Happy 1st birthday, South Sudan! Congratulations on making globes everywhere outdated.
After more than two decades of strife and civil war between the mostly African and Christian southern part of Sudan and mostly Arab and Muslim north the two sides officially split. The divorce process started with a 2005 peace agreement that granted the south autonomy and the right to a referendum on independence. Then last January that referendum took place, with the pro-independent side winning an overwhelming majority. Today, the Republic of South Sudan is a sovereign state.
The workings of this new, impoverished, politically precarious state are still a work in progress. A new currency, the South Sudanese pound, is still taking hold. The visa policy is a bit uncertain, though the limited number of South Sudan embassies are issuing them and, as of August 2012 at least, travelers arriving into Juba by air have reported being able to procure one at the airport.
Assuming you can figure out where to get a visa—and what money to use—you may be wondering what there is for travelers to see in what would be the world’s youngest country. Spot Cool Stuff takes a look:
Boma National Park
If there’s a travel diamond in the rough of South Sudan it is Boma. The large, wild tract of land nearly adjoining the Ethiopian border was declared park in 1986, though for most of the time since then that designation hasn’t brought with it any wildlife protection or conservation efforts or travel infrastructure or, really, much of anything else park-like.
With political peace and ecological care, though, Boma might well become one of Africa’s greatest wild treasures, akin to Kruger, Okavango and Serengeti.
We say might because surprisingly little is known about the park. War is typically devastating to animals and their natural environment. Yet after the Wildlife Conservation Society conducted a survey of the area they estimated that it was home to over 1.3 million white-eared kob; the movement of that species of antelope around Boma might constitute the world’s largest land animal migration! The Wildlife Conservation Society also found a surprising number of orstrich herds as well as elephants, lions, giraffes, eland, hippos and jackals.
How to get there: Currently, the best way to Boma is with one of the few tour companies that operate there—Bahr El Jebel Safaris is the most popular and recognized. In the future we hope that Boma will be combined with Ethiopia’s Gambela National Park and that environmentally-friendly travel possibilities to both parks will be improved.
The Nile & Nimule National Park
Time was that there were monkeys, hippos, crocodiles and other wildlife along the whole length of South Sudan’s stretch of the Nile. Today the animals have largely been driven from the town centers (“town” being a relative term in scarcely populated southern Sudan). Still, in villages along the Nile there’s something special about simply kicking back and taking in local’s life along the river—in many aspects it has changed little in the last century. Finding Nile wildlife away from people would be easy if travel conditions allowed.
For a little taste of South Sudan consider going to Nimule National Park, for which the Nile is the eastern border. Unfortunately, the park is not heavily populated by animals. But there is something charmingly undeveloped by it—the “nature trail” is a path through the shrubs knocked down by a hippo and the “park office” consists of a guy sitting in a chair under a tree. More importantly, Nimule is almost directly on the border with Uganda making it possible to take a day or overnight trip there (provided you have a visa or passport that allows for reentry to Uganda).
How to get there: The do-it-yourself option involves taking a bus to the Ugandan boarder post, walking to the South Sudanese town of Nimule and arranging transport from there. The more convenient—and probably cooler—option would be to travel up the Nile from Uganda by boat. A few local tour companies currently offer this as an option; we expect more this boat route to become more popular as a secure and functioning South Sudan state emerges.
Juba is South Sudan’s capital and, with around 140,000 residents, by far its largest city. Most of South Sudan’s 60km of paved roads and virtually all of its government infrastructure are here. Despite that, Juba is a ramshackle, dusty place. There’s virtually nothing in the way of traditional tourist sights. Of primary interest to travelers would probably be Juba’s colorful markets, which buzz with the activity of merchants from Kenya, Uganda and DR Congo as well as from all around South Sudan.
Juba has a surprising number of restaurants and watering holes catering to the town’s large number of international aid workers; at a Juba pub you are much more likely to find yourself drinking Guinness next to a Dutchman watching a broadcast of the Manchester United game than you are to have any sort of local South Sudanese experience.
How to get there: The safest and most comfortable transport is by way of an international flight from Cairo, Nairobi, Addis Ababa (though it’s crazy expensive) or Entebbe, Uganda. From Khartum try budget airline Marsland. For the hearty overland adventurer, there’s a daily bus from Uganda—plan on a bumpy 12 to 14 hour ride.
Where to stay: Most of Juba’s “hotels” are in pre-fab buildings. Acacia Village is not, making it Juba’s best hotel by default. Another alternative is the Oasis Camp; it sports a nice open bar and has a feature that even some of the world’s most luxurious hotels fail to provide—free wireless internet access.
If you go . . .
The bad news: South Sudan isn’t the sort of destination where you can just show up and figure things out as you go. There’s little in the way of transportation, medical and communication infrastructure. The political and security situation there is volatile to say the least. The region is awash in land mines and will be for many years to come. Caution is required.
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Before you go to South Sudan get the very latest on the situation there. A few online resources for doing that:
Currently, Bradt publishes the only English guidebook dedicated to Sudan. It has only 29 pages dedicated to southern Sudan travel but is still worth getting for its sketch maps of the southern Sudanese towns of Juba, Malakal, Wau and Yei. The book’s history and “The Land and its People” sections also make for an interesting and useful read.