Bi'r Tawīl is one of only two places outside Antarctica that is officially terra nullius, neither belonging to nor claimed by any country. It lies between Egypt and Sudan in a trapezoid shape and has no permanent residents.
Sudan and Egypt have been in a wider border dispute for over 50 years around the Hala'ib Triangle, and base their claims on historical maps that show Bi'r Tawīl as belonging to the other country.
The Bi'r Tawīl Triangle is terra nullius—territory claimed by no country. Any attempt to assert sovereignty by either Sudan or Egypt over Bi'r Tawīl would undermine their position in the main border dispute on the Hala'ib Triangle—this 2060 km² of landlocked desert therefore remains unclaimed by any recognized country. However, the Ababda tribe of Egypt indeed sees the territory as theirs.
There have been attempts by several people to establish a country in this area, but given the remoteness and inhospitable environment, there are no permanent residents. There are those coming to search for minerals, and things might become heated if larger deposits are discovered here.
Travellers must be completely self-sufficient for transportation, food, water and accommodation. There are no shops or services here.
In the late 19th century, Egypt and Sudan were nominally part of Turkey's Ottoman Empire, but in practice were puppet states of Britain. In 1899 the boundary between Egypt and Sudan was defined as 22° N, but in 1902 a different "administrative" boundary was drawn by the United Kingdom to reflect traditional land use by the local tribes. So the Beja tribe of Sudan was awarded lands north of 22° N, the larger triangle, while the Ababda tribe of Egypt was awarded lands to the south, the Bi'r Tawīl Triangle. This hardly mattered until the 1950s as both nations remained under the thumb of Britain and there was little travel. But when Sudan became independent in 1956, it claimed the Halayib Triangle i.e. the 1902 border, while Egypt (independent under Nasser) hewed to the 1899 border and held onto it. There has been sporadic political acrimony about the situation ever since but no armed conflict or terrorist activity, and western governments do not warn against visiting.
Two countries border Bi'r Tawīl; Sudan on the south and Egypt on the north. From both Egypt and Sudan, the best jumping-off points for accessing Bi'r Tawīl is the Nile River region: in Egypt, Aswan is a good jumping-off point, and in Sudan, Abu Hamad is a good jumping-off point, being on a section of the Nile River that extends to the north towards Bi'r Tawīl.
Travellers may freely enter from either country, with no special permission. Whether visiting the area can cause problems with border authorities is up to you to check. Travelling between Egypt and Sudan through the area is most probably illegal – unless you don't need to use official border crossings elsewhere, why wouldn't you need to here?
Bi'r Tawīl is far from transportation hubs and major roads, making access difficult. The nearest airport and civilization is located in Abu Simbel, Egypt, approximately 164 km (102 mi) away from Bi'r Tawīl. No major roads connect to Bi'r Tawīl, but there are tyre tracks that lead into the region, which would allow you to enter by pickup truck.
There are no official roads in Bi'r Tawīl, although there may be established routes used by locals.
There are several mountains and wadis in this area. As it is in the middle of a desert and far away from civilization you have a good chance of seeing more stars than in, perhaps, downtown New York City.
Flags are a surprisingly common sight in Bi'r Tawīl because so many people put flags on the territory to claim it for themselves.
- 1 Jabal Tawīl. A mountain in Bi'r Tawīl that stands at more than 2,000 ft (610 m).
For the most part you can do pretty much whatever you want. After all, you are under no jurisdiction and you are a long way from any civilization, although laws in other countries can potentially apply to acts committed here, especially if you accidentally cross the border into either Sudan or Egypt, which can easily happen as the border is not marked in any way.
Food must be brought in, as there are no shops, farms or villages, and edible plants and animals are few.
Likewise, make sure to bring plenty of water, as this is a desert.
You probably want to bring your own lodging, such as a tent.
A geolocator is always good to have, and so is a satellite phone in case of any emergencies, but be prepared to wait days for rescue, if anyone comes at all. The nearest villages are far away, and have few services available. Bring supplies. It is also smart to bring with you a water collector and a solar panel with a suitable power plug, as getting stranded in the desert is not good. Another thing to bring is survivalist equipment and clothes, and of course sun block.
Learn desert safety. For obvious reasons you shouldn't rely on any kind of government entity to provide you with safety or help in case of any kind of emergency.
Because of the mineral business and the conflict both between prospectors and between them and the Ababda tribe, you may end up under armed threat. As the region is lawless, don't trust people to have any constraints.
- The surrounding countries of Egypt and Sudan.
- To the northeast, the Hala'ib Triangle is claimed by both countries as part of the same territorial dispute. It's larger in area and has access to the sea.
- Liberland is the other non-Antarctic terra nullius. It's a lot easier to access in a much less challenging environment but to do so is legally riskier: while attempting to enter the area, Croatian or Serbian authorities might detain you for violating border regime.