With the recent military coup on 11 April 2019, the security situation is a fluid one. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office still advise against all travel to much of western and southern Sudan, with all but essential travel to areas within 100km of Egypt west of the Nile Valley. Click here for more information.
Wake at the break of day under the golden pyramids of godlike kings of old, traverse a searing desert to the place where two Niles become one, and watch a million ruby-red fish swarm through gardens of coral. For the few travelers who venture here, the sights found amongst Sudan's sweeping hills of sand come as a fantastic surprise.
Various conflicts long put part of this vast nation off limits, but recent relative calm could lead to visitors rediscovering Sudan's 1st-century temples, thundering granite mountains and undeveloped diving in the Red Sea. Whether you rush through on a Cairo-to–Cape Town trip, or spend a slow month soaking up the history, visiting Sudan is a memorable experience.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Sudan.
Seemingly lost under the folds of giant apricot-coloured dunes, this ancient royal cemetery, with its clusters of narrow pyramids blanketing the sand-swept hills, is one of the most spectacular sights in eastern Africa. The pyramids range from six metres to 30 metres high and were built in the Nubian style, which is characterised by narrow bases and steep slopes. Like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, the Meroe structures served as tombs for kings and queens.
This museum, the best in Sudan, has some breathtaking exhibits. The ground floor covers the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Kerma, Kush and Meroe. There's some stunning royal statues and perfectly preserved 3500-year-old artefacts from Kerma. Upstairs are numerous medieval Christian frescos removed from the ruined churches of Old Dongola and elsewhere. Outside are some temples rescued, Abu Simbel–style, from the rising waters of Lake Nasser. Allow at least 1½ to two hours for a visit.
Every Friday afternoon you can see an incredible Sufi ritual, where a colourful local troupe of whirling dervishes belonging to the Sufi community stirs up the dust in worship of Allah, at this imposing mausoleum located in a large Islamic cemetery. Things start around 4.30pm (5pm in winter), but it doesn't really get going until about 5.30pm and they don't dance during Ramadan. If you're used to the dour colours of Arabian Islam, you'll find the circus-like atmosphere here refreshingly colourful and laid-back – don't miss it!
A little south of Abri, for many travellers the wonderfully evocative Egyptian temple of Soleb is the highlight of the journey between Dongola and Wadi Halfa. It was built in the 14th century BC by Amenhotep III, the same pharaoh who gave us Luxor in Egypt, and the design and carvings are similar. It features a sanctuary and a hypostyle hall that consists of massive columns with elaborately carved capitals and splendid relief carvings.
At the base of the Taka Mountains is this spectacular mosque, centre of the Khatmiyah Sufi sect. It's a lovely mudbrick building with a pointed octagonal minaret and a photogenic arcade of columns in the main prayer hall. Non-Muslims are quite welcome to take a peek about. Afterwards have a little scramble around the bizarre peaks of the mountains. It's about 4km southeast of Kassala's centre; get there by taxi (S£20) or minibus (S£2).
Jebel Barkal, the tabletopped mountain hanging on the town's south side, was sacred ground for the Egyptians at the time of the 18th-dynasty pharaohs. At the base of the mountain are some well preserved pyramids and the Temple of Amun. Buried into the belly of the mountain, and immediately below the needle of rock, is the fresco-decorated Temple of Mut (US$10), dedicated to the Egyptian sky goddess. Close to the Temple of Amun there's a small museum containing finds from around Jebel Barkal.
With a temple from Egypt's Middle Kingdom, an Ottoman fort and a medieval church among the many ruins, Sai Island is something of a synopsis of ancient Sudanese history. The fort is actually built on the foundations of a 1500 BC Egyptian town, and the ground around the ruins is littered with millions of bits of broken pottery. Little but three upright granite columns and a few walls remain of the medieval church, but physically it's probably the most striking site on the island.
Naqa consists of a large and well-preserved temple of Amun dating from the 1st century CE. Notable features include a hypostyle hall with splendid columns and hieroglyphics and a row of statues representing rams. Very close by is the Lion Temple. Dating from the same period, this temple is dedicated to the lion-headed god Apedemak and has wonderful exterior carvings depicting the temples creators, King Natakamani and Queen Amanitore. In front of the Lion Temple is a small kiosk.
The royal cemetery of El Kurru, 20km south of Karima, contains the remains of dozens of tombs. Most have either faded away to virtually nothing, or the entrances have been buried under tonnes of sand. However, two tombs containing wonderfully preserved paintings, can still be entered down a flight of stairs cut out of the rock. Dating to the 7th century BC, they were the final resting place of King Tanwetamani and his mother, Queen Qalhata.