Sudan travel guide
Sudan is hardly your archetypal tourist destination, but behind the unsavoury headlines is a country of exquisite natural beauty, ancient historical attractions and inhabitants well versed in the art of hospitality.
A vast country, three times the size of Texas, Sudan is as much about people as it is natural or man-made wonders. It is a nation where travellers can learn more drinking freshly prepared smoothies with the residents of Khartoum (Sudan is officially alcohol free) than they can by visiting one of the capital’s excellent museums.
A relatively young city, Khartoum was built in 1821 at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles while the country was ruled jointly by Britain and Egypt. History and traditionalism jostle with modernity in the city, where stunning classical Islamic architecture in red ochre hues stands beside modern glass and steel skyscrapers paid for by the country’s oilfields (which were mostly lost with the independence of South Sudan in 2011).
Centuries before colonial rule Sudan comprised a series of city-states. One of the longest lasting was Meroë, which sits some 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Khartoum. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ancient city features more than 200 steep-sided pyramids, which were built as elaborate royal mausoleums. They rise from the sandy dunes of the Nubian Desert and date from between 300 BC and AD 300, when the kingdom was at its most powerful.
Worth visiting in itself, the Nubian Desert – in reality part of the Sahara – offers solitude and unspoiled natural beauty stretching east all the way to the Red Sea and Port Sudan, the centre of Sudan’s burgeoning diving scene.
One of the least visited countries in East Africa, but one of the friendliest, Sudan has a magical mix of history, tradition and modernity that belies its status as a pariah state.
1,861,484 sq km (718,723 sq miles).
41,175,541 (UN estimate 2016).
19.1 per sq km.
President Omar al-Bashir since 1989.
Prime Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh, since 2017.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two or three round pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The level of street crime in Khartoum and other major Sudanese cities, with the exception of Darfur, is low but increasing. Incidents of bag-snatching (including drive-by bag snatching by thieves on motorbikes) and petty theft do occur. Remain alert and take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. Take care not to leave valuable items on display in your car while travelling. If you’re stopped you should avoid confrontation.
A state of emergency remains in place in a number of states, which gives the government greater powers of arrest.
There have been reports of arbitrary detentions in different parts of the country, including in Khartoum and including foreign nationals. Take great care around any areas which may be sensitive to the government, including military installations, border areas and camps for internally displaced persons. Don’t take photographs in these areas.
You must get a permit before travelling outside of Khartoum. Permits to visit tourist sites must be obtained from either the Ministry of Tourism, your hotel or travel agent. Travel outside of Khartoum for any other purpose must be checked with the Aliens Department at the Ministry of Interior.
If you’re planning a long journey outside of Khartoum, make sure you have enough fuel for your journey.
Local travel Khartoum
Demonstrations can occur at short notice in Khartoum. You should try to avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people where possible.
Local travel Darfur States
The FCO advise against all travel to the 5 Darfur states (Central Darfur, East Darfur, North Darfur, West Darfur and South Darfur).
The security situation in Darfur is volatile and unstable. Banditry and lawlessness are widespread, and there are frequent violent confrontations between rebel and government forces, between tribes and over economic resources (land, gold). There are tensions within camps for internally displaced people, which have sometimes resulted in violence and fatalities. Armed robbery and break-ins of guesthouses and other buildings have been reported.
Humanitarian workers and UNAMID peacekeepers are possible targets of attack or for kidnap, and have been caught up in cross-fire and violent incidents. A number of aid workers and peacekeepers have been killed.
There is a high threat of kidnapping. Kidnappings can be for financial or political gain, and can be motivated by criminality or terrorism. There have been a number of kidnappings, including of British nationals and other westerners. Kidnap groups view those engaged in humanitarian aid work or journalism as legitimate targets.
If you are in Darfur against FCO advice, you should respect any curfews that are imposed and make sure you are aware of any military operations, conflict and crime patterns. Make sure that you have co-ordinated your movements with UN Security and that all necessary parties have been notified. Anyone seeking entry to the Darfur area, for whatever purpose, must first obtain a special permit from the Sudanese government.
Local travel – rest of Sudan
Northern Kordofan, White Nile and Sennar States
There is a risk of conflict and violence spreading into White Nile, North Kordofan and Sennar states from neighbouring areas. You should maintain high situational awareness and avoid any areas in which conflict has been reported.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to areas west of the town of En-Nahud which border Darfur.
Sudan –Libya border
Visitors should take great care in all areas close to the Sudan – Libya border. There are ongoing media reports of trafficking in people and goods as well as movement of armed militants between the two countries. In January 2015, the media reported that five refugees were killed fleeing border police. Visitors to the area should be aware that the FCO currently advises against all travel to Libya and the border is closed to non-African nationals.
Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei
The FCO advise against all travel to the Abyei Administrative Area. The security situation there remains tense and unpredictable as it is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan.
The FCO advise against all travel to South Kordofan due to continuing conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Sudanese People’s Liberation Army – North (SPLA-N).
Landmines and unexploded ordnance are a threat in areas affected by conflict.
East Sudan: Gedaref, Kassala and Red Sea States
Travel to most parts of eastern Sudan, particularly the major cities, is currently possible, but foreign nationals need to get a permit. However, the FCO advise against all travel to the Sudanese border with Eritrea in the Red Sea State. Although the situation is calm at present it has been subject to instability and could deteriorate rapidly. If you’re travelling by road in Kassala State, you should keep to the major roads especially near the Eritrean border where people trafficking groups are believed to operate.
Local tensions in the Galabat area have previously resulted in the closure of the Metema-Galabat border post at short notice. Take care in these areas and check with local authorities on the latest situation before starting your journey.
Road traffic accidents are common in Sudan. There is a high risk of being involved in a traffic accident when using public transport or vehicles for hire such as rickshaws and ‘amjads’. Use a reputable taxi firm or driver.
Road conditions are poor and many roads, even major ones, are not tarred or have potholes. Many roads are unsurfaced. At night, there is generally no street lighting and many vehicles have no lights. Roads are used by pedestrians, donkey-carts and rickshaws, as well as motor vehicles. .
If your journey doesn’t follow a major route you should travel with an experienced local guide. Many areas south of Khartoum become inaccessible by road during the rainy season from July to October. The wadis (dry riverbeds) are subject to dangerous flash floods and many are not passable during the rains except on a major road.
You can drive in Sudan using a full UK driving licence for a maximum period of 3 months. You can get a local driving licence from the police traffic department. There are no restrictions on women driving in Sudan. Although drivers should have a licence and insurance, many do not have these. Make sure you have adequate insurance.
Sudanese law prohibits the use of mobile phones while driving.
All airlines registered in Sudan have been banned from operating in the EU because of the high rate of accidents involving Sudanese airlines.
Incidents of piracy have been reported in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Be vigilant and seek local advice.
If you intend to go ashore along the Red Sea Coast, ensure you have the correct documentation.
Rallies and demonstrations occur, often at short notice, in Khartoum and in other major cities. There are sometimes protests in response to international events. These may be directed against foreigners.
Keep a low profile, avoid crowds, monitor local media and keep away from any demonstrations. As a precaution, you should maintain several days’ stock of food and water, and stay indoors until any demonstration or rally in your locality has passed.
There have been several demonstrations originating in universities throughout Sudan, some of which have sparked violent clashes resulting in fatalities and injuries.
Demonstrations are no longer isolated to universities and have been taking place in other parts of Khartoum, often at short notice. Be vigilant; avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings that may occur. You should monitor local media and follow the advice of the local authorities on where demonstrations may take place.