Because it’s been plagued by two civil wars (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) and the ongoing violence taking place in the Darfur region, many people think the whole of Sudan is dangerous; however, the northeastern region of the country is very peaceful. With a rich cultural heritage, twice as many pyramids as Egypt, and warm, welcoming locals, Sudan is worth checking out. Since very few visitors venture into the country and the government is not promoting its amazing assets, it’s a great destination for those who are looking for a unique trip away from the crowds. Here are the best sights for travelers to check out in Sudan.
Note that the US Department of State currently advises travelers to not travel in the Darfur region, Blue Nile state, and South Kordofan state due to crime and armed conflict, as well as civil unrest and terrorism.
1. Khatmiyya mosque
The beautiful Khatmiyya mosque, located in the town of Kassala, is an important center of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. The mud-brick building has a small octagonal minaret and a large open-air prayer hall with rows of pillars. There is no entrance fee. To get to the mosque, jump on a bus from Kassala toward the village of Toteil.
Behind the mosque stand the oddly shaped Taka Mountains. After your visit to the sacred building, climb up the giant boulders to fully enjoy the views over Kassala. Then wander around in the nearby villages of Khatmiyya and Toteil, have a cup of tea at one of the small shops, and meet the villagers.
2. The temple of Soleb
If you come from Egypt, the temple of Soleb will likely be your first historical sight in Sudan. The temple of Soleb is one of the best-preserved sandstone temples on the Sudanese Nile. It was built by Pharaoh Amenhotep III in the 14th century on the west bank of the Nile. To get there, you need to take a taxi from Abri to Wawa, then walk through a few agricultural fields and finally cross the — sometimes tumultuous — Nile. The boatman is not always present, so you need to ask around beforehand in Abri or Wawa if there is someone available to transport you.
3. The pyramids at Meroë
Meroë was once the central city of the Kingdom of Kush, which was ruled by the Nubian kings, also known as the “Black Pharaohs,” from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Meroë was the site of most royal burials in pyramid tombs in this period. Today, there are more than 100 pyramids standing in the sand dunes of the Nubian desert at Meroë, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The pyramids are smaller and narrower than their Egyptian counterparts, but equally impressive. You can enter some of the pyramids and admire the hieroglyphs and carvings up close on your own — there’s no one around to give tours or hassle you with trinkets. Even though Meroë is considered the top tourist attraction, there is a fair chance you will have the pyramids all to yourself. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes and to bring enough water. Weird fact: the road from Khartoum to Meroë was built by Osama bin Laden.
4. Gebel Barkal
Gebel Barkal is a sandstone butte near the present-day town of Karima that has gained the status of UNESCO World Heritage site. The Egyptians, and later the Kushites, believed that Amon (god of gods) lived in this “Holy Mountain.” Around the butte, and stretching for more than 37 miles, are four archeological sites: Kurru, Nuri, Sanam, and Zuma. These include tombs, with and without pyramids, temples, burial mounds and chambers, living complexes, and palaces. The best time to visit Gebel Barkal is around sunset. Sunset is also a popular time for the local youth to climb Gebel Barkal and enjoy the spectacular desert views.
5. Sufi ceremony at the Hamed al-Nil Tomb
The mesmerizing Sufi ceremony in Omdurman, the largest city in Sudan and located very close to the capital of Khartoum, is the highlight of a visit to Sudan. At around sunset every Friday, hundreds of Sufis gather outside the Sheikh Hamed al-Nil mosque. Islamic chants are played and the crowd forms a large circle around whirling dervishes. Women are asked to move to the second line as the inner circle has to be made up of males only. The dervishes, dressed in colorful outfits, chant, dance, and spin. The ritual brings them to an ecstatic state in which it is believed they can reach heaven. At the end of the ceremony, the dervishes walk around with incense as a blessing for the attendees. Make sure to get there early, so you can meet the dervishes and visit the small market.
6. Kassala’s souk
The souk in Kassala sells everything, including electronics, spices, fruits, and houseware; however, you can also find more unique items such as Beja daggers, henna, talih wood (its smoke is used to purify brides-to-be before the wedding), and traditional jewelry. It’s also a great place for people watching — you might encounter people wearing swords or knives and some bearing tribal facial scars. Don’t forget to try one of the delicious and fresh falafel sandwiches.
It may not be the most elegant city in the world, but those who visit tend to linger in this easy-going capital city located where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet. Visit the National Museum of Sudan, which costs less than a dollar to enter and contains the largest and most important archaeological collection in the country and the remains of temple buildings. Also, check out Gaddafi’s Egg, the five-star Corinthia Hotel that resembles a steel egg and that was funded by Libya. For those who are looking forward to a drink after a few days in the desert: forget it. Just like the rest of Sudan, alcohol here is strictly forbidden.