Key Country Facts
A unique fact about Sudan is that it used to be the largest country in Africa (now Algeria is the largest), but with the split of Sudan into Sudan and South Sudan, the size of the country decreased. South Sudan was officially recognized by the UN in 2011.
One place to visit a few hours outside of Khartoum are the Meroe Pyramids, a series of well preserved ancient ruins in the desert. The area is relatively deserted, making it easy to see because there will not be many other tourists around to take photos and explore the area.
The top exports are crude petroleum, gold, sheep and goats, oily seeds, and insect resins.
The capital of Sudan is Khartoum and the official languages are English and Arabic. About 43 million people live here, and the main religion is Sunni Islam, with almost all of the population being Muslim. The time zone is 7 hours ahead of EST.
Divers will delight in visiting the Sanganeb National Park in Port Sudan known for its incredibly diverse living coral reefs where visitors can enjoy snorkeling. The water is relatively shallow in the reef, though as travelers head out they will reach the deeper waters for diving. Be sure to stop by the park’s lighthouse for spectacular views of the ocean.
I was surprised to see as many Westerners as I did at the airport. There were tour groups and what appeared to be aid workers, all waiting for their visas I arrived at Khartoum at around 1:30 AM and it takes around 90 minutes to get a visa. This requires a lot of patience and smiling at that time of day.
After a 20-minute ride, my hotel was a surprise. “The Corinthian” was built by Gadhafi and likely modeled after The Burj al Arab in Dubai. It’s an architectural wonder and very pleasing, inside and out. My room was fantastic, with a view of the Nile River, and an adjacent sitting area next to the bed. Room service was efficient and cheap. A club sandwich, fries, and drink were $6.00 USD.
In the morning, we drove 3 hours to Meroe, to see the Pyramids, which are Sudan’s best tourist site. Meroe was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush, who were Nubian King’s ruled upper Sudan (and even Egypt briefly) for 1300 years (900BC-400AD). At the time, this was a prosperous area, near the Nile, and an important trade route. The pyramids, like in Egypt, were royal monuments, harboring the Kings and Queens after death.
In 1826, Italian explorer Joseph Fellini cut the tops from these pyramids in his search for gold. He found so much gold that he needed seven camels to carry it off. He attempted to sell it to Egypt, but they were terrified of buying the Pharaoh’s treasure. Afterwards, he sold it to the Germans. Fellini died in complete poverty… attributable to the Pharaoh’s curse.
One note about going to Meroe: plan on it taking four hours each way and tell your driver not to be rushed. My journey there was punishing, as my driver weaved and bopped between trucks and avoided potholes and speed bumps on the road.
Khartoum is a bustling city, with lots of vendors selling things on its dusty streets. Interestingly, the Blue Nile in Khartoum, which originates in Ethiopia flows east and meets up with the White Nile which originates in Uganda and flows from south to north.
My guide Norman tells me about the great American things he knows and talks about the lottery??? Perplexed. Oh … I get it now … he’s talking about the visa lottery to get into the US. A reminder … the US is still the light of the world!