Last January, I solo traveled in Sudan for 2,5 weeks. It turned out to be one my favorite travel destinations ever! Sudan has loads to offer for backpackers, but there is still little information available on the internet. For example, there is not much information on (solo) female travel in Sudan. So, time to share some of my own experiences and the experiences of fellow solo female traveler Anja!
What to wear as a female traveler in Sudan?
Sudan is a conservative Islamic country with a strict dress code for women. Most women wear a hijab or a type of burka. In Khartoum, you will meet ladies wearing jeans or no head scarf.
As a foreigner, I personally felt the rules were less strict. I asked several Sudanese people whether I should wear a headscarf, but they answered ‘No, we want to see your beautiful hair’ or ‘No, we know you’re not a muslim anyway’.
These are some modest clothing combinations for you to consider:
- A harem trouser with a wide shirt with long sleeves and high neck.
- A legging/jeans with a long dress with long sleeves and high neck
- A colorful scarf to brighten up your outfit and in some religious places they are handy to cover up your head.
What to pack when you travel solo in Sudan?
- If needed: tampons or sanitary pads. They are difficult to get in Sudan.
- If you rely on certain beauty products: bring them. Imported products are very expensive and you can only get them in Khartoum.
Is it safe to travel to Sudan?
Yes, it’s perfectly safe (with exception of some of the border area’s)! However, ask around and check the latest travel advice of your government.
Personal cultural experiences – solo female travel in Sudan
Lots of attention
During my time in Sudan, I often got quite bit of attention. Sometimes, a whole street of people would stare at me or shout a greeting to me (varying from ‘ni hao’, ‘salam aleikum’ or ‘welcome’. However, I’m not sure whether this was because I was a solo female traveler or simply because I was a foreigner. An exception to this was Khartoum.
‘Please have chai with us…’ The Sudanese hospitality was overwhelming. On a daily basis, I was invited for a cup of chai or a meal. People would even treat me to a bus ticket (!) and in one shop the owner refused to accept money for my bottle of water and even tried to give me extra stuff. If people noticed that I had trouble finding the correct bus or way, they would immediately help me. In some cases, I felt that traveling as solo female traveler in Sudan, even had some sort of protective effect. The Sudanese people truly took care of me.
Moving between the gender lines
I was fortunate to meet a beautiful, young Sudanese couple in the bus from Aswan to Wadi Halfa and they invited me to stay at their home. This was probably one of the best experiences of my Sudan trip. Although Sudan has rather strict men and women spheres, I was sometimes invited to sit with the men. Like the Bradt guide states: ‘Foreign women are often considered as ‘honorary men’, and may be given the option to move between these male- and female dominated spheres’. This is exactly what I encountered in their house, but also in restaurants and tea shops.
Hang out with the ladies
As a woman, I think it was more easy to make contact with Sudanese women. It was a lot of fun to meet some of the Sudanese ladies in shops or markets etc. It makes sense to stay close to them. They would often invite you to sit next to them in buses etc.
Taking public transportation and staying in hotels
In short distance buses you will meet many Sudanese women, but in the longer distance buses I was often the only female. However, in buses and taxi’s, I did not encounter any problems. Nor did I feel uncomfortable sitting next to a male passenger. However, I always tried to keep some distance just in case.
In some guesthouses and hotels, I definitely got some curious looks. In one case, the young male hotel employee came too close when he brought me to my room. He insisted on showing me the light button in the bathroom and then touched my back/bottom. I simply pushed him out of the room. So, yeah, nothing big, but just stay alert.
Going out at night
In contrast to some other places in Africa, I felt perfectly safe to go out alone in the evenings (until like 21.00). But, I guess this applies to both male and female travelers!
Interview with Anja on solo female travel in Sudan!
It’s always good to hear multiple experiences and opinions, so I asked Anja, another solo female traveler, to also share her stories. She experienced some things the same (like hospitality and safety), but other things differently (wearing a headscarf).
Question 1: Please tell us a bit more about you and your trip? E.g. Where you’re from, how old you are, which places did you visit, how did you get around and how many days did you spent in Sudan?
My name is Anja (29) from Germany. I quit my job as a psychologist in January to travel Southeast Africa for about 6 months. I started in Ethiopia and from there I went to Sudan for two weeks. Most of my time was spent in Khartoum. I did not plan it that way, but on one of my first days in Khartoum, I got an invitation from a local family to stay with them. I felt so comfortable with them (like we are family), that I ended up staying longer than intended in this city. Other than Khartoum, I did a trip to the desert and to the pyramids of Meroë, what was pretty amazing!
Question 2: What did you wear in Sudan? Any specific things to pack for fellow female travelers?
I wore my elephant pants, a lose tunic that covered my elbows and bum and a scarf. I did see another female tourist without scarf, but I think even though people might not say anything about it, it is not very respectful. Sudan is an Islamic country and everyone I talked to was very religious. For them, it must feel like disrespecting their culture/religion if you don’t accept their dress code.
Question 3: Men in Sudan are generally not used to a woman traveling alone. Was this very clear? How did the respond to this in buses or hotels?
Mostly, the men I met thought it is was very brave to do travel as a woman alone. Others said they would never allow their wife/sister/daughter to that (because they would be afraid that something might happen to them). What I really liked is that the men treated me with lots of respect. Whereas in other African countries, they call you “mzungu” all the time and say things like “I love you” or “I want to marry you” or try to get close to you, the Sudanese men did nothing like that. They talked to me friendly and respectful and never treated me like a sex object.
Question 4: In my own experience, I felt the Sudanese people (both men and women) completely looked out for me. Maybe even more, because I was a solo female traveler. Did you experience this?
The people in Sudan were most certainly the friendliest and hospitable people I have met so far in Africa. Thanks to them, I have the best memories of Sudan. They were so friendly and helpful. And very hospitable: I got invited to many homes for a cup of tea and one family even invited me to stay with them. When I did so, they treated me like a family member and made me feel so welcome at their place.
When I wanted to go somewhere in the city or book something, everyone helped me without being asked for and some people would insist on walking me to the right place to make sure I wont get lost. They just did so just because they wanted to make sure I would be ok (in some other countries they would ask start asking for money after helping you out – but not in Sudan!). I think, maybe because they do not get so many tourists and Sudan is only in the media with bad news, they wanted to make sure even more I had a good time in their country.
Question 5: Any other tips or stories you would like to share with future female travelers to Sudan?
Everyone seems shocked, when you tell you want to visit Sudan. And to be honest, at first it made me a little bit scared too. But do not worry: Khartoum is very safe (most areas even at night) and so are all the tourist places. Yes there is war in the country, but you do not experience any of this when traveling around. And the people are the most friendly people you can imagine. Just go – and you will have a wonderful time!
‘Solo female travel’ – about the terminology
I often get compliments for being brave to travel solo in e.g. Sudan or Iran. My male travel friends do not get this type of compliment. ‘Solo female travel’ has become a popular term for bloggers and journalists these days, who write articles ‘inspiring women all over the world to find the courage to travel the world’ emphasizing gender stereotypes. As you obviously noticed, I use the term ‘solo female travel’ in this article as well. There are very few solo female travelers in Sudan and some women might like to hear experiences from other women. So, I decide to use this term to discuss the risk of sexual harassment, a slightly different packing list and the odd looks you might get in male-dominated cultures. But basically, that’s it. My fellow travel blogger Sabina wrote an excellent article about this topic expressing my exact thoughts! Anyway, some extra food for thought ;)!
Other Sudan travel information: