There’s no question about it: Sudan is no safe place for travelers these days. A duo of civil wars, repeated armed conflicts with their near neighbors (and recent compatriots) to the south, and destabilisation in other countries of the Sahel and North Africa, are all things that have added to the problem.
Today the country ranks second on the fragile states index, and most all foreign offices recommend against all travel there. Perhaps one day that will all be over though. Perhaps one day we can once again look forward to donning the desert gear and delving into the shifting sands of ancient Kush and Nubia. Perhaps one day the burgeoning Red Sea dive scene in the west can reveal the sparkling corals and ocean treasures, and the Twirling Dervishes of Khartoum can showcase their cylindrical gyrations for all to see.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Sudan:
The onetime epicentre of the ancient Napata Kingdom is a truly otherworldly place to explore.
Set out between the ochre-hued rises of the Sudanese desert, just north of the capital, its comprised of over 200 individual pyramid structures, along with a whole serious of fascinating ruins of another type.
This bears all the hallmarks of a grand architectural undertaking in the same ilk as the Nubian cities of old, and today the whole area has been accredited by UNESCO, and archaeological findings have confirmed the presence of an advanced civilisation of iron smelters and traders with mercantile links all the way to China and India!
Sand-blown Suakin stands tall and firm against the gusts of the Red Sea.
An iconic and historic place that still touts its medieval past with pride, it was once one of the major staging points for Muslim pilgrims making the hop across to Arabian Mecca from North Africa.
Consequently, there are gilded mosques and interesting religious structures carved from coral stone, all of which mingle with the occasional Ottoman relic – Suakin later succumbed to the Turks, but fell into swift decline as European traders opened up routes around the Cape of Good Hope.
Khartoum is perhaps best known as the mythical location where the two great strands of the River Nile combine before heading northwards into the ancient lands of Nubia and Egypt.
The city straddles the banks of this famous water way, and even pokes out into the famous confluence at the headland known as al-Mogran.
In the heart of the town, strips like Nile Street (which unsurprisingly run alongside the Blue Nile) are packed with pretty buildings of arabesque design.
This is also where you’ll see the grandiose Presidential Palace, protected religiously by zealous guards.
Nearby is the hustle and bustle of Souq Arabi – the more frenetic and mercantile hub of the capital.
Another great ancient relic left on the meanders of the Nile River from the civilisations of old, Kerma promises to be an experience like no other in the country.
At its center rises the soaring and mighty Western Deffufa – one of the largest and oldest adobe worshipping houses on the planet! And once you’re done getting over the sheer awesomeness of that centrepiece, you can move to tour the seemingly endless array of ruins that surround it (one of the largest in all of North African, in fact). These go from burial complexes to the unearthed statues of old Nubian deities, all of which boast a history going back more than 5,000 years!
5. Dinder National Park
The Dinder National Park is a triangle cut-out of protected land that buts right up to the Ethiopian border in the south-east of the country.
Made up of sprawling arid grass plains that glow yellow and come sun-baked under the heat of the equatorial sun, it occupies a unique habitat right where the great highlands of Ethiopia drop down to the northern African flats.
That means visitors can see the likes of lions prowling, their beady eyes focused on the bushbucks and springing antelope.
And then there are the curious long-legged North African ostriches, which are a common and eye-opening sight.
6. Sanganeb National Park
The first and only oceanic national park in all of Sudan, the Sanganeb National Park is made up of shallow reef habitats that showcase the sheer biodiversity of the Red Sea in all its glory.
The protected area is adjoined directly to the jetties and harbors of Port Sudan, making it a very accessible place to visit.
Divers can go underwater and case out layered coral gardens, witness multi-coloured tropical fish, and understand why the spot was added to the UNESCO list back in the early 1990s (along with the greater Dungonab Bay). There’s also an old lighthouse where snorkelers can moor up and spend some days enjoying the wonder!
7. Port Sudan
Situated more than 20 hours by rattling train through the dusty deserts of upper Sudan from the capital, the country’s only large port is home to nearly 500,000 people.
It crashes down to the sparkling waters of the Red Sea in a medley of creaking cranes and endless depot complexes, all ticking over to the lurch of massive tankers prepping for the Suez Canal and the chatter of down-to-earth dock workers from all over the globe.
For tourists, it’s the diving that really takes the biscuit though – it’s undeveloped, unchartered and offers a cheap way to see the coral-clad depths of this crystal-clear sea.
The largest city in Sudan is actually now more or less contiguous with the capital at Khartoum.
It can be found facing its near brother on the far side of the White Nile, rising up from the banks at the legendary confluence at al-Mogran.
However, where Khartoum comes crowned with old palaces and blue-domed mosques, Omdurman is peppered with throbbing souqs and bazaars.
The most impressive of these is surely the eponymous Souq Omdurman, which is said to be the single largest market in all of Africa! The house of the old Khalifa is also located here, and makes a perfect stop for those interested in unravelling tales of Sudan’s colonial relations with the United Kingdom.
Oh, and be sure not to miss the shows of Twirling Dervishes that erupt here each Friday!
9. North Khartoum (Bahri)
Technically a standalone city from its namesake across the bends of the Blue Nice, the area of North Khartoum, also known locally as just Bahri, claims the title of the third-largest city in the country.
For visitors, there’s not that much in the way of sights and attractions, mainly on account of Bahri’s clear industrial and mechanical character.
However, you’ll see sprawling docks on the river, and endless depots bursting with cotton and kiln-cooked red bricks, all waiting for transportation north.
There’s also the striking ruins of the Al-Shifa plant, which was destroyed by a cruise missile during the troubles of the late 90s!
Perched over 1,000 meters above the crashing waters of the Red Sea, the resort town of Arkawit is the perfect escape for travelers finding it hard to handle the soaring equatorial temperatures of the Sudanese coast.
With the soothing breezes of the highlands at hand, visitors can take some time to kick back and relax in rustic guesthouses, enjoying the green-hued hills and rocky landscapes that abound around the area.
Walking is prime here too, with treks out to case the acacia-spotted ridges of Jebel Danaieb often done in the company of Sudan’s native monkeys!
Tawkar sits just down the ridges of the mountains from Arkawit, nestled between the rising massifs and the rollers of the Red Sea.
It’s a pretty place; a town of sleepy vibes and only 40,000 people.
Surrounded by cotton plantations made possible by irrigation along the edge of the Baraka River, it’s long been an important growing community.
Today though, there’s the Tokar Reserve to draw visitors, where the dusty wildernesses of this equatorial nation glow under the sun.
And there are a couple of diving operators (although no one knows how qualified any of them really area!) thrown in for good measure!
12. Jebel Marra
Rising in sinewy ridges atop the dusty plains of Darfur in the western reaches of Sudan, the Jebel Marra are perhaps the original African badlands.
They are carved and chipped massifs of ancient volcanic stone that have been forged from eruption after eruption over the millennia.
The most recent additions to the landscape are a colossal water-filled caldera known as the Deriba Crater, which is thought to have appeared following the pyroclastic flows of an explosion in 1,500 BC (that’s like yesterday to a volcanologist!). Jebel Marra itself is the highest peak in the country, clocking up more than 3,088 meters, and boasting beautiful waterfalls and canyons around its base.
Don’t let the sweeping flatlands of farming land and irrigated fields of green fool you as you make your way to far-flung Kassala in the south-eastern reaches of Sudan, close to the border with Eritrea.
The wild throws of Mother Nature are still very much in command in these landscapes, and you only need to look upwards towards the horizon to see why! That’s where the bulbous peaks and troughs of the Taka Mountains loom, surrounded by sandy canyons and carved gorges of desert stone.
From the top of these you can see into Eritrea, while around the bottom you can settle for a traditional Sudanese coffee with the locals!
Mind-blowing Naqa sits in the shadow of the Jabal Naqa, some 170 kilometers from the capital at Khartoum.
A place of ancient treasures, the town has been reduced to a conglomeration of ruined peristyles and sun-cracked stone by the centuries.
But the magic is still very much alive, thanks largely to the trio of temples that form the centrepiece here.
These start with the haunting Temple of Amun, which bursts with old steles of the Egyptian deity Amun-Ra.
Then there’s Apedemak’s worship house, adorned with the figures of the ancient kings of Kush.
Finally, there’s the Roman Kiosk, displaying a fusion of Mediterranean, Hellenistic, Arabic and North African styles.
15. Wadi Halfa
One of the northernmost towns in the nation, the low-rise sprawl of Wadi Halfa sits between two ridges of desert rock and the waters of Lake Nubia.
While today it bustles with the coming and going of traders from Egypt, its main draw lies in its onetime inhabitants from the Middle Kingdom period.
And while Wadi Halfa itself might not be of mega importance in the search for Nubian treasures, the occurrence of Lake Nasser in the 1970s meant that archaeologists came here to focus their efforts in recovering the relics that had been submerged up and down the valley.