When thinking of countries to visit in Africa, Sudan is never on the list. There are many reasons for this: past political instability, little public knowledge of its history and culture, logistical challenge, not much media promotional efforts to attract tourists etc. These are a few reasons. Despite these impediments, adventure traveler, homeintheair, packed his suitcase and jetted towards this East African gem.
Last summer, I was grouped with an American-Sudanese colleague at work for a team building activity. We quickly became friends and she told me about her country. As a travel enthusiast, I was thrilled. I found a somewhat cheap ticket to Sudan and booked it not knowing that it required a visa.
I was freaked out at first because I hate dealing with those things. This meant that it is quite hard for tourists to come in. I started doubting my decision. My friends and coworkers told me it was dangerous.
“The whole country is in a civil war, plagued by malaria and viruses, overran by thieves and ISIS is the president”.
Of course, none of this is true.
Sudan is not just safe, it is probably one of the most underrated countries in the world. I was so surprised by how many things there was to do and see and experience. If it were any other country, Sudan would have been a tourist magnet. However, I can imagine that in 20 or 30 years, Sudan being on every influential travel magazine’s top places to visit. I wish more people could know about the Sudanese pyramids and the excellent diving experiences the red sea offers.
But the pyramids are not the fascinating attraction of Sudan. The country’s Islamic heritage is enormous and worth experiencing. The Sufi rituals here are like nothing I have ever seen. Also, I saw and sailed where the two Niles (the white and the blue) meet. The Tutti island in the middle of the meeting point is also very interesting with its narrow streets and huge farming area. If you are interested in bird watching this is definitely a good spot!
There are very few tourists in this country. It was a happy moment for me when I had all the pyramids for myself, but it was also kind of sad that such an important part of the world’s history wasn’t visited and almost never mentioned. I think what really characterized my trip is that it felt like a true adventure. Not just a personal adventure, but it gave me a real feeling of being an explorer. Despite Sudan’s attractions, sadly the country is not prepared for tourism. I had to drive off road, dine at very dirty truck stops, got stopped by the police several times and with a car that broke down every 100 km (62 miles). I was offered a place to sleep by the locals – basically on a bed outside – when our car broke down at 1 am on our way back from Jabal Barkal.
Even though the country lacks tourists, there are plenty of foreigners. It especially surprised me how many Syrians had fled the war to this part of the world. We hear only about those coming to Europe. On the flight to Khartoum, I sat beside a Syrian refugee. He told me he fled to Germany with part of his family but the rest ended up in Sudan. After spending the first day in Khartoum I had already met much more Syrian refugees than I had in Europe. I even let one cut my hair and he told me, that the Syrian government has an agreement with Sudan that young men can spend 4 years working here instead of serving in the military. To avoid going to war, young men come to Sudan and return happily afterward. However, there are many who come to seek asylum. Those refugees are living difficult lives. One moment that made a lasting impression on me was a Syrian man holding his daughter in his arm and begging for money from a Sudanese.
Although Sudan is an African country, you also get the feeling of it being an Arabic country, at least for me as an Arab. I was welcomed as one of their own. They treated me as a local when it came to prices and permits and also on a personal level. We share a history and it was not hard to identify with them and them with me. I discussed history and politics with the locals, even with a police officer.
One of the greatest stories I learned was about Khalifa Al-Mahdi, who was supposed to be the savior of all Muslims more than a hundred years ago. He fought the Ottomans and the British and won. He then created a huge Sudanese state and until his death, Sudan was free. Unfortunately, the colonial powers of the British came back accompanied by Winston Churchill himself to colonialize Sudan once again.
Many things surprised me about Sudan. I fell in love with every detail of it. History is incredible but also brutal sometimes. One very apparent thing is how badly the country was treated by the West. From the destruction of their Pyramids by an Italian guy to the current government which can be traced back to the colonialist influence. Despite all this, the Sudanese people have kept their kindness, morals, and solidarity intact.
If you consider visiting Sudan and discovering it’s hidden gems here are some tips to get you started:
- To get around Sudan, download their version of the uber app Tirhal. It is cheaper than a taxi. For shorter distances hail a TukTuk.
- You can book a place to stay in Sudan using hotels.com. I strongly recommend Maziya Residence in Khartoum. It’s a clean apartment and it’s near the big mall. You can get the hotel staff to pick you up from the airport as well.
- Make sure to get a travel permit. All tourists need one to visit Sudan’s attractions. You can get a travel permit through a travel agency.