Chances are if you are visiting Sudan you are doing so as part of some sort of diplomatic outreach under which you will enjoy the protection of a foreign government. Otherwise there is not much in the way of touring potential if you are sitting at home wondering where to spend your summer holidays. For the hard core adventure traveller on a wider odyssey of the region, then Sudan, simply by virtue of it being such an insular and controversial nation, is worth a visit. According to the Failed State Index Sudan occupies pole position as the world’s most dangerous and unstable country.
Having got that out of the way, Sudan also happens to be a very interesting country, that, by dint of its association with the Nile, is linked into a long and colourful history. It has its roots sunk equally in the empires of the Mediterranean, the biblical sagas and the great Victorian quest for the source of the Nile.
Many of the problems currently associated with Sudan have their roots in the division of Africa between the European powers during the 19th century, which saw in Sudan the bonding together into a single national entity of two mutually antagonistic groups: the Arabised, Moslem population of the north, and the animist/Christian black population of the south. The struggle for resources and political power between these two groups has been one of the most bloody and destructive chapters in the post colonial period, and has tended more than any other to highlight the arbitrary and selfish ends that were pursued at that time.
Travel To & Within Sudan
Why Travel to Sudan
It is possible to visit the Sudan without getting involved with all of the ugly political malfeasance that has made the country such a pariah. Overland travel from the region of Aswan in Egypt to Khartoum, and then on to Eritrea or Ethiopia, is viable, and is about the only route open at present to get from Europe to the tropical regions of Africa. Recent attacks on tourists in the west/central Sahara region have tended to cut off the Algeria/Mali/Burkina Faso route.
Although Sudan does not have anything resembling a formal tourist infrastructure, there are sites of historical interest related to the regions past associations with Pharaohic dynasties of the north. Of Particular interest is the Royal Cemetery of Meroe – the Kingdom of Meroe, it might be remembered, provided one of the three biblical Magi – and the remains of the Royal City.
Khartoum itself is an ordered and reasonably safe destination, and thanks to Sharia law it is safe on a street level so long as you utter nothing that could be construed as political or religious profanity. The city has, among other sites of cultural interest, the National Museum of the Sudan.
There is almost no chance of an independent traveller entering the regions south of Khartoum without good cause and a strong escort.
Currently a river ferry on the Nile runs between Aswan and Wadi Halfa which is an interesting and very worthwhile trip.
When to Visit Sudan
Northern Sudan is hot in the winter and even hotter in the summer. Without the assurance of air conditioning a summer visit is lunacy, with the mercury hovering at 40ºC (104ºF) plus, and frequent dust storms that blanket the city for long periods. Winter daytime temperatures can still be upwards of 30ºC (86ºF), with evenings a little cooler, making winter (October to April) about the only time worth visiting.
To list all the potential areas of risk in Sudan would require a dissertation, however it is sufficient to say that free range travel in any of the border regions with the exception of Egypt is totally off the menu, with insecurity currently most aggressive in the Darfur region, but also in the south and east. Rebel attacks recently were felt as close to home as Omdurman, a suburb of the capital, so nowhere is really safe.
The terrorist threat in Sudan is predictably very high. For more general advice see Terrorism Abroad.
Street crime is very limited in comparison to other African countries, due mainly to the severity of the law, although incidences of blackmail and extortion have been reported.
Road conditions are poor, as is the general standard of vehicle maintenance, so due caution should be applied when travelling overland. For more general advice see Driving Abroad.
The Islamic Sudanese are hyper-sensitive in matters of religious tolerance, and even the most innocuous utterance could be the beginning of an international incident, so err always on the side of caution, and say nothing to anyone that has even the remotest chance of causing offence.
Water and food-borne diseases are common to Sudan, and alcohol is forbidden.
Permits, visas and restrictions are manifold and rigorously applied. Do not think, as in many other African countries, that a sweet smile and few dollars will get you through. This will not happen in Sudan.