Tourism in Sudan
Sudan is the largest, yet one of the least visited, countries in Africa. Although various ongoing conflicts mean much of this vast nation remains off limits, travel is possible in the northeast, and in parts of the south. Much of the Middle East and Africa has a reputation for warmth and hospitality but Sudan is in a league of its own, making it a joy to travel in. It is common to be invited to stay at someone’s home and most rural Sudanese would never dream of eating in front of you without inviting you to join them. Talking the afternoon away over a glass or five of tea is a serious national ritual, which extends to dealings with officials.
Sudan is as geographically diverse as it is culturally; in the north, the Nile cuts through the eastern edge of the Sahara: the Nubian desert, the site of the Ancient Kingdoms of Cush and Meroe, and the land of the Seti. Here, some modest farming and husbandry supplements the staple crop of date palms. The East and West are mountainous regions, and much of the rest of the country comprises of savannahs typical of much of central sub-Saharan Africa.
People in Sudan are actually extremely friendly to all the few travellers who get there. People treat you as friendly as in any other African country, so be prepared to get spontaneously invited to lunch or dinner. Most of the time people are very interested in you and they are often proud to show you their country and their hospitality.
Sudan, like many other African countries, has many places of interest and tourist attractions. The country of Sudan has great natural endowments quite attractive to behold
Here are some of the places of interest in Sudan.
Sudan’s National Museum is located in Khartoum. Housing great historical antiquities and artifacts, the museum has been
Buhen and Semna Egyptian temples are also great historical structures to behold in the National Museum, as both temples are situated in the field of the museum. a spot of interest and tourist attraction in recent years.
Khartoum and Omdurman
Khartoum is one of three sister cities, built at the convergence of the Blue and White Niles: Omdurman to the north-west across the White Nile, North Khartoum, and Khartoum itself on the southern bank of the Blue Nile.
Khartoum has a relatively short history. It was first established as a military outpost in 1821, and is said to derive its name from the thin spit of land at the convergence of the rivers, which resembles an elephant’s trunk (khurtum). Khartoum grew rapidly in prosperity during the boom years of the slave trade, between 1825 and 1880. In 1834 it became the capital of the Sudan, and many explorers from Europe used it as a base for their African expeditions.
Khartoum was sacked twice during the latter half of the 19th century — once by the Mahdi and once by Kitchener when the Mahdi was ousted. In 1898, Kitchener began to rebuild the city, and designed the streets in the shape of the British flag, the Union Jack, which he hoped would make it easier to defend. On the opposite bank of the Nile, North Khartoum was developed as an industrial area at about the same time.
Today’s Khartoum is a quiet, unremarkable city. It has peaceful, tree-lined streets, and in some ways still bears the unmistakable mark of an outpost of the British Empire. Its expansion to accommodate a rapidly-growing population, however, has added very little in terms of charm or atmosphere.
Places to visit in Khartoum
National Museum. This contains antiquities and artefacts from several periods of Sudanese history and pre-history,
including glassware, pottery, statuary and figurines from the ancient kingdom of Cush. Ancient Nubia’s Christian period is well-represented, with frescoes and murals from ruined churches, dating from the 8th to the 15th century. The Museum’s garden contains two reconstructed temples, which have been salvaged from the Nubian land flooded by Lake Nasser. These Egyptian temples of Buhen and Semna were originally built by Queen Hatshepsut and Pharaoh Tuthmosis III respectively. The temples have corrugated iron covers built over them to protect them from humidity during the wet season. The original concept was to roll back these covers during the dry season, but whether this ever happened or not is unclear. The covers are rusted into place and are now permanent and immovable!
Ethnographical Museum. This is a small museum which contains an interesting collection of items relating to Sudanese village life. These include musical instruments, clothing, cooking and hunting implements.
A walk around Tuti Island, situated in the middle of the confluence of the two branches of the Nile, can take about 4 hours. The less populated northern section is pretty, with its shady lanes, and irrigated fields, and there is a great little coffee stall under a tree on the western side.
The Souq, this is the largest in the Sudan, and has an interesting variety of goods on display. Ivory and ebony candlesticks are carved by market craftsmen, goldsmiths and silversmiths fashion all kinds of jewellery in their shop-fronts, and the atmosphere is lively and bustling. The best time to visit is on Friday mornings.
The Camel Market, this is situated about 2km north of Omdurman’s main souq. Animals are mostly brought from eastern or western areas of the Sudan.
Tomb of the Mahdi, on the death of the Mahdi in 1885, his body was entombed in a silver-domed mosque in Omdurman. This was completely destroyed by Kitchener in 1898, when the Mahdi’s body was burned and his ashes thrown into the river. In 1947 the Mahdi’s son had the mosque and tomb rebuilt. Not surprisingly, it is closed to foreigners, but can be viewed from the outside.
Beit al-Khalifa, is situated opposite the Mahdi’s tomb. Once the home of the Mahdi’s successor, the house was built of mud and brick in 1887, and is now a museum. It contains relics from Mahdiyya battles, including guns, war banners and suits of mail. An interesting collection of photographs depicts the city of Khartoum at the time of the Mahdi’s revolt and its subsequent occupation by the British.
In Omdurman you must see the Sufi ritual of drumming and trance dancing – about 1 hour before sunset and Friday prayer – it is northwest the river in Omdurman. Very welcoming, party like atmosphere, where prayer is a rite of celebration.
This is the capital city of the Kordofan region in Western Sudan, and was once the Mahdi’s capital and political centre. Situated in the middle of a vast stretch of barren desert, it has a population of 200,000 people and is an important centre for the production of gum arabic. This substance is used in the manufacture of food thickening, ink and medicinal products, and is obtained from acacia trees.
The city experiences problems with its supplies of both electric power and water. Electricity from the city’s own generators is erratic and power cuts are the norm. In such an arid desert environment, water supplies often dwindle and have to be brought in by truck from other areas.
The two souqs in the city deal mostly in meat and vegetables. There are also some tailor’s shops where fabric can be purchased and clothes made to order.
There is little to interest the visitor in El-Obeid, apart from a small museum, which displays exhibits relating to ancient Sudanese history. Its Catholic cathedral is impressive, however, and is said to be one of the largest in Africa.
Port Sudan was founded by the British in 1909 as the terminus of a rail linking the Red Sea to the River Nile. It served as a new modern port to replace Sawakin. The railroad was used to transport the nation’s cotton and sesame seed, as well as sorghum, from the agriculturally rich areas of the Nile valley to export markets.
Port Sudan is known among tourists for its excellent scuba-diving and beaches. Tourists, as well as far larger numbers of Muslim pilgrims en route to undertake their once-in-a-lifetime Hajj to Mecca, use Port Sudan as a departure point to cross the Red Sea to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
Being part of a desert-like state, it is like a miracle to find great diving spots and marvelous beaches in Port Sudan. You will definitely enjoy the sunny beaches where you can swim, lay in the sun and even explore the underwater jewels of Port Sudan. The city also has several religious and historical architectures worth.
The island is situated 58km south of Port Sudan and was once a major trading center, particularly in the 19th century, during the boom years of slavery. As far back as the 10th century BC, Suakin was used by Pharaoh Rameses III as a trading port, but declined in importance after the close of the 19th century AD, and in 1905 was superseded in importance by Port Sudan its unique architecture is made of coral, but these once-beautiful buildings, although restored by the Mahdi in 1881, are now in the final stages of crumbling away.
Kassala is situated in Eastern Sudan and has a population of 150,000. The city is built on the Gash River and is the power centre of one of the Sudan’s traditional families — the Khatmiya Brotherhood, which opposed the Mahdi family in the last century. On the outskirts of the city live the Rashaida tribe, mostly inhabiting goatskin tents. They are a nomadic people who breed camels and goats, and are closely related to the Saudi Arabian Bedouin, having migrated from the Arabian Peninsula about 150 years ago. It is the mysteriously-veiled Rashaida women who make a great deal of the silver jewellery sold in the Kassala souq. The souq is said to be one of Sudan’s best, and sells a wide variety of the fruit for which Kassala is renowned. Grapefruit, pomegranates, oranges, bananas and melons are all for sale here, as well as local handicrafts, fabrics and the aforementioned silver jewellery.
Several kilometres outside Kassala are the curiously-shaped ‘sugar-loaf’ hills, known as the jebels. They can be seen on the horizon from the city and are the habitat of a tribe of baboons, which come down from the hills at sunset to drink at a nearby village well. Kassala is also a favourite retreat for Sudanese honeymoon couples, and in the nearby village of Khatmiya, the same village well is a traditional place for newly-wed couples to drink. Water from the well is said to bring good luck and a fertile married life.
Once an important centre of power in ancient Nubia, the remains of the old northern-Sudanese city are being excavated by a Polish-led team — a project that has been in operation since 1964, the town is now noteworthy for its palm groves and its September date harvest, when young boys climb the palm trunks, carrying sharp knives in their teeth, to cut the clusters of dates. The fruit and vegetable souq here is a colourful sight, occasionally dealing in camels, which the desert nomads bring in for sale.
The Cushite temple of Kawa is situated on the eastern bank of the river. The ruins of this temple can be visited by taking a ferry across the river from the main town.
This northern-Sudanese market town has a population of about 15,000. The town itself is of little interest, but there are several ancient sites nearby which are worth a visit Just 2km south of the town is the 100-metre high Jebel Barkal, a hill which was regarded as sacred by the Egyptians of the 18th Dynasty. From its summit, there is an excellent view of the Nile. At its foot lies the Temple of Amun, second only in length to the famous Temple of Karnak. This was once surrounded by about six smaller temples, and ruins of these, together with statuary and hieroglyphics, make this an interesting Cushite site, lying west of the temple are the Jebel Barkal Pyramids, similar in style to those at Meroe.
150 km north of Khartoum, Shendi is a good base for seeing a bit of desert as well as temples of the Meroe culture. Shendi is the center of the Ja’aliin tribe and an important historic bustling trading center. Its principal suburb on the west bank is Al-Matamma. A major traditional trade route across the Bayuda desert connects Al-Matamma to Marawi and Napata, 250 km to the northwest.
The pyramids of Meroe (Begrawiyah) are 40 kms north of Shendi. The sites of Naqa and Musawarat is about 50kms south of Shendi. In theory permits are required before visiting the sites and guidebooks say that you pay beforehand in Khartoum – but as of January 2010 – this appears to have changed – now you pay at each site – cost is 10 Sudanese Pounds. Naqa and Musawarat are signposted beside the Nile Petrol station (about 1.25hours drive north of Khartoum) – and the track is fairly clear – but sandy.
Located at the conjunction of the Atbara tributary, flowing down from Ethiopia, and the River Nile, Atbara is on two main railway routes: from Atbara to Port Sudan, and from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa.
The city has a population of 75,000 people. In 1898 it was the site of a battle between the British and the Mahdists, when 2,000 of the latter were wiped out by Kitchener. After the battle, British officials settled here, building colonial-style houses, which are now used as government offices.
The ruins of the Royal City of Meroe are located about 100km south of Atbara. Residence of the kings of Meroe between 592BC and AD350, the city shows strong Egyptian architectural influence. The ruined Temple of Amun is still standing, together with the remains several palaces and a swimming pool.
In the desert, about 5km to the east, stand the royal pyramids, where the dead kings of Meroe are buried.
This western-Sudanese mountain range is dominated by the second-highest mountain in the Sudan, known as Jebel Marra. This is an extinct
volcano which rises to a height of 3071 metres, the combination of hills, rivers, and beautiful valleys surrounding the mountain is a good spot to experience.
Two towns of great tourist interest, Nyala and Quaila, surrounds the second-highest mountain in Sudan, the Jebel Marra Mountains at the base of the mountain range lies the town of Nyala, and this town forms a good starting point for an exploration of the surrounding mountainous countryside. It is a beautiful region of hills, rivers and orchards, and is an interesting spot for walking enthusiasts. There is a waterfall near the village of Quaila and some hot springs near the crater of the volcano itself.
In the 18th century, El-Fasher was the main centre of the Fur Sultanate. The sultan’s palace can still be seen in this western-Sudanese town, and is now a museum.
The town was also famous as the starting point of one of the most important camel caravan routes in Africa. Known as the Darb al-Arba’een, or Forty Days Road, this route carried ebony, spices, rich cloth, ivory and slaves from all parts of Africa to the Egyptian bazaars of Aswan and Asyut.
Located south of the 3rd cataract is a great archaeological site in Sudan, the town of Karma. The remains of unbaked bricks and archaeological materials make Karma a place worthy to see. The area retains lots of traditional objects of the Karma Kingdom dating back to 1500 B.C.
Sudanese travel visas are expensive and difficult to acquire for some nationalities in some countries or for people with an Israeli stamp in their passport. It is advisable to obtain a Sudanese visa in your home country if possible.
From Egypt -Cairo is one of the easiest places to get one (usually a couple of hours after application), although for a lot of nationalities it costs US$100 (not payable in Egyptian pounds). You will almost definitely need a letter of invitation/introduction from your embassy, and the time this takes varies from embassy to embassy, e.g. the Canadian Embassy takes 24 hours, the British 15 minutes. The British Embassy charges 315 Egyptian pounds (just under US$50) for theirs and is situated only 200m from the Sudanese one. It is possible to obtain a sponsorship for the Visa from the Cairo embassy and skip the letter from your own embassy, though this depends on who you are dealing with at the embassy. If you are American, bringing up President Obama is a great way to break the ice with the employees and you may find yourself skipping a lot of hassle.
From Ethiopia – getting a visa from the Sudanese Embassy in Addis Ababa is extremely unpredictable, although it is cheaper (around US$60). Your name is first sent to Khartoum merely for approval. An official has stated, “It could take two weeks, it could take two months.” Once your name has been approved, the visa itself only takes a couple of days. Britons and Americans are generally given more of a run around, but no nationality is guaranteed swift receipt of a visa. Expect to wait a minimum of two weeks for approval. If your trip continues from Sudan to Egypt and you already have your Egyptian visa you may be given a one-week transit visa for Sudan in only a day, which can be extended in Khartoum (at a hefty cost, though). The British Embassy in Addis Ababa charges a steep 740 birr (over US$60) for their letter of invitation/introduction.
Possibly out of date information: From Kenya – as in Addis Ababa, the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi sends your name to Khartoum for approval. The time it takes is similarly ambiguous, although the embassy is far more professional and efficiently-run than Addis Ababa’s.
Note: in July 2009 applicant from Sierra Leone received visa in 24 hours from Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi. In January 2010 several European passport holders seen to obtain visa in 24 hours and this appears to be the norm.
From Kenya – visa applications are submitted between 10am and 12pm and visa collected next day between 3pm and 3.30pm. Cost is 4000 Kenyan Shillings (US$50). Letter of support for application can be obtained from own embassy (e.g. British Embassy, charges 8200Kenya Shillings, turnaround time depends on availability of the Consul who needs to sign the letter). Sudanese Embassy is located in Kabarnet Road, off Ngong Road (10minutes walk from Wildebeest Campsite accommodation in Kibera Road, and near Prestige Shopping Plaza). Generally the experience at the Nairobi Sudanese Embassy is less confusing than in Egypt (with its jostling queues at three anonymous but different windows) however as at January 2010 the staff member dealing with the public is extremely unprofessional (even suggests putting false information).
Hours-long waits for customs clearance are not unheard of, and landing in Khartoum can be tricky. Entering or exiting by land usually goes smoothly. Alcohol is forbidden in Sudan, and attempting to import it could bring strict penalties.
Permits and other legal requirements
Registration is obligatory within 3 days of arrival. It costs 110 SDG and if in Khartoum it could take you a full day. Alternately many hotels will complete the registration on your behalf. Registration is also possible in Wadi Halfa, and shouldn’t take more than an hour. Here, you may be approached (particularly if you’re in a group) by an English-speaking man who will offer to take your passports and do everything while you wait outside. This is easier than doing it yourself (it is a ping pong procedure between offices/counters/desks etc.) but you’ll find the fee he’s added to each person’s registration cost is 2 to 3 US dollars. It’s not really that difficult. Do not be tempted to skip registration, as it is very likely to cause problems when you leave the country – you might not be allowed to board your flight! Departing from the Khartoum airport, at passport control counter after you’ve paid your departure tax, and checked in with the airline you will be turned back. There is a VISA office in the same room who will require payment and a passport picture. With the proper amount of money in Sudanese Pounds, and a passport this took approximately 30 minutes.
Visitors are technically required to obtain a permit for photography of any kind. Apply at the government office near the British Council. Passport-sized photos are needed and the permit makes a nice souvenir. The permit will stipulate where you can or cannot take photos.
Khartoum Airport (KRT) is the main gateway into Sudan by air. There are also some international flights which use Juba and Port Sudan airports.
Khartoum Airport is served by various European, Middle Eastern and African airlines. Among the cities with direct air links with Khartoum are Abu Dhabi (Etihad, Sudan Airways), Addis Ababa (Ethiopian Airlines), Amman (Royal Jordanian, Sudan Airways), Amsterdam (KLM Royal Dutch Airlines), Bahrain (Gulf Air), Cairo (EgyptAir, Sudan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya airways), Damascus (Syrian Airlines, Sudan Airways), Doha (Qatar Airways), Dubai (Emirates, Sudan Airways), Frankfurt (Lufthansa), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), London (British Airways, British Midlands, Sudan Airways) and Nairobi (Kenya Airways, Sudan Airways),Sharjah (Air Arabia “low cost airline from KRT”)
Port Sudan airport handles flights to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Cairo, while Juba has flights to and from Nairobi. These flights usually begin/end at Khartoum.
The airport is served by dilapidated yellow taxis that will routinely overcharge. Alternatively you can book taxis with a Khartoum taxi company called LimoTrip that use metered taxis and good vehicles at better rates.
There are no international trains from neighbouring countries into Sudan.
One way to get in from Ethiopia is via the border village of Gallabat. The road crossing from Egypt periodically closes, depending on diplomatic and trading relations between the two countries. Check for information before trying this route.
There are land routes to Kenya and Uganda from southern Sudan, as well as to Chad and the Central African Republic from Western Sudan (i.e. Darfur), but these routes are tough and potentially dangerous.
There are minibuses and Landcriuisers from Lokichoggio,Kenya that go direct to Juba,Sudan with an overnight stay in Torit travel time 11-12 hours and costing Ksh 3500-4000 and in late summer/early autumn of 2005, there will be bus service starting up from Kampala in Uganda to southern Sudan. For now, this route is off limits for tourists because it passes through an area of extreme insecurity where the rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) of Uganda operates. As of late 2005 Vehicles are being ambushed by the LRA along this route and great care should be taken on any road journeys in this region. Even when open, there is no public transport via the road crossing from Egypt.
The most reliable way to enter Sudan from Egypt is via the weekly ferry from Aswan in Egypt to Wadi Halfa. Currently it runs on Mondays to Sudan and back on Wednesdays. Prices recently went up to US$33. The boat is old and crowded with people and goods (the best place to sleep is on deck amongst the cargo) but it takes in some magnificent views (including that of Abu Simbel). Food and drink are available on-board. There are frequent ferries from Saudi Arabia. If traveling from the south, ferry tickets can be purchased at Khartoum’s main train terminal in North Khartoum.
Permits and other legal requirements
Independent travellers in Sudan (definitely those with their own vehicles and possibly those using public transport) require a Permit To Travel if going to any places the Government deems unstable. Obtaining one is an arduous ordeal, costing US$15 and taking around a day (in Wadi Halfa). Travel permits are not required for the Northern State, nor on the road to Ethiopia. They are required if going near Eriteria, toward Darfur or southern Kordofan. The recent attack on Omdurman (May 2008) has increased security and hence this information may be out of date.
Independent travellers also need to register with police on arrival in any town or city. This is fairly quick and painless, once the police point has been located – and often the police will hear about your arrival and find you before you find them.
Apart from Khartoum, there are small airports in Wadi Halfa, El Debba, Dongola, Port Sudan, El Fasher, Juba, Wau, Wad Madani, Merowe and El Obeid, all served by Sudan Airways . Most flights operate from Khartoum. Be prepared for changing timetables and cancelled flights.
There is a weekly train from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum, which leaves some time after the weekly ferry from Aswan arrives. “Some time” can mean anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days but word usually spreads around town before the train leaves. There are a few different options for accommodation, and plenty of nice and simple restaurants. The journey is scheduled for roughly 50 hours, but can vary greatly. To be on the safe side you shouldn’t make any other plans for your next 75 hours. You might not be able to find fresh water until you get to Khartoum, so it is advisable to stock up on water supplies before leaving Wadi Halfa. The train makes quite a few stops. Some more planned than others. At the more planned stops you should be able to buy a snack, and if you are lucky take a quick shower in a communal bathroom. There is also a train between Khartoum and Port Sudan, via Atbara, and from Nyala to Er-Rahad in the West. From Khartoum, trains to Wadi Halfa and Port Sudan depart from the main terminal in Khartoum North (Bahri).
Driving in Sudan is chaotic but not especially dangerous by African standards. Visitors to the area who are inexperienced at international driving are advised to hire a taxi or a driver. In most of the country, a 4WD is essential; Sudan’s main highway is sealed for much of the way but most of the roads in the country are dirt or sand tracks. Crossing in to Sudan from Egypt via the ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa now has the benefit of the Chinese financed tarmac highway covering the 400kms south to Dongola, and then right through to Khartoum, another 500kms. This road is quick for overlanders as there are few military roadblocks, and very little other traffic.
While buses do run frequently in the better traveled areas, in remoter areas people tend to use trucks or “boxes” (Toyota Hiluxes) – they’re usually just as crowded as the buses but have fewer people sitting on top and get stuck in the sand less often. They tend to go whenever they fill up, which can take half a day or so. If you have money to spare, you can hire a whole one to yourself
It is possible to cycle around Sudan, legally speaking, although it might be advisable to forget to mention your mode of transport when getting your permit to travel. “Cycling” will often consist of pushing the bike through sand or rattling along corrugations but the scenery and the incredible warmth of the Sudanese people more than compensate for the physical and bureaucratic hassles. Water is frequently available from communal clay pots at the roadside, cafes, people’s homes, passing trucks or, if desperate, the Nile (NB There is a 145km stretch between Wadi Halfa and Akasha without water – the only place to refuel is just a few kilometres before Akasha). Theft is not a problem; it is generally safe to leave bicycles unattended in villages and towns. Flies, puncture-generous thorn trees and, in the far north, lack of shade, are the only real annoyances.
Because of the US embargo, no credit cards can be used in Sudan. Carrying out on-line transactions while you are in Sudan can cause problems, as some merchants (especially American ones) will pick up your Sudanese IP address, and refuse to do business with you. If you attempt to use an American Express card for any on-line transaction while in Sudan, you are likely to have the card summarily cancelled.
Excerpts from WikiTravel
- Sudan’s National Museum of Archeological Sites get Qatari funding (madrastourist.wordpress.com)
- Wildlife in Sudan: Abundant resources, great challenges (madrastourist.wordpress.com)
- Golden Links: Tourism Prospects in Sudan (madrastourist.wordpress.com)