11 Things You Need to Know Before Travelling to SUDAN

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There are so many things I love about getting off the beaten travellers track. Cheaper trips, unpredictable adventures, delightful spontaneity and not having to muscle my way through hordes of other backpackers are just a handful of the things that make travelling to the more unusual destinations so worthwhile.

However, whilst the spontaneity and ‘venturing into the unknown’ are some of the main appeals of travelling to these places, you also don’t want to go in completely blind, as doing so in certain places could easily land you in quite a pickle!

So, if you are planning a trip to Sudan in the future – here are eleven things that you simply must know before you go.

1. Arabic is widely spoken, English is not

This is a bit of a given, but it is important to understand how limited the English fluency is in Sudan. I have travelled to over 60 countries, and this was only the second time I felt extremely limited by not knowing the local tongue. Do yourself a favour and try to learn a little Arabic before your visit, and when in doubt, remember that if you need the toilet – ask for the ‘alhamam!’

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2. The black market exchange rate will double your money

The official exchange rate is about 40 Sudanese Pounds (SDP) to every $1 USD – however, if you exchange money with black market street hawkers (which you absolutely should do) it is not unheard of to get rates of 80-85 SDP per dollar!

This will make you money literally go twice as far, making Sudan a very appealing destination for those on a tight budget.

With the exception of the costs associated with obtaining a LOI and valid visa, you can quite easily backpack Sudan on $20 per day.

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3. Patience is key

Not much in Sudan happens quickly. When I arrived in Sudan, I quickly learned that if the internet says a bus ride will take 6 hours, it will actually take 10. If the internet says a standard cab fare is x amount, it will take 10 minutes of haggling to get the driver to agree to said amount. If you are in a rush to check into your hotel, you may have to wait for the owner/manager to wake up from his nap!

Things just take time in Sudan. It can feel a bit like an endless humbug and it can be trying for ones patience, but once you embrace the slow pace, travel in Sudan will get much more enjoyable.

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4. ATMs don’t accept foreign cards

This may be a foreign concept for some, but thanks to my previous travels in Iran, I was already well used to this! Basically, most foreign cards just won’t work in Sudanese ATMs, so you will need to carry all the cash you will need for your entire trip – preferably in US dollars. This may be a daunting concept, but luckily, Sudan is an extremely cheap place to backpack through, so you won’t actually need to carry a huge amount of cashola. Just make sure to protect yourself by keeping separate chunks of it stashed in different spots – in your luggage, carry on and on your person – that will protect you in the unlikely event of a robbery.

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5. You’ll need to be prepared to haggle

Tuk tuks, taxis, hotel rooms and even entrance fees! Sudan is an incredibly budget friendly destination, but to get the maximum bang for your buck, some negotiations will be required. The biggest thing to remember? If anyone asks you to pay in US dollars, simply lie and say that you aren’t carrying any – it will always be cheaper paying in Sudanese pounds.

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6. Baggage claim can take forever

I don’t know if this is the norm, but I feel like I should warn people just in case! We flew into Khartoum from Addis Ababa and it was a seriously full flight. When we arrived, it took a good hour to clear customs and be stamped into the country. We figured that by the time we finally got through, our bags would be there waiting for us.

We were wrong.

I have honestly never, in my life, ever, seen so much baggage come out on the belt! It seemed like the locals had all been doing more than a spot of shopping in Addis, and as a result, the sheer number of bags and boxes to be unloaded was unreal. It took another 90 minutes before our bags finally came out, and during that time we pretty much convinced ourselves that we would never see them again – not exactly a stress free experience!

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7. SIM cards are cheap and reliable

When you land in Khartoum, make sure to stop by the MTN shop to purchase a sim card – we got a few gigabytes of data, as well as calls and texts, which enabled us to use maps, call drivers and utilise Google Translate on the go. Also, free Wi-Fi is definitely not a standard amenity in Sudan and outside of Khartoum, most hotels will not offer it – so your sim will be your best way to ensure that you keep an open line of communication with the outside world.

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8. Keep a few extra USD handy

It is almost always better to pay in Sudanese pounds rather than USD. However, there is one notable exception!

The pyramids of Meroë are one of the main attractions for tourists in Sudan, and for good reason! This ancient city dates back to around 542 BC (which is an insanely long time ago) and was the site of ruling Sudanese royalty, before becoming the seat of government in the 3rd century BC and then eventually collapsing in around 300 AD.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is utterly unique, displaying a style of pyramid that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. The entrance fee for Meroë can only be paid in USD, so you definitely need to have a little extra stash of cash.

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9. The tea/coffee ladies are the unsung heroes of the nation

Wherever you go in Sudan, you won’t have to look far before finding one of these angelic woman on the side of the road. These little stalls seem to be exclusively run by women and are the perfect spot to sit down and caffeinate. There are usually quite a few seats next to each stall, so imbibing in what will likely be a delicious coffee (sometimes tea) is also a fantastic way to chat to locals and partake in the casual coffee culture of Sudan.

It does pay to note, unless your Arabic is decent, don’t even try to tell them how you usually take your coffee! You kinda just have to accept what they make you – and for the tiny cost that they charge (usually around 20c) – what you get is almost always delicious!

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10. You’ll need a visa

Unless you are one of the five visa exempt nationalities (Kuwait, UAE, Yemen, Qatar and Egypt – except for 18-49 year old males) or from one of the countries who can obtain a visa on arrival (Kenya, Malaysia and Turkey) you will need to organise a visa in advance through your closest Sudanese Embassy.

We got ours through the embassy in Canberra Australia. It cost us $154 AUD and the turnaround time was insanely fast! We had our passports and visas back to us within three business days.

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11. Sudan is cheap, safe, friendly and exciting!

Sudan is a completely underappreciated backpacking destination. There is so much to see (our weeklong trip on just scratched the surface), it is super cheap, people are kind and you’ll get to enjoy some of the most gorgeous Nubian art and architecture – and have it all to yourself while you do.

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What do you think? Would you like to visit Sudan one day?

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Lastly, I hope everyone has a wonderful New Years! Hopefully 2022 is a kinder year for all of us. I can’t wait to get back overseas with you all in the coming months.

Stay tuned!

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

25 thoughts on “11 Things You Need to Know Before Travelling to SUDAN

  1. Yes, if we ever get to be able to travel again in the proper sense of the word, then I think this is the kind of thing I have in mind doing. Looks absolutely fascinating and I love the absence of people.

    1. That is so amazing to hear! I know what you mean, it seems like the world of travel has changed so much now, I truly hope it returns to normal sooner rather than later!

  2. Thanks for providing practical advice and beautiful images! I can’t imagine having to carry cash for an entire journey since the ATMs won’t accept foreign cards!

    1. It definitely does require some forward planning, but it feels less scary in countries where you can travel cheaply. In Iran I only carried 500 euros for a two week trip and I left with 200 euros left over!

    1. It is my pleasure! I love Sudan so much and am telling anybody who will listen how wonderful it is 🙂

  3. Wow, what an amazing experience!! I was just a few minutes away from Sudan when I went to Abu Simbel in Egypt, but it looks like world’s apart. I’d love to get to visit such an off-the-beaten track kind of place. Thank you for the tips!

    1. I never made it to Abu Simbel, when I get back to Africa I definitely want to return to both Sudan and Egypt!

  4. Some great advice which I’ll definitely be taking when I go to Sudan. Literally not a place that was even on my radar before this exact minute, but it sure is now! Looks absolutely INCREDIBLE.

  5. Wow I love visiting less traveled destinations and have never thought of Sudan! This is an awesome guide

  6. I don’t have a trip to the Sudan planned. But it was still interesting to see what things to consider for such a trip. I would never have thought that I would get better rates for doing money exchange with street hawkers! We have found issues with Canadian cards before so we are always prepared for ATMs to balk. Good thing hubby is good with bargaining or I would never get a deal.

    1. Oh it definitely isn’t the only place where street hawkers give better deals – Iran is another prime example which comes to mind!

  7. You always have such amazing adventures! Although I may never visit the Sudan, reading about your experiences is always entertaining. These are definitely some great tips and insights for anyone planning a trip to the Sudan.

    1. Thanks Ava! I am always trying to visit places that are a bit left of centre and less visited, because often they end up being incredible hidden gems – just like Sudan was!

  8. I found this post so fascinating! I’ve honestly never really considered Sudan as a destination, but you made it sound way less intimidating than I would have thought! I love the sound of those little coffee “shops” on the side the road, although I’d be a little freaked out about carrying all my cash on me during the trip. However, not as freaked out as I would have been if it took my luggage 2.5 hours to arrive!!

    1. Oh my god, we definitely thought we were never going to see our bags again! But yes, Sudan was honestly not intimidating at all! Cities like Karima are some of the few in Africa that I felt comfortable walking around at night!

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