As you might expect, all of our trips will begin and end in Sudan’s capital Khartoum. This hectic but wonderfully friendly city is located on the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers. Markets, mosques, colonial architecture, excellent museums and wonderful riverside views make this sprawling city a worthy destination in its own right. Here we can visit Souq Omdurman, one of the oldest and largest markets in Africa, view a performance by dazzling Whirling Dervishes and even watch a bout of the traditional sport of Nubian wrestling.
Sudan’s best-known archaeological site is Meroe – the latter-day capital of the Kingdom of Kush and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, beneath more than 100 pyramids, lie the tombs of the long-forgotten kings and queens of the Nubian empire that once reigned over a vast area for more than 1,000 years. Described by Herodotus as a wondrous city, Meroe was one of the earliest states in Africa and renowned for its wealth and opulence. Little now remains of the royal city, but the tombs are spectacular. Constructed in typical Nubian style, with narrow bases and steep slopes, some are as high as 30 metres tall. Well-preserved hieroglyphics and carvings are found in many of the tombs’ antechambers.
The Bayuda desert
Travelling through the Bayuda desert is another unforgettable experience. Located within a large loop formed by the Nile, the desert is starkly beautiful with black basalt volcanic, cone-shaped mountains and large, wide valleys crossed by dry wadis. The light here is like no other, and we encourage our guests to spend at least one night wild-camping under the stars.
One of the undeniable highlights of any journey across the Bayuda desert is an encounter with the Bisharin tribe. The white-robed Bisharin are nomadic pastoralists who still live in family groups in small huts made of intertwined branches. Their way of life – herding and trading their camels, goats and sheep – has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years.
Napata and Jebel Barkal
Napata – close to the modern Sudanese city of Karima – was established in around 1,500 BC when Pharaoh Thutmose III built a temple there to the powerful Egyptian god Amun. The temple was constructed at the foot of a prominent sandstone butte – Jebel Barkal – which was already a sacred site for local people. The city swiftly became an important religious centre and settlement, and eventually became the capital of the Kingdom of Kush in around 663 BC.
The Napata ruins, first described by European explorers in the 1820s, include at least 13 temples and three palaces. Taharqa was the most powerful and well-known of the Nubian kings and ruled over of a huge Egyptian empire. His reign oversaw an important period of cultural renaissance, including the construction of the sumptuously-decorated Temple of Mut. In around 590 BC, Napata was sacked by the Egyptian pharaoh Psammeticus II and the Kushite capital relocated to Meroe. Both Napata and Jebel Barkal mountain have now been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. While staying in Karima, we can also organise a dramatic torchlight visit to the royal cemetery of El Kurru, a stunning and ornate tomb adorned with richly-painted images of the pharaohs.