Sudan (or the Republic of Sudan) is the largest country in Africa, but has only recently developed into a tourist destination, mainly around the capital of Khartoum. The country’s tourism, of course, has stalled in development as a result of the presence of separatist insurgents and the ongoing Darfur conflict.
Sudan has a coastline in its east that is 450 miles along the Red Sea. It is located in northeast Africa and is bordered by Egypt in the north, Eritrea and Ethiopia in the east, Chad, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic in the west. Much of northern Sudan is desert. The south features the Nuba and Imatong Mountains. The Nile River, formed from the convergence of the White Nile and Blue Nile, runs from Khartoum into the northern deserts, bringing life-giving waters from the rainier south and southeast.
The main, or perhaps safest, tourist destination in Sudan is its capital, Khartoum. Tree-lined boulevards and lovely gardens and flower beds grace this city, which often gets swept by fierce sandstorms of yellow sand and gravel, known as haboobs. Khartoum features archaeological sites such as in Meroe, Bajrawiya, and Naga. You’ll also find the Omdurman camel market and the Arab Souk, where you can buy and sell and watch people trade. Khartoum has a “must” museum, the National Museum, which houses archaeological treasures dating back to 4,000BC. Outside of Khartoum to the north, you’ll find many more archaeological sites along the Nile, including Nuri, El Kurru, and Musawarat.
Another main attraction of Sudan is the Red Sea. It is one of the main tourist attractions of the country. The water is clear, enclosed with coral reefs, and teeming with fish and other marine creatures, including barracudas, grey cods, and sharks. A range of water sports activities can be enjoyed along the coast such as scuba diving, fishing, and swimming. The Red Sea coast can be explored by visiting Suakin, the Port Sudan, and the Arous Tourist Village about 30 miles north of Port Sudan. Another gem is Erkowit, a beautiful resort set in the mountains 3,930 feet above sea level in evergreen vegetation and overlooking the Red Sea. More fishing can also be enjoyed at Jebel Aulia, where the Nile River is rich with fish.
Sudan is also home to the Dinder National Park, southeast of Khartoum near the border with Ethiopia. Birds such as guinea fowls, kingfishers, vultures, crown cranes, pelicans, and storks roam the skies while the ground is ruled by lions, leopards, giraffes, antelopes, kudus, and bushbucks. In the south, lush forests, open parklands, marshy swamps, and spectacular waterfalls give way to even more birds and wildlife such as elephants, rhinos, zebras, hippos, hyenas, buffalos, Nile lechwes, kudus, crocodiles, and rare shoebills. The Gemmeiza Tourist Village, located at the heart of East Equatoria, is best place to begin exploring the gaming areas of the south.
Another beautiful area of Sudan is the Jebel Marra, which rises over 10,000 feet. It is the highest peak in the Darfur region, offering the sights of volcanic lakes and cascading waterfalls in the pleasantry of nice resorts and warm weather. Unfortunately, tourists should be advised of the ongoing Darfur conflict in this region of Sudan.
The climate in Sudan is tropical, averaging around 38°C (100° F) between February and November, and 34°C (94° F) in December and January. The north is primarily dry desert while the central is tropical and wet-and-dry depending on the season. The south experiences high humidity and tropical rains and is much more lush, featuring wooded grasslands and dense forests.
Sudan is sparsely populated – comprised of 25% urbanites, 10% nomads, and 65% farmers. Most of the people in the north, 70%, are Arabic-speaking Muslims, while the south is made up of black Africans who follow local and Christian beliefs. This divide was the source of the First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972) which called for a greater political voice for the south. After a decade of peace, the Muslim Sudanese in the north succeeded in pressuring the national government to declare Islam the official religion of the country and institute Islamic law, which was the driving force behind the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) with the south demanding more religious freedom and autonomy. The aftermath of the some 40 years of civil war resulted in an estimated 2.5 million deaths and more than 4.5 million refugees who fled.
Most of the Arabic-speaking Muslim population live in cities, towns, and villages, with a small percentage such as the Beja living as nomadic herdsmen wandering with herds of camels and sheep in search of grazing lands. Most of the non-Arab Muslims in the south are Nubians, descendants of the black Africans from the ancient empire of Cush. Most Nubians live in hamlets or small villages. Other groups include the seminomadic Dinka, the Nuer, amd the Shilluk. These people of the south have refused to assimilate into the culture and lifestyles of the Muslim north. They hunt, graze, and cultivate land along the Nile while occupying thatched-roof houses.
Sudan was originally inhabited by ancient African peoples during the Stone Age. During the Bronze Age, the ancient Nubia (or Cush) established settlements along the Nile and southern Egypt. The Nubia was the world’s first great black civilization. They stretched as far north as the Mediterranean and contributed striking works of art. The Nubians conquered Egypt around 800 BC, but were eventually forced back into Sudan by the Assyrians. Nubia fell around 350 AD to the Kingdom of Aksum, an empire that became prosperous through the spice and silk trade.
In the 14th century, the Arabs conquered the area of present-day Sudan. They intermarried with the Nubians and introduced Arabic and Muslim culture. The Arabs helped establish the Funj Dynasty, which ruled over Sudan until 1821 when it was invaded by the Turkish-Egyptian viceroy, Mehemet Ali. The Sudanese rebelled against Egyptian control, however, and were successful. But in 1898, a British and Egyptian army reconquered Sudan and exercised ruled until 1956 when the country was granted full independence.
Unfortunately, in 1955, a civil war begun between northern and southern Sudan in anticipation of independence. The southern black Africans feared political domination by the northern Arab-Muslims. This divide was reinforced during colonial rule, when the north and south were administered separately by the British. A ceasefire agreement that gave the south considerable autonomy ended the war in 1972. The agreement was violated by President Gaafar Nimeiri in 1983, triggering a second civil war that lasted until 2005.
Before the second civil war concluded, the Darfur conflict arose in 2003. This complex war involves mainly the Baggara Muslim nomads supported by the Sudanese government in the north against the non-Arab rebel group known as the Sudan Liberation Movement, which is comprised of black African groups such as the Fur, Massaleit, and Zaghawa who are farmers. The conflict stems from the Baggara nomads, as a result of decades of drought, overpopulation, and desertification, pushing further south into the lands tilled by the Fur, Massaleit, and Zaghawa in search for water and lands to graze livestock. The Darfur conflict has become a major humanitarian crisis, as the Sudanese government has massacred more than 400,000 non-Baggara civilians in what has been dubbed a “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing”.
The Darfur conflict also caused more than 200,000 refugees to flee into neighboring Chad. The government of Chad declared war on Sudan, claiming a systematic intent on the part of the Sudanese President to export the war and destabilize Chad. The Chad-Sudan war, however, ended in May, 2007 after a peace agreement was reached.