Difference between revisions of "Sudan"
Revision as of 13:45, 17 October 2011
Sudan (Arabic: السودان Al-Sudan) is the third largest country in Africa and sixteenth largest in the world, bordering Egypt, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Libya, and South Sudan. Getting a visa for Sudan is an expensive hit-and-miss affair, but if you do manage to get in, and you stick to the safe areas, you will probably have a memorable experience. The Sudanese people are very hospitable, and you can visit some awesome tourist attractions without even seeing another tourist.
Sudan is afflicted by civil wars which have been raging, on and off, for more than 40 years. When the colonial map-makers divided up Africa, they included in Sudan the predominantly Muslim people of the north (including Nubians and Arabs), who share much of their history and culture with Egyptians, and the largely Christian and Animist Bantu people of the south, who have more in common with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa than with their northern countryfolk. After decades of civil war and a transitional period of self rule, South Sudan acceded to independence in July 2011. Conflicts still linger in the western region of Darfur, and hotspots do occur on the eastern front, next to the border with Eritrea. Since 1993, Sudan has been under the authoritarian rule of Omar Hassan Al-Bashir.
Sudan is as geographically diverse as it is culturally; in the north, the Nile cuts through the eastern edge of the Sahara: the Nubian desert, the site of the Ancient Kingdoms of Cush and Meroe, and the land of the Seti. Here, some modest farming and husbandry supplements the staple crop of date palms. The East and West are mountainous regions, and much of the rest of the country comprises of savannahs typical of much of central sub-Saharan Africa.
Sudanese travel visas are expensive and difficult to acquire for some nationalities in some countries or for people with an Israeli stamp in their passport. It is advisable to obtain a Sudanese visa in your home country if possible.
From Egypt -Cairo is one of the easiest places to get one (usually a couple of hours after application), although for a lot of nationalities it costs US$100 (not payable in Egyptian pounds). You will almost definitely need a letter of invitation/introduction from your embassy, and the time this takes varies from embassy to embassy. The British Embassy charges 315 Egyptian pounds (just under £30) for theirs and is situated only 200m from the Sudanese one. Note that the Canadian embassy does not issue these letters, but that the Sudanese embassy in Cairo will give visas to Canadians without the letter. This will present problems within Sudan when trying to obtain permits or renew visas, as these can only be obtained with a letter from the Canadian embassy in Khartoum which the embassy will not at this time provide. It is possible to obtain a sponsorship for the Visa from the Cairo embassy and skip the letter from your own embassy, though this depends on who you are dealing with at the embassy.
From Ethiopia - getting a visa from the Sudanese Embassy in Addis Ababa is extremely unpredictable, although it is cheaper (around US$60). Your name is first sent to Khartoum merely for approval. An official has stated, "It could take two weeks, it could take two months." Once your name has been approved, the visa itself only takes a couple of days. Britons and Americans are generally given more of a run around, but no nationality is guaranteed swift receipt of a visa. Expect to wait a minimum of two weeks for approval. If your trip continues from Sudan to Egypt and you already have your Egyptian visa you may be given a one-week transit visa for Sudan in only a day, which can be extended in Khartoum (at a hefty cost, though). The British Embassy in Addis Ababa charges a steep 740 birr (over £40) for their letter of invitation/introduction.
Possibly out of date information: From Kenya - as in Addis Ababa, the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi sends your name to Khartoum for approval. The time it takes is similarly ambiguous, although the embassy is far more professional and efficiently-run than Addis Ababa's.
From Kenya - visa applications are submitted between 10am and 12pm and visa collected next day between 3pm and 3.30pm. Cost is 4000 Kenyan Shillings (US$50). Letter of support for application can be obtained from own embassy (e.g. British Embassy, charges 8200Kenya Shillings, turnaround time depends on availability of the Consul who needs to sign the letter). Sudanese Embassy is located in Kabarnet Road, off Ngong Road (10minutes walk from Wildebeest Campsite accommodation in Kibera Road, and near Prestige Shopping Plaza). Generally the experience at the Nairobi Sudanese Embassy is less confusing than in Egypt (with its jostling queues at three anonymous but different windows) however as at January 2010 the staff member dealing with the public is extremely unprofessional (even suggests putting false information).
Hours-long waits for customs clearance are not unheard of, and landing in Khartoum can be tricky. Entering or exiting by land usually goes smoothly. Alcohol is forbidden in Sudan, and attempting to import it could bring strict penalties.
Permits and other legal requirements
Departing from the Khartoum airport, at passport control counter after you've paid your departure tax, and checked in with the airline, you will be turned back. There is a VISA office in the same room who will require payment and a passport picture. With the proper amount of money in Sudanese Pounds, and a passport this took approximately 30 minutes.
Khartoum Airport (KRT) is the main gateway into Sudan by air. There are also some international flights which use Port Sudan airport.
Khartoum Airport is served by various European, Middle Eastern and African airlines. Among the cities with direct air links with Khartoum are Abu Dhabi (Etihad, Sudan Airways), Addis Ababa (Ethiopian Airlines), Amman (Royal Jordanian, Sudan Airways), Amsterdam (KLM Royal Dutch Airlines), Bahrain (Gulf Air), Cairo (EgyptAir, Sudan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways), Damascus (Syrian Airlines, Sudan Airways), Doha (Qatar Airways), Dubai (Emirates, Sudan Airways), Frankfurt (Lufthansa), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), London (British Airways, British Midlands, Sudan Airways) and Nairobi (Kenya Airways, Sudan Airways),Sharjah (Air Arabia low cost airline)
The airport is served by dilapidated yellow taxis that will routinely overcharge. Alternatively you can book taxis with a Khartoum taxi company called LimoTrip that use metered taxis and good vehicles at better rates - 00249 183 591 313 or email@example.com.
There are no international trains from neighbouring countries into Sudan.
One way to get in from Ethiopia is via the border village of Gallabat. The road crossing from Egypt periodically closes, depending on diplomatic and trading relations between the two countries. Check for information before trying this route.
Even when open, there is no public transport via the road crossing from Egypt. There is no updated information about public transportation between Sudan and newly-independent South Sudan.
The most reliable way to enter Sudan from Egypt is via the weekly ferry from Aswan in Egypt to Wadi Halfa. Currently it runs on Mondays to Sudan and back on Wednesdays. Prices recently went up to US$33. The boat is old and crowded with people and goods (the best place to sleep is on deck amongst the cargo) but it takes in some magnificent views (including that of Abu Simbel). Food and drink are available on-board. There are frequent ferries from Saudi Arabia. If traveling from the south, ferry tickets can be purchased at Khartoum's main train terminal in North Khartoum.
Permits and other legal requirements
Apart from Khartoum, there are small airports in Wadi Halfa, El Debba, Dongola, Port Sudan, El Fasher, Juba, Wau, Wad Madani, Merowe and El Obeid, all served by Sudan Airways . Most flights operate from Khartoum. Be prepared for changing timetables and cancelled flights.
There is a weekly train from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum, which leaves some time after the weekly ferry from Aswan arrives. "Some time" can mean anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days but word usually spreads around town before the train leaves. There are a few different options for accommodation, and plenty of simple restaurants. The journey is scheduled for roughly 50 hours, but can vary greatly. To be on the safe side you shouldn't make any other plans for your next 75 hours. You might not be able to find fresh water until you get to Khartoum, so it is advisable to stock up on water supplies before leaving Wadi Halfa. The train makes quite a few stops. Some more planned than others. At the more planned stops you should be able to buy a snack, and if you are lucky take a quick shower in a communal bathroom. There is also a train between Khartoum and Port Sudan, via Atbara, and from Nyala to Er-Rahad in the West. From Khartoum, trains to Wadi Halfa and Port Sudan depart from the main terminal in Khartoum North (Bahri).
Driving in Sudan is chaotic but not especially dangerous by African standards. Visitors to the area who are inexperienced at international driving are advised to hire a taxi or a driver. In most of the country, a 4WD is essential; Sudan's main highway is sealed for much of the way but most of the roads in the country are dirt or sand tracks. Crossing in to Sudan from Egypt via the ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa now has the benefit of the Chinese financed tarmac highway covering the 400kms south to Dongola, and then right through to Khartoum, another 500kms. This road is quick for overlanders as there are few military roadblocks, and very little other traffic.
While buses do run frequently in the better traveled areas, in remoter areas people tend to use trucks or "boxes" (Toyota Hiluxes) - they're usually just as crowded as the buses but have fewer people sitting on top and get stuck in the sand less often. They tend to go whenever they fill up, which can take half a day or so. If you have money to spare, you can hire a whole one to yourself
It is possible to cycle around Sudan, legally speaking, although it might be advisable to forget to mention your mode of transport when getting your permit to travel. "Cycling" will often consist of pushing the bike through sand or rattling along corrugations but the scenery and the warmth of the Sudanese people may compensate for the physical and bureaucratic hassles. Check carefully the availability of clean, drinkable water. Theft is not a problem; it is generally safe to leave bicycles unattended in villages and towns. Flies, puncture-generous thorn trees and, in the far north, lack of shade, are the only real annoyances.
The official languages in Sudan are Arabic and English, according to the 2005 constitution. English is not widely spoken except by officials and hospitality workers. In contrast to many places in the world, it is the older generations that tend to speak the better English.
In Khartoum/Omdurman you must see the Sufi ritual of drumming and trance dancing, about one hour before sunset and Friday prayer. These rituals take place northwest of the Nile river in Omdurman. Very welcoming, festive atmosphere.
A walk around Tuti Island, situated in the middle of the confluence of the two branches of the Nile, can take about four hours. The less populated northern section is pretty, with its shady lanes, and irrigated fields, and there is a great little coffee stall under a tree on the western side.
The pyramids of Meroe are 2.5 hours north of Khartoum (leave early to avoid Khartoum traffic). On the same route visit the sites of Naqa and Musawarat. In theory permits are required before visiting the sites and guidebooks say that you pay beforehand in Khartoum, but as of January 2010 this appears to have changed. Now you pay at each site. Cost is 10 Sudanese Pounds. Naqa and Musawarat are signposted beside the Nile Petrol station (about 1hours 15 minutes north of Khartoum) and the track is fairly clear but sandy. It is probably good to carry a GPS to avoid getting lost in the bush.
After 4pm take a good coffee at The Egg hotel, with high altitude view over Khartoum, the Nile, and Omdurman, and stay to watch the sunset. Worthwhile.
About 1.5 hours south of Khartoum visit the dam. Just north of the dam (downstream) the Nile is also very wide; on Friday/Saturday the area is popular is day visitors.
There is good diving near Port Sudan, either on liveaboads or from the new Red Sea Resort (north of Port Sudan). Beware the windy season (Nov/Dec/Jan/Feb) unless you're not prone to seasickness (2.5 hours dingy ride from the coast in rough seas can be testing!).
In January 2007, the government introduced a new currency, the Sudanese pound (Arabic: جنية jeneh, SDG - the 'G' actually stands for Guinea), which replaced the Sudanese dinar (Arabic: دينار dinar, SDD). The new pound is worth 100 old dinars. The new pound is divided into 100 piastres (coins).
Unfortunately, things are not so simple when it comes to price quoting. Instead of new pounds (which are hardly used for quoting) and dinars (more commonly used, especially when quoting in English), most people still talk in terms of the old pound, although there are no more old pound notes in circulation. One dinar is worth 10 old pounds. Hence, when a person asks for 10,000 pounds, they actually want 1,000 dinars from you. And just to add to the confusion further, people usually do away with the thousands when quoting in pounds. So, your taxi driver may ask you for 10 pounds, which actually means 10,000 old pounds, which is equivalent to 1,000 dinars, which should be referred to once again as just 10 pounds! To clear any confusion, you could try saying "new pound" or جنية الجديد jeneh al-jedid.
Easy summary: 1 new pound = 100 dinars = 1000 old pounds (long out of use)
Also easy (March 2010): 1 US dollar = 2.4 new pounds (most banks/changers/hotels etc. exchange at exactly this rate)
On the black market you can get at least 3.7 pounds per dollar just be careful try to change at a shop not just some guy on the street.
Bring only foreign CASH into Sudan, preferably US Dollars (often accepted in hotels), British Pounds and to a lesser extent Euros are also fairly easy to exchange at banks in big cities. Travellers cheques, credit cards and foreign bank automatic teller machine cards are NOT accepted in Sudan, partly because of the US embargo.
There are many banks in Khartoum and throughout Sudan but not all of them have foreign exchange facilities. There are several money changers in Khartoum, especially in Afra Mall. There are also several Western Union agents in Khartoum which will do payouts for money transferred from overseas. Although the currency is not fully convertible, the Central Bank sets the exchange rate in line with market forces, hence there isn't really a parallel black market in forex. The Sudanese dinar and pound are closed currencies, so be sure to change them back before you leave the country.
Because of the US embargo, no credit cards can be used in Sudan. The only exception is Diners Club which is accepted by the Khartoum Hilton. All transactions have to be in cash making it unsafe as you will be carrying large sums of money with you. Carrying out on-line transactions while you are in Sudan can cause problems, as some merchants (especially American ones) will pick up your Sudanese IP address, and refuse to do business with you. If you attempt to use an American Express card for any on-line transaction while in Sudan, you are likely to have the card summarily cancelled.
Sudan is not renowned for its culinary prowess. Foul, made from fava beans, is a common dish, eaten from a communal bowl sopped up with unleavened bread. Fresh fruit and vegetables are very common. Lamb is the main meat.
Islam is the official religion of the country, and alcohol is banned. The only thing that's frequently drunk in Sudan is tea; usually sweet and black. Hibiscus tea called karkadeh (red) is a delicious alternative. Sudanese coffee is available in most souks and is similar to Turkish style coffee; thick and strong, sometimes flavoured with cardamom or ginger with a powerful kick and altogether delicious. Not to be taken before bed though if you want an undisturbed night's sleep! The general advice is not to drink tap water; in most rural areas, you will not be able to, as there are no taps... Where there are no bore holes (which often yield water that is fine to drink), water is often taken directly from the Nile. However, while alcohol is strictly illegal in the Muslim north, locally brewed alcohol is widely available in various forms and at various degrees of potency. A local beer (merissa) brewed from sorghum or millet is cloudy, sour and heavy and likely to be brewed with untreated water and will almost certainly lead to the 'Mahdi's revenge' (the Sudanese version of 'Delhi belly'). Aragi is a pure spirit distilled from sorghum or in its purest form, dates. Potent and powerful it should be treated with respect and is sometimes contaminated with the likes of methanol or embalming fluid (!) to add flavour and potency. Be aware though that all these brews, other than potentially hazardous for your health, are illegal and being caught in possession can result in the full implementation of Islamic law punishments.
I) Larger Towns and Cities
Most larger towns and cities have affordable hotels, although not as cheap as you might imagine. Quality is generally consistent within the price range.
Basic hotels provide a bed and a fan with shared bathroom/toilet facilities. There may be more than one bed in the room but you are usually expected to pay for the whole room. The bigger the group of travellers, the more economical these rooms are, as more beds are often put in a room (within reason) to accommodate everybody without the price being changed. Some hotels have cheaper beds outside in the open as in smaller towns and cities. These hotels are not very clean but are cheap and perfectly acceptable for short stays.
Lower mid-range hotels - more likely to be found in Khartoum - offer the worst value for money. They may have en suite bathrooms, (mostly evaporative) air conditioning and satellite television, but for what you're paying (two or three times that of basic hotels depending on your bargaining skills) the rooms are extremely tatty and hotel owners will almost always subscribe to the philosophy of: 'Only fix something if the guest complains'. There will sometimes be rooms minus the bathroom/air conditioning/television for prices a little above those in basic hotels.
Upper mid-range hotels are the next step up, with spotless rooms of a far higher quality but prices (usually quoted in dollars) closer to what you'd expect in the West. You'll have little to find fault with, though.
Top-end hotels are commonly of the Five Star variety, and include the Hilton. The few are found mostly in Khartoum. They are much more expensive than the upper mid-range hotels.
II) Outside Larger Towns and Cities
Outside larger towns and cities hotels don't normally go above basic. That means bedframes with either simply a string mesh or with thin mattresses; that is not to say they are uncomfortable. They are offered (generally in fours or fives) in rooms where there is often a ceiling fan to keep things cool. The beds are usually cheaper - and more fun to sleep in - out in the courtyard under the stars, although there is obviously less privacy and security. As with the basic hotels in larger towns and cities, it is more often than not impossible to rent one bed in a room as you might in a dormitory. Hotel owners insist that you rent the whole room. Rooms become unavailable quickly at certain times (weekends, for example). Showers may be bucket showers, with water straight out of the Nile if your route follows that river.
Camping in the wild is easy in rural areas outside the south as long as the usual precautions are taken.
Sudan is one of the most lawless and corrupt countries in the world. The information that follows highlights some of the potential dangers of which a traveler should be made aware.
Sudan is recovering from a 40-year civil war between the Arab-dominated central government and non-Muslim separatist groups from the South, at the time when South Sudan was still part of Sudan. Relations between the two countries after the independence of South Sudan remain fluid and somewhat tense.
The well-publicized conflict in Darfur is still taking place, making traveling to the western parts of Sudan totally inadvisable.
Sudan is one of four countries worldwide that do not to comply with international flight safety protocol. The official state airline, Sudan Airways fleet is mainly composed of 1950's era Soviet manufactured aircraft. Some planes have no navigation, lighting, or are missing critical pieces of landing gear. Over 27 fatal crashes occurred last year in the Northern region alone, making Sudan the most dangerous country for internal air travel.
Entering Sudan via personal car is also challenging. Sudan has a highly militarized border with its neighbor Egypt and Westerners are increasingly running into problems at the border if they wish to cross.
Bus travel is also not without its issues. Be careful and board the bus tired, because there is nothing worse than sitting in a hot bus (did we mention no A/C?) with jabbering Egyptian tourists for nearly an entire day.
There is almost no likelihood of being physically attacked (mugged) for your possessions, but keep an eye on your things in public places, e.g. street cafes. Sometimes thieves operate in pairs: one distracts you while the other makes off with your stuff.
Travel for solo women is relatively safe (in areas unaffected by civil war), if you dress and act appropriately for an Islamic country. You will raise a few eyebrows but will generally be treated with great respect. In general, it is best for women to travel in groups, and even better, with men.
Police and army
You will see armed policemen and military personnel everywhere but you will not have any problems with them unless you have infringed some rule, e.g., taking photographs or filming in prohibited areas. Sudanese police/army are sometimes known to target travelers for bribes. So, If you are pulled over for whatever reason, be sure to pay them. The police are virtually inefficient, and criminals act without any sort of fear.
Sudan has very strict rules about taking pictures. First and foremost, you need a permit to take pictures (see "Get in" section above for details) which will tell you where you can and cannot take pictures. Photographing or filming military personnel or installations is a quick way to get into trouble. People have been arrested for taking pictures at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles in Khartoum.
Sudan is an Islamic country and consumption of alcohol is illegal. Homosexuality is punishable by death. The death sentence for homosexuality is mainly only enforced after the second or third repeated offense. Mainly the first offense it is usually imprisonment and about a thousand lashes for both men and women, (which is virtually the death penalty anyway, it would be surprising if anyone could survive that sort of harsh punishment). The government's form of punishing those convicted of homosexual acts is dealt with under the strict interpretation of the Islamic Sharia Law. If a foreigner is arrested for committing a homosexual act, that person may probably either be given a warning if "truly remorseful" or be dealt with in the same manner as the Sudanese national. It is better to ask for consular assistance from the country from where you come from if you are arrested.
Sudan is a malarial region, so be especially cautious during the rainy season. Poisonous snakes, spiders and scorpions are common to the southern areas.
Be cautious when drinking water. Make sure you choose bottled water, or use purifying tablets. Also, avoid any fruit drinks, as they are obviously made with the local water. And remember, that any ice cubes ( for example, in sodas) are only frozen local water.
On long trips (particularly during the hot season) on public transport it is often impossible - or would be expensive - to carry the amount of bottled water you need, and it may be scarce at certain remote stops. Therefore, keep plenty of your chosen means of purification close at hand (not in your luggage strapped to the roof!). Sanitation in some areas is nonexistent, so wash your hands frequently.
Food from streetside vendors is generally fine if it is being prepared and served frequently. Empty restaurants and street cafes often indicate that food is standing uncovered and unrefrigerated for hours at a time.
Sudanese currency is notoriously dirty, and even the Sudanese handle small bills as little as possible. A hint would be to carry antibacterial wipes or gel in your luggage to treat your hands after handling filthy currency notes or shaking too many unwashed hands.
Sudan has reported Ebola outbreaks in 2004 and it is not advised to take local hospital treatments unless there is a real urgency. If you have malaria-like symptoms, seek medical assistance when possible, medical treatment is also available in many private clinics with high standards and reasonable price here are some of these private clinics: (Doctors clinic, Africa St, Fidail medical center, Hospital road Downtown, Yastabshiron medical center, Riyadh area, Modern medical center, Africa St, International Hospital, Khartoum north-Alazhary St)
Schistosomiasis/Bilharzia - Avoid bathing or walking through slow-flowing fresh waterways. If you have been in contact with such water or develop an itchy rash or fevers after your return, seek medical attention. Doctors in the West may only think to test you for malaria - you may need to see a tropical medicine specialist.
Sudan is an Islamic nation, and the government has imposed a form of Sharia law. Alcohol and drugs are forbidden, though many people dip a kind of snuff, and a few make moonshine. Sudanese women tend to wear very conservative clothing and cover their heads, so foreign women would be wise to do the same, even if they observe other tourists who do not respect this custom. Men should wear long trousers, not shorts. If in doubt, play it safe and cover up.
The Sudanese do not expect foreigners to adhere to Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, but it would be tactless to eat, drink or smoke in public. (Many people, e.g., diabetics and those traveling more than a certain distance, are exempt from Ramadan, so it is possible to find open restaurants during the day but they are not well advertised.)
Be assured that any foreigner will be treated as a local, and dealt with accordingly, in many cases, given a jail sentence of several months and a whipping, the minimum being forty lashes (it may be more, according to the discretion of the local cleric). Distances between towns or villages being far, and news may travel very slow because of the political unrest, so your government, if it even knows or cares to interfere, may not be willing or able to help you.
Do not in any circumstances, show images/statues/figures etc. of the prophet Muhammad. A heated controversy erupted when a British schoolteacher in Sudan allowed one of her students to name a teddy bear "Muhammad", prompting angry protests in Sudan. Although the British school teacher is safe in her home country and no fatalities were reported, other related controversies such as the Pope Benedict XVI and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad drawings had led to violence.
To show the bottom of your foot is an insulting gesture, as is the touching of the thumb to the index finger while extending the rest of the fingers (the North American sign for "O-kay"). Although Sudan is a moderate Muslim culture, foreigners are still discouraged from speaking directly to local women unless spoken to, and even then it would be polite to ask permission from the man accompanying her before responding. Try to avoid physical contact with women if possible.
During conversation, avoid asking direct questions about people's political opinions unless you know the person quite well and sense that they would be comfortable; repercussions could be serious for them. Tact is a necessity in a country that has suffered the trauma of more than 40 years of civil war and refugees from affected areas are spread around the country, especially Khartoum.
Sudan's international direct dialing code is 249. Its international direct dialing access code is 00 although mobile phone users in Sudan will be able to dial overseas numbers by putting "+" in front of the international direct dialing code.
Prepaid mobile phone packages are easily available in Sudan. The two telecommunications companies in Sudan are ZAIN  (Tel: +249-(0)-91-230000) and MTN  (Tel: +249-(0)-92-1111111). Zain has a cheaper prepaid package (SDG 10) than Mtn (SDG 20). Note that the customer service line for MTN, should you need to call them for any problems, can be difficult to get through.