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Sudan is said to have more pyramids than Egypt. Photo from Corinthia Hotel Khartoum.

Sudan is said to have more pyramids than Egypt. Photo from Corinthia Hotel Khartoum.

The other day I received a press release promoting what sounded like a wonderful five-star hotel in an exotic location, said to be the finest accommodation in its city.

Along with various five-star amenities such as a state-of-the-art spa and gym, six restaurants including one with panoramic views, tennis courts, and indoor pool, it promised to serve as a base for tourists exploring UNESCO World Heritage sites, taking river cruises, visiting museums, and marveling at spectacular evening performances.

The only potential downside? The name says it all: it’s the Corinthia Hotel Khartoum, serving the capital of Sudan, a nation wracked by terrorist violence and crime in recent years, including reported attacks against Westerners in Khartoum itself.

The U.S. State Department doesn’t mince words: if you plan to travel to Sudan, the department warns in an extraordinary advisory, “Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries…Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, and etcetera…(and) Leave DNA samples with your medical provider in case it is necessary for your family to access them,” among other dramatic suggestions.

A Traveler’s Dilemma

So I’m torn.

On the one hand: five-star hotel in an exotic location I’ve never visited, complete with archaeological and historical gems and Nile cruises. Sounds great!

On the other: the specter of terrorist violence and kidnappings, necessitating leaving a DNA sample with my doctor before departure, just in case of…well, it’s gotta be something bad.

What’s a travel lover to do?

Maybe you’ve been similarly torn in trying to decide whether or not to visit a particular location — even if not as striking as the contrast between the Corinthia Hotel Khartoum press release vs. the U.S. State Department advisory.

Have you wavered in traveling to Mexico, for instance, in fear of drug cartels? Does past drug-related violence in Colombia make you reluctant to visit that South American country? Does fear of terrorism keep you from touring the Middle East?

I’d be very interested in hearing your reactions to these two very different views of traveling to the Sudan. To be fair to each view, I’m reprinting both in their entirety:

Corinthia Hotel Khartoum, Situated at the Confluence of the Blue and White Nile Rivers, Lures the Untapped Tourist Market on its 10th Birthday

“(Khartoum, Sudan, June 22, 2018) Visits to the untapped tourist market of Sudan and its capital, Khartoum, have just become more attractive as the capital city’s premier hotel, Corinthia Hotel Khartoum, is offering a 10% saving on accommodation to help celebrate the hotel’s tenth birthday this year.

View of the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers in Khartoum. Photo from Corinthia Hotel Khartoum.

View of the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers in Khartoum. Photo from Corinthia Hotel Khartoum.

Officially opened on August 17, 2008, the steel and glass Corinthia Khartoum is designed to resemble a ship’s sail, while its central location overlooks the confluence of the iconic Blue and White Nile Rivers. It has six world-class restaurants and cafes including the city’s highest eatery, the 18th floor Rickshaw Restaurant.

Tourists take popular Nile river cruises and marvel at the Friday evening spectacle of the Whirling Dervishes at dusk in the Omdurman district of the city. The Ethnographic Museum and Archaeological Museum are other city diversions.

Khartoum is the ideal base from which to explore the Nubian desert to the north as this is where many of the UNESCO World Heritage sites are located. These include the Royal Necropolis at Meroe, where temples and over 200 pyramids form the resting place of the powerful Nubian Pharaohs who once ruled Egypt.

Tourism to Sudan is growing slowly, partly as an alternative to Egypt or as a ‘must-see’ once Egypt has been explored. Sudan’s archaeological sites rival Egypt’s and reflect Ancient Nubia’s influence throughout Eastern Africa over thousands of years. Sudan boasts more pyramids than its northern neighbor and tourists do not have to queue up to view them.

The tenth anniversary package includes accommodation in a room or suite, breakfast, complimentary wifi, access to the gym, pool and extensive leisure facilities including those inside the Sabratha Spa & Fitness Center

About Corinthia Hotel Khartoum

Situated at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers and in the center of the city’s commercial district, Corinthia Hotel Khartoum is a gateway to Central Africa.

The hotel, designed to resemble a ship’s sail, features 230 rooms, including 57 suites; extensive and multi-purpose events facilities; and well-equipped spa.

The spa includes the traditional Turkish bath – hammam – saunas, Jacuzzi, steam rooms, massage, hairdressers and various pampering treatments such as body massage, facial, body scrub with steam and more.

There is also a large and fully equipped state-of-the-art gym, squash courts, tennis courts, and indoor swimming pool.

The hotel has the shape of a sail, paying homage to Nile river boats. Photo from Corinthia Hotel Khartoum.

The hotel has the shape of a sail, paying homage to Nile river boats. Photo from Corinthia Hotel Khartoum.

The hotel also offers a choice of six world-class restaurants and cafés. Boasting the city’s highest eatery, the 18th floor Rickshaw Restaurant, and benefiting from unrivaled comfort and service in the city, as well as state-of-the-art technology, Corinthia Khartoum is the ultimate destination for business and leisure travelers.

Opened in 2008, the Corinthia Khartoum has been created with a passion for craftsmanship and an understanding of world-class service. Corinthia Khartoum is a member of Corinthia Hotels’ collection of five-star hotels, founded by the Pisani family of Malta.

For more information, visit corinthia.com/khartoum or visit Facebook Corinthia Hotel Khartoum​​​”

The Other Side of the Equation

Now, from a U.S. State Department travel advisory dated January 10, 2018, here are the recommendations of what to do before traveling to Sudan. Keep in mind that this is for a “Level 3” (Orange) advisory —  “Reconsider Travel” — and not even for a Level 4 red alert, “Do Not Travel.”

“If you decide to travel to Sudan:

  • Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas.
  • Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney.
  • Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, and etcetera.
  • Share important documents, login information, and points of contact with loved ones so that they can manage your affairs if you are unable to return as planned to the United States. Find a suggested list of such documents here.
  • Be sure to appoint one family member to serve as the point of contact with hostage-takers, media, U.S. and host country government agencies, and Members of Congress, if you are taken hostage or detained.
  • Establish a proof of life protocol with your loved ones, so that if you are taken hostage, your loved ones can know specific questions and answers to ask the hostage-takers to be sure that you are alive and to rule out a hoax.
  • Leave DNA samples with your medical provider in case it is necessary for your family to access them.
  • Erase any sensitive photos, comments, or other materials from your social media pages, cameras, laptops, and other electronic devices that could be considered controversial or provocative by local groups.
  • Leave your expensive/sentimental belongings behind.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Review the Crime and Safety Report for Sudan.
  • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations.  Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

Reconsider travel to Sudan due to terrorism and civil unrest. Some areas have increased risk. Please read the entire Travel Advisory.

Do not travel to:

  • The Darfur region, Blue Nile state, and Southern Kordofan state due to crime and armed conflict.

Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Sudan, especially in Khartoum. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting foreign and local government facilities, and areas frequented by Westerners. Terrorists groups in Sudan have stated their intent to harm Westerners and Western interests through suicide operations, bombings, shootings, and kidnappings.

There is a state of emergency in place, which gives security forces greater arrest powers. Arbitrary detentions, including of foreigners, have been reported across the country. Curfews may be imposed with little or no warning.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Sudan, as U.S. government employees must obtain special authorization from the Sudanese government to travel outside of Khartoum. The U.S. Embassy requires U.S. government personnel in Sudan to use armored vehicles for official travel. Family members under 21 years of age cannot accompany U.S. government employees who work in Sudan.

Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.”

Now, readers, what do you think? Would a U.S. State Department warning like the above keep you from traveling to a destination on your bucket list? (maybe that’s a poor choice of terms in this case.)

Not necessarily the Sudan, but a place you’ve always wanted to go?

And would you draft a will, leave instructions with loved ones for funeral wishes, and leave DNA samples in case they’re needed?

Please leave your answers in the comments section below — and, if you find this an intriguing question, please share this post on social media.. Thanks!

 

24 Responses to Which View of Travel Safety Wins Your Vote?

  • Great post, Clark, thank you. I would go to Khartoum if I were invited, had friends or contacts there. Too much knowledge can be a tricky thing.

    I just went to Mexico twice in the past few months (Tulum, and Todos Santos in Baja) and enjoyed both trips, although it is sad to see how much Cabo San Lucas has become more like Cancun than ever.

    Seeing lots of crime/terrorism posts always give me pause, but if it would never deter me from visiting Los Angeles, New York, Paris, or London, why should it automatically deter me from Khartoum or Cairo or Johannesburg or Moscow? Of course, being told to leave some DNA behind in the states is the stuff of nightmare, or at least, Forensic Files.

    • Thanks for writing, James. I agree with you on all points! The State Dep’t advisory seems way over the top to me, but I’ll be interested to hear what other readers think.

    • The State Dept. warnings are definitely over the top and seem, at least partially, to be inspired by a political agenda.
      My wife and I have been to some sketchy areas in Mexico and the Caribbean with little apprehension. Then again we always visit in daylight. It’s a world of difference at night, at least in our minds. I’d also say that the threat of random terrorism doesn’t spook us simply because it’s random. We live ten miles from the Capitol and White House, and while those targets may be effectively protected the rest of the surrounding area is not. Essentially we live every day with the chance a suicide bomber will pick our neighborhood. But no big city in the world is safe from terrorism so you can’t take that into account when you travel. On the other hand, if I’m told gangs of armed robbers are waiting on street corners and in alleys I’m not going to book a vacation in your town.
      As for the political agenda at the State Dept., not really hard to figure out. 🙂

  • I think about this a lot and decide case by case.
    I grew up just north of New York City and had British friends who were afraid to visit the city because the police carry guns. That was funny to me.
    Yet, when I tell people about visiting Egypt I always describe how men with guns guard streets into their neighborhoods.
    People often won’t travel to places where they fear they will be harmed by terrorists.
    I live in D.C. and when 9/11 terrorists bombed the Pentagon, I could see the smoke rising while standing at my bus stop. Do I consider D.C. a dangerous place? I do not.
    It’s hard to predict where any of us will be in danger at any specific time or in any specific place. That said, I do worry about safety in places that aren’t familiar to me. Before traveling, I try to check on the level of danger, whether via the State Dept website or other places. And warnings definitely make me think twice. It doesn’t necessarily mean I would never go to a place. I might wait if I thought things would calm down or be different somehow at a later date.
    After reading that State Dept. warning you provided Clark, I would probably not visit Khartoum or any other place with that kind of warning unless I could figure out if the danger is in particular places or against particular people (Americans?) or if I knew someone familiar with the place who could give me the lowdown on how to travel safely.
    That Corinthia Hotel probably has a lot of security. And tourists could have a fine time visiting the sights in Khartoum and make it home just fine. But the warnings definitely tarnish the appeal for me.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Ellen. The State Department warnings on the Sudan are so stark that they almost read like a parody, so they would likely give just about anyone pause. But your comments on NYC and DC also put things into perspective — when and where are any of us truly “safe?”

  • No way. Chinese Gordon went to Khartoum, and look what happened to him. On the other hand (and somewhat less facetiously), I should report that two people near and dear to me flew off to boring old Hawaii last winter only to have their trip bracketed by (1) notice of an incipient nuclear attack and (2) a scary-looking volcano eruption. So I’m thinking I’ll just stay in Maine and dodge the occasional tornado.

    • While it’s true that things didn’t work out so well for Gordon, keep in mind that he didn’t have access to the comforts of the Corinthian Hotel Khartoum. As for Hawaii vs. Maine, I’ll take both, natural (or unnatural) disasters notwithstanding. Thanks for writing, Bob!

  • These are my suggestions for any person of color planning a trip to a town, city or state in which a clear majority voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Elections:

    “Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries…Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, and etc…(and) Leave DNA samples with your medical provider in case it is necessary for your family to access them.”

  • An incisive reminder that those of us in the U.S. have our own “Khartoums” — thanks, Frank.

  • Our own Khartoums surely must include Detroit for many who live in the city’s suburbs. Reputedly there are suburbanites who have never been into the city and are certain they would be the victims of a drive-by if they did. That’s changed considerably lately but in the old days I routinely walked around the city carrying expensive camera equipment without any incidents. In Khartoum I’d try to be much less conspicuous and stick close to a local guide aware of any potential dangers. Having nearly been mugged once in the Paris subway I believe you’re only safe anywhere when you take precautions.

  • Clark, thanks, I guess, for creating a dilemma where, for me, none had existed. I simply hadn’t been thinking about travel to Khartoum any time soon. But your blog opened my mind to the possibility. I have traveled to many places that were described as risky. If I found the risk acceptable to visit Kabul, I would be inconsistent if I ruled out Khartoum on safety grounds. Yes, I do take into account information from the State Department before making a travel decision. But I have been of the mind that the probabilities of being in the exact spot at the exact time of a terrorist attack are in my favor. That shouldn’t be a license for recklessness. So I will—cautiously—keep my mind open about Khartoum.

    • Always glad to add to your travel dilemmas, Steve. I admit Khartoum wasn’t high on my list a few days ago, but now I’m intrigued. And thanks for subscribing!

  • When I lived on City Island in the Bronx a while ago, my 60ish next door neighbor, who had lived there all her life, had never been into Manhattan — although it was clearly visible from the end of our block. So I’m sure the Detroit tales are accurate. Thanks for writing, Dennis!

  • Clark, It”s hard to trust much of anything the current administration promotes but I would consider the info. We wouldn’t go, but it’s more due to our traveling abroad being limited now. There are still many travel options to experience. We’ve been known to have a good time in Tucson – even being so close to THE BORDER. If we don’t make it abroad, I’ll just try and get out the vote. There’s more than just climate change happening that affects traveling anywhere.
    #####

  • Great post on an important topic Clark. I expect the State Department errs on the side of caution, given they would likely be criticized after the fact should a U.S. citizen be kidnapped or killed. When I worked at IBM we tended to follow the State Department recommendations, but ignored them in certain circumstances (back when Myanmar was Burma, we used to have one brave employee deliver computer punch cards to Myanmar – they were the last organization still using them). Of course there is a line to be drawn between work (including travel writing as a profession) and traveling for personal pleasure. If I were still a reporter, I would accept an assignment to Yemen, South Sudan, etc. But I would not go as a tourist. I also use my Canadian passport when traveling abroad and use my U.S. passport only when entering the U.S. That way I get to pay a ransom in devalued Canadian dollars!

  • I agree, Janet, you can’t separate travel from the political climate. And thanks for the Tucson plug! Safe travels wherever you go.

  • Thanks for the perspective from our northern neighbor, Robert — let’s hope you don’t have to play ransom in either currency, but you’re exhibiting some of that good old Canadian practicality. Good point about the State Department’s CYA approach.

  • What’s especially offensive in that State Dept directive is its smarmy sarcasm. It’s written in the same spirit as Trump’s characterization of immigrant homelands as “shithole countries.”

  • A friend of mine at the office went to Khartoum and visited what he said locals described as “the egg” – that Corinthia Hotel you write about. He said it was opulent and empty. This was at least a year ago though.
    He and his brother wouldn’t eat lunch there because they’re much more into local experience experiences, not visiting havens for moneyed tourists. They enjoyed the pyramids in the area and wanted to go to the Congo during that trip too, but could not – I can’t remember why.
    So an air-conditioned 5-star hotel was simply not up their alley. But they did enjoy Sudan and had no problems.
    One thing that has not been discussed here is whether it’s more or less dangerous to travel to these countries if you’re female.

    • Fascinating, Ellen! I’m not that much of a five-star hotel guy myself, truth be told. But somehow juxtaposed against the backdrop of Khartoum, it seems weird enough to work. Maybe not, though, if it was empty. I’m guessing it would be more difficult for solo female travelers, but the State Department doesn’t get into that. Maybe you can tackle that at Boldly Go Solo.

    • Clark,

      The powers that be in Sudan must be reading your blog. Check out the response to the State Department warning: http://sudantribune.com/spip.php?article65781
      You’ve hit the big time…
      Also, Clark, I plugged your post on my latest blog post on traveling with “faffers, whingers and waverers.” http://bit.ly/2KKmFfU

  • Thanks for pointing this out, Ellen. The Sudanese don’t think the travel warning is fair. Just like many Americans might not like it that China has warned its citizens about traveling to the U.S. due to gun violence — yet that seems as reasonable to me as the State Department warning about Sudan, especially since things have settled down there of late.

    And thanks for the plug in your blog — though it does seem to be implying that I would be a less than desirable travel companion (at least in this instance).

    • Clark, you would be a fine travel companion … for those who choose not to go solo. Especially if the trip were your treat.

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