Sudan


Overview

Sudan travel information, including maps of Sudan, food, drink and where to stay in Sudan plus the best time to travel in Sudan

Sprawling Sudan makes up a whopping 8% of Africa yet it only attracts a teeny number of visitors. Sudan comprises vast, lonely deserts and pastureland littered with tribal communities and archeological relics.

The ethnic, linguistic and religious pluralism is staggering. Over 100 languages are spoken and, with such a compelling cultural hodge-podge, it’s possible to take in everything from tribal wrestling to spiritual exorcisms and whirling dervishes. The friendly, relaxed people are a real boon (just don’t expect anything in a hurry) and the only place you’ll feel crowded is when you’re being followed by schools of barracuda in the Red Sea.

Although the recent troubles mean that some areas are no go zones, there are still regions you can visit – just make sure you check the latest travel advice before venturing out.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Roam around deserted pyramids: not as big as Egypt’s structures perhaps, but Sudan’s version at Begrawiya offers silence and solitude.    
  2. Be spellbound by a zar exorcism ceremony where frenzied dancing, chanting and the beating of drums is said to cure possessed women.
  3. Take to the Red Sea to witness some watery wonders. Plunge into the untouched depths and you could be hanging out with a school of 100 hammerhead sharks.
  4. Hot foot it to modern, bustling Khartoum to see Nuba wrestling and, in twin city Omdurman, whirling dervishes spinning at sunset.
  5. Pop your haggling hat on at Kassala, which boasts one of the country’s best markets

Wanderlust tips

Check safety guidelines regularly. Bring a sheet as bedding is rarely provided in any abode, regardless of the price tag. Wear flip flops when showering as athlete’s foot is commonplace. Stay cool by donning white clothes. Take sand mats for desert driving.

 

Further Reading

Travel in Sudan: vital statistics

  • Capital of Sudan: Khartoum
  • Population of Sudan: 41 million
  • Languages in Sudan: Arabic, English, Dinka and other languages
  • Time in Sudan: GMT+3
  • International dialling code in Sudan: +249
  • Voltage in Sudan:  220-230 AC, 50 Hz
  • Visas for Sudan: Sudan visa
  • Money in Sudan: Sudanese pound (SDG). Sudan is a cash-based society. There are very few ATMs. Credit cards are not accepted anywhere. Travellers cheques are pricey and difficult to change.
  • Sudan travel advice: Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  • Sudan tourist board: Sudan Embassy

When to go to Sudan

The north is dry for most of the year. Between April and October it is mind-bendingly hot with temperatures in excess of 40ºC and regular sandstorms.

The cooler tropical south is real umbrella territory: it can rain for up to nine months a year. This makes much of the landscape impassable, especially between May and October.

Divers should avoid July and August as it’s deemed too hot to dive. Many places shut up shop during Ramadan. November to April is the best period for travel.

 

International airport

Khartoum (KRT) 4km from Khartoum.

 

Getting around in Sudan

It can take a long time to get around Sudan due to the sheer size of the country, poor transport and infrastructure, and the que sera, sera attitude of the Sudanese.

Domestic flights operate to many parts of the country but air travel can be unreliable. Trains are slow and the only useful passenger route left is the Khartoum to Wadi Halfa run.

The quantity of paved roads has increased but most roads are dirt tracks. Hitching is par for the course when traversing Sudan and most of the population see nothing wrong with hopping aboard any vehicle with available space (but you will be expected to pay for your ride).

Buses are fast and plentiful. Taxis can be found in most towns and donkey taxis are available in villages. It is possible to hire your own vehicle but it’s expensive, fuel is hard to come by and you’ll need a 4WD for the sandy conditions.

Where there are no proper roads you may have to endure a bone-rattling ride on a bokasi (pick-up truck). Comfort is minimal and if you turn up late and you’ll end up sat on the roof.

Sudan accommodation

Lokandas are the budget staple (rooms set around a communal open-air courtyard). For the lowest price you’ll get to sleep on a bed in the courtyard and share basic washing facilities and squat toilets. Cough up a little more and you can upgrade to a private room (women will have to do this as most lokanda owners won’t let female guests sleep communally).

At the higher end of the spectrum you’ll find hotels which are often clean and offer en-suite bathrooms, TVs and fans or air conditioning. Alternatively, you can opt to sleep under the stars.

There are a few campsites but on the whole campers have to go it alone; chose from pitching near a family’s tukul (thatched mud hut) or setting up camp at whatever wilderness spot takes your fancy.

Sudan food & drink

Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to Sudanese food. A popular dish is ful (beans stewed in a huge cauldron) which is served up with oil and spices, bread, salad and other accompaniments. Taamiya (falafel) is a common street snack although, as with many dishes here, expect it to be a little bland.

Vegetarians fare reasonably well as lots of the main dishes don’t contain meat (or meat that is visible to the naked eye...).

Sweet treats are in abundance and there are a proliferation of bakeries offering baklawa, a pastry containing honey and nuts. Al fresco tea stalls serve up sugar-laden tea (often with mint and spices added) and coffee (sometimes with cinnamon or ginger). The plethora of native fruit has resulted in juice bars boasting grapefruit, raisin and banana juices.

Alcohol is illegal in northern Sudan but in the south beer is readily available. Araki (a strong spirit) is likely to blow your head off: approach with caution.

Health & safety in Sudan

Many areas of Sudan are extremely dangerous. You must check the latest advice before travelling. Outside the trouble spots the incidence of petty street crime is significantly lower than in many African countries and women often report feeling safer here than in other Islamic nations.

Around half of all visitors suffer bouts of travellers’ diarrhoea. Anti-malaria medication is a must. The fierce heat, dust and parasites also pose health risks. Iron clothes to prevent the eggs of tumbu flies burrowing under your skin and try not to walk barefoot as sandfleas like to set up camp under human skin.