Kassala is located in the East of Sudan, some 600 km from Khartoum practically on the border with Eritrea. It used to be one of the touristic highlights of Sudan, and is still quite popular with Sudanese newlyweds who come here to honeymoon.
The cool climate and the stunning scenery are the main attractions. The city is split in two by the Gash River.A wide expanse of dry sand for most of the year, during the rainy season it fills quickly and has caused devastating floods on many occasions.
The city of Kassala itself is made up of low houses organized by a rectangular street map. Spread around the whole city of some 150,000 people, are tens of thousands of trees. The market of Kassala is great, selling mangoes, grapefruits and guavas from the fruit orchards all around the city. And the local handicrafts have a most distinct style, and are generally of good quality.
Kassala is known for its mix of tribes, among them the Beja (Beni Amir, Haddendawa and Halanga). Beja men are very noticeable around town, wearing waistcoats over their robes with long swords worn over their shoulders. On the outskirts of the city live the Rashaida tribe, mostly inhabiting goatskin tents. They are a nomadic people who breed camels and goats, and are closely related to the Saudi Arabian Bedouin, having migrated from the Arabian Peninsula about 150 years ago. It is the mysteriously-veiled Rashaida women who make a great deal of the silver jewellery sold in the Kassala souq.
There are also many Hausa and Felati (Fulani), especially in an area called Gharb el-Gash. Originating from West Africa, the story goes that they made the pilgrimage to Mecca, running out of money on their way home and settling in Kassala.
Overshadowing the city are the famous ‘sugar-loaf’ mountains of Aweitila, Totil and Taka (after which the city’s football team is named). At the foot of the mountains is the well of Totil, and as the locals claim, if you drink from it, you will return to Kassala one day. The surrounding cafes on the lower slopes of Jebel Totil are very popular at sunset, and famous for serving the best coffee in Sudan. The village below, Khatmiya, is the oldest part of Kassala, containing the mosque and tomb of Sayid Hassan and many old-style houses.
Kassala is a pretty easygoing place, and for Sudanese standards it has excellent tourist facilities. However, visiting Kassala can sometimes be difficult due to the nearby conflict along the border with Eritrea. A special permit from the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs in khartoum is needed, otherwise travellers will be turned away at the entrance to the city.