Sudan - Driving through the desert

The flight departed on time this morning from Saudi Arabia and so arrived in Khartoum. The protests here are still ongoing in Sudan's capital Khartoum, but thankfully after a 36-hour closure of the Sudan airport, it went back to normal operation. Just right before I arrived. Would I have my flight one day earlier I probably would not be here right now.

It could be the worst time to visit Sudan these days. It's revolution-time in Sudan. The president who was in charge for more than 30 years, got ditched by the military only three days ago before my arrival and it's still chaos.

My plan was to spend 3 days on the road through the desert of Sudan and then visit the capital Khartoum.

Is Sudan safe for tourists?

The president was responsible for many conflicts and wars and recently increased the price of bread. People in Sudan like bread and that's why they went to the streets to protest. They want a civilian lead government now - and a normal price for bread. On the contrary, the military wants a military lead government - it's always the same in Africa.

Due to the Sudan-uprising protests being at their peak right now, I didn’t expect to get here as planned.

But Sudan became a touristy place over the last dozens of years and they kept themselves mostly out of major troubles that would have kept tourists away.

So it's fair to say Sudan is pretty safe to visit.
Tourist map with sights to see

April 15 - Day 1 - Arriving in Khartoum

The airport is small but money exchange and getting a local SIM card was no problem.

It's easy to see that Sudan has experience with international visitors and especially with tourism when comparing it to other African countries.

My plan here in Sudan was to drive around the desert for three days and then afterward on the 4th-day, to visit Khartoum. After long-distance walking in Riyadh the last few days, I was looking forward to just sitting and relaxing in the car.

Sudan is the third largest country in Africa
Stadium of KhartoumTourists are welcome even there are disputesBlue Nile Bridge in Khartoum

Driving around Sudan through the desert. Pyramids everywhere!

The manager of the tour agency has been waiting already to say "welcome" after I exited immigration.

They also cared about the mandatory Visa letter to get the visa in advance and visitor registration, and, they organized the roundtrip within Sudan to the pyramids and the famous mountains. The driver "Mohamed" was on the welcome committee and some minutes later I was in the pickup-truck that will bring me around Sudan.

It was a three-day tour with the itinerary to visit Karima and the Barkal Mountain, some graves and tombs, then drive to Meroe to see pyramids. On the third day on the way back we will pass some temples and then back to Khartoum - all in all about 1'100 kilometers.

The car thankfully came A/C

Driving to North of Sudan
People standing at the streetsEmpty gas stationsA lot of desert in SudanThe area is also known as NUBIAEntrance to desert from KhartoumOutside Khartoum the desert starts

Driving up north. Desert everywhere and extreme heat.

Sudan nomad village in the desert
Gas station in Sudan have no petrolSudanese Restaurant in the desertThere are 3 million camels in Sudan

Tombs along the way. The tombs of El-Kurru.

Served for kings and leaders
Tomb of El KurruInside the tombs are nice paintingsA king was burried in the tomb

Is there anything else than pyramids?

The first day was a long ride north to Karima. In this area is the "Jebel Barkal Mountain", a big piece of rock with a great view over Karima town.

Inside the mountain is a temple but it's not really impressive as it's very small and doesn’t remind of a temple anymore. I don’t know if it got destructed over several years or if it was always like that, the driver couldn’t tell me, or better said, didn’t understand my question.

The view from the top of the mountain is nice. Especially to see the Karima pyramids from the top vanishing in the sunset.

Jebel Barkal Mountain with the temple inside.

Mountain located 400 km north of Khartoum
In the background is Jebel Barkal13 temples and 3 palaces are around Jebel BarkalInside temple of Jebel Barkal MountainOnto the village of Karima, 400km from KhartoumIn Sudan the mountain is named World Heritage Sites by UNESCOMany sculptures have been destroyed, also the Lion

Barkal Pyramids beside the mountain, view from the mountain.

View from the mountain onto the Sudan pyramids
In Karima and beside the Jebel BarkalUsed to remove the kings when deadSmall but efficient pyramids were used to house death kings

Not many restaurants or civilizations in the desert 

Sudan is frequently visited by tourists, but the infrastructure outside Khartoum is bad when it comes to guesthouses or restaurants.

There is a lack of logistics to bring in proper food and so it's all very, very basic with the absolute minimum of food available. Maybe I just expected too much, as this is an African dessert in a country with high corruption and some of the poorest people on earth.

The accommodation does have an A/C, but the A/C comes in a size to cool down a nuclear power reactor and so is the noise it makes.

Desert village with few restaurants
Nuclear power reactor Air condition to cool down my roomDelicious with mint, but the water is dirtyFat layer of clothes on Sudanese Women

Day 2 - From Karima Pyramids to Meroe Pyramids 

In the early morning at 5:30am, the driver brought me to "Nuri" to see the Nubian pyramids.

Nubians are the people who built them. They are different than the Karima pyramids and also differentiate from the Meroe Pyramids, which will be on the route later.

They more look like heaps and piles of bricks and incidentally got the form of pyramids.

Some ugly pyramids of Sudan
Used to drag lazy people across the desertOnly in SudanSomehow the nubians were able to form a pyramidIn front of Nuri pyramidsNorth of Sudan and beside the nileNuri Pyramids are used to burry unpleasant kings

Self-driving in Sudan or not?

I was being transported around in SUV with A/C, and thankfully one that was working, which is not normal at all. The heat is extreme in Sudan with temperatures above 40 degrees.

The driving between the sites takes several hours each time and in total, the journey is about 1100 km of driving.

During my plannings, I was also thinking about self-driving a rental car here in Sudan, but now after one day on the tour, I definitely prefer to be driven around.

Some streets require a 4wd and almost all sites do not have proper roads to reach them, and there are no English signs for tourists along the road that point and lead one directly in the right direction to see the sights.

I realized it's convenient to have a driver/guide here as he can fix several things that occur here.

For example, filling up gas at the station would be a big delay factor for self-driving, as gas stations are restricted here in Sudan. This means, there is a huge amount of fuel but not enough capacity to bring it to the gas stations. This leads to waiting times of about 2 hours at a gas station with a 70-meter queue of cars. 

Conflict potential is huge and people get upset due to waiting in the heat, which is understandable. My driver seemed to know several people in every town and at the gas stations. After the short small talk, he gave them a small amount of cash to skip the line in the long car queue and we were back on the road after a few minutes.

This probably will be much more difficult being a tourist with self-driving.

As best as it can get
45 degrees in the desertMore than 50 percent is desertSudan has the second largest camel population in the worldLong river in Africa that flows through SudanWalks in the desert3000000 camels live in Sudan

A lot of police and checkpoints

There are several police checkpoints, I recount about 7 on the whole route and every time the driver had to explain to the police what the situation was about the tourist he is driving around, what the itinerary is, and who I am.

He had to give them copies of my passport and sometimes some bribe, for what reason I don’t know and the driver just told me “It's normal here”.

Another police officer didn't want anything but water. After opening the window he said:

Gimme water, GIMME WATER, NOW!

All settled, but still… it shows the power that the military and the police have in this country. They can ask for anything and treat people however they want.

Hopefully, this is changing for Sudan in general after the successful weeks of the Uprising and protests.

Mammals with long legs
The desert looks differentWalks the camel into the sudanese desertDrives towards Porth of SudanSudanese Donkey under the treeNubian Desert is rocky and ruggedDrives along the road in Meroe

On the way to the main Nubian Pyramids

It's a long ride to Meroe, about 4 hours. The pyramids of Meroe are visible from far as they are big and there are a lot of them over a big area.

There are not only pyramids in the same area but also some caves inside the mountains.

On the other side of the main street are further pyramids, also in big amounts. Small Pyramids.

Overall seen the pyramids in Sudan are not comparable to the pyramids in Egypt as they are much smaller. However, there are way more pyramids in Sudan compared to Egypt. All of them in a small area compared to the Egpyt pyramids and they also look completely different.

Almost like a drone photo
Selling knifes and souvenirsOn the left side of the Shendi Road200 kilometers (125 miles) north of KhartoumMeroë was an ancient city in the Kushite KingdomHistoric Meroë pyramids siteUp to 4,600 years oldthere are more pyramids in Sudan than Egypt4 hours from KhartoumUp in the mountain are caves with bats inside

They are re-building the pyramids

Currently, Sudan construction companies try to restore some pyramids to attract tourists in the future.

Some of the restorations have gone a bit too far. The pyramids now look too new and artificial, too clean and ordinary. But maybe tourists in 100 years will be happy to see these pyramids then when they are 100 years old.

Rarely visited. But a Unesco World Heritage site.
Sudan is open for tourism wavesItalian architect took all the goldThis is the one where the uber king was burriedIn Sudan in Meroe are way more of them than in EgyptMeroe Pyramids are currently renovatedNo rotten king is visible anymore in thereThe pyramids have decorative elements designed by Pharaonic EgyptAncient is not always good. They need to be renewed.

And the best pyramids in Sudan are...

The most I liked the pyramids of Meroe.

These are the biggest ones in Sudan and are built on dunes in the desert. It's nice to walk around them and visit the interior. Even all of them have almost the same emptiness inside.

Although almost all tops of the pyramids in Sudan are destroyed. I've been told:

This is due to some Italian architect who came to Sudan and blew off the tops of the pyramids, took out all the gold and left to back home. This happened in the 20th century and he even forced the locals to help him get the gold.

The second night on the tour was at a hotel in the middle of the desert. From the outside, it looked fantastic. From inside too, at least for Sudanese conditions. At least there was hot water to clean properly from all the sand. Also, there was A/C but this one didn’t make much sense as after 10pm, the power turns off in the area and the heat was too much to sleep properly. 

I had to move the bed outside of the room and sleep in the open area on the veranda. Nice to see the stars but on the other side, the wind is annoying to properly fall asleep.

Sunset on the Meroe Pyramids. It's nice in the evening, but the best time to visit the Meroe pyramids is in the morning.

Best time of the day to visit the pyramids is in the morning

Day 3 - Long way back to Khartoum

Today morning the sun disturbed already at 5:30am. The first scenery that I saw, was the Meroe pyramids as the hotel is on some kind of sandy mountain with a direct view of the pyramids.

Depending on the time of the day, the pyramids in Meroe look completely different in the morning and evening.

Getting up in Meroe and see pyramids from the bed
Light in the morning is way better on the pyramidsFlat roof is the result of being dynamited by Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini, who came and took all the gold.Seen from south of Meroe

The ride continued through the desert to a "village" called Naga. To see the Temple of Amun.

So this is Naga: Temple of Amun.

Amun Temple in Naga, not far from the Meroë pyramids,
The rulers with one of the earliest civilizationAt the walls and stones of the Naga templesNot much is left in the heat of the desert in SudanYes, Naga has lions made of stoneIt once upon a time was a kioskNaga is categorized as a Unesco world heritage siteAmun had a own mountainHeroglyphs on the altar table in Amun, SudanThey struggled to keep the temples and pyramids up and running

How do they get water in the desert?

A water hole in the middle of the desert, from where the locals were digging for water. 

The hole goes down 300 meters and they used ancient methods to get the water.

With donkeys and camels, they pull the rope. Although the water they get was just some dirty soup, but for them it's drinkable. They were kind and offered me a cup of freshly fetched brown water directly from the hatch (well thanks, but no). 

The livelihood of Sudan depends use of its water sources
300 meter deep water hole is made to get some waterDigging for Sudan's accessible underground waterUsed to get water in SudanSudanese women carry for the donkeysThe whole village helps finding water from the undergroundFalling in there is happening often

Another temple right along the road: El-Moswarat Andel-Naqa'a

Some very old man came out of the lion temple to show the inside and outside of the temple and its imprints.

The whole exhibition was this. He pointed to an imprint on the walls then walked to the next imprint and to the next and to the next, always explaining:

This Lion, small elephant. This king, old farmer, elephant. This big lion, two lions, slave. This king...

El-Moswarat Andel-Naqa'a has a old owner
He explains the imprints very well and easyIn this temple the king made quick process with robbersEl-Moswarat Andel-Naqa'a has many imprints of lions tooThe king sits right, whereas the slave has to sit leftLion Tenple is a one room apartment with 14 meters in lengthHe explains that lions are used as pets

The temple area next to the lion temple also belongs to Moswarat and is called "The Great Enclosure".

This was the last station before heading back to Khartoum while passing a few more police checkpoints.

is the main structure of the site
Labyrinth-like building complexerected in the third century BCNot much is left from the originalThe area includes temples, low walls, passagesThere are many sculptures of animalsPharao and cleopatra on a visit in Sudan

Driving back to Khartoum city center

Many people along the road trying to hitchhike. All sorts of people. Some look normal, some look funny and some look like terrorists.

Back in Khartoum, it seemed to be normal business going on, even though in some area of Khartoum thousands of people were protesting against the military regime.

The tour ended in Khartoum and the driver dropped me off at the hotel.

People are trying to hitchhike
In Sudan women dress conservativeAlong the road to Khartoum from MeroeSometimes they wear strange clothes in SudanNo protests visible in and outside of KhartoumDriven to Khartoum on a pickup truckPeople go shopping while protests are being held

Day 4 -  A day to see the capital Khartoum

One full day to see the city. During the ride back to Khartoum yesterday, I realized that getting around here isn’t just done by walking a bit from street to street. Khartoum is huge.

That’s also probably the reason I didn’t see a lot of related activity regarding the protests, as it was almost on the other side of the city.

In the morning I went to the island of Tuti.

There are some old Sudanese houses and villages. The island itself has a beach that is lively in the late afternoon until sunset. So I decided to go back here later in the afternoon.

An island where the White Nile and Blue Nile drift together
Its just a walk across the bridge to get back to KhartoumTuti is home to one small villageDrinking water from mugs in Tuti

Khartoum. Walking around.

5 million people live here
Every ten meters a woman serves teaBarbers and hairdressers in Khartoum work in the streetsWalk in Khartoum and doesnt like being photographedOne of the biggest in KhartoumAlso called the CorinthiaGood mint tea

No camel market but a museum

The national museum was free of entrance it seems. There was no cashier and the soldiers at the entrance just waved it was okay to go visit. They told me:

You can go in. It's free to visit our museum…! Al-Bashir (the president) doesn’t need any money anymore because he is in prison now.

There are not many official governmental things to see in Khartoum, but a lot of old buildings and the scenery within the streets is worth walking around, even when the heat is getting intense with every hour.

Also observing how people live and how they dress, walk, eat, and wait, is always a pleasure in every country, as in every country they do it somehow differently.

And so it is in Sudan.

There are many statues of kings
Sudan is huge on the MapNext to the musuem is the nile with broken shipsFree of entrance since the fall of Bashir

During the walking through Khartoum streets all day the only thing I heard and saw from protests was some chanting sometimes. At another point, a bigger group blocked the street while walking through the traffic with big Sudan flags.

However, no violence, and that was promising that I probably will have no problem tomorrow early morning to depart with BADR Airline to South Sudan.

Protests are happening daily
Not much to buy which is good to eatSudan people drive busses tooOld people like to sit and wait in streets

Three-minute ride to Tuti-island

In the evening the island gets alive. Many people come here to sit and put their feet into the water. It only costs some coins to get onto the island by a three-minute ferry ride.

Many tea-women serving tea, but didn’t want to try as I saw the water they were using. And I didn't want to risk becoming sick here as I've been told that in Sudan is one doctor for every 8000 people.

No time for that, I have to catch my flight tomorrow.

They want build a tourist resort on the island
People enjoy Tuti island in the late afternoonDriving back from Tuti to Khartoum by ferryWatching Tuti island from a boat


  1. I have always wanted to visit Sudan and see all the pyramids but the heat has put me off almost entirely from it. I don’t know if it is in my blood or what but I cannot tolerate high temps outside. I get very ill from it and sometimes pass out. I ended up moving from the Florida to Canada because I wanted longer, colder winters. My family still thinks I am nuts. Anyways, I loved reading this. I live through other people’s experiences since I am not able to go to places like this myself. Great work, I can tell you are passionate about travel.

  2. Replies
    1. Hi Quentin. No wasnt in Kassala. Its near to Eritrea, right? Is there something interesting to see or is your plan crossing the border to Eritrea?

  3. “All sorts of people. Some look normal, some look funny, some look like terrorists”. Really? Would you make the same comment if you saw hitchhikers in w. Europe or North America. Cmon travel is supposed to break down stereotypes not reinforce them. Sudan just got placed on Trumps banned country list because his ignorance is rooted in false stereotypes and assumptions.

    1. Thanks for reading and pointing out that Trump put Sudan on the banned country list. Im surprised to hear that, as my experience was that people are all very friendly in Sudan, no matter how they look like. In my opinion many west european countries should be put on Trumps banned country list as well, when we only look some specific hitchhikers around here.

  4. Hello from the US. Can you tell which company (travel agency) brought you around and how much it cost?

    1. Hi Trish. It was Raidan Travel