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 but thankfully after a 36-hour closure of the Sudan airport, it went back to normal operation. Would I have my flight one day earlier I probably would not be here right now?

Is 2020 still a bad time to visit Sudan?

It could be the worst time to visit Sudan these days. Its revolution 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 its still chaos.

He 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 on the streets to protest. They want a civilian lead government now - and normal price for bread and the military wants a military lead government. Due to the Sudan-uprising protests being on its peak, 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.

Map of Sudan:Tourist map with sights to see

April 15 - Arriving in Khartoum

The airport is small but money exchange and getting a local SIM card was no problem. It's easy to recognize 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 for three days and then afterward on the 4th-day to visit Khartoum, before continuing the journey to South Sudan. After long-distance walking in Riyadh, I was looking forward to just sit and relax 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

The manager of the tour agency has been waiting already to say "welcome" after 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 see the pyramids and the famous mountain. The driver "Mohamed" was also already there in the welcome committee and some minutes later I was in the car that will bring me around Sudan.

It was a three-day tour with the plan to visit Karima and the Barkal Mountain there, some graves and tombs, then drive to Meroe to see pyramids, and on the third day on the way back to see some more temples and then back to Khartoum - all in all about 1100 kilometers.

Thankfully with air-condition.
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
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 a long ride towards north to Karima. In this area is the Jebel Barkal Mountain, a big piece of rock with a great view over all Karima town.

Inside the mountain is a temple but it's not really impressive as it's very small and doesn’t remind to 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 good and especially to see the Karima pyramids from the top vanishing in the sunset is great too.

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 in the desert 

Sudan is frequently visited by tourists, but the infrastructure outside Khartoum is still bad when it comes to guesthouses or restaurants. There is lack of logistics to bring in proper food and so its all very very basic with the absolute minimum of food available. The accommodation I now do have an A/C but the A/C is in a size to cool down a nuclear power reactor and so is the noise.

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

April 16 - From Karima Pyramids to Meroe Pyramids 

In the early morning at 5:30am, the driver brought me to Nuri to see some more Nubian pyramids. Nubians are the people who built them. They are different than the Karima pyramids and also differentiate to 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 nileThe worst pyramids in Sudan are in NuriHow to not build a pyramidNuri 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 in 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 “brown” signs for tourists along the road that point and lead one directly into the right direction to see the sights. I realized its convenient to have a driver/guide here as he can fix several things that occur here.

For example to fill up gas at the station would be a big delay factor for self-driving, as gas stations are restricted here in Sudan. 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 70meter 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 station. After the short small talk, he gave them some 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 on 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

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 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 small amount to bribe, for what reason I don’t know and the driver just told me “Its 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 Uprising and protests in this April of 2019.

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

On the way to the main Nubian Pyramids

Its a long ride to Meroe with 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 cave 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 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 Khartoum Up 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 also in the future. Some of the restorations have gone a bit too far in my opinion, it looks 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.
Pyramids still alive and many tourists will comeSudan is open for tourism wavesItalian architect took all the goldThis is the one where the uber king was burriedEgypt doesn’t have the monopolyIn Sudan in Meroe are way more of them than in EgyptMeroe Pyramids are currently renovatedThe pyramids get a new paintingIts possible to go inside the pyramidsNo rotten king is visible anymore in thereThe pyramids have decorative elements designed by Pharaonic EgyptAncient is not always good. They need to be renewed.They blew off the roofs and took the gold from all of them in 1948

And the best pyramids in Sudan are...

The most I liked the pyramids of Meroe. These are the biggest ones in Sudan and built on dunes in the desert. It's nice to walk around them and visit the interior. Even all of them look almost the same empty inside, it was worth to take a look.

Almost all tops of the pyramids in Sudan are destroyed. 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 there was a hotel in the middle of the desert. From outside it looked fantastic and also it was good inside, for Sudanese conditions. Even 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, power turns off in the area and the heat 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

April 17 - Long way back to Khartoum

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

Depending on the time of the day and the sunlight, the pyramids in Meroe look completely different in the morning and evening. So I wanted to go visit the pyramids again in the morning.

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 site At least the local people care about the templesEvidence from the earliest civilization in SudanAmun had a own mountainView onto the Hathor Chapel in place called NagaHeroglyphs 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?

Also a water hole is there, from where the locals were digging for water (what else) the whole goes down 300 meters they said and they used ancient methods to grab the water. They used donkeys and camels to pull the rope one time from left one time from the right. The water they grabbed was just some dirty ugly soup but for them it's drinkable I guess. But they were even so kind and offered me a cup of freshly fetched water directly from the hatch.

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 was on 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 like, he pointed to an imprint at 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.

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 are 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

April 18 -  A day to see the capital

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 towards the island of Tuti. There are some old Sudanese houses and village. The island itself has a beach which is lively in the late afternoon until sunset. 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 photographedA big office building along dusty streetsOne of the biggest in KhartoumAlso called the CorinthiaProtesters come by train to KhartoumGood mint tea Not spectacular but this is Khartoum

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 its ok 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 things to see in Khartoum but a lot of old buildings and the scenery within the streets is worth to walk around here, even when the heat is getting intense with every hour.

Also to observe how people live here and how they dress, walk, eat, wait, is always a pleasure in every country, as in every country they do it somehow differently. 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 and a bigger group blocking the street while walking through the traffic with big Sudan flags.

No violence or so 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 is becoming alive. Many people come here to sit and put the feet into the water. Its only some coins to be paid to get shipped onto the island and a three-minute ride. Many tea-women serving tea, but didn’t want to try as I saw the water they were using was looking too ugly.

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 afternoonTo get there by ferry is cheap as nothingKhartoums island is good to relaxDriving 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