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South Sudan - When and where to visit
Please note There has been a serious deterioration in security in South Sudan since these pages were compiled, and some of the practical information here will now be out of date. In particular, many areas are currently not safe to travel. You are advised to contact your embassy and local agents prior to travelling.
South Sudan’s climate is tropical, with high humidity and significant rainfall. Though there is regional variation due to altitude and terrain, the rainy season affects all parts of the country and occurs from April through until late October or early November. The rainfall is heaviest in the uplands, but diminishes in the flat plains of the north. The average daily temperature varies from 23°F to 37°C depending on the month, with March being the warmest month and July the coolest. Owing to South Sudan’s proximity to the equator, the hours of daylight remain almost constant throughout the year: the sun rises around 06.00 and sets again at 18.00.
Village along the White Nile © Hannah Bryce
If you wish to travel around South Sudan you will need to visit in the dry season, which starts at the end of November and lasts until late April. The wet season is slightly shorter in the north, due to its location further from the equator. Outside this period, roads (where are there are some) are frequently impassable, planes are often grounded due to poor visibility, and many villages are under a foot or more of water due to lack of drainage. If you are travelling to South Sudan to see the wildlife migrations, plan your trip for between March and April when the animals are moving from the floodplains of the Sudd south to the Boma National Park, or between November and early January when the same migration happens in reverse. The white-eared kob are calving in December and January, and seeing the calves could well be a highlight of your trip.
Travel within South Sudan is expensive, and so unless you have an exorbitant budget at your disposal, you will probably be limited in the number of things that you can see. Although it is the wildlife in the national parks that is the country’s biggest draw, there are also some scenic cultural sights that should not be overlooked. If you’re in need of some inspiration, here are the highlights of our trip:
Boma National Park
One of Africa’s largest wildlife reserves is in Jonglei State and has a wildlife migration that compares in scale to that of the Serengeti. Between March and April and November to January you can see as many as two million animals on the move. The majority of these are kob, antelope and gazelle but you can also see some of the park’s 7,000 elephants, giraffes, oryx and baboons.
Traditional South Sudanese wrestling is an energetic affair where the wrestlers are stripped to the waist and egged on by an enthusiastic crowd of spectators. Prizefights, some of them worth thousands of dollars, take place in Bor’s Freedom Square at weekends, and you may even be able to join in for a bout.
Nimule National Park
The most easily accessible of South Sudan’s national parks, Nimule lies on the border with Uganda and is therefore a perfect stopover for those entering the country by road. The park infrastructure is, by South Sudan’s standards, well developed and park rangers will take you across the river by boat to Opekoloe Island to see the elephant herds, and then on foot to spot zebras, warthogs, baboons and even the occasional leopard.
Dinka Cattle Camps
The Dinka are the most populous of South Sudan’s tribes and also the most politically influential. The majority of Dinka are still nomadic pastoralists and their cattle camps, which often contain 500 head or more of cattle, offer a fascinating insight into their traditional way of life – learn more about the central role that cattle play in deciding wealth and status, the Dinka division of labour and even their diet.
South Sudan’s stunning birdlife is best appreciated with a boat trip on the Sudd, one of the largest wetlands in the world. More than 400 species of bird can be found here, including shoebills, great white pelicans and black-crowned cranes, and once you’ve had your fill of all things feathered, there’s also some excellent fishing.
(Photo: Red bishop © Marius Meyer, Shutterstock)
South Sudan’s highest peak lies in the little-explored Imatong Mountains along the country’s southern border with Uganda. Whether you plan to climb the peak (3,187m) or trek through the thickly forested foothills, you can see monkeys, bushbuck and bushpigs, as well as occasional elephants, buffaloes and leopards.
Rafting on the White Nile River
White-water rafting on the Nile is a new addition to South Sudan’s tourist options, and you can enjoy a short splash at Nimule or paddle all the way to Juba. The rapids will make you buzz with adrenaline, especially when you realise how many hippopotamuses and crocodiles are sharing the water, and in calmer stretches there are great possibilities for birdwatching and fishing.
The domed Catholic cathedral in Wau dates from 1913 and is a symbol of the important role that Christian missionaries have played in developing the country since the late 19th century. It is one of the largest churches in Sudan and has some attractive stone carving as well as a stained-glass window.
How much you can see in South Sudan depends on your budget but also on the amount of time you have available and the current security situation. Road travel can be painstakingly slow (and in the wet season can be impossible in some places), and you may have to change your plans at short notice if security in a particular area deteriorates. If the security situation is stable and you have sufficient funds, here are our recommended routes:
If visiting for the weekend, book yourself on to a two-day white-water rafting trip with African Rivers. They will collect you on a Friday night from Juba, and take you down to the Nimule National Park, just below the Fola Falls, to camp for the night before starting out on the river the following morning. The first 8km are fast and furious with three Grade IV drops before things level out into more pleasurable Grade II and III rapids. On the banks of the river you’ll see occasional villages and fishermen, and catch glimpses of monkeys, elephants, antelopes, vultures and eagles.
With a week at your disposal you have two choices, and they’re dependent on how you feel about rafting. Either way, start your tour in the Nimule National Park with a boat trip to Opekoloe Island to see the elephant herds and a walk to the impressive Fola Falls. You can then complete the two-day rafting trip or, if you’re feeling rather more ambitious, then consider the four- or five-day trip all of the way from Nimule to Juba. Back in Juba, stay at one of the luxury tented camps on the banks of the Nile and enjoy the expat banter and beers each evening. In the daytime, check out Juba Town Market and the Roots Project, which trains female artisans and sells their work; pay homage, if that’s your thing, at the grave of John Garang; and then take a stroll around the Central Equatoria Nursery, a true South Sudanese success story.
If you have a fortnight or more to travel in South Sudan, start your itinerary as outlined in One Week above and then fly north to Bor. Plan your trip to coincide with the weekend Bor wrestling matches on Freedom Square, and then continue on to Boma National Park. Note that you’ll need to visit the park as part of a tour group, regardless of how you usually feel about such things. Your guide will track the elephant herds’ radio collars to ensure you get to see what you’ve come for (believe it or not the park is so huge it is indeed possible to mislay a herd of fully grown elephants) and all the big game are on display. The migration is one of the most impressive sights on earth and should not be missed, and you’ll also have the opportunity to take in the Anyuah, Murle and Toposa villages. Fly back from Nyat airstrip to Juba.
Village children waving © Levison Wood