On the tracks of the Black Pharaohs
Sudan is still a not tourist destination, but this incredible country boasts a rich thousand-years archaeological heritage that makes it incredibly fascinating. Taking a trip to Sudan means finding yourself catapulted into a pristine Africa, surrounded by ancient pyramids, desert landscapes, green and lush banks of the Nile, colourful markets and above all a smiling and friendly population that will make your journey a unique experience. Our trip on the “track of the Black Pharaohs” starts from the bustling Khartoum and touches the most relevant attractions of the Nubian region, including the world-wide known Unesco Heritage site of Meroe.
1° Day: Khartoum (city tour)
5° Day: Karima (Merowe) – El Kurru Necropolis (archaeological site) – Petrified forest – Al Ghazali monastery – Nuri Necropolis (archaeological site) – Jebel Barkal (archaeological site/sunset on the top) – Karima (Merowe)
Need to Know about Sudan
Visa: 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 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. Get more information, clicking here.
Khartoum International Airport: the airport is located in the centre of Khartoum. 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 is an exchange shop in the arrival hall. The departure terminal is tiny and basic, and there is only a single entrance. Therefore, they will let you inside only 2 hours/2 hours and a half before your flight. If you arrive at the airport earlier, you will have to wait outside the building. A new airport is under construction about 40 km south of Khartoum
Police registration: the foreigner is required to 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 of 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 to the police. Your local tour operator/accommodation will sort everything out. A travel permit was necessary to carry out the travel itinerary out of Khartoum, but it was revoked by the Government in 2018. Anyway, the rules are in ever-changing; therefore, if you travel yourself, it is always better to get information from the embassy of Sudan in your country.
Traveller’s health: click here for more information. Even though during the winter months (November-March) the presence of mosquitoes is rare, keep in mind that Malaria is also endemic; Remember to take measures to protect yourself above all at night by applying mosquito repellent that contains at least 30% DEET.
Traveller’s safety: the political/economic situation in the country is still unstable. Remember always to check the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or 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.
When to go: the best period for visiting the north of the country is during the winter months, especially December – 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.
Mean of transport: we arranged our tour through a local travel agency. Our vehicle was a Toyota land cruiser 4wd with a local driver. All the main road 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: you can try to 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 that will do all the efforts to make your trip unforgettable). If you are also looking for a local guide, we highly recommend Mr Abdul. He’s responsible for the archaeological sites in the area of Khartoum and speaks English, French and Russian (WhatsApp: +249 999024000).
Notice: 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. We paid an average price of 10 USD for the site in Meroe, Karima (Jebel Barkal), and Kerma. The other sites can be paid in local currency (the average price was around 230 SDG – 4 USD-).
Accommodations: 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, in case you are in a town, look for a restaurant. If you like camping with your tent in the close distance of the historical sites, you should first notify the local police or the guardian once at the site. The hotels accept USD too (we paid an average price of 70 USD for a double room and 10 USD for the Nubian House).
Where to eat: Khartoum offers a good 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, make grocery shopping at the mall (there are 2 big malls) and cook yourself. In the main other cities, you’ll find meat, fruit, bread and vegetables at the local market. 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. Click here to find out the best restaurants in Khartoum.
Mobile phone and wifi: you only find wifi in the hotels; therefore, it’s really useful 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: the local currency is called Sudanese pound (1 USD was 45 SDG – 1 euro was 50 SDG). There is a currency exchange at Khartoum International Airport in the arrival hall (no commissions); you can also exchange your currency in the local banks (8 am to 2 pm – closed on Friday and Saturday) or in some currency exchange shops around the city. 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.
Travel insurance: don’t forget to take out travel insurance because if something goes wrong, the medical expenses could be very high. We made it with World Nomads.