Why should you visit Sudan?

Sudan is going through a big transitional period at the moment and you might be wondering if it’s ok to visit Sudan. President Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power on 11 April after 30 years in charge. Currently the military are in power with a promise to hand the country back to civilian rule after 2 years. However, the people aren’t happy with this and are still protesting outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.

So why should you visit Sudan? Despite all of this unrest the Foreign Travel Advisory for the UK still deems it a safe place to travel (May 3rd 2019. see https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/sudan for latest advise) so it’s still on the green list. Yay! Here are my top 3 reasons to visit Sudan along with some things to consider before you go.

1. The People

Sudanese people are incredibly friendly, helpful and generous. During our visit at the end of March 2019, upon crossing the border from Ethiopia we went to immigration to get our passports stamped. We were told we could get our passports registered for a fraction of the price agents charge in Khartoum so we went ahead told them to do it. Just as they were about to start, a gentleman came in carrying a huge plate of food. The passport control officer then told us to come behind the desk and join all the workers in the office for for their breakfast meal – a mutton stew with freshly baked bread – delicious. I tried to be polite and not take too much but the chief told me off for not eating enough, so I dutifully got stuck in with everyone else! After breakfast our passports were stamped, visas registered and we were on our way. What a welcome to the country!

Nuri Pyramids near Karima in Sudan
The cheeky Key Holder for the Nuri Pyramids poses for a photo
Visit Sudan to mix with the funny locals
Fun and games at the Camel Market
Visit Sudan to meet this Whirling Dervish
A Dervish in Khartoum – what a dude!

2. The Sights

The historical sights are incredible. Sudan has an amazingly rich history with a mix of cultures and religions. From Egyptian Pharaohs to Ethiopian Axumites, Christian Missionaries to Muslim Arabs, Sudan has had many influences which can be seen at the various archeological sights. To get a good understanding of Sudan’s archaeological sights I would strongly recommend the use of a guide, as well a visit to the National Museum of Sudan to put everything into context.

Top archeological sights to include on your visit to Sudan:

  • The Temple of Soleb – The name Sudan has it’s influence from the Arabic phrase bilād al-sūdān meaning “The Land of the Blacks” so historically the Nubians were known as the Black Pharaohs.
  • The Pyramids of Meroe – pyramidal tombs from the Kushite empire. They’re mostly intact apart from missing their tops. These were blown off in the hunt for treasure during the 1830s, curtesy of Giuseppe Ferlini.
  • The Temple of Mut at Jebel Barkal – Most people will visit Karima to see the pyramids and climb to the top of Jebel Barkal Hill. These are great and I definitely recommend doing these especially the at sunset. But the real gem is underneath the hill in the Temple of Mut, the Egyptian Sky Goddess. Here you will see incredibly colourful paintings from around 600 BC.
  • Old Dongola – This Christian site was once the capital of Makuria.
  • Naqa Temples – An almost intact, Egyptian inspired Colonnade of rams on show in one temple and a Greco-Roman inspired Kiosk on show at the other. Buildings with clear influence from two of the most powerful civilisations the world has known, on show in the middle of the Sudanese desert!

 Our Itinerary

Here is the itinerary I put together for my group when we travelled around Sudan. This could easily be modified if you are travelling overland from Ethiopia to Egypt (or vice versa) by adding 2 extra nights to allow for travel from/to the borders.

Day 1: Sightseeing in Khartoum

Day 2: Drive to Old Dongola. Early evening tour of Old Dongola site and camp nearby

Day 3: Drive to Kerma for a tour of Western Deffufa site and museum. Continue drive to Wawa and stay at local guesthouse

Day 4: Sunrise tour of the Temple of Soleb. Drive to Karima with a stop en route at the 3rd cataracts of the nile. Early evening tour of The temples of Amun and Mut and sunset on Jebel Barkal. Stay in local guesthouse in Karima.

Day 5: Sunrise visit to the Karima pyramids then drive to Nuri pyramids for tour of that site. Finally, drive to Meroe, evening walk through site and camp nearby.

Day 6: Sunrise tour of the Meroe site followed by a visit to the newly opened museum. Drive to Mussawarat for a tour of the sites and finally on to Naqa for site tours and camp nearby.

Day 7: Drive to Khartoum

You can see the Temple of Soleb
The Temple of Soleb
The Meroe pyramids is a highlight on a visit to Sudan
The Meroe Pyramids
See Muslim tombs at Old Dongola
Muslim Tombs at Old Dongola
The amazing colonnade of rams at Naqa is a must see during your visit of Sudan
Colonnade of rams in front of the Amun-Ra temple in Naqa

Things to do in Khartoum

Visit the National Museum of Sudan

I highly recommend visiting the National Museum of Sudan to view artefacts found in the archaeological sites of Sudan and to provide an overview of the country’s long and complex history. On the ground floor you will find the main part of the museum and then on the second floor you will find a whole host of incredible Christian frescos. I bet you weren’t expecting that! Finally, outside there is an outdoor museum where entire archaeological sites from the Lake Nasser area have been dismantled and reassembled, alongside a water feature resembling the Nile. Neat!

Visit The Camel market

If you have never been to a camel market I strongly recommend you visit this one. There are thousands of camels and other cattle on show and up for grabs. The wheelers and dealers there are all very friendly and welcoming to tourists and you might even find yourself a bargain. The best quote we got for a camel was about $2000 so a little out of our price range unfortunately. It’s not the easiest place to get to as it is in the Omdurman area but definitely worth the trip.

Visit the confluence of the Nile

In Khartoum you can visit the place where the white and the blue niles meet. The White Nile bridge overlooks the confluence but no photographs are allowed. If you want pictures it’s best to take a ride on the Ferris wheel in the Mogran Family Park which is next to the bridge. You can also take a ferry to Tuti Island and view the confluence from there.

Visit the Whirling Dervishes ceremony

The Sufi muslims in Sudan practise their ceremony every Friday at around 4pm. This is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I was expecting something similar to what I’d observed in Turkey but it is completely different. It’s like Sufism meets Reggae! I’m not kidding, go check it out, you won’t regret it!

3. The Tourists

There are none! Very few foreigners visit Sudan so you’re likely to get these amazing sights all to yourself. For example Meroe, arguably Sudan’s most famous sight, is approximately 2800 years old and is UNESCO listed, however, during our sunset and sunrise visits we saw only one couple. Cue lots of photographs of empty archaeological sites! Since there are very few tourists it also means that you are welcomed with open arms by the locals as they are keen to show you their country.

Empty archaeological sights are common during a visit to Sudan
Nuri Pyramids all to ourselves

Visas and registration

Although most nationalities can get visas on arrival at Khartoum Airport (cost $100-150), you will need an entry permit before you can board the plane (Also known as an authorisation code) These are provided by Sudanese Tour Operators in exchange for a fee typically of $150. Upon arrival in Khartoum you will also need to get your passport registered, which again the tour operator can do for around $50. So be prepared for these costs. You can register your passport yourself in Khartoum but it’s a bit of a run around! The agency we used was Lendi Travel 

If you are arriving from a land border you will need to get your visa in advance. Costs vary depending on nationality but we got ours at Addis Ababa and they cost $68. You need to arrive at the consulate around 8am then you can collect it the following day after 2pm. To obtain the visas you need:

  • 2 passport photos
  • A photocopy of the ID page of your passport
  • A photocopy of the Ethiopian visa in your passport
  • A contact name, number and address for your sponsor or hotel
  • A visa or flight details for the next country you are travelling to after Sudan
  • Money in USD with notes newer than 2006

Note: The border between Ethiopia and Sudan commonly has civil unrest. We spoke to travellers in Addis who were concerned about travelling overland to Sudan due to stories they’d heard from other travellers. However, we were able to cross the border both directions without any trouble (March 2019). You are now able to register your visa at this border.

Visas take up 1 full page in your passport and the registration stamp will take up another so be prepared for that. If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport you will not be able to get a Sudan visa. If you have Sudanese visa in your passport you will then require an interview before you can travel to the USA. (The same for Iran Visas)

Money

Foreign bank cards do not work in Sudan so you will need to take enough USD to cover your costs for the duration of your stay. If you think you have enough, take some more, just in case! That being said the cost of food and accommodation is extremely cheap, for example we stayed in guest houses for around $2 per night! Changing money is pretty easy to do at hotels or banks and they will give you the official rate. Due to Sudan’s struggling economy there is a very healthy black market for changing money but it’s up to you whether you want to take this option. During our visit to Sudan in March 2019 the official rate was 47 SDP to 1 USD and the black market was 60-65 SDP to 1 USD, so quite a big difference.

Sudan Essentials

  • A Headscarf – As mentioned below, as a tourist you aren’t required to wear a headscarf but it’s really hot in Sudan so it’s handy to keep the sun off and it covers up bad hair days!
  • A SIM card – I bought a SIM card, calling time and 2GB data for 150 SDP. I had 3G coverage for most places, so it was pretty cheap and convenient to have.
  • Google Translate or a phrasebook for Arabic – Not too many people speak English so it’s very handy to know a few basic phrases in Arabic.
  • European and British plug adaptors – As a previous British Colony, Sudan has a few leftovers.
  • net – March is breeding time for the annoying little midge type flies that live near palm trees, so you’ll get hounded by these at sites like Old Dongola and The Temple of Soleb.
  • Water – It’s a desert and it’s hot so remember to drink lot’s of water!

Things to remember about travelling in an Islamic country

The weekends in Sudan are on Friday and Saturday as per the Islamic calendar. This will affect shop opening times, particularly on Friday during Friday prayers (between 12 and 2pm).

Women and men are expected to dress conservatively which means shoulders and knees covered at all times. Sudanese women wear headscarves but as tourists you are not expected to follow this custom and locals won’t look down on you if you don’t.

Vaccinations

Sudan requires you to have a Yellow Fever vaccination before entry however we were not asked for them when we crossed from Ethiopia. (March 2019). Malaria is present so anti malarials are recommended as are the usual anti mosquito precautions. For our most recent travels in Africa I found a non-Deet anti mosquito spray which worked really well. When I see what Deet does to plastic I hate to put it on my skin!

But is it safe to visit Sudan?

Er yes! That’s the short answer! Obviously you will need to stay clear of the protests still taking place in Khartoum but away from that you should have no issues. Enjoy the best hospitality you’re likely to receive anywhere in Africa or even in the world!

Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through them I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!

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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. I would love to visit those archeological sites you have highlighted. Your photos are beautiful, you have captured the culture wonderfully.

    1. Thank you very much ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I’ve never really considered Sudan as a destination, but it’s on my radar now! I don’t think we’ll fit it into our big trip this year, but we’ll keep it on the list for next time ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the handy info!

  3. Looks like a great country to visit. Where in the world you get invited for the meal by the immigration officer. But what about the tourist infrastructure? How is the local transport system and how easy to get around in Sudan.

    1. The infrastructure is very good. The roads are mostly ok, just the odd pot hole to avoid! Buses are available to all the main tourist destinations

  4. I would totally love to visit Sudan and check out the pyramids here. I here they are also in very good condition like the ones up north. Got some great advice as well. I would probably combine this trip with Egypt as its in the same region, I just hope visa issues would be easy to arrange.

    1. A trip to Sudan would fit very well with a trip to Egypt. You are able to get the Sudan visa in Egypt also ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Glad to see the beauty of Sudan being reasonably safe. I think it could get pretty hot though, and plastic money… Sad that they don’t accept it but taking cash with will have to do. Friendly people are always an attraction on its own, would love to #travel there some day.

  6. Sudan was really not on my radar before reading this post. I think itโ€™s great that you visited and itโ€™s clear that there are few tourists around. It was nice to learn that the locals are friendly.

  7. Never knew there is so much in Sundan ! .. This is a great post & a unique location – book marking it now .

  8. I think this is the first blog post I am reading about Sudan from a tourist’s point of view. Sounds like it needs to be explored.

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