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.