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 blood-red fish swarm through gardens of coral. Whichever way you look at it, there’s just no denying that among Sudan’s sweeping hills of sand lie treasures the rest of the world are only just beginning to discover. For the few travellers who venture here, Sudan comes as a fantastic surprise. Visitors invariably agree that the Sudanese are among the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth. And although various ongoing conflicts mean part of this vast nation remains off limits, the northeast is one of the safest places in the world. Whether you rush through on a Cairo-to-Cape Town trip, or spend a slow month soaking up the history and hospitality, visiting Sudan is a memorable experience.
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.
In total there are around 100 pyramids in various states of repair (some have been decapitated), divided in two main groups that are separated by several hundred metres of sandy desert. Some of the tombs’ antechambers contain well-preserved decorative elements, including hieroglyphics and carvings.
Kassala, with its wonderful setting at the foot of the melting granite peaks of the Taka Mountains, is easily the most exotic corner of northeastern Sudan and a fitting reward for the long journey here. Its huge souq is where half the tribes of northern Sudan, including the Beja and the Rashaida, seem to meet â€“ expect an ethnic mosaic of colours, smells, noises and experiences. It’s also a popular destination for honeymooners, whom you can usually see enjoying a cup of tea in the nearby village of Toteil. If you happen to be here in September or October, don’t miss the famous camel races.
This dusty Nile-side Nubian town boasts an extraordinary collection of ancient sites, which together have given the whole area Unesco World Heritage status. The majesty of Karima’s past will probably remain with you for a long time. Its setting, too, is unforgettable, with the impressive Jebel Barkal lording over the town
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.
Other Places Of Interest
The beautifully green and (in places) forested Nuba Mountains are, in a sense, a gateway to sub-Saharan Africa. This Scotland-sized slab of fertile land is inhabited by the Nuba people, 60-some related tribes and subtribes with as many differences as similarities. During the autumn harvest, generally November to February, festivals (called Sebir) are held, which usually include wrestling and dancing. Sadly, this fascination region remains off limits to foreigners because of insurgent activities.
A Shangri-la for culture vultures, Kerma is one of the oldest inhabited towns in Africa and a place of immense historical importance. The area around Kerma has been occupied for at least 8000 to 10,000 years, but the town reached its peak around 1800 BC to 1600 BC, when it was capital of the Kingdom of Kush and an important trade centre during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. It was at this time that Kerma’s kings built two monumental mud-brick temples, known as deffufa; the oldest, and arguably largest, mud-brick buildings on the continent. North of Kerma, the site of Tombos is also well worth a detour.
Sudan’s only major industrial port is the base for some of the world’s most spectacular and undeveloped diving. Above the waves, sights are scarce don’t expect masses of historical buildings or sweeping beaches and translucent waters lapping your toes but there’s a laid-back atmosphere that’s supremely enjoyable. Port Sudan is also an ideal base to visit the nearby historical town of Suakin