“Why go? Is it worth going?” – these were the most common questions about South Sudan.
Many assume that if a destination is difficult it might not be worth visiting. While my trip wasn’t easy I found South Sudan incredibly interesting and allowed me to get to know the amazing people, even if often we didn’t share any common language.
South Sudan is one of the top 10 least visited countries in the world. It’s also the youngest country in the world – only created in 2011.
Personally, I’ve been very interested in this country for a while especially after stories I heard from friends who went on missions and lived there for a while. Interestingly enough, when I began researching more and more, the less information I could find even about the very simplest correct information about South Sudan and its people. That’s exactly why I became very interested.
Between a civil war, genocide, mass corruption and poverty there have been a lot of bad things told about South Sudan. It’s definitely not an easy destination to visit as the country is definitely not ready for tourism. Most of you will probably never visit SS and even some friends had no idea there was Sudan and South Sudan – two separate countries.
It’s possible to travel to South Sudan as a tourist though… even if there’s really no real tourism in South Sudan.
Is it safe to travel to South Sudan?
The answer is not really, but not everywhere is dangerous either. Most tourists travel to the capital – Juba, and then take an overnight trip to Mundari cattle camp.
When I went we drove to Boya Mountains which I’m yet to see anything else do, because a few tour companies who arrange trips always have a flight from Juba to Kapoeta on their itinerary. This road isn’t safe at all as we found out later, so it’s probably smarter to just pay extra for the flight if you want to venture into this region.
I know various people who claim to have been to every country but only traveled to Juba to check South Sudan off the list, but there’s so much more to South Sudan than just Juba – don’t be afraid!
Getting a Guide
The most important thing to travel in South Sudan is to find smart and reliable local people to show you around safely. You do need a local guide to obtain a visa and quite frankly, you won’t be able to pass any checkpoints without a reliable guide.
Not to mention obviously, there’s no such thing as a rental car or public transportation in the country.
Visa to South Sudan
This part is surprisingly easy. The only thing you need is your visa letter from your guide on the ground. With this, flight confirmation, along with a yellow fever card and passport scan you just apply online.
I and everyone else in the group got visas in less than 24 hours. It was MUCH smoother and easier to get it than ironically, my visa to Kenya due to errors in their system.
Taking Photos in South Sudan
The government is extremely wary of foreigners posing as tourists while undertaking journalism or even spying and it’s probably the hardest country to take photos in despite the expensive permits.
Taking photos in Juba can put you in serious trouble. The local authorities there do not take it kindly, no matter how mundane the focus of their photography is. Being caught taking a photo of the wrong thing in Juba can lead to imprisonment. Our car was actually stopped because one person was taking a photo and while we managed to get the phone back it was a lot of back and forth fighting with the police.
Once outside the capital, these restrictions will relax, but you still need your photography permit that you guide can help you obtain. Keep in mind that not everyone will like photos being taken – some kids loved it, some women were running for their lives if they see your phone out ready for a photo. Be respectful.
Keep and Open Mind!
Most importantly, keep in mind that South Sudan doesn’t really have almost any tourists. While there are a few guides and some people have arrived, it’s mostly aid workers and missionaries who have their own thing going.
The infrastructure is next to none, so your camping situation is basic as you’re sleeping among cows, cow dung, and eat whatever is there to eat.
Hence why your trip might not go exactly according to plan. Similar to Eritrea, permits are given at the last minute and your itinerary is subject to change.
To illustrate it more, on the first day we were supposed to get our registration done. We spent 3h waiting for it while our guide was trying to register the group, but it all failed so we left with a different plan, stayed at a different place that night and never actually stayed at the infamous Royal Palace Hotel (it’s always included on everyone’s itinerary because it’s the nicest, but they often sell out for larger conferences so never had a chance).
Another day we were scheduled to take a boat across the Nile and after we drove 3 hours to the starting point we still had no permits. We also haven’t got a permit to return to Juba, so we got stuck in the city of Bor for hours and hours.
We finally got the permit to return to Juba first and at this point, it was already late, so we had to start heading back. We got the permit for the Nile 10 minutes after we left but it wasn’t possible anymore to turn back. Then, we got stopped on the road for hours and our passports were held hostage overnight at the checkpoint while we reached the camp after 1 AM. So much for getting to the Mundari camp for sunset 😉
You must be open to those changes and remain flexible. Otherwise, you’ll have a very frustrating time.