Backpacking and Travel in Sudan – Updated Information for Travellers
Straightforward post about backpacking and travel in Sudan. Have spent one month in Khartoum between October and November 2015. Below are some travel basics and updates.
Local Transport in Khartoum
Taxi from Khartoum airport to city rate is fixed 100 SDG. Only licensed airport taxis are allowed to airport parking, if you are hiring amjad you will have to switch to airport taxi about 500 m in front of airport entrance gate or walk to the airport.
Rickshas have driving limitations within Khartoum, you can not hire ricksha in Souq Arabic area, or move between Khartoum areas for example from Bahri to Khartoum 2 or to Omdurman as they are not allowed to cross the bridges and use fast roads.
Minibuses and buses are cheap in Khartoum but hard to use if you don’t speak Arabic besides you have to have good sense of the city and orientation. No numbers, no logic, just conductors screaming final station. (Salama, Ksenia, Souq Arabic). Mini bus ride costs between 1 to 2 pounds, depending on the distance and route.
To flag down minibus or van, make a move with your palm, like you would pat a child on the head. When you want to exit the minibus, just snap your fingers or make ksksks sound.
You can hire amjad, a small minivan that is actually private taxi but slightly cheaper, prices start from 40 SDG and up.
Taxi drivers don’t make pick ups on call.
In the near future (or distant future, you never know in Africa!) there are plans to launch water transport along river Nile in Khartoum.
Prices in Sudan
- Bus from Khartoum to Shendi 40 SDG
- Bus From Shendi to Atbara 70 SDG
- Bus from Karima to Khartoum (SDG 75)
- Bus to Atbara from Khartoum 70 SDG, although been quoted up to 120 SGD, if it’s the only bus leaving, they will not want to drop a price as they know you need to get to the bus
- Prices: bottle of water 0,5 l 2 -3 SDG
- Pack of 10 Sudanese cigarettes Lord 5 SDG
- Pizza 40 -70 SDG
- Kilo of tomatoes 30 SDG
- Kilo of grapes 50 SDG
- Julbab dress between 65 to 100 SDG if you don’t negotiate,
- Womens scarves from 15 to 40, 50 SDG depends on location of shopping and fabrics.
- Internet daily package between 3 to 5 SDG
- Glass of tea or spiced coffee at street lady vendors 3 SDG
- Medicine is cheap and available at the counter without any prescriptions required. If you are on a long term travel, good chance to stock travel medicine bag. (Coartem pills by Novartis 85 SDG, Summamed *Azithromycin alike antibiotics 24 SDG)
- Dental visit in Royal Hospital, 400 SDG
- Entrance fee to Meroe pyramids 50 SDG
- Entrance fee to National Museum of Sudan 2 SDG
Money Matters in Sudan
Bring US Dollars Cash
Since none of western credit cards are accepted in Sudan and ATMs don’t accept them either, you will be dependent on the amount of cash you bring to Sudan. US Dollars, like in other African countries, should be issued after 2006. For better exchange bring new dollar notes.
Exchange Money on Black Market
Official exchange rate for USD to SDG is miserable, 6 point something SDG for 1 US Dollar. If you arrive at the airport, you will need few Sudanese pounds to take onward transport, so try to exchange a little as possible. I was having only 100 USD bills, lost 400 SDG with exchange rate at the airport, and exchange office of course didn’t have or didn’t want to exchange lesser amount, saying they have no dollars.
While exchanging money on black market in Khartoum, expect rate 1 USD to be 10 SDG, don’t go lower than that. Bring nice flat new dollar bills. If you get offer under 10, its because you are a tourist or you are exchanging smaller notes than 100 USD. In Khartoum best place to find money changers is around Al Kabir mosque at Souq Arabic ( central market in Khartoum)
Spend all Sudanese money before departure or exchange it on the streets back to USD!
When leaving Sudan, either spend all your SDG or try to exchange them at black market back to US Dollars. Exchange offices at the airport only take dollars, but not want to exchange SDG back to USD, official excuse is that they don’t have it.
Registration on Police Station in Khartoum
Within 24 hours you should register at the police station. The cost is 400 SDG in total, but in case you don’t manage, you will have to do so at the departure at the Khartoum airport, or you will not get final exit stamp and will not be allowed to board the plane.
Hotels can arrange police registration for additional fee and save you a wasted day in Khartoum, if doing registration by yourself; you will need local that will fill in form in Arabic language. I registered at police station, located on opposite side of Afra Mall. Registration was surpirisingly quick, maybe took me 40 minutes but with transport to get there and back to my base in Khartoum took 5 hours in total.
Bring Several Copies of Passport Page, Photos and Visa
Sudan is red tape country; bring passport photos and copies of your visa and first page of passport with you. You will need copies of your passport and visa for registration at police station within 72 hours after your arrival to Sudan. Same copies are required for travel and photo permit. While travelling always have passport and permits with you.
Tamam! 🙂 Alhamdolellah!
Language wise it is quite a challenge to communicate with people on the streets as nobody speaks good English. If you travel in Sudan with travel agent then you will be ok, since everything will be arranged for you. Independent travellers learn Sudanese Arabic basics or you will loose lots of time and nerves. Try to learn some basic phrases, numbers for shopping and for getting around Khartoum on your own research the areas, as buses don’t have any logic and conductors and drivers speak no English at all.
No Alcohol in Sudan
If you are used to fight hot sunny days with a glass of beer, this will not be possible in Sudan. Sudan is ruled under Sharia law and if you like drinking alcohol, you will not be able to do so in Sudan. Alcohol is prohibited; it is impossible to find it. Neither in the best 5 star hotels. Stick to tea and Sudanese coffee with ginger and cardamom – must try it!
Stock Yourself With Bottled Water for Bus Travel in Sudan
Some buses will serve a bottled juice, but most of the buses serve tap water from a bucket, so its good to have a bottled water with you anytime travelling by bus in Sudan.
Female Solo Travel in Sudan
From female traveler point of view, I can say, no concerns! All I got was some Kwahaja (similar like Mzungu in East Africa) remarks from males, but on general nobody bothers or harasses you. The worst are always bus stations like anywhere in Africa, and markets might be a bit tricky, noticed some staring and probably some sexist jokes in Arabic between men according to their laughter.
I wore loose long trousers and ¾ sleeved tops. Wearing a scarf is a plus, people will appreciate you fitting in their culture and on general have felt very safe as a woman.
I did wear abaya few times, became invisible and all people thought I was Muslim from Syria (because of white skin). Another really surprising thing I noticed, on buses women always get seats. If the seats are full, there will always be a man who will stand up and give you the seat. On the other hand don’t expect too much help from males with heavy luggage.
You can buy everything in Khartoum and small local shops. Afra mall is the place for those who need western products, you will get anything from Corn flakes, Always pads, hair color, soaps, Lipton tea, etc.
Internet in Sudan
There are three internet and cell phone service providers, Sudan, MTN and Zain. Ignore Sudan, use MTN or Zain internet. You can buy daily, weekly or monthly packages. Daily internet with Zain costs 3 SDG for 24hours, monthly rates for mobile internet are between 150 to 300 SDG depending on the package and data is limited to daily use. Usb internet dongle costs 60 SGD.
Be Careful Where You Take Photos in Khartoum
Aside from the museums, taking photos in Khartoum (even with a photo permit) is asking for trouble. Although we are used to snap photos just everywhere, Khartoum is different story. Anytime I wanted to take a photo in Khartoum, to capture street vibes, I was reminded by my local friend that we are in public place and even a photo of a road sign can get you into trouble. All Africa street (locals call it Airport street) is no no photo area.
Best Way to Snap Photos in Public Places in Khartoum is With Phone or Simple Small Camera
Having big camera in Khartoum is useless, so rather bring something less intimidating like go pro or take pictures with phone to attract less attention.
Travel and Photo Permit
To obtain travel and photo permit for Sudan, which is now only one document, you have to go to Ministry of Tourism, Antiquities and Wildlife. Permit is free, just make sure you have passport, passport first page copy, visa copy along with passport photo.
Photo permit strictly forbids photographing following subjects: military areas, bridges, train stations, board casting or public utilities such as water, gas, petrol or electricity stations, slum areas, beggars or other defaming subjects. Video cameras and commercial filming have special permit request by local authorities.