© All Rights Reserved Tim Haven
The largest African state is also one of the continent's most troubled. Except for a decade of peace in the 1970s, Sudan has been engaged in civil war since 1955. Millions of displaced refugees have fled to neighbouring countries. International condemnation of the currently ongoing government sponsored atrocities in the region of Darfur have not curbed the onslaught.
For obvious reasons, then, travel to Sudan is not the greatest idea, though the north of the country is certainly safer than the south, where the government launches sporadic bombing raids. The capital of Khartoum even offers something approaching a nice destination, situated as it is where the two Nile rivers meet. But it will be hard to enjoy for those of us who remember that it is from there that the government is directing its humanitarian atrocities.
Archaeological evidence has confirmed that the area in the north of Sudan, Nubia, was inhabited at least 60,000 years ago. A settled culture appeared around 8,000 B.C. They lived off hunting, fishing and grain foraging and kept cattle and sheep. The area was known to the Egyptians as the Kush and had strong cultural and religious ties to Egypt. In the 8th century BC, however, Kush came under the rule of an aggressive line of monarchs, ruling from the capital city, Napata, who gradually extended their influence into Egypt.
After many attempts at military conquest failed, the Arab commander in Egypt concluded the first in a series of regularly renewed treaties known as Albaqut (pactum) with the Nubians that governed relations between the two peoples for more than 678 years. Islam progressed in the area over a long period of time through intermarriage and contacts with Arab merchants and settlers, particularly the Sufi nobles of Arabia.
In 1820, the Albanian-Ottoman ruler of Egypt Muhammad Ali Pasha invaded and conquered northern Sudan. Though technically the Wāli of Egypt under the Ottoman Sultan, Muhammad Ali styled himself as Khedive of a virtually independent Egypt. Seeking to add Sudan to his domains, he sent his son Ibrahim Pasha to conquer the country, and subsequently incorporate it into Egypt. Eventually, a revolt broke out in Sudan, led by Muhammad Ahmad ibn Abd Allah, the Mahdi (Guided One), who sought to end foreign presence in Sudan. His revolt culminated in the fall of Khartoum and the death of the British governor General Gordon (Gordon of Khartoum) in 1885. The Egyptian and British subsequently withdrew forces from Sudan leaving the Mahdi to form a short-lived theocracy.
By the early 1890s, British, French and Belgian claims had converged at the Nile headwaters. Britain feared that the other imperial powers would take advantage of Sudan's instability to acquire territory previously annexed to Egypt. Apart from these political considerations, Britain wanted to establish control over the Nile to safeguard a planned irrigation dam at Aswan. From 1924 until independence in 1956, the British had a policy of running Sudan as two essentially separate territories, the north (Muslim) and south (Christian).
The Egyptian Revolution of 1952 finally heralded the beginning of the march towards Sudanese independence. Having abolished the monarchy in 1953, Egypt's new leaders, Muhammad Naguib, whose mother was Sudanese, and later Gamal Abdel-Nasser, believed the only way to end British domination in Sudan was for Egypt to officially abandon its sovereignty over Sudan. In 1954 the governments of Egypt and Britain signed a treaty guaranteeing Sudanese independence on 1 January 1956, in a special ceremony held at the People's Palace where the Egyptian and British flags were lowered and the new Sudanese flag, composed of green, blue and white stripes, was raised in their place. Afterwards, Ismail Al-Azhari was elected Prime Minister and led the first modern Sudanese government.
After many civil wars, on 30 June 1989, colonel Omar al-Bashir led a group of army officers in ousting the unstable coalition government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in a bloodless military coup. Under al-Bashir's leadership, the new military government suspended political parties and introduced an Islamic legal code on the national level.
Since then things have not been getting much better and Sudan had conflicts and wars with neighbouring countries and further away as well. The genocide in Darfur is one of the latest severe problems which caused international conflicts. The civil war ended with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement which granted autonomy to the southern region of the country. Following a referendum held in January 2011, South Sudan seceded on 9 July 2011.
Sudan shares international borders with Egypt, Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and a 853-kilometre coastline bordering the Red Sea. With an area of 1,886,068 km2, it is the third largest country on the continent (after Algeria and Democratic Republic of Congo) and the sixteenth largest in the world. Sudan lies between latitudes 8° and 23°N. The terrain is generally flat plains, broken by several mountain ranges; in the west the Deriba Caldera (3,042 metres), located in the Marrah Mountains, is the highest point in Sudan; in the east are the Red Sea Hills. The Blue and White Nile rivers meet in Khartoum to form the River Nile, which flows northwards through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. The Blue Nile's course through Sudan is nearly 800 kilometres long and is joined by the Dinder and Rahad Rivers between Sennar and Khartoum. The White Nile within Sudan has no significant tributaries.
Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region consists of five archaeological sites dating back to the period between 900 BC and 350 AD, during which the cultures of the Napatan and Meroitic, of the Kingdom of Kush. The site stretches over 60 kilometres in the Nile Valley and is placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here you will see tombs, both with and without pyramids, temples, living complexes and palaces. The area around Gebel Barkal has always been strongly associated with religious traditions and folklore and even nowadays the largest temples are still considered by the local people as sacred places.
The National Museum in Khartoum is worth a visit because of its unique stone sculptures from the Pharaohs and wall paintings from Nubian Christians. In the garden of the museum there are even some old Egyptian temples, brought here when the Aswan dam was built. The museum gardens are close to the confluence of the Blue and White Nile.
As part of Sudan borders the famous Red Sea, diving in Sudan is a popular and worthwhile experience. Compared to Egypt the tourist infrastructure is rather basic, but the reefs and corals are in good shape. You can base yourself in Port Sudan or a few smaller towns along the coast.
Omdurman is a traditional Muslim city which was founded by the Mahdi in the 1880s. It is situated on the western banks of the Nile, opposite Khartoum. Especially noteworthy are the famous Souqs (market), the largest in the country. The camel market (Souq Moowaileh), just outside of Omdurman, provides an insight into the trading of camels.
Kicking off the Sudanese festival calendar in February is Mawlid an-Nabi, which celebrates the day the Prophet Mohammed was born. This is one of the few Islamic celebrations in which travelers can partake as the festivities are taken out of the home and into the streets. Stalls with food and sweets line the streets and locals dance and sing until late into the night. The atmosphere is electric and the day is undoubtedly enjoyed by all.
Held every year in April is the popular Spring Holiday, which takes place the very first Monday after the Christian Easter holiday. The reason for the festival is yet to be determined but that does not deter locals and travelers alike from having a swell of a time. The day is characterized by displays of music, dance, and all-round festiveness.
Sudan is an Islamic nation, which is why Eid al-Fitr, a holiday celebrating the end of the holy month Ramadan and the end of the fasting period, is a big deal. Celebrations are held all over the country in August, with mass ceremonies taking place in mosques everywhere. The main events on the day are largely family-based, with families gathering for a veritable feast, the exchange of gifts, and a look back at the month and what it meant in their lives.
Another important Islamic day, this time in October, is the Feast of the Sacrifice. The story in the Koran which tells the tale of Ibrahim and his willingness to sacrifice his first-born son to Allah resonates strongly with people of the Islamic faith. So strongly that believers around Sudan slaughter sheep and hold great feasts with family and friends. The festival usually lasts for two to three days, during which time there are several trips to the mosque.
Also in October is the traditional Sufi music and dance festival. The Holiya festival is a mass display of cultural brotherhood and kinship. Held in honor of Sudanese saints and sheiks, the festival is characterized by the gathering of people of all ethnicities and social rankings, who dance and hug in the street. This part of the festival is called Hadra. The festival-goers sing along to traditional hymns and songs – called qasaids - and hold a large parade that passes through many culturally significant landmarks. For travelers, this really is one of the most spiritually uplifting and most inspiring traditions to witness in the region.
Sudan is a hot and for most of the country a dry place. In the north, conditions are similar to that of southern Egypt and other parts of the eastern Sahara, meaning almost completely dry and temperatures between May and October of 40 °C or more, sometimes over 50 °C. Nights are still warm during this time. Wintermonths from December to February are very pleasant with sunny and warm days and pleasant night.
Khartoum is a little more south and here summers are equally warm, but 'winters' are much warmer, usually well above 30 °C. Summers can reach well over 45 °C. However, there is short rainy season here from July to September, but rainfall is sparce and unpredictable. About 150 mm of rain falls here.
Along the northeastern coastline temperatures are equal, but humidity is much higher. Here, most rain falls from October to December, peaking in November. The rest of the year is very dry. To the south, this increases to about 400 mm on the edge of the Sahara to 1,000 mm in the extreme south, along the border with Uganda. Here, rain is possible during every month but is concentrated between April and October. Here, variations regarding temperatures are much more smaller and the climate is more tropical. Nights average between 20 °C and 22 °C year round, while days are usually between 30 °C and 35 °C, although December to April is hotter.
Sudan Airways is the national airline of Sudan and is based at Khartoum International Airport (KRT). It has several flights within the region of North and East Africa, the Middle East and to London. Examples of destinations include Nairobi, Entebbe (Uganda), Dubai, Jeddah and Damascus. Other airlines serving the airport are KLM to and from Amsterdam and onwards to Addis Ababa, Lufthansa from Frankfurt and airlines like Turkish Airlines, Royal Jordanian and BMI from London as well.
From Port Sudan New International Airport (PZU) a few cities like Cairo and Jeddah are served by Sudan Airways as well.
Although no direct train go to and from Sudan, you are able to take a train from Cairo to Aswan and than by ferry to Wadi Halfa (see below).
You can travel overland by car (4wd recommended) to Sudan from Egypt and Ethiopia. Most main roads are tarred but some back roads are rough.
There are no direct bus or minibus connections to te country, you need to travel to the nearest town and walk across the border and take onward transport in Sudan from there.
You can take a weekly ferry from Aswan (Egypt) to Wadi Halfa in Sudan. You will need a valid Sudanese visa or otherwise you won't be able to board the ferry. Check departures localy as these may vary.
There are also ferries between Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) and Port Sudan though these are rarely used by foreigners.
Note: independent travel towards certain parts of the country, especially Darfur and the border with Eritrea, requires a travel permit. The northern parts and the road from Khartoum towards Ethiopia don't require this permit. You also have to register at the police offices in every city/town you will visit, regardless wether you need a travel permit in that area or not.
Sudan Airways has flights to several airports, including Ed-Debba, Dongola, El-Fasher, Al-Geneina, Juba, Khartoum, Malakal, Merowe, Nyala, El-Obeid, Port Sudan, Wadi Halfa and Wau. The most reliable route is Port Sudan to Khartoum. There is also a charter service operating to Nyala, from Khartoum. Expect and except delays and cancelations!
Sudan has a surprisingly extensive network of trains but only the Khartoum to Wau/Nyala, Khartoum to Kassala/Wadi Halfa and Port Sudan to Khartoum routes are relatively reliable and have aircon carriages requiring a supplement fee.
Other routes are badly maintained, uncomfortable and unreliable.
The main roads in Sudan are tarred, but many other routes are dirt tracks, which can become impassable after the rains. A 4wd car is recommended and if you don't have any experience yourself in comparable countries, rent a car with a driver. Prices are high though, but ther are some offices at more expensive hotels and major cities. You need a national driver's licence and local driving permit, which you can buy at police stations.
Buses run between most major towns and cities. Most leave from the central market areas.
Luxury buses run between Khartoum, Kassala, Port Sudan and El-Obeid. Many other services are unreliable and uncomfortable though and not without risk. Trucks and minibuses ply some routes as well and leave when extemely overcrowded.
Dongola, Karima, Kosti and Juba along the Nile River are served by local river steamers, but these are really only for the very adventurous!
Entry will be refused to citizens of Israel and to those who show stamps and/or visas from Israel. The same usually applies to people with an Egyptian or Jordanian entry stamp indicating travel to Israel (e.g. the stamp you get when crossing from Israel to Egypt overland)
Almost all nationalities need a visa before arrival into Sudan. Sometimes, these can be hard to get and the easiest options are almost always in neighbouring countries, especially in Cairo, Egypt. Most visas are valid for a month and it can take weeks or more to get one in the first place. Also be aware that travelling to certain regions means that you will need an extra permit, though Khartoum and the central north towards Egypt will mostly be fine to visit on your regular visa. Have a look at the foreign Sudanese embassies for more information.
Registration is obligatory within 3 days of arrival. It costs SDG110 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!
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.
See also Money Matters
In January 2007, the government introduced a new currency, the Sudanese pound (Arabic: جنية jeneh, SDG - the 'G' actually stands for "guinea"), which replaced the Sudanese dinar (Arabic: دينار dinar, SDD). The new pound is worth 100 old dinars. The new pound is divided into 100 piastres (coins).
Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 piasters, and 1 pound. Banknotes come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 pounds.
Bring only foreign CASH into Sudan, preferably US dollars (often accepted in hotels), Bank of England pounds and, to a lesser extent, euros are also fairly easy to exchange at banks in big cities. Travellers cheques, credit cards and foreign bank automatic teller machine cards are NOT accepted in Sudan, partly because of the US embargo.
The official languages in Sudan are Arabic and English, according to the 2005 constitution. English is not widely spoken except by officials and hospitality workers. In contrast to many places in the world, it is the older generations that tend to speak the better English, though highly-educated people among the younger generation can speak English.
Sudanese cuisine has various influences, but none of them dominates the regional culinary cultures. Among the influences are from Egyptian, Ethiopian, Yemeni and Turkish cuisines (meatballs, pastries and spices), but there are also numerous dishes that are common to all Arabian nations.
Most larger towns and cities have affordable hotels, although not as cheap as you might imagine. Quality is generally consistent within the price range.
Basic hotels provide a bed and a fan with shared bathroom/toilet facilities. There may be more than one bed in the room but you are usually expected to pay for the whole room. The bigger the group of travellers, the more economical these rooms are, as more beds are often put in a room (within reason) to accommodate everybody without the price being changed. Some hotels have cheaper beds outside in the open as in smaller towns and cities. These hotels are not very clean but are cheap and perfectly acceptable for short stays.
Lower mid-range hotels - more likely to be found in Khartoum - offer the worst value for money. They may have en suite bathrooms, (mostly evaporative) air conditioning and satellite television, but for what you're paying (two or three times that of basic hotels depending on your bargaining skills) the rooms are extremely tatty and hotel owners will almost always subscribe to the philosophy of: 'Only fix something if the guest complains'. There will sometimes be rooms minus the bathroom/air conditioning/television for prices a little above those in basic hotels.
Upper mid-range hotels are the next step up, with spotless rooms of a far higher quality but prices (usually quoted in dollars) closer to what you'd expect in the West. You'll have little to find fault with, though.
Top-end hotels are commonly of the Five Star variety, and include the Hilton. The few are found mostly in Khartoum. They are much more expensive than the upper mid-range hotels.
Outside larger towns and cities hotels don't normally go above basic. That means bedframes with either simply a string mesh or with thin mattresses; that is not to say they are uncomfortable. They are offered (generally in fours or fives) in rooms where there is often a ceiling fan to keep things cool. The beds are usually cheaper - and more fun to sleep in - out in the courtyard under the stars, although there is obviously less privacy and security. As with the basic hotels in larger towns and cities, it is more often than not impossible to rent one bed in a room as you might in a dormitory. Hotel owners insist that you rent the whole room. Rooms become unavailable quickly at certain times (weekends, for example). Showers may be bucket showers, with water straight out of the Nile if your route follows that river.
Camping in the wild is easy in rural areas outside the south as long as the usual precautions are taken.
Islam is the official religion of the country, and alcohol has been banned since sharia was imposed in the 1980s. Sudanese people frequently drink tea, usually sweet and black. Sudan also has some refreshing drinks such as karkade (hibiscus) which can be served hot or chilled, aradeeb (tamarind) and gongleiz (made with the baobab fruit). The local energy drink is a carbohydrate-laden drink known as madeeda. There are several types of madeeda, made with dates, dukhun (millet) or other ingredients blended with fresh milk, and usually heavily sweetened with sugar, though reduced-sugar versions may be available if you ask. Sudanese coffee is available in most souks and is similar to Turkish style coffee; thick and strong, sometimes flavoured with cardamom or ginger with a powerful kick and altogether delicious. Not to be taken before bed though if you want an undisturbed night's sleep!
However, while alcohol is strictly illegal in the Muslim north, locally-brewed alcohol is widely available in various forms and at various degrees of potency. A local beer (merissa) brewed from sorghum or millet is cloudy, sour and heavy and likely to be brewed with untreated water and will almost certainly lead to the 'Mahdi's revenge' (the Sudanese version of 'Delhi belly'). Aragi is a pure spirit distilled from sorghum or in its purest form, dates. It is potent and should be treated with respect, and beware that it is sometimes contaminated with the likes of methanol or embalming fluid to add flavour and potency! Be aware though that all these brews are not only potentially hazardous for your health but illegal, and being caught in possession can result in the full implementation of Islamic law punishments.
The general advice is not to drink tap water; in most rural areas, you will not be able to, as there are no taps. Where there are no bore holes (which often yield water that is fine to drink), water is often taken directly from the Nile.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Sudan when you have been in a yellow fever country within 7 days of entering Sudan. Still, it is recommended you get the yellow fever vaccination anyway. You have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Sudan. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in some parts of the country, though not the northern deserts. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue is present in some parts of the country, mainly around urban areas.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Travel in Sudan outside Khartoum, Omdurman and the Northern State is dangerous. Two borderline civil wars continue to see violence, in Southern Sudan and particularly in Darfur. Travel to the Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states and the Darfur region is extremely dangerous and highly discouraged, including overland travel to/from Chad & South Sudan. Bandits and terrorist groups have targeted foreign visitors for attacks and kidnapping, particularly in the Upper Nile regions and near the Ethiopian border.
There is almost no likelihood of being physically attacked (mugged) for your possessions, but keep an eye on your things in public places, e.g. street cafes. Sometimes thieves operate in pairs: one distracts you while the other makes off with your stuff.There have been cases of pickpocketting in Sudan as well.
Sudan is one of four countries worldwide that do not to comply with international flight safety protocol. The official state airline, Sudan Airways fleet is mainly composed of 1950's era Soviet manufactured aircraft. Some planes have no navigation, lighting, or are missing critical pieces of landing gear. Over 27 fatal crashes occurred last year in the Northern region alone, making Sudan the most dangerous country for internal air travel.
Sudan has very strict rules about taking pictures. First and foremost, you need a permit to take pictures (see "Get in" section above for details) which will tell you where you can and cannot take pictures. Photographing or filming military personnel or installations is a quick way to get into trouble. People have been arrested for taking pictures at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles in Khartoum.
Sudan is an Islamic country and consumption of alcohol is illegal. Homosexuality is punishable by death. The death sentence for homosexuality is mainly only enforced after the second or third repeated offense. Mainly the first offense it is usually imprisonment and about a thousand lashes for both men and women, (which is virtually the death penalty anyway, it would be surprising if anyone could survive that sort of harsh punishment). The government's form of punishing those convicted of homosexual acts is dealt with under the strict interpretation of the Islamic Sharia Law. If a foreigner is arrested for committing a homosexual act, that person may probably either be given a warning if "truly remorseful" or be dealt with in the same manner as the Sudanese national. Ask for consular assistance from your government if you are arrested.
Your best bet of internet connections will be in Khartoum, where there are places with wifi.
See also International Telephone Calls
Sudan's international direct dialling code is 249.
Prepaid mobile phone packages are easily available in Sudan. The two telecommunications companies in Sudan are ZAIN (Tel: +249 91 230000) and MTN (Tel: +249 92-1111111). Zain has a cheaper prepaid package (SDG10) than Mtn (SDG20).
Sudanese postal services tend to be slow, cheap and fairly reliable. Your post will eventually arrive in the country of destination.
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