For The Ultimate Getaway, Why Not South Sudan?

Oct 20, 2013
Originally published on October 20, 2013 6:02 pm

With cooler temperatures approaching, you might be in the market for a perfect wintertime vacation. Maybe someplace sunny and warm, unspoiled by tourists, with beautiful views and rich culture.

To find all that, you might consider South Sudan. That's the suggestion from Sophie and Max Lovell-Hoare, authors of the Bradt Travel Guide to the young country.

Born of a brutal civil war, South Sudan may not be at the top of many travelers' must-see destinations. But Sophie and Max say the rewards are great for adventurous travelers. And, they add, much of the country is far safer than many Westerners might imagine.


Interview Highlights

On why people should consider visiting South Sudan

Sophie: The thing is with South Sudan actually is, because it has been cut off, really, from the outside world for so long, it hasn't obviously developed a tourism industry in the conventional sense. But that means for tourists who do want to get off the beaten track and absolutely into the back and beyond, there's plenty of opportunity for adventure and real, genuine discovery. The advantage with South Sudan is that you can more or less have a national park to yourself.

Max: If you look at the Boma National Park, for instance, it's one of the largest reserves in Africa, period. It's got stunning scenery, but you'll also get movements of like, a million antelope.

On what it's like to be a foreign tourist in South Sudan

Max: You become the attraction for the ... few locals that are there. They come to see you. You might be there to have a look at the antelope, but the locals just actually are really pleased to see you. You're a curiosity. They haven't seen anyone since the civil war.

Sophie: And the South Sudanese are famous for their hospitality, so if they see a group of foreigners coming to their village or to the parks near their homes, they will invite you into their village. They just want to meet you, they want to introduce you to their families and they want to show you the best South Sudan has to offer.

On whether or not South Sudan is a safe destination Western tourists

Sophie: We're British and we tend to follow the foreign and Commonwealth travel advice, which is the UK's equivalent [of the U.S. State Department's travel warning system]. And they have three different levels of travel advice for South Sudan: There is a ... 40 km strip on either side of the border with North Sudan, and that is the area that they say, no, it's not safe — you mustn't go there at all.

There is then an area, Jonglei Province in the east of the country, where ... they advise against travel unless it's essential. But the rest of the country, which is probably three-quarters of the total land area, they don't have a problem with tourists traveling to. They're perfectly happy for people to explore it.

On the country's must-see attractions

Sophie: No. 1 is the wildlife, without a shadow of a doubt. Elephants, giraffes, hippopotamus. Secondly, the river Nile.

Max: The beauty of the Nile in the South of Sudan [is that] firstly, it's on either side great deal of jungle, so [there's] an immense amount of wildlife — essentially birdlife. There is a genuine sense of exploration.

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

As the colder weather approaches, you might be looking for the perfect wintertime vacation - someplace sunny and warm with beautiful views and rich culture. What about a place that has all of that and is still unspoiled by tourists? You only have to travel to South Sudan. It's not a joke.

In a latest Bradt Travel Guide, authors Sophie and Max Lovell-Hoare explain why this country born out of a brutal civil war is an attractive destination.

SOPHIE LOVELL-HOARE: The thing is with South Sudan actually is, because it has been cut off, really, from the outside world for so long. It hasn't obviously developed a tourism industry in the conventional sense. But that means that for tourists who do want to get off the beaten track and into the absolute back and beyond, there's plenty of opportunity for adventure and real, genuine discovery. The advantage in South Sudan is that you can more or less have a national park to yourself.

MAX LOVELL-HOARE: I mean, if you look at the Boma National Park, for instance, it's one of the largest reserves in Africa, period. It's got stunning scenery, but you'll also get movements of, like, a million antelope.

RATH: What was it like, Max, being the only tourist in a place like Boma National Park?

LOVELL-HOARE: You become the attraction for the locals. The few locals that are there, they come to see you. You might be there to have a look at the antelope, but the locals are actually just really pleased to see you. You're a curiosity. They haven't seen anyone since the civil war.

LOVELL-HOARE: And the South Sudanese are famous for their hospitality, so if they see a group of foreigners coming to their village or to the parks near to their homes, they will invite you into their village. They just want to meet you. They want to introduce you to their families, and they want to show you the best that South Sudan has to offer.

RATH: Now, before we encourage people to start booking their tickets, I feel like I have to point out that the U.S. State Department website still recommends that U.S. citizens not travel to South Sudan. Can you talk about the dangers, or do you think that the State Department is overcautious?

LOVELL-HOARE: Obviously, we're British, and we tend to follow the Foreign & Commonwealth travel advice, which is the U.K.'s equivalent. And they have three different levels of security advice for South Sudan. There is a strip, a 40-kilometer strip either side of the border with North Sudan, and that is the area that they say, no, it's not safe. You mustn't go there at all. There is then a area, Jonglei Province in the east of the country, where they say, they advice against travel unless it's essential.

But the rest of the country, which is probably three-quarters of the total land area, they don't have a problem with tourists traveling to. They're perfectly happy for people to explore it.

RATH: So in the safer areas where you are traveling, what are the must-see attractions that you're able to see there?

LOVELL-HOARE: Number one is the wildlife, without a shadow of a doubt - elephants, giraffes, hippopotamus. Secondly, the river Nile.

LOVELL-HOARE: The beauty of the Nile in the South Sudan, firstly, it's either side great deal of jungle, so an immense amount of wildlife, especially birdlife. There is a genuine sense of exploration.

RATH: You talk about traveling the Jonglei Canal. What was that like?

LOVELL-HOARE: The canal has largely returned to...

MAX LOVELL-HOAR: Swamp...

LOVELL-HOARE: ...grassland and swamp.

LOVELL-HOARE: ...one of the canal diggers that we went to see. So a fairly huge bit of machinery. You're surrounded by this sort of swampy pompous grass, stuff, and then there's a leopard with a family, her sort of offspring, in the driver's cab. So...

LOVELL-HOARE: Effectively, the wildlife has reclaimed the canal and reclaimed the excavator.

RATH: Sophie and Max Lovell-Hoare are authors of Bradt's South Sudan Travel Guide. Sophie and Max, thank you so much.

LOVELL-HOARE: Pleasure entirely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.