Where the White Nile and Blue Nile meet
The friendliest country in Africa?
Tell anyone you’re going on holiday to Sudan, and their reaction will probably be one of shock and more than a little concern. After all, this is not exactly your ‘usual’ tourist destination. Long beset by conflict and tragedy, even now parts of this huge country remain off limits. However, the northeast of Sudan is one of the safest places in the world… and one of the most compelling. Very few travellers come here, but those who do are bewitched by its exquisite natural beauty and ancient historical attractions.
Here, in a land straddling the Islamic world and sub-Saharan Africa, there are extraordinary treasures that the rest of the world is only just beginning to discover. Go now before the word gets out! There’s the unspoiled natural beauty of the Nubian desert, a modern capital city where the White and Blue Niles become one, diving among gardens of coral and some of the finest wrecks on the planet, and more pyramids than Egypt – only here they’re usually enjoyed in glorious isolation rather than with throngs of other tourists.
But as much as the natural and man-made wonders will blow you away, it’s the people of Sudan who will capture your heart. The country is famous for being one of the friendliest and most hospitable places on Earth. Everyone who returns from a trip to Sudan comes back with epic stories of how they were unable to walk down any street without being invited into people’s homes for tea, food and marvellous, authentic interactions with friendly and curious locals. You’ll have never experienced hospitality like this before, and probably never will again. Strangers will welcome you into their homes, treat you like family, and lavish you with food, laughter and kindness. Even when you’ve left Sudan, a piece of your heart will always remain.
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The North African country of Sudan borders the Red Sea, Egypt, Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It was once the largest country in Africa, but after the people of the south voted for independence, it split into two countries in July 2011: Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan. Sudan now has an area of around 1.86 million square kilometres, making it the third-largest country in Africa, after Algeria and Democratic Republic of the Congo. To give a comparison, it’s about three times the size of Texas. It has a population of around 43 million people, and around 114 native languages – Sudanese Arabic is the most widely spoken. Unlike so many places in the world, not many people speak English here, so be sure to learn some Arabic basics before you arrive and bring a phrasebook!
Sudan is extremely hot and dry. The best time to visit is from December to February, especially in January when temperatures ‘cool down’ to around 30C. During these months temperatures can halve at night, making things a lot more bearable. Avoid travelling from May to September, when the temperatures are ferocious, soaring well over 40C even on the coast, and sandstorms common.
There’s year-round scuba diving in the Red Sea, but operators tend to close during July and August when temperatures of up to 50C make things unbearable. During this time Khartoum is a little cooler but more humid, and can receive rain. If you’re travelling during the winter remember that nights can get cold, so pack accordingly. Check the dates for Ramadan (they change each year), as lots of things are closed or have restricted opening hours during this month. And remember that because Sudan is an Islamic country, the weekend here is Friday and Saturday. Expect reduced opening hours and transport links at this time.
Sudanese food is excellent, with influences from various cuisines, including Egyptian, Ethiopian and Turkish. But you can’t enjoy a crisp white wine with your evening meal – Sudan is officially alcohol-free. Legs and arms should also be covered up in this strict Islamic culture, but thin, breathable fabrics are a must in this hot climate. It’s not compulsory, but female travellers might also like to wear a headscarf.
Sudan travel information
Visas are required to enter Sudan, and must be obtained before you arrive. You’ll need to arrange your visa via the Sudanese embassy in your country of residence, or in the country you’re visiting directly before Sudan. Once you’ve entered Sudan with your visa, you then have three days to register it at a Sudanese police office. To enter Sudan you’ll also need a passport valid for at least six months from the date you return home. Please note, if you’ve got an Israeli stamp or visa in your passport you won’t be allowed into the country. Getting a new passport or using a second passport (if you’re lucky enough to have one) is the only way to get around this. The local currency is the Sudanese pound, which is divided into 100 piastres. Foreign credit and debit cards can’t be used anywhere in Sudan (including international hotels) and ATMs don’t accept foreign cards, so you need to bring hard currency with you. Calculate what you think you’ll spend during your time in Sudan, then add a bit for emergencies, and bring this full amount in cash. This should be in US dollars or euros, dated 2006 onwards (older ones will not be exchanged). Pounds sterling are rarely exchanged. Bring clean, uncreased notes, preferably in denominations of US$50 or US$100 printed since 2006. Drink only bottled water. Consult your GP or a travel doctor at least six weeks before you travel. You may be required or recommended to get vaccinations for yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A & B, among others and malaria prophylactics are recommended. Travel insurance, as always, is imperative. For more inspiration about where to go and what to see when you’re visiting this incredible country, click on the buttons on the adjacent map.
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