Visiting Meroe Pyramids on Your Own
If you are backpacking in Sudan and want to save a huge amount of dollars, then doing the Meroe pyramids backpacking tour by yourself is the cheapest option, hence it can be demanding in terms of transport and logistics back from Meroe.
Just out of curiosity, I sent few emails to local agents in Khartoum to see the price for Meroe pyramid tour and the quoted rates I received were totally out of my travel budget. Car hire with driver for a day costs around 300 USD, a tour that includes some other sites for two nights including camping in Meroe, costs 900 USD for single person or if there is group of three people, 600 USD per person.
Meroe Pyramids Trip From Khartoum
Obviously I decided to do Meroe pyramids backpacking way, alone, by local transport. Since I was based on outskirts of Khartoum, my trip started at 4 AM, as I needed almost two hours to reach Bahri North Station. And to add a little bit of sloppiness to my planning, I took the bus for Shendi instead for Atbara. While on the bus I found out, if I want to step off in Begaraweiah village which is the closest point to reach Meroe site, I should have taken a bus to Atbara. So I stepped off in Shendi, changed the bus to Atbara and within an hour, bus stopped for me and dropped me off by the road about a kilometer from Meroe gate. It sounds easy so far. I stocked myself with 2 litres of water, since I expected the site would have at least a tea selling stands, but once there, I realised I will have to save with water since there are only souvenir vendors selling bracelets and other small souvenirs.
As I stepped off the bus two camel riders approached me, offered a camel ride, but didn’t take it, as I could see the pyramids in the distance and found sitting on a camel tacky when I can walk. The heat was quite strong but bearable as long as you drink plenty and your head is covered.
So, nevertheless, I have never sat on a camel, I wanted just to try to see how it feels like, and although I consider myself an avid traveller, in all the momentary excitement I forgot nothing is free, so I ended up paying 20 SDG just for a photo on a camel. It happens. Camel riders aren’t pushy like in Egypt, were friendly and they escorted me to the Meroe gate.
At the gate, you have to pay 50 SGD to the gatekeeper – ghaffir, the entrance fee while locals have free entry. I was a bit tired from all the bus rides from 4 am, so first thing I did, I sat down in the shadow, had a bottle of water and chit chat with people and vendors who joined me. Although this chat was more gesticulation as nobody speaks good English, just few words, but still it was nice to have some company.
Meroe site is awesome! No tourists, just me and pyramids. For me it was more than just taking photos, I sat down at the site in a shadow next to one of the pyramids, enjoyed the views and just listened to the blowing wind. After two weeks of noisy, hectic Khartoum it felt like a heaven for my soul.
I visited during the day, although pyramids are most stunning early in the morning in golden hour. My initial plan was to overnight in a sleeping bag liner under the stars, but I was discouraged by locals due to scorpions and snakes.
I didn’t have a tent, so after giving it a bit of a thought and hearing that nearest hospital is six hours away, I somehow decided not to risk it. Call me a sissy if you want.
Hitchhiking From Meroe Back to Shendi
Another »joy” of solo visiting Meroe site is getting back to Shendi. Lonely planet forum members and also other travel guides claim it’s easy to hitchhike a bus or a ride, from the road in the desert, but frankly it isn’t. I was hitchhiking for three hours in the hot sun, with running out of water, nobody stopped, buses passed by, blinking with lights, other people in cars were laughing at me at waving me hello. For me it wasn’t funny at all, as I was slightly effected by the heat, all alone with 2 dcl of water left. At that point was working out plan b in my head, to return to the gate and see if I can manage to do something about it, but on the other hand didn’t want to miss possibly potential bus that might stop and pick me up eventually.
Looks like times in Sudan have changed and people are not stopping to foreigners that easily anymore.
Luckily out of nowhere a guy with a camel approached me, I was I admit a little desperate already, as I wanted to get back to Shendi town as soon as possible in order to catch another bus back to Khartoum before the night. Another thing was that my phone didn’t work, MTN on smart phone showed no signal, so when camel guy Abdul showed up, my desperation was so obvious, that it didn’t need any additional translation.
He showed me his simple phone, started calling, and within 20 minutes I understood, he called a friend who knows a friend from nearby village that owns a car and he can take me to Shendi for 150 SDG. I accepted the price, just to get the ride. From then on all went smoothly, this guy with a car dropped me on Shendi bus station and 1 hour later I was on the way back to Khartoum.
Lesson learned, don’t believe everything you read on travel forums that claim how easy is travel in Sudan for backpackers, plan better if you want to go to Meroe by yourself, getting back can be tricky and stock your self with more than 2 litres of water.
Reasons Why You Should do Meroe Pyramids Backpacking Way
Its not all just about the budget. It’s about experience, the journey. The whole journey to Meroe pyramids, taking a bus, haggle for the price, dealing with touts that will call you Khawaja (starnger, smilar than Mzungu in East Africa), chatting with locals, and what is the most priceless experience – having Meroe pyramids for your self!
How To Do Meroe Pyramids Trip On Your Own
I once again admit my sloppiness in planing and preparation. From Khartoum take bus for Atbara, price now is 70 SDG. Tell the conductor to drop you off in Begaraweiah. In this case you might have same problems as me getting transport to Atbara or to Shendi. If you are adventurous you can hire a camel ride to Khartoum, they told me it takes 5 days.
You can take a bus from Khartoum to Shendi and instead of going to the next bus to Atbara, hire a taxi driver to take you to the site, and ask him to wait for you and take you back to Shendi. Locals told me solo travellers do that.
Of course if you are not limited by budget, then feel free to book a tour to Meroe pyramids from Khartoum and you will have no worries how to get from point a to b. In any case, Meroe pyramids trip can be done in one day.
Good to Know if Travelling Solo to Meroe Pyramids
- Stock yourself with plenty of water.
- Wear sunscreen.
- Bring toilet paper and baby wipes, there is a squat toilet shack on the site thats all.
- Have passport and travel and photo permit with you. You will be checked on check points.
- If you get in trouble find the camel guys!