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Trip Report Yes, we went to Sudan and we LOVED it! A Trip Report

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I've been meaning to post a Sudan trip report for FAR too long, but as usual there have been too many real life distractions. Seeing a Fodorite friend last weekend (Paulesue) made me think I really should get on with it! We were in Sudan in mid to late Jan and I have put most of my time into a number of posts on my blog which I'll link to below. We combined Sudan with a couple of days in Doha and a trip the Seychelles ( I do love an unusual combo) on a convoluted frequent flier mile ticket. So if anyone is thinking of an obscure African adventure on United frequent flyer miles I may be the person to ask about maximizing flights while minimizing the number of miles used - lots of details on this blog post.

Here are some of the things we heard when we told people we were going to Sudan - Why would you go there? What is there to see? Isn't there a war going on? Is it safe? Are you crazy?
Well, I don't think we're crazy but here are the answers to the other questions!

We were in the northern part of Sudan, far from the border with South Sudan and a long way from the conflict zone. We visited Egypt a few years ago and were fascinated by Nubian culture of Aswan and were interested enough to want to see what was over the border. The Egyptian Empire stretched far into modern day Sudan and in the 25th Dynasty the Nubian Kings rose up to control all of Egypt from the south -for more than one hundred years. There are lots of fascinating archeological and UNESCO sights in Sudan including Egyptian temples and the incredible pyramid field at Meroe, the largest pyramid field in antiquity.

We loved the country for so many reasons, the incredible desert landscapes, the friendliness of the people, the warm welcome and open curiosity, the extraordinary history, the pyramids, the opportunity to learn about the Nubians, to learn about Sufi traditionas and to see Dervish's in Khartoum. I loved the crafts, it was fascinating to visit a Christian family who weaved incredibly thin cotton which helps in the heat. I'm someone who hates tourist crowds and the generic quality of so much of mass tourism today and the joy of a place like Sudan is that you're not going to run into cruise ship crowds or large groups of tourists of any kind. In fact given the sanctions you’re not going to see the ubiquitous global brands we are so familiar with and in that regard it reminded me a little of Cuba. Overall we had a magnificent time and I'd highly recommend the country to adventurous travelers.

Sudan is one of those places that's opening up to high end groups, particularly with archeological tourists, several European operators run trips multiple times a year including Brits and Italians. However, it's somewhere (like Iran or Burma) where it's far cheaper to arrange a private, independent tour with a local agent rather than a group tour with a western travel agent who will mark things up considerably. That being said it isn't a cheap destination because to travel in any comfort you'll need a four wheel drive. Lets just say we were very comfortable in our four wheel drive with a driver, guide and (perhaps overkill) a cook who was with us for a couple of nights including one where we camped out in the desert.

This is a place were you need a good travel agent and the reason we had such a great trip was the quality of the local agent we found - we used Waleed Arafat or Lendi Travel
I just can't rave enough about how much trouble Waleed went to for us. He's a fixit kind of guy and that's what you want in a country where things could go wrong. From the beginning I was optimistic but when we met him in Khartoum it was clear that we'd made a good choice. He came through to meet us at immigration as he’d organized a visa on arrival and when we sat down for a dinner the first night we discussed everything from US movies to the political situation in the US, the UK and Sudan. He works with everyone, Lonely Planet, the Bradt Guide the New York Times etc. and I know that because I researched him, not because he mentioned any of them.

So my primary advice is go on your own, pick a good local travel agent and leave time go far enough north to really see Nubia - if you can deal with small guesthouses and a drop toilet situation for a couple of days definitely go to see the Egyptian temple at Soleb. The experience of seeing nomadic camel herders driving their herd north to Egypt and stopping to bring their animals down to the Nile to drink was extraordinary. It felt like a full circle moment for us because on a prior trip to Egypt we’d visited the camel auction in a small town north of Aswan where these camels would be sold. For us Sudan was a trip where we had the change to draw together a sense of the regional history and culture in our own heads. We’d camped out in the desert in Morocco with a pile of other tourists but this was something quite different. Just seeing the cataracts on the Nile and the amazing geography of such a diverse desert region was reason enough to make the trip.

Here’s a more detailed blog post on the itinerary and how to pick an agent

Here’s what to expect in terms of hotel, we loved staying at the Italian run properties at Meroe and Karima, it was a delight to be able to see the pyramids from the porch of our safari style tent and to walk back under the moonlight. I highly recommend both properties - who knew there were boutique hotels in Sudan!

For more details on smaller guesthouses, camping and homestay

We saw so many incredible archeological sites including the magnificent Meoritic pyramid complex - who wouldn’t love seeing pointy pyramids at sunset in the desert and who could resist having an UNESCO heritage site entirely to yourself?! There are more 250 pyramids in Sudan and you can see photos of some here...

Other sites included Kerma, lots of pictures here,

and Mussarawat where we saw a fabulous Roman kiosk and beautiful Nubian reliefs on the temple. We were so interested to learn about the role and position of the Nubian queens and though the temple decorations looked quite similar to those you see further north you could see the more “African” faces in the representations and the more prominent representation of the female figures in contrast to what we had seen in Egypt where the queens are often smaller in contrast to the Pharaoh.

Sudan is an amazing destination with great variety and I highly recommend visiting. You can check out the blog for more detail about the places we visited and stayed but suffice it to say it's an incredible country with a magnificent history and welcoming people. Yes, the situation in the south and the west (Darfur)is both difficult and heartbreaking. The government has involved the Sudanese in a variety of misadventures and consolidated their power through constant conflict. But for the tourist the north is stable and safe. Waleed came through for us with a great trip and I'm very grateful to him. I'd give Lendi Travel my highest recommendation and we certainly hope to travel with them again.

Much of what we see on the news is unrelentingly negative when it comes to both Sudan and Africa in general and it's certainly true that war, upheaval and and food insecurity maybe greater issues in sub-Saharan Africa than elsewhere. However, it's also important to realize that these are large countries and that lots of other things are happening too; people are going to university, protesting against the government, learning trades, making art, starting businesses, farming, raising their families, protecting, restoring or excavating the historic sites, getting married and practicing their religion.

Part of the joy of visiting a place like Sudan is seeing the diversity of Egyptian, Christian and Nubian sites. Its somewhere so many foreigners haven't visited and it’s great to bring home a more nuanced and informed story about the people there. When the US immigration officer snidely asked me why I go on holiday to war zones (and tried to detain me), I was able to explain that we weren’t anywhere near a war zone and that he should fee free to check my blog. Go and see it for yourself or enjoy some armchair travel.

If anyone has any any questions about traveling in Sudan I’m happy to answer them.

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