In Sudan, seemingly forgotten pyramids still stand in endless desert sands. The markets of Kassala and Omdurman are a fascinating melting pot of cultures and traditions. The Sudanese people are among the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world. And there is a big chance you will get an invitation for a cup of tea or a meal. In short, Sudan is worth a trip and I would like to present you my Ultimate Sudan travel guide!
Introduction to this Sudan travel guide
This winter (jan ’18) I solo backpacked eighteen days through Sudan (e.g. no tour operator and nothing was booked beforehand). Based on my experience, I wrote this extensive Sudan travel guide. Hopefully, you will find all you need to know about backpacking in Sudan. If anything is missing in this guide, please let me know!
P.s. This guide is about Sudan in Africa and not about Sudan in the USA ;) I discovered there is a town called Sudan in West Texas with 1039 inhabitants.
How to prepare for your trip to Sudan?
Let’s start with the beginning ;) Backpacking in Sudan is easy and safe, but you may want to pack and check some things before you go.
Specific things to pack for Sudan
- Gifts. In Sudan you will meet incredibly hospitable people. You may even get an invitation to someones home. Therefore, I would recommend to bring some small gifts from your home country.
- Liner or sleeping bag. Accommodation in Sudan can be very basic. Sometimes the sheets haven’t been changed for a while or there are no sheets at all.
- Your vaccination certificate with a yellow fever certificate. Although no one ever asks for it.
- (A travel guide… I had the ‘Bradt travelguide’ with me, but to be honest, most information in this guide was outdated and there was little destination information in general. However, to my knowledge this is the only travel guide available).
- Photo copies of important documents, such as your visa and your passport and bring a few portrait photographs.
- Plenty of new US dollars without creases. You won’t be able to use your creditcard in Sudan. Euro’s are more difficult to exchange.
- Modest clothing. The large majority of people in Sudan is Muslim.
- Please find my full packing list for long backpacking trips here.
Specific things to do before going to Sudan
- Learn some Arabic. Obviously, you will learn some Arabic on the road, but you may consider to learn some basics while you’re still at home. It’s easy and useful!
- Check the latest Sudan travel advice from your government. (Personally, in most cases I won’t let this affect my travels)
- Download a VPN. I don’t remember Sudan had any restrictions, but a VPN is always useful to have on your phone.
- Download the maps.me application. The Sudan map has useful information.
- Arrange your Sudanese visa. I arranged my Sudanese visa in Aswan, Egypt. It only took one working day and 50 USD. No letter of invitation was needed. The visa is valid for one-month. Multiple entry was not possible in Aswan.
- You may want to get travel insurance, some immunisations (check with your local tropical healthcare clinic) and anti-malarial drugs.
What is the best time to travel?
Despite the secession of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan remains a huge country. You will most likely spend most of your time in North Sudan, which has a desert climate with no rain fall. I traveled Sudan during the winter (January) and the heat was bearable. At night, it was even a little chilly, so you might want to bring your sweater!
Getting into Sudan from Egypt.
I took an early morning bus from Aswan and arrived in Wadi Halfa just after sunset. Especially the Egypt border takes a very long time, mostly because your fellow passengers travel with numerous tv’s, washing machines etc., which the Egypt officials all want to check. Check out my extensive border crossing report here.
Getting into Ethiopia from Sudan
I slept at Gadaref and started my border crossing from there. It still took quite a long time to get to Gonder and I arrived at 6 in the evening. The border between Sudan and Ethiopia is very basic. You will have to go to a few buildings for a luggage check and your stamp and then you can cross the bridge to hop on a bus towards Gonder.
Paperwork in Sudan
Sudan loves paperwork and registration. Like Central Asia, I was a bit nervous about losing documents or not getting things right, but it was all quite easy. What you need for Sudan is the following:
- Visa (see above)
- Vaccination certificate with yellow fever certificate, if you arrive from a yellow fever endemic (neighboring) country.
- At the border crossing you will receive a piece of paper! This piece of paper is important. You’ll need it for registration.
- Registration. You need to register within three days after arrival in Sudan. Most people register in Khartoum, but I registered in Wadi Halfa at the local police station. It was a lot of copies, signing and stamps, but in total it only took one hour. I paid 532 SDG.
- Registration in a certain town. Some hotels require you to register at the local police station upon arrival. This is free and takes only five minutes. I only registered in Karima, but I heard other travelers registered in every town.
- Travel and/or photography permit. The travel permit is only required if you want to travel to certain area’s like the Nuba mountains. The photography permit is officially required by all tourists, but I never got one nor did any of my fellow travel friends.
Internet and mobile network in Sudan
It’s easy to buy a simcard in Sudan. I bought a ZAIN simcard in Wadi Halfa. I had excellent connection the entire time including 3G internet!
Safety in Sudan
Isn’t Sudan dangerous? This is a common misconception about Sudan! For me, Sudan was the safest African country I traveled in so far. Crimes against foreigners in Sudan are rare. I felt completely safe to go out at night.
However, there are some area’s you should avoid, such as the border area’s with the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, Eritrea and South Sudan. Only recently (2011), after years of civil war, South Sudan became an independent country. As you probably know, Sudan has a history of military coups and unstable politics. There is always a chance on protests. While I was there, there were also protests against increases of the prices of bread. I heard this through international news outlets. And during NYE, I ended up in a tear gas attack. However, like mentioned previously, if you avoid crowds and demonstrations, you will be fine and it will most likely not affect your travels. Just stay informed.
Solo female traveling
As a solo female traveler, I had very few problems. I mostly encountered smiles and hospitality. In one occasion, the hotel guy came a little bit too close, but I simply pushed him away. Other than that, no sexual harassment or whatsoever.
If you travel to Sudan, make sure to dress modest. I always wore baggy pants and shirts with long sleeves and a high neck. However, I did not wear a headscarf or skirt. I asked a few Sudanese people whether I should wear a headscarf, but they answered (jokingly) ‘No, we want to see your beautiful hair’ or ‘No, we know you’re not a muslim anyway’.
Also, 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.
It’s no Southeast Asia, but it’s still possible to meet other solo travelers in Sudan. In fact, it’s likely you will meet them. There are not many backpackers, but in general they all tend to stay at the same places, because there are not so many accommodation options. Also, most travelers tend to follow the same route, so you keep bumping into each other!
Transportation in Sudan
I loved traveling by (mini)bus in Sudan, as it was a great way to meet people. The roads are in a good condition with only a few potholes. Here are some tips for getting around in Sudan:
- Get to the (mini)busstation early! Most buses leave early in the morning (around 7). If you arrive in the afternoon, you may have to wait a long time before the bus is full.
- If possible, reserve a seat by putting a bottle of water or a bag on it.
- Prepare for some hot and dusty drives sometimes with loud music. Often the pluche curtains remain closed, so you won’t be able to enjoy the beautiful desert landscapes.
- Make sure you go to the correct busstation, because large towns often have several busstations.
Accommodation in Sudan
Accommodation in Sudan is limited. Often a town only has a handful of options. I never booked beforehand, but in one town all budget options were fully booked, so I had to stay in a more expensive hotel. Like mentioned previously, I would advice to bring a sleeping bag. These are the accommodation options in Sudan:
- Couch surfing. In Khartoum there are many couch surfing hosts: from expats to Sudanese men and women.
- Camping. With exception of Khartoum, I don’t know any official camping places. In Khartoum, you can camp at the Youth Hostel or at the Blue Nile Sailing club. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to camp at the Youth Hostel as a solo female traveler. Find some excellent camping tips for rookie campers here!
- Lokanda. This is the cheapest type of guesthouse and not always open for solo woman travelers. It has a shared bathroom. The quality varies, but for example, my lokanda in Wadi Halfa was fine. Costs 2-3 USD.
- Budget guesthouses / midrange hotels. Also big variation in quality from simple to ‘western chic’. I paid between 8-14 USD for a private room per night. Often with cold water, but sometimes with AC or TV.
- Luxury. An Italian organization runs a deluxe tent camp in Meroë and a deluxe hotel in Karima. Prices are about 100-150 USD’s. There are obviously plenty of luxury options in Khartoum, such as the Acropole Hotel or the Corynthia Hotel.
Websites such as Hostelworld.com and Booking.com don’t have bookings options for Sudan! If you would like to book beforehand, it’s best to simply call.
Costs and budget of travel in Sudan
Sudan is easy on the wallet. I only spent about 18 USD’s per day. You can find a detailed overview of my costs of backpacking in Sudan here. As stated previously, you will need to bring enough US dollars inside the country, because you won’t be able to simply withdraw money once you’re inside.
Here are some other tips with regard to costs and budget in Sudan
- Generally, there is no need to haggle! The pyramids and taxi’s might be an exception to this, but even their prices are often honest. After your travels through Egypt or Ethiopia, this is definitely a nice change!
- Always ask for the price in Sudanese Pounds to avoid confusion with conversion rates.
- Ask around to get the latest black market rates. The rate changes every day and unfortunately, continues to drop. The Sudanese economy suffers both from the US sanctions and the lost oil in South Sudan.
Highlights of Sudan
For me, the real highlight of Sudan were the encounters I had in buses, restaurants and guesthouses, but of course Sudan also has many fascinating sights to offer!
- Meroë pyramids: Sudan’s most famous sight with more than 100 pyramids.
- Omdurman souk: The largest market of Sudan, right next to Khartoum, and a great place for people watching
- Sufi ceremony in Omdurman: One of my personal favorites. During their rituals, the dervishes come in an ecstatic state in which they can communicate with god. The dervishes often sing La Illaja illallah, there is no God but Allah. It’s every Friday afternoon at sunset at the Hamed al-Nil tomb. Don’t miss it!
- Nuri pyramids: These were my favorite pyramids, although in a deplorable shape, still an amazing sight to see.
- Khatmiya sufi mosque: The setting makes it a highlight. The mosque is located at the foot of the weirdly shaped Taka mountains.
- Temple of Soleb: A reasonably preserved temple dedicated to the deity Amun Re at the banks of the Nile.
An example of a two-week Sudan backpacking itinerary
I spent 18 days in Sudan, but lingered quite a long time in Khartoum. This is an example of a two-week Sudan backpacking itinerary which takes you from the Egyptian border to the Ethiopian border.
Egyptian border – Wadi Halfa – Abri (including the Soleb temple) – Dongola – Karima – Meroe – Khartoum/Omdurman – Kassala – Gadaref – Ethiopian border
Eating and drinking in Sudan
It’s all about two F’s. Ful and falafel.
- I absolutely loved the Sudanese falafel ‘Taamiya’, because they were often fresh and crispy. Unfortunately, they did not put any salad or tomato in the sandwich, but sometimes they would put in a boiled egg, which I thought was funny and delicious!
- Ful is delicious for breakfast. It mainly consists of brown beans, but can also be mixed with salad, egg or cheese. I also ate a lot of delicious fried fish. Personally, I haven’t tried kebab or schnitzel dishes. Like many African countries, food is generally shared and eaten with your hands.
- There is no alcohol in Sudan! It’s strictly forbidden and even expats have difficulties finding alcohol these days.
- In Sudan, I drank many fruit juices and many cups of chai at the tea ladies. This is also a fun way to mix with local Sudanese people.
- In restaurants, I was not always sure if they cleaned the cups, but hey, no big deal.
- You will often see large earthenware pots. These pots contain non-boiled cold water. Whether you decide to drink this water, is up to you.
You will rarely eat or drink alone in Sudan. Most Sudanese people insist on joining their table and treating you.
How to communicate in Sudan?
In Sudan you will often find people who speak some basic English. A few times, I found myself in a situation where no one spoke English (like when I tried to explain I wanted to take the bus to Shendi, but get off at Meroë). If you do get into a situation like this, use paper or writing or hand gestures!
Shopping in Sudan
The shops were reasonably stocked. In Khartoum, there are two Western style malls (Afra and Al-Waha). All things imported are extremely expensive.
I don’t have much backpacking experience… Should I go to Sudan?
I would not recommend Sudan for rookie or beginner backpackers. Some previous Africa experience is definitely useful to have. The facilities in Sudan can be very basic. There are no real restaurants and few places to truly unwind. For example, if you would like to read a book, you will most likely end up in a broken plastic chair in a busy, dusty street. Also, as a solo traveler it can be a bit lonely sometimes. However, if you are enthusiast about going, feel free to contact me for any questions that you might have!
Responsible travel in Sudan
Tourism in Sudan still stands in its infancy. Let’s try to keep the footprints we leave behind, as few as possible.
- Don’t waste resources. I have to admit, not spoiling water was quite easy with the cold water showers ;)
- Sudanese people generally don’t mind to have their photo taken, especially in the North. However, it’s always better to ask!
- Spent your money locally. This is quite easy in Sudan, because most businesses are locally owned.
- Behave and dress modest at religious sites or events. Don’t disturb an event (such as the Sufi dancing) by photography.
- Read more about some ethical travel dilemma’s you might also encounter in Sudan here!
Sudan is one of my favorite destinations ever. Please, let me know if you need any information about backpacking in Sudan or if you’re missing information in this Sudan travel guide.
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Sudan travel information:
Going to Ethiopia? Read about the incredible Timkat festival here!