For me, it’s hard to cross the ocean to visit a country and NOT look at its neighboring countries and wonder, “Hmm, I wonder if I can squeeze in a visit there as well.” That’s how I ended up adding Sudan to my itinerary. When I was planning my trip to Egypt, I spotted Sudan just south of it and wondered…
Why Not Sudan?
I did a little research and learned that even though independent travel to Sudan is not the easiest, it’s more than do-able. Sudan sounded rewarding yet challenging, but not in a scary way. It promised abandoned pyramids and mysterious old ruins, friendly people, unique scenery, and relatively hassle-free experience for solo female travelers.
I was sold.
How I Did It
Below is my trip report on Sudan. I visited Sudan for 6 days, flying into Khartoum from Cairo with Egypt Air. Traveling independently using buses and taxis, I visited Khartoum, Meroe, and Kassala.
My itinerary: 2 nights in Khartoum (Airbnb), 1 night in Shendi (a host family), and 2 nights in Kassala (Airbnb).
If you have a US passport, you need to get a visa. Getting a Sudanese visa was the crux of the whole process of planning my Sudan trip.
- Sudan visa requirements change constantly depending on whether you’re flying or crossing overland and the whim of local embassies. Getting in touch with a local travel agency (check out Acropole Hotel or my guy, Moez) would be a good starting point.
- At this time of writing: yes, it’s possible to get a Sudanese visa in the embassy in Cairo. However, currently no visa is given out in Aswan (the logical crossing point if you’re coming overland to Sudan from Egypt).
Getting Sudan visa in Cairo, 2019
8 Ahmed Al Shatouri, Dokki, Giza. It is not that far from the Dokki metro station, a walking distance of like 10 minutes. Sunday to Wednesday only?You will need the following:
1- A lot of patience.
2- A copy of your passport’s front page.
3- A copy of the entrance visa to Egypt on your passport.
4- Two Passport photos.
5. An application form, which you receive from the embassy people to fill in and return with all the above.
6- The $150 visa fee.
- If you’re flying to Khartoum, you need an LOI to present in Khartoum airport in order to get visa on arrival (also called “counter visa”). To get an LOI, you need a local contact. Many travelers use Acropole Hotel but I thought their fee is outrageous. Plus, they want you to pay in advance and require you to stay with them during your time in Khartoum. I found Moez from another traveler online. I only paid his fee after I arrived in Sudan. His fee is $70 on top of $150 visa fee payable at the airport counter.
Local police registration. If staying in Sudan longer than 3 days you’ll need to register at local the police station. If you’re flying into Khartoum, you can do it upon arrival since the station is next to the airport. I arrived late at night so I had my local fixer take care of it for me the next day ($50). Otherwise, I heard it’s supposed to be a very straight forward process.
Yellow fever vaccination. Egypt requires proof of yellow fever vaccination for those entering from Sudan. Check if you need one as well.
Because of the US sanction, using ATM’s is no go (just like Iran). So bring hard cash (USD or Euros) and exchange it as needed with locals who will give you a much better exchange rate. Your guide or your Airbnb host can probably direct you to the right person. In my case, it was the owner of a beauty salon in some Khartoum neighborhood who has a safe filled with wads of cash in her office. Seemed legit.
Getting Around Khartoum
Tirhal is an Uber-like taxi hailing service. The app will tell you the cost beforehand, but you need to pay in cash. I used this app A LOT and it made Khartoum an easier city to enjoy. Pro tip: sometimes it’s faster to hail a taxi off the street and use Tirhal’s quoted price as a guide. As a general rule, expect to pay 30-60 SGP.
They don’t seem to be that much cheaper than taxi? And dustier and noisier.
Getting Around Sudan
Buses ply the routes between Sudan’s bigger cities. They’re manageably comfortable. I can’t complaint.
Khartom to Meroe Pyramids
Cost: ~220 SGP one way
Buses to Shendi leave from the terminal located north-east of Khartoum. Terminal might be a generous description here as it’s just a big dirt lot with tons of buses parked. The bus company booths is somewhere among the chaos.
The bus I took from Khartoum goes to Atbara. You have two options: get dropped me off in Shendi then a taxi to the pyramids and back (1000 SGP). Or get dropped off by the pyramids and try to hitchhike back to Shendi. If you decide to do the latter, make sure to stock up on water and sun protection because there’s zero shade out here.
Also keep in mind that the bus will drop you off on the main road outside of Shendi. The proper Shendi town is a short taxi ride away.
Getting off in Shendi: If you look at a map, you’ll see that there are 2 roads leading from Shendi to the main road (called Shendi-Atbara road on maps.me). The bus will stop at the southern road but don’t get off here. Instead, ask to be dropped off at the northern road because this is where the taxis are.
From Shendi to Khartoum, I took another bus. My host in Shendi brought me to the bus station (a non-descript dirt lot) and put me on the right bus.
Meroe Daytrip from Khartoum
There are tour agencies who will offer to take you to Meroe on a 4×4 for $450 (overnight trip). In my opinion, 4x4s is definitely an overkill. My taxi was a regular sedan and it did the job just fine.
If visiting Meroe on a daytrip, I would try to find a taxi driver in Khartoum to take me or ask your Airbnb host if they know someone who’ll take you. It’ll be much cheaper.
Khartoum to Kassala
Cost: ~250 SGP
Buses to Kassala leave from the south terminal (Land Terminal) which is gated all around and has many entry points. Ask your taxi driver to take you to the right gate. Ignore the touts outside the terminal. You pay a minimal fee to get inside the building where you’ll find the bus company booths.
Pro tip: Don’t make the same mistake that I did and went with the first tout that grabs you. That bus took 10 hours for a route that usually takes 6.
Recommended bus companies: Al Sharif or Rodeena. They make less stops.
In Kassala, bus company offices are located near the hospital close to the souq (it’s marked on Maps.me). Ask someone to point you to the right place.
Tips for Visiting Sudan Independently
My biggest tip: find some locals to help you out. Sudanese is known for their generosity and they’ll go above and beyond to help travelers out.
Get an Airbnb
Your host is your lifeline. I was lucky in that both my hosts in Khartoum and Kassala were generous with their time and advices. They’ll be the ones who help you exchange money, get a trustworthy taxi driver, and make sure you get to your next destination. I can’t stress this enough. As a solo traveler I usually prefer to find an Airbnb where I share the house/apartment with the host anyway. In Sudan this proved to be one of the best decisions I made.
Couchsurfing is very big in Sudan and you should lean on this for social support and local advice. Sudan isn’t a big backpacker destination and as a solo traveler it could be a little lonely, so definitely leverage Couchsurfing if you’re tired of talking to yourself.
Get a local SIM card
I use Google Fi that allows me to use data anywhere in the world for the same rate fixed rate of $10/1GB (get $20 credit Google Fi here). Unfortunately, I can’t use Google Fi in countries where US sanctions are in place. This includes Sudan. So my Airbnb host helped me get a local SIM card. It’s SO useful you guys. Definitely get one.
Is Sudan Safe?
I thought so. I got a lot of curious stares at the market but also a lot of smiles. With the exception of bus touts, no one ever approached me to try to sell me anything or to “practice their English” or what not. I was able to walk around without any harassment or issues.
In terms of petty thefts, I’ve definitely clutched my purse tighter in European cities than I did in all of Sudan. But you know, it’s never wise to flaunt valuables regardless how “safe” a country is. Trust your instinct.
In Sudan, I relied a lot on the kindness of strangers because there’s not much information online and there’s not too many people who speak English. Unlike in other countries, Sudanese are a lot more reticent in approaching strangers (at least that’s how it felt like to me). So you need to be proactive in asking for help. Without fail though, they were always willing to help, sometimes going out of their way to do so.
Women Dress Code
Sudanese women dress conservatively: long skirt, long sleeves, hair scarf. But it’s definitely not required. In the beginning, I tried to do the same in regards to covering my hair, but in the end I felt it was a lot more trouble than it’s worth. I still made sure that I wore long pants and covered my shoulders and upper arms though.
Places to See in Sudan
Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt. Who knew? A lot of these pyramids and ancient ruins are only doable with a private car/tour. However, these Sudan’s highlights below can be easily done by independent travelers using public transportation.
The ancient city of Meroe is home to over 200 pyramids. Most are ruined. A few have been renovated (with questionable quality I must say). Regardless, the sight of this old city with its collection of pyramids, half-buried in the desert, is one of Sudan’s main tourist attractions and worth a trek. If you can swing it, camping overnight by the pyramids would guarantee seeing them at its best light: sunrise and sunset.
With the impressive Taka mountain range as its backdrop, Kassala was a highlight. According to Wikitravel, a permit is required to visit Kassala. That wasn’t the case when I was there.
In Kassala, both the open-dome tomb of Seyyid Hassan and the ruined mosque next to it are a must-visit. So unique. Nearby is the peak of Jebel Totil with many coffeeshops dotting its slope. Rumor has it that they serve the best coffee in Kassala. The souqs in Kassala is very colorful and worth a wander.
You’ll probably end up in Khartoum at some point during your travel to Sudan. I want to be honest here, I found Khartoum to be hard to love. It’s dusty and hot, with no clear “center”. If museums are your thing, Sudan National Museum is probably the most interesting one.
Sufi Dancing in Omdurman
Omdurman is a suburb of Khartoum where every Friday around 4-5pm, tourists and locals gather at Hamed al-Nil tomb to watch the whirling dervishes. It’s an interesting enough experience to try to be in Khartoum on a Friday so you don’t miss it.
I found myself hanging out a lot in Ozone, a Western-friendly cafe in Khartoum’s expat neighborhood. It has AC, proper cappuccino, delicious pastries, and Western food. No wifi. Lots of embassy people and Khartoum elites come here. I felt underdressed at times.
“Floating” Cafes on the Nile
Along Nile Street, close to Manshia Bridge you’ll find these boats-turned-cafes serving juice, tea, and snacks (french fries, sandwiches, etc) in the evening. It’s kind of a nice place to watch sunset on the Nile. Search for “Parista Floating Cafe” on Google Map to find the area.
3-story Western style mall with an ice-rink and a small, sad food court. I was expecting… more.
Must Have Items
- Insect Repellant. Sudan is a yellow fever country. I was also there when southern Sudan (Kassala) was experiencing dengue and chikungunya fever outbreak. All mosquito-born diseases. I almost cancelled my trip to Kassala, but decided to slather myself silly with deet-free repellant and went.
- Sleeping Sack. If you think you might end up sleeping in questionable beds, a sleeping sack is your best friend.
- Water Bottle with Filter. Cut down on bottled water use. There are many brands out there but I like this one from Sawyer.
The People of Sudan
My trip to Sudan would have been different, and quite possibly much more challenging and less memorable, if I hadn’t had the generous help of the people I met, including my Airbnb hosts in Khartoum and Kassala.
My host in Khartoum was invaluable in getting me set up in Sudan even though he, himself was away, on a trip. He had his friends pick me up at the airport, set me up with groceries, and SIM card. When he found out that my flight out of Khartoum was at 3 am, he insisted I used his apartment to wait. Mind you, this was after the Airbnb stay was completed.
He introduced me to a student of his. This student in return asked her network of relatives and cousins to host me, a complete stranger, in Shendi. Not only did they welcome me in their house, they provided enormous help on that part of the journey. I’d never even met this student in person.
Moez took me to see the Sufi ceremony in Omdurman and was always available to answer questions. My host in Kassala treated me as a friend rather than a guest, taking me sightseeing and feeding me while refusing payment.
These interactions were without a doubt the highlights of my trip to Sudan. This is the Holy Grail-type of experience that I seek during my travel and I came across them in abundance in Sudan.
It’s a special country indeed.