Every time I say that, so far, Sudan is my favourite country in Africa people open their eyes as if they were planets. They can’t believe it and I can’t blame them. Before setting foot in Africa, the idea of crossing Sudan made me panic. Was traveling to Sudan safe? I often found myself trying to get answers from Google. “Is Sudan dangerous for tourism?” “Travel tips to visit Sudan”. It was useless. Most of the information at the time was not updated and I always ended up frustrated. However, as we got closer to the border, every traveler we met had the same yo say: “You will love Sudan”. And they were so right.
In this guide for traveling to Sudan I will try to sum up all the important aspects you need to know while organizing your trip: visas, permits, money, highlights and budget. And I plan to update it so if you have new information or consider that there is something important missing, please let me know and I will add it right away.
Índice / Index:
- 1 Is it safe to travel to Sudan?
- 2 Traveling to Sudan: visas and permits
- 3 Traveling to Sudan: money
- 4 Travel insurance for Sudan
- 5 Best time to travel to Sudan
- 6 Sudan on a shoestring
- 7 Cultural shock
- 8 Female solo travelers in Sudan:
- 9 Do not travel to Sudan without:
Is it safe to travel to Sudan?
Let’s begin with the biggest concern when it comes to traveling to Sudan. How safe is it for a tourist? The first thing we need to know is that Sudan is not the same as South Sudan (the country that got its independence in 2011 after many riots and conflicts). Sudan (just Sudan, not “North Sudan” or anything like it) is a complex country and, as such, there are safer areas than others. The north region, Khartoum included, is free of tensions. If you decide to go there, you are likely to be the only visitor around and feel very welcomed. Local people are aware of their bad reputation so they will do their best to prove bad press wrong.
The South and West region, specially the area of Darfur, are not allowed for visitors. Besides the warning (it is an area where conflicts are still going on), it is not legally possible to get there unless you are part of an official NGO or a religious mission (and have the thousand permits and signatures allowing you to enter the area). Sudan, as I will detail later, is a very bureaucratic country and makes all kinds of efforts to guarantee safety for travelers. (I have to admit that this concern sometimes leads into never ending controls and can become a bit annoying).
That said, traveling around the permitted areas of Sudan is not just safe: it is really worthy.
Traveling to Sudan: visas and permits
Every person who wants to travel to Sudan needs to have a visa and that visa must be obtained before getting to the country. Sudan has no visa on arrival policy. There are three options to get a visa, depending on your nationality and the place where you are traveling from. In any case, getting a sudanese visa is not possible if you have a stamp from Israel in your passport.
Sudan visa in your home country or country of residence:
If there is a Sudanese embassy in your country you can apply from there. Otherwise, you have to do it through Washington and it is quite complicated: besides the regular requirements, you need to have a letter of invitation or a sponsor from an oficial travel agency. It is bureaucratic and expensive: the whole process costs around U$D 150.
Sudan visa in Cairo / Addis Ababa:
If you are traveling overland from North to South or the other way around, the only countries with available border crossings are Egypt and Ethiopia. In both cases visas are not easy to get.
In Cairo, beside the pictures and the money, you need to have a letter of recommendation from your embassy and getting one will depend on your country’s policies and relations with Sudan. In my case, the Argentinian embassy does not provide such documents unless you are an official employee from an NGO or belong to any religious mission. If I have to be honest, they didn’t only refuse to give me the letter but also disencourage me to go to Sudan with arguments that could perfectly be the plot of a bad Hollywood movie. From cannibals to kidnapping (not kidding), making it very clear that they wouldn’t pay for any rescue in case something happened. I totally understand they didn’t want to be responsible for a couple of random backpackers traveling to Sudan but the misinformation was totally embarrassing.
In Addis Abeba the visa costs U$D 60, but the whole process is approved in Khartoum and it can take weeks or even months. Whether they ask you for the famous letter or not is a matter of luck. If you are continuing your trip through Egypt and you already have a visa, it is easier to get a 2 week sudanese visa transit.
Visa in Aswan
This is the simplest and the most convenient option. In Aswan there is a small consulate that will ask for 2 copies of the front page of your passport, 2 pictures, complete a form and a U$D 50 fee. You leave your passport and 3 days later the visa is ready. Extra tips: please respect the dress code (no matter how on a shoestring you are traveling). If you are a woman, Sudan is a muslim country just like Egypt but less used to tourism. Cover your shoulders and knees. And be patient.
Registration, Travel and Photo Permit and other bureaucracies
Getting the visa and entering the country is not the end of paperwork…but just the beginning. Let’s see:
1. Tax and form at the border
If you cross the border Aswan – Wadi Halfa you will have to pay a small tax fee and to fill in a form. Once you finish, they will give you a copy that says “30 days of accommodation”. ¿What does it mean? Well, it is a bit confusing. If my visa says “60 days”, why do I have a 30 days permission? The most reasonable explanation was that I got one month to arrive in Khartoum and get the official Travel permit. It is very important not to lose that piece of paper, as the police will check it every time to register in a hotel (see point 4). That seems to be even more important than the passport.
From the moment you cross the border, you have 3 days to register at any police station. The process is very simple and can be done at Wadi Halfa. You need to pay around U$D 40 (pay in local currency, the exchange rate is more convenient). They will put a sticker in your passport and, from now on, every police officer will check for the visa, the permit and that sticker. Though I read in many forums that you need to do the whole process again in Khartoum, at the time of my travel that was no longer necessary.
3. Travel and Photo Permit
It used to be a great bureaucracy experience, but since 2018 it is no longer needed. Though the whole process was easy and free, it was a bit annoying since you have to make tons of copies to deliver to every police officer while traveling in Sudan. I still keep mine as a souvenir.
4. Hotel registration
Depending on the city, the arrival time, the hotel and the receptionist it is possible you have to register at the local police station. Don’t freak out: it is routine. You show all your documents and that ‘s it.
Traveling to Sudan: money
The official currency of Sudan is Sudanese pound. At the time of my travel the exchange rate was 1 U$D = 11 SDG. ATMS does not work in Sudan and it is not possible to pay with any kind of card. That means: you have to enter the country with all the money you will need. Plan ahead.
The exchange rate varies a lot from the bank to the black market. The second one is way more convenient. Euros are not easily accepted.
Travel insurance for Sudan
Though no one checked it, the migration officer asked me if I had one before stamping my passport. Most of the travel insurance will not cover Sudan, so check before buying.
Best time to travel to Sudan
Go in winter, definitely. From November to March is the best season to enjoy Sudan. The rest of the year it can be extremely hot. I was there in March and, at some evenings, temperatures reached over 30ºC.
Sudan on a shoestring
The following is a quick guide to give you and idea of regular prices in Sudan. I normally travel light, backpacker style, so if you decide to go more luxurious keep in mind there are always higher priced options:
Sleeping in Sudan:
There are two options in Sudan when it comes to accommodation: regular hotels and the famous lokandas. A double room in a hotel goes around 120 SGD/250 SDG la with private bathroom. It can get a bit more expensive in Khartoum.
The lokanda is a series of rooms around an open courtyard, that is the cheapest of the options in Sudan. (But still enough to sleep and have a local experience). Prices go from 50 SDG to 80 SDG the room, depending on the place. In many lokandas there are shared rooms but women are not allowed (and I guess it wouldn’t be comfortable even if we were). No sheets are provided and toilets are not in the best shape but, again, local experience for one night.
Eating in Sudan:
Sudanese typical food is based on two ingredients: ful and tamia. Ful is a basic stew of fava beans and tamia is the local version of falafel. One daily menu costs around 30 SDG, a bottle of water 3 SDg and a piece of chicken around 50 SDG.
As I said, we hitchhiked most of the time and it was super easy and safe. However, here are some prices to have an idea:
Wadi Halfa to Abri (180km): 60SDG ($2.50)
Abri to Dongola (230km): 80SDG ($3.30)
Abri to Karima (200km): 60SDG ($2.50)
I know that rather than practical info this is a more personal matter, but I think it is worth reminding. Sudan, as I said, is a wonderful country but the cultural shock can be big if you don’t prepare yourself. In Sudan the sharia law is THE law, so that means the religious code is above any other. In other words: if you are not respectful, no embassy will be able to do much.
That, of course, does not mean they are extremist or anything like it. Covering your hair is not mandatory, you can talk to men as well as women and you are allowed to enter places such as restaurants or bars that most local women wouldn’t. But if you don’t respect the dress code, or if you decide to walk around naked near your hotel window and your neighbour calls the police, you will be accused of exhibitionism (true story that happened while I was there, don’t know how it ended).
If you respect the following rules, you will not face trouble while traveling to Sudan:
+ alcohol is forbidden and though some expats manage to get some, drinking publicly is illegal.
+ Sudanese summer can be dramatic, but you still need to cover your shoulders, knees and neck.
+ If you go to the coast and decide to swim, please wear clothes.
+ Do not show affection in public. Holding hands is ok but do not kiss or hug.
Female solo travelers in Sudan:
One of the things that really surprised me when looking for information was that many female travelers referred to Sudan as a great country to travel alone. Being there I can totally understand why, but since it is a very strict country when it comes to rules and religion, we could think otherwise.
In my experience, Sudan is safer and more respectful with women than Egypt or Morocco. As I said many times, if you respect the dress code and behave in a modest way, you should not face trouble. However, you need to be ready for curiosity when traveling to Sudan. Being a muslim country they will ask you a lot abour marriage and children. Though I hate lying, it is better to say that you are married or engaged and that you are looking forward to having babies. (You can be honest you feel comfortable with the person you are talking to but when it comes to my own experience, the explanation about my personal situation only led me to never ending conversations that can be uncomfortable and, sometimes, useless or even offensive). I recommend you to read this interview if you want to have another perspective.
Do not travel to Sudan without:
… passport size pictures. You can get them there but it is always convenient to have them with you.
… copies of everything. Sudanese love to ask for permits and documents, so always have copies you can give them.
… a power strip. I know it sounds ridiculous, but if you travel with a lot of technology, trust me, you will thank me. Hotel rooms and bars never have more than one plug and charging everything (especially if you are not alone) can be challenging.
… a water filter. Sudan is packed with this great invention called fuket: clay containers full of water open to public. They are everywhere, even by the side of the road. It can be risky if your stomach is not used to it but if you have a filter, problem solved. Ever since I travel with a LifeStraw I forget about buying bottles of water: I drink water from every tap. Never had a problem.
… menstrual supplies (ok, don’t really know how to name them!). It is not easy at all to get tampax or anything like it in Sudan, so better take them with you.
… sun screen.
…sleeping bag. Even if you are not camping. In cheap hotels it can be very useful. … open mind, heart and watch. Sudan is a country to travel slowly, run away from calendars and taste every bite. If you follow the roads you will miss the chance to visit villages and meet wonderful people (that, in my opinion, are the best of Sudan). Trust me, you will have an amazing experience if you take time to enjoy it.
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