Sudan is a country that is off the beaten track for most travellers and not considered as a family-friendly location to travel. This couldn’t be further from the truth as it is a really child-centred country & there are loads of things to do and see in Sudan. For us the best part of Sudan was Naqa; a small archaeological settlement about 15km east of Musawwarat es-Sufra and about an hour from the pyramids of Meroe. If you’re visiting Sudan and looking for kid orientated activities, a 4×4 journey into the heart of the desert and some long-lost buildings are a great day trip from Khartoum, Shendi & Atbara. Here’s what to expect from visiting Naqa and Musawwarat es-Sufra With Kids.
Where Is Musawwarat es-Sufra & Naqa?
These are actually two separate sites and to get to Naqa you must have a 4×4 and be used to driving on sand. The road to Musawwarat es-Sufra is easier to navigate as it’s being built (2020) and is a compounded & raised road, the track to Naqa is literally tyre tracks leading into the desert.
How Much Does Each Cost?
Despite what the guide books say, you must pay a separate fee to enter each site. There is no set fee to enter the sites and you must negotiate the price. Never ever admit to having dollars and always negotiate a price in Sudanese Pound. The black market exchange rate is 90 SDP to $1. The official exchange rate is just 45 SDP to $1, so always exchange on the black market. We found that all of our accommodation providers were able to find us someone reliable.
As a family of five, plus a driver, we paid:
- 500 SDP for Mussawarat es-Sufra
- 1000 SDP for Naqa
- 600 SDP for petrol
- 100 SDP for tips
- 50 SDP for the nomadic kids
What Can You See At Naqa and Musawwarat es-Sufra With Kids?
At Naqa there are three remains to see
- The Temple of Amun
- The Lion Temple
- The Roman Kiosk
At Mussawarat es-Sufra there are two remains to see
- The Great Enclosure
- The Apedemak or Lion Temple
Mussawarat es-Sufra’s The Great Enclosure
Although Mussawarat es-Sufra’s Great Enclosure is the biggest and most spread out, it was also the busiest and the one I was least inclined to like. Now when I say busy, it has to be taken into context of tourism in Sudan. We were in fact just one of five cars visiting that morning.
Musawwarat es-Sufra is one of the most important archaeological heritage sites in Sudan and a major testimony to one of its most important historic periods, the Meroitic era (300 BC to 350 AD). It is the earliest site outside the Nile valley and was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list as part of the serial nomination ‘Island of Meroe’ in 2011.
The Great Enclosure is a maze of temples, rooms, corridors and courtyards including elephant and lion figures and textual graffiti. The building complex, which extends roughly 240 x 200 metres, has retained its mystery due to its unique architecture and its lack of formal inscriptions.
While many opinions as to its purpose have been voiced, including an elephant training station, a desert palace, a pilgrimage centre, a national shrine and the main sanctuary of Apedemak, the function of the Great Enclosure is still debated and a focus of ongoing research.
A few hundred metres away from the Great Enclosure is the large Lion Temple (Apedemak Temple) dating to the 3rd century BC. To our surprise, it is much less visited than The Great Enclosure and you must wait for the Ghaffir to open it up with the key.
Mussawarat es-Sufra & The Lion Temple (Apedemak Temple)
The Lion Temple is remarkably well-preserved in comparison to other treasures locally which is because in 1960, the Sudanese government granted Humboldt University permission to excavate & rebuild the Lion Temple.
Researchers discovered 800 collapsed blocks entirely buried by the desert and that the outer wall was built around 230 BC by King Arnekhamani. Arnekhamani (c.235-c.218 BC) commissioned the building of the temple which he dedicated to the lion-headed, warrior god worshipped by the Meroitic people. He was one of the first kings to be buried in the nearby Pyramids of Meroe.
You’ll need to wait for the Gheffir to open the door and he is a delightful man who takes huge pride in the area and presenting the temple. Don’t forget to sign his book! The Temple is an exquisite feature of well-preserved walls and hieroglyphic inscriptions reproducing scenes of the King and the God Apedemak who is responsible both for creation and war.
Naqa & The Temple of Amun
Naqa is now a ruined ancient city located close to the Meroe Pyramids approximately 170 km north-east of Khartoum and roughly 40 km east of the Nile River. Naqa or Naga as it is sometimes known is a further 5km south-east of Mussawarat es-Sufra and one of the most remote desert spaces we have visited. Due to this, Naqa has stayed untouched over the past two millennia, slowly being eroded and covered in sand making it an archaeological reserve of unique authenticity and solitude.
At this usually hot, dry & dusty place, smaller wadis meet the Wadi Awateib which seasonally fills with water. Naqa served as a trading station on the way to the east so it had strategic importance however the exact purpose of the buildings at Naqa is unknown.
The first European travellers reached Naqa in 1822, copying some of the inscriptions. In 1958 a team from Berlin’s Humboldt University visited in the 1960s and documented the temple and restored part of the site. Since 1995 Naqa continues to be excavated by a German-Polish team directed by Professor Dietrich Wildung.
The Meroitic Temple of Amun was erected in the 1st century AD by King Natakamani and his Queen Amanitore. It features a traditional Egyptian floor plan of an outer court with a colonnade and a hypostyle hall. On the columns and pylons, there are inscriptions in Meroitic, while the walls of the Temple depict some scenes of the King, the Queen and the God Amun.
The temple is roughly 100 metres long and similar to temples of Jebel Barkal further north in Sudan and Karnak in Egypt, it is approached through a short avenue of rams which is possibly the best thing we saw in Sudan.
In 1999 the German-Polish archaeology team explored the temple’s inner sanctuary where the main statue of the god was originally kept. They discovered an undamaged altar which names King Natakamani and his wife Amanitore, the founders of the temple. A statue of king Natakamani was also discovered in this chamber along with a commemorative stone stela of Queen Amanishakheto, who ruled the Meroites prior to the reign of Natakamani and Amanitore.
At some point, a Naga museum will be built courtesy of British architect David Chipperfield
Naqa & The Lion Temple
A short distance from The Temple of Amun, at the foot of the Jebel Naga mountain, an incredibly remote and arid area roughly 40km east of the Nile, sit two small temples in their own vicinity; the Lion Temple and The Roman Kiosk.
The Lion Temple is a typical Meroitic one-room temple with carved reliefs on every outside wall depicting the imposing figures of its builders, Queen Amanitore and King Natakamani. The figures are adorned by carved lions and to show their power, the King & Queen are featured holding prisoners by their hair. Amanitore is visibly African in her appearance, in contrast to possible slaves and those captured.
Dating to the 1 st century AD, the lion Temple has exquisitely preserved carvings, showing at least five different representations of Apedemak: emerging from a lotus flower in the shape of the body of a snake, Apedemak as a three-headed god with four arms, holding his hands and fingers in different positions.
Naqa & The Roman Kiosk
In front of the Lion Temple is the small and perfectly cubed Roman Kiosk, also known as the Hathor Chapel. Visibly it is in stark contrast to the Kushite archaeology with its arches, columns and small windows.
Its date of construction is disputed however the Romans first invaded Sudan in 24BC and didn’t leave until 400AD so presumably it was also built in the first century AD. Little is known about it and it’s been suggested that the Romans merely wanted to add their own temple in amongst the others.
Sudan Is Finally On Airbnb
It seems as though some owners have found a way around the American ban problem and have been able to advertise on Airbnb. Naqa & Mussawarat are visitable as a day trip from Khartoum.
Interested In Visiting Sudan?
See what else you can do in Sudan with kids if you’re planning a trip to this almost forgotten country.