South Sudan Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

South Sudan, the world’s newest country, offers a unique and largely undiscovered destination for intrepid travelers. Endowed with diverse landscapes, including lush tropical forests, expansive savannahs, and the iconic Nile River, South Sudan holds immense potential for those seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures. While the tourism infrastructure is still developing, the nation’s rich cultural heritage, vibrant communities, and the opportunity to explore untamed natural beauty make it an intriguing destination for those eager to experience the raw and authentic essence of Africa.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit South Sudan as a tourist is during the dry season, which typically spans from December to April. During these months, the weather is generally more predictable, and travel conditions are more favorable. Here are some considerations for each season:

  1. Dry Season (December to April):
    • This period is characterized by lower rainfall, making it easier to explore outdoor attractions and navigate the country’s landscapes.
    • Wildlife viewing is optimal during the dry season, as animals tend to gather around water sources, making them more visible.
    • The weather is typically warm and sunny, providing pleasant conditions for various activities.
  2. Wet Season (May to November):
    • The wet season brings heavier rainfall, leading to lush green landscapes, but it can also result in muddy and challenging travel conditions.
    • Some regions may become inaccessible due to flooding, and outdoor activities like safaris might be more challenging.
    • The wet season, however, can be an excellent time for birdwatching, as migratory birds are often present.

It’s important to note that South Sudan is still in the process of developing its tourism infrastructure, and travel conditions may vary. Before planning your visit, check the latest weather forecasts, consult with local authorities, and stay informed about any travel advisories. Additionally, consider the specific activities you plan to undertake and the regions you intend to explore, as conditions can vary across the country.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Traveling within South Sudan can be challenging due to the limited road network and other logistical constraints. However, here are some common modes of transportation for tourists:

  1. Air Travel:
    • Domestic flights are a practical option for covering long distances quickly. Juba International Airport is the main airport in the country, and there are smaller airports in other cities.
  2. Road Travel:
    • Traveling by road may involve using buses, shared taxis, or private transportation. However, road conditions can be challenging, especially during the rainy season when some areas may become impassable due to flooding.
  3. Local Transportation:
    • Within cities and towns, you may find taxis, motorcycle taxis, or rickshaws for short-distance travel. Negotiate fares in advance, and be aware that infrastructure may be basic.
  4. Guided Tours:
    • Consider joining organized tours with reputable local operators. They can provide transportation, guides, and assistance in navigating the local terrain.
  5. Boat Travel:
    • In regions with waterways, boat travel might be an option. This is particularly relevant in areas along the Nile River.
  6. Walking:
    • In urban areas, walking may be a feasible way to explore, especially if you’re navigating smaller distances. Be mindful of local customs and safety considerations.

Before traveling, it’s crucial to check for the latest information on transportation options and conditions in South Sudan. Keep in mind that infrastructure limitations may impact the reliability and availability of transportation services.

What’s the Official Language?

The official languages of South Sudan are English and various indigenous languages spoken by different ethnic groups. English serves as the lingua franca for communication between various ethnic groups and government institutions. Here are a few English phrases that might be useful for tourists:

  1. Hello: Hello
  2. Goodbye: Goodbye
  3. Please: Please
  4. Thank you: Thank you
  5. Yes: Yes
  6. No: No
  7. Excuse me / I’m sorry: Excuse me / I’m sorry
  8. Help: Help
  9. How much is this?: How much is this?
  10. Where is…?: Where is…?
  11. I don’t understand: I don’t understand
  12. Do you speak English?: Do you speak English?

It’s worth noting that South Sudan is a linguistically diverse country with numerous ethnic groups, each having its own languages and dialects. Learning a few basic phrases in the local languages of the specific regions you’re visiting can also be appreciated by the local communities. If you’re interacting with people from specific ethnic groups, consider asking about common greetings and expressions in their languages as a gesture of respect and cultural appreciation.

Where to Stay? 🏨

South Sudan’s tourism infrastructure is still developing, and options for tourists may be limited compared to more established tourist destinations. However, there are some accommodation options available, particularly in the capital city, Juba. Here are some areas and types of accommodations you might consider:

  1. Juba:
    • Juba is the capital and largest city, and it is likely to have the most diverse range of accommodation options. You can find international hotels, guesthouses, and budget accommodations in and around Juba.
  2. International Hotels:
    • Look for international hotel chains that operate in Juba. These hotels typically offer standard amenities and services catering to international travelers.
  3. Guesthouses:
    • Guesthouses and smaller local accommodations might be available in various parts of the city. They can provide a more intimate and local experience.
  4. Consult with Local Tour Operators:
    • Local tour operators may have recommendations for accommodations based on your travel itinerary and preferences. They can provide insights into safe and reliable options.
  5. Online Booking Platforms:
    • Explore online booking platforms to check for available accommodations in Juba. However, be aware that the selection may be more limited compared to more popular tourist destinations.
  6. Verify Safety and Reviews:
    • Before booking any accommodation, verify safety standards and read reviews from other travelers. Reliable reviews can provide insights into the quality of service and the safety of the area.
  7. Government or NGO Guesthouses:
    • In some cases, government or NGO guesthouses may be available for travelers. These accommodations might have limited availability and specific entry requirements.

It’s important to note that conditions can change, and new accommodations may become available. Before planning your trip, check for the latest information on accommodations, and consider reaching out to local authorities, tour operators, or travel agencies for up-to-date recommendations.

What to Eat? 🍽️

South Sudanese cuisine reflects the country’s diverse ethnic groups and is influenced by its East African and Arabic neighbors. While the culinary scene may not be as internationally recognized as in some other countries, there are several dishes that tourists might want to try for an authentic South Sudanese culinary experience. Here are some must-try foods:

  1. Bamia:
    • Bamia is a popular okra-based stew often cooked with meat, onions, and various spices. It’s typically served with rice or a starchy side like millet or sorghum.
  2. Asida:
    • Asida is a staple in South Sudanese cuisine. It’s a type of porridge made from sorghum or millet flour and is often eaten with stews or soups.
  3. Molokhia:
    • Molokhia is a green leafy vegetable often cooked into a thick soup or stew. It can be combined with meat, fish, or chicken and is served with a side of rice.
  4. Nyama Choma:
    • Nyama Choma, meaning “grilled meat” in Swahili, is a popular dish that involves grilling meat, often goat or beef, with spices. It’s a common street food and social dish.
  5. Kisra:
    • Kisra is a type of flatbread made from fermented sorghum or millet. It is often served with stews and is a staple in South Sudanese households.
  6. Mukebbeh:
    • Mukebbeh is a dish made from minced and spiced meat, often mixed with onions, peppers, and other seasonings. The mixture is shaped into balls and deep-fried.
  7. Lahoh:
    • Lahoh is a type of spongy flatbread, somewhat similar to a pancake, made from a fermented batter of sorghum or millet. It is commonly eaten for breakfast.
  8. Basta:
    • Basta is a popular dish consisting of fried or grilled fish, typically Nile perch or tilapia. It’s often seasoned with spices and served with a side of rice or other grains.
  9. Wali:
    • Wali is a rice dish that may be served with various stews and sauces. It’s a common accompaniment to many South Sudanese meals.
  10. Ataif:
    • Ataif is a type of sweet dumpling often filled with nuts or dates and fried until golden brown. It is a popular dessert in South Sudan.

While exploring South Sudanese cuisine, be open to trying local variations and regional specialties. Dining in local markets and eateries can provide an authentic experience, allowing you to savor the flavors of South Sudanese home-cooked meals.

What to See? 🔍

South Sudan, with its diverse landscapes and cultural heritage, offers some unique and off-the-beaten-path attractions for tourists. Here are some must-see places in South Sudan:

  1. Juba:
    • Explore the capital city, Juba, to experience the vibrant local culture, markets, and historical sites. Visit the Juba Souk for local crafts and the Mausoleum of Dr. John Garang de Mabior, an important political figure.
  2. Nile River:
    • The Nile River, one of the world’s longest rivers, flows through South Sudan. Take a boat trip or a cruise along the Nile to enjoy its scenic beauty and witness daily life along its banks.
  3. Boma National Park:
    • Boma National Park is known for its diverse wildlife, including elephants, giraffes, and various bird species. It’s a great destination for nature lovers and safari enthusiasts.
  4. Mundari Cattle Camps:
    • Experience the unique Mundari culture by visiting their traditional cattle camps. The Mundari people are known for their distinctive cattle herding practices and body scarification.
  5. Tutwa Desert:
    • The Tutwa Desert, also known as the Eastern or Jonglei Desert, is an arid region with unique landscapes. Explore the desert to witness its vastness and the nomadic communities that call it home.
  6. Torit:
    • Torit is a town known for its historical significance. Visit the Torit Cathedral and the nearby mountain ranges for a glimpse into the region’s cultural and religious heritage.
  7. Nimule National Park:
    • Nimule National Park is located along the border with Uganda and is home to diverse wildlife, including elephants, giraffes, and various antelope species. It’s a great destination for nature and wildlife enthusiasts.
  8. Kidepo Valley National Park (bordering Uganda):
    • While Kidepo Valley National Park is primarily in Uganda, the South Sudanese border offers access to this stunning park known for its landscapes, wildlife, and Karamojong culture.
  9. Kapoeta Meteorite Impact Craters:
    • Visit the Kapoeta area to see the impact craters created by meteorites. This geological phenomenon offers a unique landscape to explore.
  10. Old Fangak:
    • Old Fangak is a town along the Nile River known for its traditional architecture and cultural heritage. It provides a glimpse into local life and customs.

When traveling in South Sudan, it’s essential to stay informed about safety conditions, local customs, and travel advisories. Additionally, consider hiring local guides to enhance your experience and provide insights into the cultural and historical significance of the places you visit.

What to Do? 📸

South Sudan, being a less conventional tourist destination, offers unique and authentic experiences for adventurous travelers. Here are some must-do activities for tourists in South Sudan:

  1. Interact with Local Communities:
    • Engage with local communities to gain insights into South Sudanese culture. Participate in community activities, attend local events, and be open to learning about daily life from the people themselves.
  2. Explore Juba’s Cultural Scene:
    • Immerse yourself in the cultural vibrancy of Juba. Visit local markets, explore art galleries, and attend cultural performances to witness the diverse expressions of South Sudanese creativity.
  3. Cruise the Nile River:
    • Take a boat trip along the Nile River to enjoy the scenic beauty and witness daily life along its banks. Cruises offer a unique perspective on the country’s landscapes and communities.
  4. Attend a Traditional Ceremony:
    • If the opportunity arises, attend a traditional ceremony or celebration. South Sudanese communities often host events with music, dance, and rituals that showcase their cultural heritage.
  5. Visit Cattle Camps:
    • Experience the unique Mundari culture by visiting traditional cattle camps. The Mundari people are known for their distinctive practices related to cattle herding and body scarification.
  6. Safari in Boma National Park:
    • Embark on a safari in Boma National Park to witness diverse wildlife, including elephants, giraffes, and various bird species. The park offers a chance to connect with South Sudan’s natural beauty.
  7. Explore the Tutwa Desert:
    • Venture into the Tutwa Desert to experience its arid landscapes and connect with the nomadic communities that inhabit this unique environment.
  8. Visit Nimule National Park:
    • Explore Nimule National Park for wildlife watching, birding, and enjoying the natural beauty along the border with Uganda.
  9. Engage in Outdoor Adventures:
    • South Sudan’s diverse landscapes provide opportunities for outdoor activities. Consider hiking, trekking, or exploring the country’s natural wonders.
  10. Learn about the Liberation Struggle:
    • Gain an understanding of South Sudan’s history by learning about the struggle for independence. Visit historical sites and monuments that commemorate the liberation struggle.
  11. Participate in Cultural Workshops:
    • Seek out cultural workshops or activities where you can learn traditional South Sudanese crafts, dances, or cooking. This hands-on experience can deepen your connection with the local culture.
  12. Support Local Arts and Crafts:
    • Purchase locally-made arts and crafts to support the livelihoods of local artisans. Look for traditional artifacts, beadwork, and other handmade items.

When engaging in these activities, it’s crucial to be respectful of local customs, seek permission when necessary, and prioritize responsible tourism practices.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Culture:

  1. Respect Local Customs:
    • South Sudan is culturally diverse, with numerous ethnic groups. Respect local customs, traditions, and social norms. Greetings and gestures may vary, so be observant and follow local etiquette.
  2. Dress Modestly:
    • Dress modestly, especially in more conservative areas or when visiting religious sites. It’s advisable to cover shoulders and knees, and women may consider wearing longer skirts or dresses.
  3. Greeting Etiquette:
    • Greetings are important in South Sudanese culture. Handshakes are common, and using titles and appropriate greetings demonstrates respect. Learn basic greetings in the local languages if possible.
  4. Photography Etiquette:
    • Always ask for permission before taking photographs, especially of people. Some communities may prefer not to be photographed, so respect their wishes.
  5. Gift Giving:
    • Gift giving is a common practice, especially when visiting someone’s home. Small, thoughtful gifts are appreciated as a gesture of goodwill.
  6. Eating Customs:
    • If invited to someone’s home, accepting food or drink shows appreciation. South Sudanese cuisine often involves communal eating, and it’s customary to eat with your right hand.

Safety:

  1. Stay Informed:
    • Stay informed about the current political and security situation in the areas you plan to visit. Check travel advisories from your government and reliable sources before and during your trip.
  2. Register with Embassies:
    • Register with your embassy or consulate upon arrival. This allows local authorities to contact you in case of emergencies and enables you to receive updates on safety and security.
  3. Use Reputable Tour Operators:
    • When engaging in tours or excursions, use reputable and licensed tour operators. They are likely to have experienced guides and prioritize the safety of their clients.
  4. Health Precautions:
    • Check with healthcare professionals about necessary vaccinations and health precautions before traveling. Carry essential medications and ensure access to medical facilities.
  5. Local Transportation:
    • Be cautious when using local transportation. Ensure that vehicles are in good condition, and if possible, choose reliable transportation options. Follow local advice regarding travel during specific times of the day.
  6. Secure Your Belongings:
    • Keep your belongings secure to avoid theft. Be cautious with valuables, use hotel safes when available, and be discreet with expensive items.
  7. Stay in Established Accommodations:
    • Choose well-established and reputable accommodations. These establishments are more likely to prioritize safety and security measures.
  8. Emergency Contacts:
    • Keep a list of emergency contacts, including local authorities, your embassy, and any tour operators. Share your itinerary with someone you trust.
  9. Travel Insurance:
    • Obtain comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and other unforeseen events.
  10. Stay Alert and Be Mindful:
    • Stay aware of your surroundings and be mindful of cultural norms and potential safety concerns. Trust your instincts and avoid risky situations.

While South Sudan has unique cultural experiences to offer, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and be well-informed about local customs to have a positive and secure travel experience. Always check for the latest travel advisories and consult with local authorities or tour operators for up-to-date information.

Conclusion

Visiting South Sudan promises a distinctive and off-the-beaten-path experience for adventurous travelers. The country’s rich cultural diversity, untamed landscapes, and warm hospitality offer a unique opportunity to explore Africa in its raw and authentic form. While challenges in infrastructure and safety considerations exist, careful planning, respect for local customs, and engagement with reputable tour operators can contribute to a rewarding and memorable journey. Tourists venturing into South Sudan should approach the experience with an open mind, a spirit of adventure, and a commitment to responsible travel practices, ensuring a deeper connection with the nation’s cultural tapestry and natural wonders.