Sudan is like no other country in Africa. It’s where the Middle East finally meets Africa and at times, made me forget where I was.
What can I say about Sudan? It came with the strongest safety warnings yet I found the Sudanese people to be the friendliest I’ve ever encountered. The more time I spent in country, the further this was compounded. Their perpetual hospitality, kindness, generosity and warm smiles made me drop my guard almost instantly and lose any worry for safety.
We were invited to stay with local families who introduced us to the entire village, fed and watered us, gave us a bed and put a party on for us. People bought us meals and paid for our tea. They didn’t charge us for jobs they had done for us, instead insisting we come to their home for breakfast as payment. Twice we got in the sand and it took only minutes before locals came to push. The kindness was everywhere and actually very hard to escape. I was truly humbled.
On this trip we followed the snaking contours of the River Nile, alongside fertile river banks littered with date palms, towering sand dunes, pyramids and eroding pyramids and ruins. However, the memory I take away is the people. I encourage every traveller to visit Sudan, if only to see what ‘over-tourism’ doesn’t look like.
On this trip we were driving a 1958 Morris Minor called Charlie and we were doing this 100% plastic free, treating all the tap water we drank. Click the links for more details:
Before you read more, check out this video I made of our time in Sudan.
Is Sudan safe? Sudan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. This isn’t the kind of accolade which falls into ones lap and when you visit, you’ll experience it yourself. To give you an example, I overpaid by accident and had money returned to me. I never felt unsafe walking around, even in major cities and felt comfortable leaving cash, passport and electronics in my room. I was travelling with a girl who echoes these statements so don’t let the media let you think otherwise.
The Sudanese people I cant actually say enough about the people, but anything I do tell you wont be enough. Human kindness is overflowing, everywhere we went people were bending over backwards for us. Inviting us into their homes, feeding us, watering us, paying for tea and meals. Driving us where we needed to go and helping us plan our trip. Introducing us to people along the way. It was truly humbling and I have only ever experienced kindness to such a level in Iran. It is an enriching experience and made me realise that people are just people all over the world. If someone invites you to share endless cups of tea, you’re in for a treat.
Sudan is very conservative and you should act accordingly. We wore the token white galabayas with trousers underneath. Avoid shorts and showing too much skin in general, don’t take pictures without asking first, and expect to be asked if you are married all the time. I travelled with a friend who is a girl, and we were forever explaining ourselves.
Language The language is Arabic but I found English is spoken a bit, mainly by older people. It is worth getting yourself an Arabic book and learning basic greetings and numbers. If you meet someone who speaks English, ask them to translate a few useful sentences so you can make as much effort, as the locals will with you.
Visa and registration I got my visa In London prior to arrival, however you can also get it in Ethiopia or Egypt. It was a painless process although I did require an invitation letter which the hotel in Khartoum provided for us. Once you arrive into Sudan, you have three days before you must register with the Police. This can be done only at the entry ports, including Khartoum, Wadi Halfa, Port Sudan and Sawakin!
Fixers If you need a fixer in Sudan to help out around the Egypt/Sudan border (he is based in Wadi Half), the guy was a wizard when we passed through. His name is Mazar and he can be contacted on +249 12 238 0740. If you need one in Egypt, Kamal is your man (based in Aswan) and reached on +20 110 050 4841. As we had the car, Kamal helped sort all the legal documents and Mazar made the border process easy, changed our money and registered us with the police. In Egypt the cost is US$50, in Sudan the cost is around US$30. If you’re driving, these two guys are invaluable.
Changing money The official bank rate is about half the black market rate, DO NOT change at the banks. From my experience, you would have to be severely unlucky to be cheated on the black market. It was 40SDG to the USD in June 2018. If in doubt, ask your hotel reception to send someone with you and make sure you tip them (they won’t take it though).
Staying connected The internet is not great with patches of average service to keep you trying. Buy an MTN SIM card (5SDG) so you can take make contacts and stay connected. You’ll need to take your passport. I loaded up US$8 credit on and it just seemed to keep going. Plan ahead and know the name and phone number of your hotel, so when the internet stops you wont get caught out.
When to visit Sudan We visited in July which happens to be the hottest time of the year, in one of the hottest countries in the world. In total we saw four tourists and had the hotel to ourselves on several occasions. The truth is, July is very hot and I wouldn’t travel this month again, but I would visit Sudan again. November to February is an opportune time to travel.
Food of Sudan The food was a mixed bag for me. The grilled meat, mainly chicken, is delicious and I couldn’t get enough of it. The foul, which is a type of black bean soup is disgusting and I couldn’t eat it. Every meal comes with lots of bread and the tea is full of sugar. You’ll find lots of fresh water fish near from the Nile, eggs, and naturally lots of flies. There is so much fresh fruit and the mango juices are amazing. I wasn’t in love with the food but that didn’t stop me trying.
This is what we got served for breakfast when invited to a local families house.AMAZING!
Raising your glass You may raise your glass but it wont be one filled with alcohol. It is illegal and if you get caught bringing any in (they search bags), you’ll be in hot water. You can find it if you meet the right people but the risk of bringing it in outweighs the rewards. We enjoyed whiskey made from dates which is very strong, but apart from that we just made do without.
Transportation We were driving a 1958 Morris Minor called Charlie so we had out own transport. From what I understand, public buses are decent, leave once full, relatively cheap and roads are good. Hitchhiking is also safe and easy, mainly due to the face there is one main road and the Sudanese people are amazing.
General costs in Sudan Cash machines are scarce and should not be relied upon, therefore you need to bring enough USD to last you. I brought US$1000 to be safe, and would have brought back US$770 if we hadn’t upgraded hotels in Khartoum. Everything is cheap enough and at times, you’ll struggle to get Sudanese people to take your money. On average, we spent roughly US$18-20 per day.
Hotel My own hotel room cost between 200SDG and 400SDG. They aren’t overly clean in general although bedding was. Showers were a mixed bag and it pays to have your own towel, toilet paper and soap. I used my travel shirt as a towel for most of the trip if I’m being honest.
Bottled water No idea, we drank tap water and treated it with a Steripen. We saved over 140 plastic bottle being left behind in land fill. Single Use Plastic Free Travel – Could You Do It?
Sudan Itinerary and where to lay your head I was in Sudan a little longer than two weeks, entering from Egypt and ending my trip in Khartoum. From what I’ve read, the majority of the more interesting sites are located between these two points and, if you manage your time, you can easily visit these places in just two weeks.
Keep in mind we had the car so we could go and arrive (in theory) when we wanted. From what I’ve read and meeting other travellers, it is easy and cheap enough to get around my public transport and hitching. Failing that, pay a local driver and enjoy the chauffeur experience.
- Wadi Halfa – Nubian Hotel
- Abri and the Nubian villages – try meet a local in town or on the boat going over, failing that take a tent and cooking equipment or snacks
- Kerma – Nile Hotel
- Dongola – I don’t recommend where we stayed, there was no name so can’t advise you against it
- Karima – Ahmed Mousa Homestay
- Omdurman – Marfa Hotel
- Khartoum – Acropole Hotel
Wadi Halfa If you come from Egypt, Wadi Halfa will be your first point of contact with Sudanese society. This small town doesn’t have much, if anything, for international travellers but it’s a good place to buy a galabaya if you fancy one. Exchange your money here, buy a SIM card and chill. If you don’t come from Egypt, you don’t need to stop here. There are an endless array of basic hotels, mainly targeting local people, but I can recommend the Nubian Hotel. We paid 200SDG and they have air-con which is sure to cut out a number of times.
Abri The Nubians, one of the most ancient civilisations in Africa, are an ethnic group which originated in present day Egypt and Sudan. The Nubians have a long history that dates back to pharaonic times. Abri is the main town and a good base for exploring the villages unless you meet someone and stay with them in their family. Visiting those villages was the highlight of my trip to Sudan, not only because of people’s kindness but also, because of the beautiful green fields flourishing in the middle of the desert, thanks to The Nile.
We were lucky enough to meet Mohamed who invited us to stay with him and his extended family on Sai Island. It was the highlight of my trip and our first real lesson in Sudanese hospitality. Sai Island is almost deserted as people have left to go to the towns and cities for work. It has a spooky feel to it. He fed and watered us, gave us a place to wash up, took us on a tour of the village and boat ride, and introduced us to the village folk. Failing that, the best place to stay is in Abri proper in a place named Megzoub Guest House. You can contact Megzoub by calling any of his phone numbers: +249122886586 and +249911220984.
Kerma We only stayed one night in Kerma but we wish it had been two, the town is really relaxing and beautiful. Kerma was the capital city of the Kerma Culture, which was located in present-day Sudan at least 5500 years ago. Kerma is one of the largest archaeological sites in ancient Nubia. Visit the site of Deffufa first (you may need to ask for directions), followed by the museum and then overnight in Nile Hotel. It is basic but the two owners (brothers) are super nice men, with the hotel just across from the river. With the second day, you can take the ferry over to the island and walk around, or simply sit by The Nile and watch the world go by in slow motion.
Dongola Dongola is a city without much to offer travellers. We stayed there one night and apart from a delicious chicken dinner, had no redeeming qualities about it. The hotel we stayed in was so grand from the outside (no name sorry) but was held together like Faulty Towers, so dirty and no mattresses. Apparently, a decent hotel is called Alnuallem.
Karima Karima is one of the more famous tourist spots in Sudan and where you are likely to meet other travellers. Unless of course you travel peak summer, as we did, and then you’ll have the entire place to yourself. Karima is a beautiful area which is famous for being home to three of the most important archaeological sites in Sudan, containing a large number of Nubian pyramids, some in excellent condition. We had the pyramids to ourselves and we drove up and parked right in front of them.
- Jebel Barkal: The best-preserved group of pyramids with a beautiful desert backdrop
- Nuri: The pyramids are not in a good condition but that is half the appeal
- Al-Kurru: The site is worth visiting but in a bad condition as the locals took the bricks to build their own houses
The tea is super sweet, but always a great chance to meet the locals, and sometimes we laughed at by the locals.
Meroë This is the only proper tourist place in Sudan so there should be other people, unless of course it is the middle of summer. We stayed in a hotel I cannot remember the name of but it is in the desert and about 200 meters away from the pyramids from the Italian luxury tented camp. They were doing some building work so we stayed here for cheap. You can also take a tour from Khartoum if you run short of time.
The royal cemetery of Meroë is composed of 100 narrow pyramids spread across a vast desert of orange sand dunes. Most of them are quite well-preserved. Make sure your camera is changed and be sure to walk off into the distance, turn around for a view of the entire complex.
Omdurman Located very close to the capital is the city of Omdurman. The reason you would stay here (although I quite liked the city) is for the following:
Sufi dancing – Sufism is the mystical or spiritual branch of Islam whose faith is built on revelation, not logic. This psychedelic dancing takes place on Friday afternoons inside Hamid El-Nil Mosque.
The camel market – Aim to arrive at about 10:00 to see one of the largest markets for camels, goats, sheep, but mainly camels. It’s worth the trip but if you’ve seen something similar before, you could probably give it a miss.
Khartoum The land of hot water, showers that work, rooms with soap, towels and toilet paper. Given the small amount of money we had spent, we upgraded ourselves to the Acropole Hotel.
Khartoum is a city that is great to rest in and eat food which isn’t foul or roast chicken. I had pizza and loved every second of it. There is not a lot to do except visiting the confluence of both the Blue and White Niles, although the markets and souls are fun to just wander around. Views from the top of the Corinthia Hotel are beautiful and you can also enjoy an overpriced juice. If you stay in the Acropole Hotel, there is a free city tour every Friday, failing that you can always pay to join it if you’re staying some place else.
Sudan surpassed all my expectations and a place I dream of returning to visit. If you’re reading this and have any specific questions, let me know. The country is awesome, you won’t be disappointed.