passengers disembarking ship at the port of Wadi Halfa sudan

Backpacking Sudan – Wadi Halfa to Dongola

[ Sudan Travel Advice ]

Sudan is a fascinating country with a long history and friendly, hospitable people.

And backpacking Sudan is a great value at $US 15-25, covering daily expenses.


Sudan sits amid the Sahara Desert – so summer is intense. June – the month I traveled – is the hottest and called “month of the sun” by Sudanese. July + August are a little cooler, due to slight rain and clouds (and the far north is always hotter than Khartoum).

Sudan Backpacking Advice

passengers disembarking ship at the port of Wadi Halfa sudan
Sudan Travel Advice: Watch-out for the mad rush and crush of passengers when disembarking at the Sudanese port of Wadi Halfa.

Sudan Travel Tips – Ship from Aswan to Wadi Halfa

Sailing south by ship across Lake Nasser – up the Nile – to the border port of Wadi Halfa in Sudan during summer is an arduous but memorable journey.

You CAN NOT buy a ship ticket to Wadi Halfa – UNTIL YOU HAVE A SUDANESE VISA

SUDAN VISA in Aswan. Wait 3 days. NEED: $US50, 2 photos, copy of passport page. (but check for the latest updates)

  • Check Internet for latest schedule and prices
  • SHIP PRICES – Aswan to Wadi Halfa: Second class – sleep anywhere – LE 307; First class – not luxurious, cabins for 2 people = LE 485 each (best option, but difficult to obtain).
  • Sailing can be twice weekly: leaving Aswan always on Sunday + sometimes, on Thursday.
  • Departures around 5 pm.
  • Price includes one simple meal.

If you have a second-class ticket (like me) comfort options aren’t good. Outside on the deck would be better if the heat allows (like under the lifeboats for some shade).

Getting there really early hardly seems worth it; all space anywhere will be encroached on by late-comers, anyway.

A ship made for 200 squeezes 600+ people on PLUS masses of baggage.

backpacking sudan across the sahara desert
Beyond the fertile Nile River fringe – the vast, parched, searing expanse of the Nubian Desert (part of the Greater Sahara region).

Getting to the port by train from Aswan city is easy

A relaxing train ride from Aswan (7:45 am) ends with crowds of people waiting around.

Getting bored. Baggage and boxes stacked. Waiting for port gates to open. Heat already intense.

Around you, pushing, shouting, arguing. Slowly squeezing thru barriers to pay port fees, go thru customs, immigration, more customs. Bags and porters and people everywhere.

Money changers at outer gates. Egyptian + Sudanese + US dollars can buy drinks, snacks, meals on board.

Much shouting and commotion.

MONEY: Leaving Egypt at Aswan Port, you’ll need Egyptian cash: LE 40 for port tax + LE 2 for immigration stamp.

Conditions on board the ship to Wadi Halfa

On board, you may get a bench to share. The AC works. But there’s no view thru the portholes.

Outside – it’s way too hot; frighteningly hot – on the steel deck in summer.

Besides, there’s still 8 hours – til departure.

This early arrival only guarantees you a tiny patch of public space that will shrink with overcrowding in the coming hours.

So you sleep when and where you can.

traditionally clothed sudanese men. one smoking shesha pipe sudan
Locals of Dongola + Abri in Sudan.

Arriving at the port of Wadi Halfa in Sudan

The crush to get off the next morning is frantic – like fleeing a burning building.

Stalled by a narrow exit and stern police checks.

Make sure you have both visa entry stamp AND the separate travel permit paper – done on board. Find the officials upstairs in first class, otherwise you won’t get off the ship.

Clambering into an open truck.

Tired. boiling.

Lack of sleep is intense.

Driven to customs building. Bags everywhere. Friendly, fast, hassle-free for the foreigner.

Sitting in the back of a covered pickup to the dusty, remote town of Wadi Halfa (cost: 10 SDP).

Travel Tips for Wadi Halfa

backpacking sudan street stall in wadi halfa
Street stall in Wadi Halfa.

Most hotels in Wadi Halfa don’t have running water and are just rope beds in bleak rooms or out in a courtyard.

One exception is the ‘Cleopatra Hotel’ which has fans – not much use in summer – and showers in shared bathrooms.

  • BLACK MARKET MONEY EXCHANGE RATES IN WADI HALFA – as of early May 2013: $US1 = 6.6 / 6.7 SDP (much better than official rate). The money guys will find you.

Sleep will be patchy over the next few days. Rooms stay hot in Summer – as walls and roofs exhale heat all night. Any fan will just surge hot air at you. So, sleeping outside is the only option. 

sai-island-ruins nile river sudan
Looking from Ottoman fort ruins on Sai Island, within the Nile, 10 km south of Abri; at the end of searing day.

Staying in Abri – Sudan Travel Tips

No electricity in Abri, limited washing water, too.

Very basic ‘Leger Hotel’ is the only option at 15 SDP per bed.

But you have to buy all 4 beds at 60 SDP for this broken, dirt-floor room. Beds dragged into the yard at night.

Use repellent.

Manager is helpful for transport.

friendly faces of dongola sudan
Old + young. The friendly faces of Dongola in Sudan.

Backpacking Sudan – Dongola

The discovery of an A/C room with working bathroom is bliss ( Olla Hotel: ragged twin room = 60 SDP; ‘Lord Hotel’ – owner, very knowledgeable – offers beds for 10 SDP ).

Street meals of fried Nile Perch @ 15 SDP.

Decent internet cafe connections @ 5 SDP / hour.

REGISTRATION in Dongola costs 205 SDP and takes about 30 minutes (officials didn’t seem to care if it’s done beyond the “3 day” period).

The Dafufar – from 2400 BC – mud-brick temple ruins at Kerma, Sudan. Once the capital of the Kushite Empire. Get here from Dongola.

I share this entire journey from Aswan to Dongola with Tomo, a chilled, 27-year-old Japanese backpacker.

We both crave icy beer. Daily. Hourly. Constantly.

Temperatures reach 47 degrees Celsius.

Tough luck. No beer here!

men at wedding reception meal in  dongola sudan
Invited to a wedding reception meal in Dongola.

Backpacking Sudan – Travel Itinerary Going South

Thanks to recent Chinese road improvements, transportation is easy and the roads are sealed and smooth, served by mini-buses (and long-distance buses).

Giving to a disabled street guy my cash in the top left corner. Photos of “beggars” are illegal in Sudan, as stated by the government photography permit. Nevermind.

Glorious sights further south to visit while backpacking Sudan:

Donkey cart passing the Kerma mosque in sudan
Donkey cart passing the Kerma mosque.

5 reasons to go backpacking in Sudan – from Wadi Halfa + Dongola

Well, if the photos above aren’t enough to get excited – let me spell it out?

  1. Follow the famous Nile River surrounded by stunning lonely desert.
  2. Visit friendly Nubian villages or simply sit in a cafe with a shesha (pipe) and welcoming locals.
  3. Wander around Sai Island and explore the ancient ruins of various eras.
  4. Go to Kerma for the Dafufar: a mud-brick temple ruin from 2400 BC.
  5. Enjoy a leisurely cruise – outside of summer – across Lake Nasser. You can see the Abu Simbel temples if camped on the decks outside. Or better still, reserve a cabin (take some alcohol and munchies and totally chill).

Travels in Sudan – 2013

Join the Journey

Get my FREE book of Crazy Travels & occasional updates

Join the Journey

Get my FREE book of Crazy Travels & occasional updates