One month in Khartoum

With my visa expiring in just two days I ask myself; how did I manage to spend 30 days in Khartoum, which is way too hot (46°), has not really any tourist sights and hardly any open restaurants during Ramadan? The answer is by hanging out with the local people, which are the friendliest I have met during my travels.

My couchsurfing host was an English teacher and let me have daily lectures for his students. People from all ages were listening to my improvisations about geography, history and culture of my country and the World and some students even wanted to invite me to their home.

Teaching English every morning was a great way of passing time

This generally reflect the way of the Sudanese people. Most people are extremely friendly and curious about foreigners. When walking outside after iftar which started at 6.15 it was practically impossible to walk around without being asked to join people eating in the streets. One time even my bus was stopped by people who insisted on giving us food nicely packed up in bags. Ramadan is like Christmas here where everyone tries to be nice to each other.

Nubian wrestling in Bari (Northern Khartoum)

Fridays were the best here, except for prayer times when everything was closes. My first Friday I went to see a traditional Nubian wrestling match in Bahri. It was quite exciting and reminded me a lot about the traditional wrestling of the Serer people in Senegal!

The next Friday I went to a traditional Sufi ceremony at the Hamad Alnil cemetery in the Omdoumran district. Here there were dervishes spinning around and everyone watching were very engaged by rocking back and fourth while chanting in a rythm. From what I understand a Sufi is a kind of Muslim who believes that humans should have a direct, personal connection with God, relative to protestants in Christianity. Sufis are usually a supressed minority but here they could roam around and do their prayer rituals freely, which was beautiful to see.

Khartoum is the place where the Blue Nile and the White Nile meet

One of the days I also got to borrow some kayaks from a Norwegian living here. Me and Teresie, a Norwegian who cycles from cape to cape got to enjoy drifting around on the Nile as the sun was setting, which probably was my favorite moment of my month in Khartoum.

The Temples and Pyramids around Karima

There are some less known, but just as impressive pyramids around the city of Karima. To get there I took a five hour 5$ (70SGD) bus and checked into Hotel Al Nasser, which offered outdoor beds with Wi-Fi, chargers and clean showers and bathrooms for less than a dollar.

Hiking to the top of the mountain I found some caves full of bats

Just like everywhere in Sudan you need to register with the local authorities every place you stay and in Karima it was particularly difficult finding the security office as they call it. After walking nearly an hour in soaring heat I found it next to the city’s football stadium.

From the city center I took a rackshaw to the museum costing 60cents, where it was walking distance to the rest of the sites.

The temple of Amun and Mut temple were quite destroyed but were witnesses that there once had been a rich city next to the mountain Jebel Barka.

There were six-seven more or less intact pyramids at the site. Many more which were just piles of rocks, as locals most likely had taken bricks to use for their own houses.

At the site I met a group of agricultural students who invited me for dinner in the evening. They all had lots of questions and wanted to take pictures with me. They also told me that there is a burial site 30 kilometers south of the city called El Kurru. Unfortunately with the current gasoline crisis in the country there was only one bus to Khartoum a day so I had to leave the next morning without checking it out.

A Hitchhikers Guide to Meroe

Meroe is a group of pyramids located about 250 kilometers from Khartoum. Some travelers report to have visited the pyramids as a day trip from Khartoum, but I would highly recommend having one night on the way or in the nearest city called Atbara, about 100kilometers away.

To get there we took two 5cent buses to get out of the city and then just stuck our thumbs out. It didn’t take long before someone picked us up, even just for a few kilometers. It took in total five rides to get to a village called Shendi and then another two rides to the pyramids themselves. We were never standing long before someone picked us up and every stop we got to drink water for free from car repair shops, stores or women selling tea.

From the main road it is impossible to miss the pyramids. Coming from the South you will see a few (free ones) on the left side and then lots of pyramids within a large fenced area on the right.

The official entrance fee is 20$ but how much you actually pay depends on your negotiation skills. Locals with camels will approach you to offer a ride as well, first asking for 10$, moving the price downwards and then turning around when we declined their last offer of paying 10 cents.

Apparently there are small sfinxes and pyramids a couple of kilometers south from the ticket office too, but the main gated area was enough for us. After an hour or two of walking through the desert you will be roasted and only want to find an air-conditioned car to take you back to Khartoum.

The Meroe Pyramids is a place I have wanted to visit for years and it has absolutely lived up to its expectations. You can walk inside the pyramids, stay as long as you want and you will be there completely alone, free from other tourists. Just don’t climb on them like locals do, so that people can enjoy these architectural treasures thousands of years from now as well.

Traveling in Sudan with Absolutely no Money

When crossing the border from Ethiopia to Sudan, I was only carrying a little bit of USD cash and did not know that it would be impossible to get more. After trying countless ATMs, where none were working, I found out that international credit/debit cards are not accepted, due to western sanctions just like in Iran.

After paying 35$ for a compulsory visa registration, a bus ticket to Khartoum, a sim card and some food I was out of money. I was laying in my tent in a hostel garden and decided that I would start selling my laptop, camping gear etc to get money for a visa and bus ticket to Egypt.

The first person I asked the next morning was Kim, a Korean traveler at my hostel who had been traveling for over three years and said “you don’t need money for traveling man!”. “People here in Sudan are so friendly that I never have to pay for anything!”.

In roadside restaurants like these it was easy finding leftover food

I took his tip of telling the hostel owners that I had run out of money, and to my surprise they just said that they fully understood and that I could stay there for free!

A typical Sudanese meal called Acida

Kim went on telling me that the stars always aligned so that he was able to travel for free, and a couple of hours later he was demonstrating this by taking me on a hitchhiking trip to the Meroe Pyramids.

Happy to have made it to the pyramids for free!

We got rides with over 10 trucks and cars, slept one night on top of a load of cement bags and one night on an outdoor bed that locals offered us, we drank the tap water, coffee, tea offered to us and ate mostly (fresh) leftovers that we found in roadside restaurants. Even when we got to the Meroe Pyramids and said that we didn’t have any money, so they let us in for free! (otherwise it is 20$ entry!).

We slept one of the nights on top of the cement bags of the truck that took us back to Khartoum

When we got back to Khartoum I met a Norwegian girl called Theresia who was cycling from South Africa to Norway and said that she had done the same mistake when arriving in Sudan. She advised me to contact my embassy where you can, in emergency situations wire money to withdraw. Walking out of there with cash in hand was quite a relief after being four days without money.

Sudan (together with Iran) has, in my opinion the most friendly people in the World. I do however understand that such hospitality should not be exploited and I aim to give back to make up for all the stuff I have received while being broke here.

10 Things You need to Know Before Going to Sudan

Researching information about Sudan has been a pain in the ass, as there is practically no updated information out there.

Here I provide you with the situation as of May 2018:

Money: There are no ATM’s accepting foreign debit/credit cards, so you have to bring enough cash to change once you are there. 1 US dollar equals 18 Sudanese Pounds official rate or 37-40 Sudanese Pounds on the black-market.

If you can’t afford a hotel room, the staff will usually put out a bed for you

Sleeping: Outside of Khartoum there are just a few sleeping options in every town. In small towns you will only find so called “lokandas” (guesthouses) where locals go to get a bed for less than 1USD. Hotel rooms start at around 15$ and Khartoum has a HI hostel for less than 2$ for a dorm bed.

Foul is the staple food here consisting of fava beans, bread and egg.

Eating: Food is simple and cheap. You can get falafels and schwarmas for less than 20 cents. Foul (picture above) costs about 50cents. Other traditional meals which mainly consists of beans and meat would set you back 1-2 dollars.

Drinking: Alcohol is forbidden. Tap water is generally safe to drink and people will offer it to you everywhere, but there has been cases of cholera even in the capital.

There are some new Chinese trains and buses in addition to the beat up vans uses as minibuses

Transport: There is currently a gas shortage so buses leave less frequently and sometimes charge over double of normal price which should be around 2$ per hour on long drive buses and 10 cents for bus rides in the city. You will usually get your own seat which is an upgrade from East Africa where they squeeze in as many as possible. Hitchhiking is also easy and common!

People: Sudanese are the most friendly people I have come across. People always try to offer food and sometimes try to pay for stuff you are buying. You really have to insist on paying because most people here have very little, and can go too far to make you welcome.

Safety: Except for Darfur and Kordofan Sudan is one of the safest countries in Africa! Most people are poor, so pick pocketing can happen, but you will see people being polite and respectful towards you as a foreigner. You will also see people are genuinely interested hearing about life in your country so pictures of your house, family etc can be good to have ready on your phone.

Weather: One of the hottest countries I have ever visited. When walking around the pyramids in 46 degrees celcius it is crucial to bring enough water.

Visas: Have become much easier and once you have the visa you will no longer need travel permits to go anywhere in Sudan. I got mine the next day from the Embassy in Addis who just wanted 68$ and an application form, but most embassies will ask for a invitation letter which can be given by your host/hotels like Acropole. Visas has to be registered withing 72hrs of arrival for a 30$ fee.

Religion: Most people are muslim. The few times I walked in shorts I was given extra attention, so I ended up wearing pants the rest of my stay. If you are a girl get a hijab. It is not required by law, but 99% of the people here still wear it.

It is not certain how long Sudan will stay in its current state, but this is what you should expect if you are coming here during times of political sanctions, currency black market and gas shortages.

Is there any info you are missing, or did you have another experience when visiting Sudan? Feel free to write a comment below!