Africa’s Forgotten World

There are few places left in Africa that compare to South Sudan. This is a wild and untamed world that is home to some of the continent’s most traditional ethnic groups, living in the same way as their ancient forefathers. Based on our own personal experience of the world’s newest country, this short South Sudan tour takes you deep into the tribal heart of a truly fascinating part of the continent.

From the boomtown capital of Juba, we head out to the homelands of the Mundari people, known for their distinctive tribal scarring. Here regular wrestling contests take place between their villages and we should be able to witness one of these incredible spectacles. But we don’t recommend taking part!

We then head east to the land of the Toposa people. These are an intensely traditional group related to both the Turkana of Kenya and the Surma of Ethiopia, who decorate their faces and bodies with elaborate scarifications that almost defy belief. We spend time exploring their villages and meeting tribal elders before returning back to Juba. Along the way, we visit other ethnic groups such as the Boya and Lotuko. We learn about the challenges of life here and see a side of Africa that few people will ever be privileged enough to witness.

This is not always an easy journey – infrastructure is often lacking and visitors virtually unknown – but without a doubt, it will be one of the most exciting you are likely to make.

Africa's Forgotten World

Highlights

  • Meet the fascinating Toposa people
  • Spend the night in a Mundari cattle camp
  • Explore the villages of the Boya people
  • Some of Africa’s most traditional groups

Day 1 - Juba

Arrive in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The rest of the day is at leisure to explore this lively city or simply relax after your flight. Overnight Royal Palace Hotel or similar.

Juba

South Sudan’s capital seems a bit like the Wild West. Having been neglected for so long under rule from Khartoum, independence in 2011 has seen an explosion of infrastructure and building projects, and the city is changing rapidly to become a modern African capital. It wasn’t always so.

Juba has its origins in the trading post of Gondokoro, the southernmost outpost of the Egyptian authorities in the 19th century, and then fell under joint Anglo-Egyptian. Used by explorers such as Samuel Baker as a jump-off point for expeditions to find the source of the Nile, it was seen as the last semblance of civilisation before one headed off into the unknown beyond.

There are few sights in Juba to speak of, but one thing you won’t miss is the steel bridge spanning the Nile, which is the only connection Juba has to Uganda, from where most of its imports arrive. There is also the mausoleum for Dr John Garang, the former leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, who was tragically killed in a plane crash before he could see his dreams of an independent South Sudan realised.

Juba’s population is a reflection of its boomtown status, and as well as South Sudanese you will find a multitude of other nationalities here including Kenyans, Ethiopians, Chinese, Egyptian and European. New bars and restaurants are springing up quickly to cater for this influx, the nicest of which are on the banks of the river – the best place to have a drink as the sun goes down.

Day 2 - Torit

Head east through East Equatoria State, to the town of Torit. The road can be difficult at times, and we may pass evidence of the civil war in the form of tanks, half hidden in the bush. Overnight Hotel Torit or similar. (BLD)


Days 3-4 - Toposa Villages

Using Kapoeta as a base we explore the villages of the Toposa people, one of the country’s most traditional ethnic groups. We stop in villages and head to the nearby river where local people mine for gold, digging deep holes in the river banks to extract small grains of the precious metal. The Toposa are a fascinating group, related to the Turkana in Kenya, who live well outside of mainstream society and follow lifestyles that have barely changed for centuries, if not millennia. We return to Kapoeta each night. Overnight Mango Camp or similar. (BLD)

Toposa people

The Toposa are the principal ethnic group living around Kapoeta and are perhaps the most interesting in the whole country. Closely related to the Turkana of Kenya and the Karamojong of northern Uganda, they are herders with an economy based largely around livestock. They are also prolific cattle raiders, which has led to conflict with other groups in the past, although with the independence of the country and greater stability this is now less of a problem. The Toposa live in villages made of mud and sticks, with thatched roofs often adorned with the skulls of cattle.

The most striking feature of the Toposa is their practice of scarification. Many of the men and women are decorated with elaborate raised patterns caused by careful incision, covering their upper arms, torsos, backs and in some instances their faces. Although modernity is starting to erode their customs, many of the older Toposa still adhere to traditional dress – for women, this is usually animal skins worn around the waist, while men often go naked.

No self-respecting Toposa male will leave his compound without the obligatory AK47 slung over his shoulder – while this does not pose a problem to visitors we do ask that you heed your tour leader’s advice when in the Toposa villages, as central authority is weak here.

The Toposa are likely to be as curious about you as you are about them though – tourism is virtually non-existent and the concept is not well understood, so expect yourself to be the focus of attention somewhat.

To the south of Kapoeta the Toposa pan and dig for gold by the banks of a river – although the quantities are not large the presence of this resource has created something of a mini gold rush, and it is fascinating to watch the traditional methods used here.

Day 5 - Boya Villages – Lotuko Village - Torit

Return west in the direction of Juba. At the roadside settlement of Camp 15 we veer off into the bush to explore the villages of the Boya people, located amongst rocky hills. After spending time here we continue to the territory of the Lotuko people, visiting one of their villages before continuing to Torit for the night. Overnight Hotel Torit or similar. (BLD)

Boya people

The Boya live east of the town of Torit, centred around a small and rather ramshackle settlement with the unpoetic name of Camp 15. Living in pretty villages in the shadow of mountains and gigantic boulders, the Boya paint their houses in attractive patterns and adorn themselves with intricate beadwork. Although scarification is practised here, interestingly it is more prevalent among the younger women rather than the older ones, and the local explanation is that they are copying a ‘trend’ from the Toposa, one of their near neighbours.

Traditional mourning dress for Boya women involves wearing animal skins around the waist and binding the legs and arms with thin leaves to make a striped pattern – when a husband dies a Boya woman becomes the property and responsibility of his closest male relative. The Boya are also hunters and it is not uncommon to see groups of children practising their skills with a bow and arrow on the outskirts of villages.

Lotuko people

The Lotuko are the main ethnic group living around Torit, the capital of Eastern Equatoria State. Although less traditional than some other groups, many of the Lotuko live in villages nestled in the hills and hidden among the rocks, which they moved to in order to escape the predations of the civil war. Many of the houses are perched upon raised terraces made of stones, and the general construction and location of the villages make them difficult to see from afar.

In days gone by the Lotuko were led by a ‘rain-maker’ who was the spiritual head of a number of different villages, and it was his job to intercede with the spirits in order to guarantee rain and ensure a profitable harvest. In some villages, it is still possible to find the traditional stone enclosures that served as a meeting point for the men, where problems and issues relating to communal life would be discussed.

Around 100,000 in number, the Lotuko have in many ways embraced modernity to a greater extent than other groups, but the attraction of visiting is to wander around their picturesque settlements, different from the villages of the Boya or Toposa and showing a different perspective of life here in South Sudan.

Day 6 - Mundari Villages

A long day’s drive to Terakeka, a centre of the Mundari people. From here we drive into the countryside to meet the Mundari, a traditional ethnic group known for their facial scarring and traditional rituals. We hope to be able to see one of the regular wrestling ceremonies that take place between the different villages. Overnight camping. (BLD)

Mundari people

The Mundari live to the north of Juba, centred around the small settlement of Terekeka. Deriving a living from herding and agriculture they live in small villages and follow a largely traditional lifestyle. Custom dictates that young men and women are marked with a series of parallel V-shaped scars on their forehead – this tradition is now officially discouraged by the government and is starting to die out but most over the age of around 25 will sport these markings.

The Mundari are locally famed wrestlers, and on certain days of the week, young men from neighbouring villages will gather to compete against each other in traditional shows of strength. These are quite a spectacle as the men daub themselves with mud and etch patterns into their bodies, each trying to throw and hold the other to the ground. Watching the surrounding crowd is just as interesting as they cheer and sing songs for their respective teams. This is a chance to see a side of Africa that may not exist for much longer.

Day 7 - Mundari villages

A full day spent with the Mundari, exploring their fascinating culture and customs. Overnight camping. (BLD)


Day 8 - Juba

After a final morning with the Mundari, return to Juba for the final night of the tour. Overnight Hotel Royal Palace or similar. (BL)


Day 9 - Juba

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)


Please note this is a pioneering trip travelling to remote regions, which rarely, if ever, see tourists. Infrastructure for much of the trip will be non-existent and a great degree of flexibility is needed to deal with any local conditions which may present themselves.

Africa's Forgotten World
Africa's Forgotten World
Africa's Forgotten World

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases, you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example, if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most travellers will require a visa to enter South Sudan, which is hampered by the fact that as a new country there are very few embassies. However, they can be obtained in both London and Washington. You will usually need a visa invitation or proof of hotel reservation, which we can provide. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy, or us, for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Please note that a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required for entry to South Sudan and you must bring this with you.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in South Sudan is the South Sudanese pound, which you will not be able to obtain at home. You will need to bring US dollars for exchange purposes. You should bring clean and unmarked notes that have been issued after 2009, otherwise it is almost impossible to exchange them.

The only real place to change money is Juba, and your guide can assist with this.

Credit cards are virtually useless in South Sudan and so you should bring cash.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

South Sudan is one of the more challenging destinations that we offer, and we do not recommend this trip unless you are accustomed to travel in Africa. There is almost no tourist industry to speak of and therefore people are very unaccustomed to western visitors, and what they may expect in terms of service. The local authorities are likely to be rather confused by your presence and so often your tour leader will need to explain your presence to them – in addition to this they may all interpret rules and regulations differently and so what is permissible in one place may not be in another.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO advises against travel to all parts of South Sudan due to the recent conflict there.

This tour avoids the key affected areas of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states, staying in Central and Eastern Equatoria states. We take the safety of our travellers extremely seriously and obtain regular updates about the situation in South Sudan from our local team based in Juba.

Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns. We have visited the country ourselves, work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in these parts of South Sudan.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Updated May 2019

Africa's Forgotten World
Africa's Forgotten World
Africa's Forgotten World
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
25 January 2020
Price (PP) -
£4,399
Single Supplement -
N/A
Trip Status -
Full
Date -
23 January 2021
Price (PP) -
£4,399
Single Supplement -
N/A
Trip Status -
Available