Everything you need to know to plan a trip to Sudan
Sudan is not a tourist destination yet, as most travellers link the ancient pyramids only to Egypt without knowing that the land of Black Pharaos boasts a rich thousand-years archaeological heritage. Taking a trip to Sudan means being catapulted into a pristine Africa and live a glimpse of the more than 4.000 years of history. Sudan is a land of sweeping dunes and vast desert and features ancient pyramids and tombs, bustling and colourful souks, dusty traditional villages with their painted houses, and above all, a smiling and hospitable population that will make your journey a unique experience.
When to go
The best period for visiting the country’s north is during the winter months, especially December to February, when the temperatures are bearable. In winter, the average temperature is around 30° during the day and 7°/10° of minimum with peaks that can reach even 5° in December / January. In the autumn and spring months, daytime temperatures fluctuate around 30°/35° and night temperatures from 15°/ 20°. From May to September the temperature increase and easily reach 40° with peaks of 50°. We travelled through Sudan the second week of December with a constant temperature of 32°/33° during the day (between noon and 3 pm, the sun was very strong) and a temperature of 14° at night with a light chilly wind. The weather was dry; therefore, the heat bearable.
It’s must be obtained from the Sudan embassy/consulate in your country. Only a few Middle East countries don’t require a Visa, and the other 3 (Kenya, Malaysia and Turkey) can get it on arrival. Admission is also refused to holders of passports or travel documents containing a visa or entry stamps issued by Israel.
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How to get to Sudan
The main hub of the country is Khartoum international airport, but, at the moment, it is served by very few Africa and Middle East companies. The airport is located in the centre of Khartoum and only features 2 terminals. You can quickly get to your accommodation by taking a taxi (around 150 SDG). On arrival, be also ready to face a long queue to get to the passport control. There are 3 banks and 2 currency exchange shops in the arrival hall. The departure terminal is tiny and basic, and there is only a single entrance. Therefore, they will let you enter the building only 2 hours/2 hours and a half before the departure time of your flight. If you arrive at the airport earlier, you must wait outside the building. A new and bigger airport is under construction about 40 km south of Khartoum.
Police registration: the foreigner must declare his presence to the competent authority within three days of entering Sudan (Aliens Registration Office –Shari’a Al Sahafa Zat, close to Sudan University of Science and Technology). Bring your passport, a photocopy of it and a couple of size-passport pics. After completing the procedure, they’ll stick on your passport a green adhesive. You can even get it through the local tour operator or by asking at the reception of your accommodation. It costs around 600 SDG.
Important notice: to use your camera/video camera during the visit to the archaeological sites, you must obtain a permit (at the moment is free) from the “Ministry of Information – External Department”. You have to show it to the guardian of the archaeological site or the police. Your local tour operator/accommodation will sort everything out. A travel permit was necessary to carry the travel itinerary out of Khartoum, but the Government revoked it in 2018. Anyway, the rules are ever-changing; therefore, if you travel yourself, it is always better to get information from the embassy of Sudan in your country or to ask for information from a local operator.
How to move around
Travelling with the local transports is really difficult and takes time. Some areas of the classic itinerary are difficult to reach, and you have to change the bus several times. Moving around in the major cities is easy as you can catch a taxi or a motorized tricycle. The best way to visit Sudan is through a local operator with a 4×4 vehicle. It’s even the safest and useful way as the locals don’t speak English and the political situation in Sudan is unstable. All the main roads are tarred and well maintained. The only part of the trip along a sandy path was during the visit of the Nubian villages on the east side of the Nile between Dongola and Old Dongola. The traffic in Khartoum is crazy; on the roads out of the capital city, it’s rare to find vehicles except along the Khartoum-Atbara that is extremely busy.
Local tour operators: if you need it, you can contact DGL Travel, Raidan Travel & Tour, Mashansharti Tours Travel, Italian Tourism Co., Amal Travel & Tourism, Majesty Travel & Tourism. We travelled with Amal Travels & Tourism (the owner, Mr Ali Elnour, is a fantastic person who will make all the efforts to make your trip unforgettable).
How to plan the itinerary
The classic itinerary of Sudan lasts between 7 and 10 days. It comprises Khartoum and the major Nubian sites like Meroe, the Karima area, Old Dongola, Kerma and Tombos. It is also interesting to visit the local villages on the east side of the Nile and the beautiful Soleb Temple in the country’s north. If you want to stay longer (15 days), the itinerary goes on to the east of the country, crossing the desert and visiting the old Berenice until you reach Port Sudan, where you can relax and enjoy its crystal clear sea.
Travel expenses: there were four of us, and we spent about 1600 euro (flight included) each for a 10 days trip. The price depends on the number of people you are, the services you need and your accommodations level. The cost of living is very cheap. It was impossible to know in advance the entrance fee for the archaeological sites. Once at the entrance, we always haggled with the ticketer/guardian with the help of our local guide. We paid an average price of 10 USD for Meroe, Karima (Jebel Barkal), and Kerma. The other sites can be paid in local currency, and the average price was around 230 SDG /4 USD-.
Khartoum is the only city where you’ll find a good range of accommodation. We slept at the Anwar Almedina Hotel. In the other towns along the itinerary, we only found very few hotels and Nubian Guesthouses. The Nubian Guesthouse features basic rooms with 3/4 beds (no furniture – no blanket) with only a bathroom (or 2) in common with other guests (no hot water). Usually, they don’t serve the meal; therefore, you have to cook yourself or look for a restaurant if you are in a town. If you like camping with your tent close distance of the historical sites, you should first notify the local police or the guardian once at the site. Remember that there is no campsite, but you set your tent in a place without any services. The hotels accept USD too (we paid an average price of 70 USD for a double room and 10 USD for the Nubian House).
Local cuisine and restaurants
Sudanese food, in particular, is a blend of Middle Eastern and East African cuisines and depending on the region you visit. It mainly consists of staple food, vegetable, spices and stews, where beef and lamb are most common and often accompanied with the traditional flatbread. Some of the main dishes are Dura (a staple food in Sudan made of cooked maize and millet usually served along with vegetables or as a stew); Aseeda (a delicious type of porridge made from flour, salt, and water); Ful Medames (a popular stew made of cooked fava beans, cumin, and vegetable oil); Kajaik (a fish stew usually eaten with porridge); Kisra (the typical flatbread typically eaten together with various kinds of stews); Miris (a stew made with sheep’s fat, cassava, okra, and onions); Goraasa be Dama (a stew made of beef onions, tomatoes, garlic, cardamom, black pepper served over a flatbread called Goraasa).
Khartoum is the only city with a wide choice of restaurants where to try the tasty local cuisine. We ate at the Syrian Castle restaurant and the excellent Assaha restaurant. In the other towns (Dongola- Karima) we ate in small local restaurants. In Meroe, we arranged dinner with our accommodation, whereas in Wawa, we cooked ourselves in a Nubian Guesthouse. If you decide to camp, it’s possible to rent a gas cylinder in Khartoum, do grocery shopping at the mall (there are 2 big malls) and cook yourself. You’ll find meat, fruit, bread and vegetables at the local market in the other main cities. The average price for a dinner out of Khartoum is around 140 SDG (2/3 USD). In Khartoum, the expense depends on where you like to eat.
Mobile phone and wifi
You only find wifi in the hotels; therefore, it’s handy to buy a local Simcard with data. We bought a Zain Simcard with 2GB of data. In Khartoum, you’ll find some shops to buy it.
Currency exchange and method of payments
The local currency is the Sudanese pound (1 USD was 45 SDG – 1 euro was 50 SDG). There are 2 currency exchange shops at Khartoum International Airport in the arrival hall (no commissions); you can exchange your currency in the local banks (8 am to 2 pm – closed on Friday and Saturday) or in some currency exchange shops around Khartoum. The credit cards are not accepted, and you can’t withdraw from the ATM either. Anyway, it’s possible to pay for the hotels directly using USD. So as in all the African countries, remember that they only accept US Dollars issued since 2013 and in good condition (no rips, pen stains, scotch tape…etc..). Along the itinerary, it’s quite difficult to exchange money and, in case, they often change the only USD.
Traveller’s safety and health
The political/economic situation in the country is often unstable, and demonstrations and clashes can occur anytime. It’s also common to see very long queues at the Petrol stations due to the lack of petrol, especially out of Khartoum. The level of street crime in Khartoum and other major Sudanese cities is low, and we didn’t see or feel anything. Anyway, bag-snatching, aggressive begging and petty theft can occur. Use common sense and stay alert. In Sudan, terrorist attacks can occur, including in places visited by foreigners, especially in crowded areas and public places. It’s really dangerous to go to the border between Sudan and South Sudan (including the disputed Abyei area), along the border between Sudan and Chad, and in areas of the Darfur region due to violent clashes and armed groups fight against the Government. Remember that security conditions change every day worldwide; always do your research through the official websites and contact the embassy of your country in Sudan. The official language is Arabic, and in the regions of Nubia, an ancient local dialect is in use. English is not widespread, particularly outside the capital. We only found a few people speaking in English.
Even though during the winter months (November-March), the presence of mosquitoes is rare, keep in mind that Malaria is also endemic; Drink only bottled water, and don’t eat raw foods to avoid intestinal sickness. In the main cities, you will find a public hospital, but obviously, health standards are far from Western ones, and it is always better to go to private clinics. For serious injuries or illnesses, you will need to go back to Khartoum. It is highly recommended to consult a travel medicine specialist to assess travel-related risks and have information to ensure your health and safety.
Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance that protects you against injuries (the medical expenses abroad are very high), illness and theft. We never go on a trip without it. We suggest Worldnomad.com, an insurance company with qualified customer service, competitive prices and in-depth coverage.