An unpolished gem waiting to be discovered, Sudan is an intrepid traveller’s delight.
Enjoy wandering the laid back capital’s riverside streets or lose yourself in one of Africa’s largest markets at Omdurman, where you can also witness Sufi whirling dervishes on their weekly spiritual communion. Archaeological treasures abound in Sudan, from the incredible pyramids of Meroë to what is believed to be the oldest man-made structure in sub-Saharan Africa at Kerma. The Red Sea coast appeals to divers who enjoy the pristine reefs and huge variety of fish, but as yet it is relatively unknown and the number of visitors is still minimal.
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Best things to do in Sudan
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this unique country. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are some of the best things to do in Sudan.
The River Nile
The Blue Nile and the White Nile meet in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum and combine into the mighty Nile before the waters continue the journey north towards Cairo. The Nile valley is lavishly fertile in contrast to the surrounding desert, bringing life to this barren region. Much of Sudan’s population and settlements, past and present, are centred along the Nile valley. Take a cruise on the river to appreciate the life-giving qualities of this legendary waterway up close.
Pyramids of Meroë
More than 100 pyramids, some intact and some less so, are scattered around the royal burial site of Meroë. Some of the structures date back more than 2,500 years, built as memorials for important royals of the Kingdom of Kush who would have been buried with treasures, long since looted. These Nubian pyramids differ from the more famous structures in Egypt as they are smaller and pointier, and also because they are usually devoid of tourists.
Diving the Red Sea
Word is out about the stunning Sudanese coast, colourful with coral and plentiful underwater life to discover. As Sudan does not have a high tourist footfall you can expect to find dive sites with few, if any, other divers enjoying the healthy reefs and thriving fish populations. There are interesting wrecks to explore and you can expect to come across sharks, dolphins and large pelagics. It is considered most suitable for experienced divers.
A large, bustling souk lies at the heart of the town and its a great place to see Sudanese daily life in all its glory. Packed with merchandise, shoppers and a vast array of produce, it is thought that Omdurman souk is Africa’s largest market. If you are in town at 4pm on a Friday, don’t miss the spectacular sight of Sufi Qadiriyah followers praying, chanting, dancing and whirling outside the Hamid al Nil tomb in communion with God.
Lesser known highlights in Sudan
While there are many well-known things to do in Sudan, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Sudanese adventure.
Climb Jebel Barkal
A UNESCO world heritage site in northern Sudan, this mountain only rises to 98 metres high but in the emptiness of the surrounding plains it was used as a distinctive landmark by travelling traders in the past. Ruined temples and palaces dot the area at the foot of Jebel Barkal, also UNESCO listed and there is a museum here of some of the finest artifacts. Climb to the top to see some of Sudan’s pyramids and all the way to the Nile valley beyond.
The Kingdom of Kerma
Kerma today is an important archaeological site showcasing the relics of the kingdom and its population who lived here for approximately 1000 years from 2,500 BC. The ancient Nubian civilisation had several distinctive architectural styles including the deffufa, usually thought to be a place of worship. The Western Deffufa at Kerma is the biggest in existence, standing 18 metres high and 50 metres long.
The coral island
A curious destination on Sudan’s Red Sea coast, Suakin was once the gateway to East Africa, constructed with coral bricks and still giving a taste of its mercantile past with clear Ottoman and Arabic influences visible throughout the island, though today many of its buildings lie in ruins. Trade moved to other ports during the 18th and early 19th centuries and as parts of the island were abandoned buildings began to collapse.
Best time to visit Sudan
Overall the best time to visit Sudan is from mid-October until the end of April. Something to bear in mind is that Sudan is pretty much always hot. Different degrees of hot characterise the annual pattern, and the thermostat reliably tops 40 degrees centigrade from April to June, staying the warmer side of 35 degrees until November. The rainy season complicates the picture further from July to September, so for the most comfortable conditions the very best time to visit Sudan is from November to February when the north (where most of the places of interest are found) is dry and though still hot - low thirties is typical - the night time temperatures sink to the teens which keeps things manageable.
Divers should consider March to May when the marine life is at its most active and numerous, but if your major consideration is pleasant conditions for sightseeing, November to February is the best season. Ramadan affects much of the nation’s businesses and services, so it can be a difficult time to visit as many sites and museums may be closed.
Interesting facts about Sudan
Sudan is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top facts about it?
- There are more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt.
- Sudan borders seven other countries: Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya and South Sudan.
- 97% of the population are Muslim, the remainder are mostly Christian.
- Sudan was the largest country in southern Africa but when it split into two nations in 2011, it became the third largest.
- An intense type of sandstorm known as a ‘habob’ occurs relatively frequently during summer (May to July) in central Sudan, and can reduce visibility to zero.
- Sudan is predominantly Arabic speaking, and a notable proportion of its people can trace their roots to the Arabian peninsula.
What to read before you go to Sudan
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Sudan, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'Khartoum: The Ultimate Imperial Adventure' Michael Asher
This book brings Sudan's tumultuous history to life. It takes you on a journey from the 1880s when boat-builder Muhammad Ahmad claimed he was the Mahdi (the Messiah come to guide Muslims to righteousness) and overthrew the current rulers, up until the conquest of Khartoum by British Imperial forces after 16 years of bloody combat.
'A Line in the River: Khartoum, City of Memory' by Jamal Mahjoub
Rediscovering the city he grew up in, the author reflects on the plurality of his city and his country, decrying Sudan’s resistance to cultural unity. A personal and painful yet wistful portrait of a much loved city.
'Season of Migration to the North' by Tayeb Salih
An important novel describing Sudan in the post-colonial era, this book was written just after Sudan gained independence, and was banned by some nations for its provocative content.
'They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan' by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, Benjamin Ajak, Judy A. Bernstein
Three young boys displaced by conflict recount the awful fear and chaos they fled, and the terrifying journey across one thousand miles that they endured afterwards. A harrowing view of war through children’s eyes.
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