South Sudan - How is the newest country?

Seen from AFEX Camp

I followed the news every other day since they signed the peace agreement and was thinking it would be a convenient time to go visiting there now as the country is now in peace. Expecting that the peace probably won't last forever and when the fighting starts again it will be worse. So maybe better visit now than later.

It’s the first time since the beginning of South Sudan that they are in peace now. The country is the newest on the planet as it was created only a few years ago in 2011, but it hadn’t enjoyed much of peaceful country-beeing. Only a short time after independence from Sudan everybody in South Sudan wanted to be the country leader, but only one became president. In an African country, this can become a horrible issue very quick and so it was in South Sudan when the president Kiir and rebel leader Machar started fighting each other the bad way. It ended up in a large scale civil war with a few agreements over the years to attempt peace, but it never happened – until late 2018, when the two rivals decided to make peace.

How to get the South Sudan Visa?

Difficult to get a South Sudan VisaEven though not many airlines fly to South Sudan, physically getting here was not that difficult, but to get the visa was a mess. It started with applying for the visa back home.

Because I wasn’t able to get an invitation letter (LOI) from South Sudan as there are no tourist agencies in operation these days, I had many calls with the embassy regarding documents to submit and had to go for an interview with the ambassador. It was half a year ago when I went they told me to come to the embassy for the interview, but at the meeting back in December, the ambassador didn’t show up. They told me to arrange and come for another appointment a few months later. Yes, no problem, it’s a pleasure to travel again 4 hours one way to come for another meeting.

A few months later I finally had another meeting for the interview, which was a very strange conversation. After the interview, I got the approval to submit all the remaining documents they asked for, which they will check and decide upon. On a Sunday evening and only a few weeks before traveling, I got the info that they will give me the visa.

April 19 - Departure from Sudan and arrival in South Sudan

This early morning I flew from Khartoum (Sudan) to South Sudan’s capital Juba. Back in Sudan, there were still massive Sudan-Uprising protests going on, which also included the closure of Airports the previous days. It was totally unclear which planes are departing and which not. As South Sudan Airspace is still under control of Sudan government, yes – Sudan controls South Sudan airspace, also the South Sudan airport in Juba experienced closures over the last few days. The big question when arriving at Khartoum airport simply was:

Soo, who, here, in Khartoum airport is going to tell me the flight is canceled?

I expected flight delays, cancellation, overbooking, everything, and was prepared when they thoroughly inspected my South Sudan visa at the check-in counter. Then everything was fine and the BADR plane departed on time. Sometimes things do go smooth.

Landing in Juba.
No skyscrapper or tall buildings, but lot of tribes and farm villages
When coming from the Airport in JubaNot many sealed roads in South SudanAlong one of the main roads through Juba

Passport registration or not?

Arriving in Juba at 9am. After leaving the plane a team of full covered medic staff was measuring the temperature of every passenger who exited the plane. It was because of the Ebola outbreak in DRC. From here on my same negative expectations rise again as I had a tourist visa but not an LOI to present – in case they wanted to see all the documents. However, the officer didn’t ask for anything else than the passport with the visa and so it ended up with two stamps. Two stamps, as one is the immigration stamp and the other is saying that the visitor has to register in the ministry of the interior within 72 hours. As I read about this registration thing beforehand I asked the South Sudan embassy back home for a letter of exemption, so that I don’t need to register as my stay was less than 72 hours. Asking and showing this to the officer and got the answer:

Look, when you don’t want to register and have the letter, its up to you to do it or not. Oke?

What an incredibly helpful answer, but as it was Good Friday and every ministry was closed, I anyway didn’t have another option than stay without registration.

Juba Map
Tourist attractions in Juba

Walking through Juba

Even after several confirmations beforehand the driver from the hotel didn’t show up at the airport and so I had to take a taxi there, but no hassle here at all to have a fair price taxi driver for the 10-minute ride.

During the first walk in the streets of Juba I was optimistic that I will have a pleasant stay, as my first attempts of taking photos were no problem, no one yelled or was upset when I used the camera. Although I sensed that it probably won't last the whole day. Its still morning and people here are still sober and are busy doing their work, so most of them didn’t even notice. But with the incoming heat and tiredness, people get more upset the more time passed into the day and that’s what I experienced slowly.

Roundabout and All Saints Cathedral.
Roundabout with a hunter on the top with bow
Juba Cathedral was busy as it was Easter weekendAll Saints CathedralReligious people in South Sudan because of years of WarGoing to fill up laterAll Saints Cathedral is one of the main churches in Juba

At the central Juba market felt I had all eyes on me while walking and I didn’t even try to attempt taking a photo. This was because after someone among many people became very upset and threatened to report me to the police. Thankfully the group of people of whom I asked for permission to take photos all gathered and calmed down the other disturbed guy. The group was talking to the upset-guy and told me to just leave, it's ok.

From here I realized its actually very bad to take photos here.

Photo situation in South Sudan

Funny it is that people here either fight to be on photos (and almost forced me to take a photo of them) or shout at me from several dozen meters to "stop".
The ones who hate cameras can get very angry and with luck, there are some people on your side or in worst they will report to the police. It's definitely easy to get arrested here in South Sudan and they have a harsh “law” regarding media and news. But that’s not surprising, cause the most media that reports about South Sudan is all negative and some parties want to keep South Sudan in a negative light. The president often pleads the international media to not always report the negative stuff about them and also sometimes to show the good sides of South Sudan. However, the line between good and bad is probably thin here.

Friendly people but they dont like being on camera here
When asked for permissionJuba Market is not big but the busiest market in South SudanScars indicate the tribe the person in South Sudan belongs toWoman cleans the street in JubaNational Stadium of South SudanCarries stuff on their heads along the main roads

Is South Sudan the unhappiest country on earth?

The country was recently rated as the unhappiest country on earth. Although, I found people here to be friendly as everywhere else too when they were treated friendly. People are very interested, come along to shake hands, are introducing me to the people standing around and they want to tell about their country and tribe. Many of them didn't want to believe that I'm a tourist who comes only for visiting:

What, tourist? Haha,, yes of course. Soo, tell me, you work for the UN or an NGO?

On the other side, they are very sensitive. Negativity and stress towards them or unfriendliness, I felt, can quickly turn them over to become heavily upset within seconds.

Juba itself is a dirty city but Juba is the only city in the whole country, there is just Juba as a city and then there are the villages, no second city. Only Juba. After the few years of the young country's history, they managed to build properly sealed roads on the few main roads, but off the main road, all is just dirt road. Police stand basically everywhere, and if they are not visible, the chance is high there are police in civil clothes around.

Woman walks with food on her head
Connects to the airportAlmost all roads in South Sudan are dirt roadsJuba is has the best streets in South Sudan

Along the White Nile

At the Nile river are some spots where its no problem to walk around. There is the so-called AFEX camp which is heavily secured compound whereas its necessary to deposit passport at the security. The area has many container apartments, mainly for NGO people but also for visitors it's possible to go to the restaurant within the compound, directly at the Nile. This is the place where the big shipwreck is lying. This is also the area where it's possible to rent a Jet Ski and drive along the river.

The shipwreck in Juba is a mysterious case
No one knows why the ship has been sunkAt the white nile people wash themselves and get their daily fishIts possible to ride Jet Ski on the White Nile

Curious locals but most of them friendly

Walking in Juba takes a long time and is hot. People look curiously when they see me walking around, I guess there are not so many white people walking around in Juba, as I noticed all the time that white people are driving around with their white NGO/UN/RedCross SUV’s.

Further south is the bridge which crosses to the village that doesn't have an official name and I called it the "across-the-bridge-village". On the way, there is the South Sudan radio station in a shiny brand new orange building. Meanwhile, now it was already afternoon and I noticed that taking photos became annoying. When people saw me lifting my camera I heard whistles or yellings from locals, so I stopped with it.

The figure on the roundabout looks like a real person
The only broadcast station in South SudanJuba has some nice hotels mainly for expats and governmentAlong the Gombura Street

Locals and police sitting at the streets in the shadows

Along the road, all the people are sitting outside their houses and in the under the trees.

They see everything, whereas I can't spot black people sitting in the shadows. Many of them have a lot of time and negative energy.

As I found out that photography is in general prohibited and also this explained a lot as well. But the last thing I wanted was becoming arrested and so have to be careful here. I pinned so many more sights but after a few times having discussions with locals about the photo I didn't risk anything anymore.

This is a crazy place for making the wrong pic.

The motorbike driver who brought me the last KM to the bridge warned me that this area is not safe and that I should be very careful, especially of the people living at the river next to the bridge. I don’t know why but indeed, after walking across the bridge I heard some people yelling, I guess they yelled at me, I didn’t turn around and continued walking. I asked another motorbike driver to bring me back to town, as I wasn’t really sure if someone who was yelling didn’t like that I was crossing the bridge without paying some “foreigner fee” to cross the bridge some yard away from his village?

Juba bridge.
Connects main Juba to the outher villages
People next to the bridge are living in the slumsBridge across the White Nile in JubaEverybody is cleaning themselves in the river

Governmental area - better to keep cameras in the pocket

On the other side of Juba is the area with more governmental stuff. The area is called "Ministries". It's obvious as a lot of trucks with soldiers are driving around. I don’t know why but I felt less secure in the area with soldiers and police, than walking in the area where the locals live.

At the monument place, the "Doctor John Garang's Memorial Park", I wanted to have a look at the statue and there were so many police standing around, so I thought I better go and asked if it is OK. I guess they felt intrigued by my question. One guy in civil clothes, which turned out to be the boss soldier, wanted to know more and put me aside, checking my passport and couldn’t understand why I want to see the statue. When I asked if I did something wrong he just laughed “No No No all good all good. So what will you do now?” I replied that I will go visit the place and the statue if he allows to.

You see it from here, so now you’ve seen it ok, or what else is your plan?

So I guess I better shut up now and pretend that I've seen the statue now from 200 meters away.

Police and soldiers are very curious here, but they had to become like this to protect themselves and their 7 years’ experience in an ugly war left a lot of distrust.

Graffity at a wall in the capital of South Sudan
Government has strict laws against photographyArtists are still seldom in South Sudan but some try to unleash their potentialDriving with the moto-taxi to the MinistriesHotels indicate that guns in Juba are not welcomePeople have poor standards for livingThe John Garang memorial park has a nice statue

April 20 - A visit to the Nile

This morning the hotel reception told me that the small island “full moon island” is open again. It has a restaurant on it. The island is located a bit north of juba along the river and it's possible to get there with the boat for 5 USD. I didn’t have many more plans today, so I wanted to give it a try. The boat is said to be departing from the Da Vinci Restaurant. It's beside the juba bridge and is a similar restaurant as the Afex camp.

Unfortunately, they told me the boat is broken these days and so no trip to the island possible. But from here is a good view onto the bridge and the river itself while having a cappuccino. There is even a security guard walking around the tables with his AK-47, checking all the time if the area along the river is clear of intruders.

AK-47 guard is protecting Da Vinci restaurant
Da Vinci restaurant has a nice terrace with view onto White Nile and Juba BridgeAt the white Nile in Juba are also Hippos and crocodilesNext to hippos and crocodiles

Until my flight, in the evening I had some time left to continue to walk the streets of Juba. There are three well-equipped supermarkets, mainly targeting NGO and expats. People in South Sudan don’t have much money and locals biggest wealth are cows. The wealth of a family in South Sudan is measured by the number of cattle that each family owns. On the way back from the supermarket with a refreshing Ice Coffee, I got stopped again by police, asking me seriously:

Do you have permission to walk this street?

I read much news about corrupt police in South Sudan. Didn’t have to pay a bribe but it's showing me a tiny little example that the war has left scars and soldiers have a lot of authority here to whatever they want.

But I hope this country will manage to keep themselves out of the war in the next few years, but probably they will not.

Rooftop restaurants with a good view

There are a few restaurants on several rooftop terraces and the view allows to have a glimpse into the area of Juba. The mountain on the background is the "Juba game reserve" but not many free-living animals are remaining there. The locals who live there used it all for food during the war.

The mountain in the background is the Juba Game reserve
Restaurant in Juba with good viewJuba is a dusty placeNimule street is the uptown areaA few buildings allow to see the town from aboveFrom above its easier to make some snapshots in JubaWhere tourists should not go to. The Juba Game reserve is dangerous.

April 21 - Departure from the new Juba Airport

On the internet, South Sudan is mentioned for having the worst international airport in the world, but forget that, that’s history now. The Juba airport has a new departure terminal and this one is comfortable and a big improvement for the country. It even has A/C, free Wifi, unbelievable but true. Also, immigration works quickly upon leaving the country.

Most people on check-in were soldiers and NGO groups probably going home for Easter vacation. On Immigration I expected the police officer on immigration will ask for my “registration within 72 hours” but instead they were all very friendly and didn’t even look properly at the passport, but instead when I replied I'm a tourist on a visit here he just laughed:

Sure, tourist..haha. Sir, thank you for your service and helping our country. You go back home for vacation? When you do you come back to South Sudan?

I was relieved when the call for boarding was announced as I heard president Kiir is leaving the country with the plane today and when that happens, all other flights will be delayed without further notice.

It was a short visit to the youngest country on earth and now the journey continues to Djibouti.

Lots of Red Cross and NGO planes in South Sudan
Leaving the country to reach DjiboutiLot of water is in the white nile, right next to Juba


  1. I first heard about Sudan myself in 2012 and had planned a trip to go there in 2013. Unfortunately, due to unexpected family complications, I had to postpone my trip. I have yet to go and with everything that has been happening since 2013, I had forgotten about this trip. I happened to be browsing your blog and spotted this article. Since I will have the time and the money, I am planning the trip now. It is not every day countries are declared and being that this is the “newest country” in the world, I want to see it for myself. Enjoyed all the pictures and information you had here as well. Furthered my desire to want to go as soon as I can.

    1. Thanks for reading. I suggest to wait a few more months or a year as I believe they will have REAL peace soon. There will be further peace agreements between Kiir and Machar. When they settled all, it surely gets a lot easier for tourism.

  2. Thanks Sven, Your insights were very helpfull

  3. Yeah, I'm not going to South Sudan so soon. I live in Brazil and honestly, I can see places like Juba's dirt clay streets in almost every single metropolis, city and town down here.

    I get how a place like South Sudan can seem an exotic place to explore by a well-paid educated civilized Eastern European like you, Sven, but crime-ridden poverty-stricken places like Juba exist all over Brazil's territory, so I don't feel the need to travel to the other side of the Atlantic to visit a country where I can be mugged by some petty criminal, assaulted by some crazy-eyed drug addict, threatened by crooked cops or raped/murdered by some demented; I just need to buy a one-way bus ticket to the outskirts of the very metropolis I live in and idly wander around the streets of the suburbs.