Blog Archives: Sudan


Sudan from A to Z

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Meroe Pyramid Sudan

Sudanese smiles, hibiscus tea, Amon, nomads, pyramids and many more memories keep whirling through my head like whirling dervish on a Friday afternoon in Khartoum. I am trying to catch up on some sleep on my flight home from Sudan, but my mind is still buzzing and perhaps just acknowledging what I have done and seen over the last eight days in Sudan. Every corner we turned, every market or chai house we stopped at, there was a new adventure to be had and people to meet. With its rich history and wonderful people, Sudan has been one of my greatest travel finds.  Here are 26 reasons to visit, in alphabetical order:

A – Amon

The most prominently featured god in Sudan. Many of the sights and temples in Sudan make reference to the sun god, Amon.  

B – Bayuda Desert Nomads

Crossing the Bayuda Desert, you will more than likely come across the nomads who are using the wells in the desert to get water for themselves and animals. It is amazing to witness how in such a harsh environment, you can find a family living in perfect contentment with the little that they have. 

C – Chai Houses

For me, one of the highlights of Sudan is the roadside chai houses. They offer an opportunity to stretch your legs after a long drive and meet the locals. With coffee or tea costing around 40p per cup, it is worth staying a little longer.

D – Deserts of Sudan

The deserts seem to be never-ending, full of sand dunes for fun and adventure.  You are never quite sure what you may come across: the occasional camel who seems lost, yet you know he has someone looking out for him, the hardy goats and the nomads who make these deserts their home.

E – Education

Like with any country, education is key. Around the country, small projects are developing to give access to education where it has not been offered before. This includes the school set up near Meroe Tented Camp from donations from tourists. Teaching is offered to both young boys and girls. The younger generation of Sudan are being offered education that perhaps their parents or grandparents did not manage to get.

F – Future

What the future holds for Sudan is unknown, but what I do know is that with the generosity and outlook of the Sudanese people it can only be good.

G – Goats

The underestimated heroes of Sudan. They are the perfect animals to have in such a harsh and arid environment, providing food and milk for many.

Goat

H – History

The history of Sudan dates to around 3500BC. Since then, it has had many empires and kingdoms, as well as colonisation by the British. Most recently, it split from South Sudan in 2011. 

I – Inshallah

Meaning “God willing”. Short and to the point, whatever your beliefs are.

J – Jebel Barkal

The sacred mountain above Karima. Standing at just under 100 metres tall, this mountain was used as a landmark for those travelling down the Nile. A walk up the mountain just before sunset is the perfect ending to the day.

K – Karkade

A great word with an even a greater taste. Karkade is a tea made from the hibiscus flower and can be drunk either hot or cold. 

L – Lions

It is hard to believe the lions once roamed this land. In the Temple of Apedemak (first century AD) located in the Naga region, you can see etchings of them together with elephants on the walls.

M – Market Day

In the markets of Sudan, I am pretty sure you can pick up anything you may need, from camels, karkade and goats to ground maize, clothes and coffee.

N – Nile

The lifeblood of Sudan (and many other countries it flows through). The confluence of the Blue and White Nile seems underwhelming, considering that the journey both rivers have taken to meet in the centre of Khartoum.

View of the Nile

O – Opportunity

The county is not without its struggles; however, with exports such as cotton, sesame and most recently gold, the country could grow and develop into one of Africa’s success stories. 

P – Pyramids

Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt and, as tourism is very small, you will pretty much have them to yourself.

Q – Queen Amanishakheto

The Warrior Queen of Nubia – one of the lesser known female heroes of Africa, who reigned from around 10BC to 1AD. During her reign, she became extremely powerful and successful. And like many women, she had a love jewellery and all thing sparkly.   

R – Rubbish

One of the not so positive sides of Sudan. Rubbish litters the roadsides and desert, showing how the plastic invasion has taken over our world. There has been a ban on the use of plastic bags in Khartoum since January 2018. However, it appears not to have taken to full effect yet. My understanding is there is a grace period which is due to run out shortly before any action will be taken. With this new law, perhaps the old artistic skill of making woven reed baskets will have a revival.

S – Sudanese Smiles

The initial hesitation on the faces of the Sudanese soon turns into a bright beaming smile. Together with the generosity and caring nature of the Sudanese, the smiles of Sudan are what makes this country so special.

T – Technology

Sudan seems like a country that the rest of the world forgot. With the exception of tarred roads, electricity and the all-important mobile phone (and, yes, they do have a Sudanese selfie), nothing much else has changed.  As technology develops in the country I hope that way of life, traditions and respect for one another will continue.  

U – Unknown

It is not often that you can travel to a destination that not many people have been to and that is relatively unknown as a tourist destination. Make the most of travelling to Sudan now, before the rest of the world finds out how amazing and exciting this country is.

V – Verge-side Meeting

Along any street corner, you will find people chatting and catching up on the daily news. The el zeers (water stations) provide the perfect point to meet up. The el zeers are free to use and get filled up from the river/well by anyone who may be passing.   

W – Whirling Dervishes

Each Friday afternoon an hour before sunset, the Whirling Dervishes gather in Omdurman area of Khartoum. Forming a huge circle, they start chanting to the Prophet Mohammed. A combination of music, burning incense and the endless repetition of religious chants causes the Dervishes to go into a state of trance.

X – Xerothermic

This pretty much describes the landscape of Sudan in one word – hot and dry.

Y – Yes

The typical answer to any question you may ask. The Sudanese are incredibly hospitable and generous and will go out of their way to help and assist you whilst you are travelling.

Z – Zero Tolerance to Alcohol

Being an Islamic country and living by the Sharia Law, alcohol is banned in the country. During my travels through Sudan, I did wonder if this law is one of the reasons the country is rather peaceful and the Sudanese themselves are so tolerant of each other and anyone who travels through their beautiful land.

         

The Temples and Pyramids of Nubian Sudan

Feeling inspired to explore Sudan? Take a look at our Temples and Pyramids of Nubian Sudan holiday idea.

Uncover Sudan’s wealth of archaeological treasures including Nubian pyramids, Kushite temples and crumbling cemeteries. Encounter the traditional Nubian culture of this remote region and explore ancient desert ruins, harking back to Nubia’s long-forgotten heyday.

Meroe Pyramids, Sudan

Discovering Sudan

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I must say that I was a little apprehensive about the destination and especially the fact that the Embassy in London initially said that they wouldn’t offer me a tourist Visa. However from the start the tour operator was faultless. I received a letter with a visa and was even suggested a visa service in London which saved me much time and money.

I arrived into Khartoum at about 8pm and was delighted by the fact that the ladies on the plane – all veiled and serene, had walked to the front of the queue and presented their passports regardless of the people (mainly men and foreigners) waiting. A mischievous glint in their eyes, all chatting excitedly. Immediately I was made aware that Sudan was not going to be anything like what I had expected. I was assisted by one of the officials who came to tell me very politely that a gentleman was waiting for me when I had retrieved my luggage. And so he was. Hatim (our guide for the next week) was waiting for me and welcomed me with a great big smile. I know for a fact that I was the first of the group to arrive that evening and he had the same unfaltering smile for everyone arriving late into the night.

The Holiday Villas oozed old world charm reminiscent of the colonial days. In reverence to its place in the world the hotel has been maintained immaculately with all the original pieces intact and polished to a shine, complete with a grand ballroom and Terrace Cafe overlooking the Nile. The staff were very friendly, the welcome drink a delight. The room had a high ceiling, dim lighting and a balcony overlooking the Nile. I guess you can already tell that I was destined to love Sudan.The next morning we embarked on our journey to Kariema. This was the first glimpse I had of Khartoum and Omdurman and I was delighted by the bustle and the colours, the smiling faces and the relative order. I hasten to add that I have travelled extensively in southern and east Africa and have been less impressed by other main cities.

It was not long before we left the city behind us and entered the western desert (the area of desert between the curves of the Nile). The immaculate tar road cut through the golden sand stretched ahead of us. The sun beat down but in the very comfortable vehicles you could just hear the hum of the air-conditioning as the incumbent passengers remained luxuriously cool. En route we often took some time off the road to have a wonderful lunch under a shady acacia. These lunches were just sublime, fresh and diverse, skilfully arranged by Hatim and the drivers. We saw no one except for occasional villagers along the way and on one occasion we stopped at a well where young boys were drawing water for their camels and donkeys. We stopped to talk to them, take some photographs and ask questions. I just loved the way that everyone was so welcoming and relaxed, the drivers and Hatim were so empathetic to our needs and I particularly loved the way they interacted with the local people we met along the way. There was never a harsh word for the hassling salesman (this was rare) at a roadside petrol stop or an inquisitive boy at a well. The respect shown by the staff to everyone was just a delight to see.

Kariema and the guest house were such a surprise. The guest house lovingly created in an extraordinary position in the shadow of Jebel Barkal. The rooms could easily feature in a travel magazine for their simple style and flair. The beds were comfortable and the electric fan ensured that the midnight heat was kept at bay. Electricity was abundant and the plugs allowed for all kinds of charging. The bathroom had good lighting and came complete with his and hers basins, the shower was wonderful (maybe the boiler a bit small ) but I preferred the cooler water. It was very hot but the beauty of desert heat is that it is dry, so respite was easy to find in the shade or with a splash of water. The food here was out of this world! However I found that 5 courses were a bit much and we all rolled into bed after mouth-watering dishes such as tamarind marinated chicken, fresh butternut soup and homemade vanilla ice-cream!

From Kariema we explored the Jebela Barkal, the pyramids of Nuri and Jebel Barkel, the tombs of El Kurru, the petrified forest and the market in Kariema. I loved it all. The fact that the history was so tangible, in most places we were alone at the sites, the people were wonderfully welcoming and Hatim had endless information and patience. He also was very resourceful offering water when we needed it, a car to pick us up when some preferred not to walk and he offered a light in a dark place, be it a torch or a handy helper with a mirror.

From Kariema we continued across the Bayuda desert to Atbara. To all desert enthusiasts this desert is a real treat, a constant change of scenery with black hills in the distance offered enthralling viewing. We stopped frequently to take in the view and for comfort. I never heard anyone have to ask to stop, it was always timed immaculately by our very empathetic drivers. Infact, I had a cold at the time and on entering the car every morning a full box of tissues was handed to me with a smile. Fantastic. We stopped in the Bayuda desert to meet some of its inhabitants and have a brief look around their compound, pity there was a language barrier as we could have shared so much. After all getting through the day is something common to all. We had time to visit a dormant volcano in this area and to meet some of the people who farm minerals from the soda lake within. Here especially I remember a group of women passing us by and stopping for a “chat”. The women clothe themselves in the most dramatic colours in Sudan which just emphasises their beauty. We also came across an enthusiastic young man leading his camels of which he was clearly very proud. The place, the unusual farming talking place there and the characteristic people make this day one of my favourites.

It was a long drive once out of the desert to Meroe as we travelled along the heavily used road which conveys all kinds of goods to and from Port Sudan. This was a less romantic view of Sudan and suddenly the road was very busy with frequent stops to check paperwork and permits. Luckily Hatim and the team in Khartoum had made sure that these checks went ahead flawlessly. It was also reassuring that our drivers had family and friends at the heavily guarded stops. To any westerner, a soldier in Sudan with a rifle over his shoulder is always a bit unnerving, if he has outstretched arms and a beaming smile it makes the encounter so much more palatable.

But what a delight when we veered off the road into the desert only to discover, looming above us, the beautiful pyramids of Meroe, complete with authentic camel and rider at sunset. And we were even more delighted to find that our fabulous accommodation overlooked this historical sight. There was no way you could ever miss it and in the afternoons, from the comfort of your deckchair, with cold Baobab juice in hand, you could watch the sun set behind the ancient tombs.

The camp at Meroe comes straight out of a scene from Hemmingway’s Africa mixed with Lawrence of Arabia. Each tent is constructed of thick canvas perched on a hard plinth with minimalist campaign furniture, a comfortable bed, soft cotton sheets and the touch of an Italian stylist. I appreciated the fact that time had been taken to wrap the electric lead from the bedside lamp in similar canvas coloured twine so that the romance of the room was maintained. The dining room was a bit cavernous to my liking but all of it was built in homage to the view, the local materials and culture and the fact that at times the wind would howl across the plain with great voracity – the dining room was the only place to hide. We had such a wind duffer us for a day here and although it was tame in the grand scale of things in Sudan, I was grateful to be protected.

We visited the ancient royal city of Meroe which was very interesting but I most enjoyed the coffee we subsequently had on the banks of the Nile. Real coffee, brewed through a small sieve, laced with ginger and cardamom. We sat and relaxed with the man who came to sell us frankincense, we chatted with the men who had been tilling the fields nearby, we sat and waited with the truck driver for the ferry to arrive from across the river. We sat and laughed, chatted, looked and enjoyed. I was sorry to leave.

The next day we visited the sites of Naqa and Masawarat, it was thanks to Hatim that this site came alive as he was such a fantastic guide. Soon to be a professor in ancient Sudanese pottery, he sure had a great grasp of the history of Sudan and was able to make it exciting to follow. I am not a history buff and need to feel a connection for it all to sink in. I particularly enjoyed meeting a lively and colourful group of school girls from the nearby town of Shendi and was once again amazed by the openness and confidence of these young women. It was a long day’s drive to Masawarat but well worth it as the stories and the beautifully preserved temples stay fresh in my mind.

The drive back to Khartoum is less exciting as the litter builds up the closer you get to the city and you realise that you are in fact approaching an African city trying to find its way in the greater world. We returned to walk the famous Omdurman market, where everything you can imagine is on sale. I do enjoy an African market and this is a great one. I would highly recommend it. I also enjoyed the museum which was very impressive. On the whole I can’t believe I have not visited Sudan before.

I recommend it to anyone who loves the desert, history, people and culture. The road conditions are very good on the whole and the off road areas we traversed were equally comfortable in the well suited vehicles.

Sudan has recently undergone great change and upheaval but at this time the areas north of Khartoum are still safe and accessible. I hope to be able to travel to central Sudan in the next year as the area of the Nubian mountains once again becomes accessible. But for a start this was a fabulous trip.

Watch our slideshow presentation on Northern Sudan from Illona’s travels in March, or view our journey ideas