you if you don’t.
Sudan requires you to have a Yellow Fever vaccination before entry however we were not asked for them when we crossed from Ethiopia. (March 2019).
Malaria is present so anti malarials are recommended as are the usual anti mosquito precautions. For our most recent travels in Africa I found a non-Deet anti mosquito spray which worked really well. When I see what Deet does to plastic I hate to put it on my skin!
But is it safe to visit Sudan?
Er yes! That’s the short answer! Obviously you will need to stay clear of the protests still taking place in Khartoum but away from that you should have no issues. Enjoy the best hospitality you’re likely to receive anywhere in Africa or even in the world!
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