Alone at Sudan’s Meroe Pyramids

When you think pyramids do you flash to Egypt? Or Mexico and Guatemala?

Maybe even China and Peru?

But how about Sudan? They’re here, too.

And, if that’s not enough to get you going, Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt.

AND they are older*.

* Well, not if you count the one at Saqqara, which is about 4,700 years old. That step – yeah step, not triangular – pyramid, was the first one the Egyptians ever built. (I visited Saqqara in 1995.)

The pyramids at Meroe are 4,600 years old

front view of the meroe pyramids in sudan
Lonely footprints in the sands of Meroe.

Many of Sudan’s pyramids are near the Nile River

But I’ll focus on the most famous and most breathtaking pyramids – those at Meroe, also known as Begrawiya, around 250 km north of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.


Alone at Sudan’s Meroe – lost amid the Nubian desert sand.

History of Sudan’s Pyramids at Meroe

During its peak, the Meroe Empire stretched over 1,000 km of the Nile valley.

Knowledge of the Meroe pyramids was first brought to the European world by Frederic Cailliaud in 1821.


*Karima also has some awesome pyramids. I went there after Meroe.

sudan pyramids at meroe
Sudan’s inspiring pyramids at Meroe in late afternoon in summer, alone.

Meroe’s wealth came from iron-smelting and gold deposits, with international trade reaching India and China.

The iron industry of Meroe made the city as famous as its wealth and, of course, contributed greatly to that wealth as the iron workers of Meroe were considered the best, and iron tools and weapons were much sought after.

Sand dunes creeping up upon the Sudanese pyramids of Meroe.
Sand dunes creeping up upon the Sudanese pyramids of Meroe.

Research says they built the pyramids over burial chambers and bodies were burned or buried – but not mummified.

Inside the now empty chambers, carved reliefs depict the names and representations of royalty and chapters from the Book of the Dead.

The destruction of Sudan’s Meroe Pyramids

Despite passaging time and ancient looters, the pyramids of Meroe have stayed mostly intact.


With one frightful exception.

Giuseppe Ferlini severely damaged many pyramids in 1834 – by blowing off the tops and/or leveling up to 40 different pyramids with dynamite!



Well, as a treasure hunter, he’d heard about silver and gold rumored to be hidden within the pyramids (but there wasn’t the wealth he expected).

In recent years, the Sudanese government has rebuilt some pyramids.

man-on-donkey in desert near meroe-pyramids sudan
Alone in the desert was this man riding a donkey near the Meroe Pyramids.

A memorable day focused on Meroe

It was a brilliant.

The pyramids – for sure, are so wondrous and lost amid the dunes.

But also picturesque were the timeless adobe villages along the desert road.

And then there was the eccentric taxi driver.

Him bursting into a sudden song between picking his nose or cleaning his ears – with his car-keys, which he pulled from the ignition as he drove.

panorama of sudan pyramids and sand dunes at meroe
Looking to the main group of Meroe pyramids (Note: more ruins in top-right + in the center, a lone Sudanese guy with a seated camel).

That evening back in Shendi, I encountered 3 medical students.

At a cafe over chocolate ice-cream, fruit-juice and cheese-sausage pastries, we chatted, and they insisted on paying for everything (in typical Sudanese / Islamic hospitality).

But the day ended on an uncomfortable rope-bed and attempted sleep.

The room was too hot!

Its shabby earthen walls exhaled hot air like a heater.

So, I camped out amid Sudanese men on rope beds in an open-air courtyard of a crumbling colonial inn during this searing – and starry – mid-summer night.

TRAVEL ADVICE for visiting the Sudanese Pyramids at Meroe

Getting There and Where to Stay:

I stayed in Shendi. Sadly, only two dire accommodation options there for backpackers: expensive and rundown OR super basic and cheap (I opted for the latter.)

From Shendi, I hired a taxi to Meroe (47 km each way) for the total cost of 100 SDP, including waiting time.

If it’s not mid-day in summer, it would be better to take a bus from Atbara to Shendi or Khartoum and get off, as it’s only about a half kilometer from the highway.

From the road, the pyramids are visible – you can’t miss them.

And returning, just hitchhike or flag down a southbound bus.

Specific tips for the Meroe Pyramids

  • Admission price: 50 SDP at the site.
  • Late afternoon brings awesome light.
  • You will probably have the entire site to yourself (as I did).
  • Camping is possible, away from the site.
  • Summer heat is unbearable, except dawn + dusk hours.
  • No facilities at site except a security hut.
  • Take water.
  • Some villages and a gas station, with new a guesthouse, are a few km away.

Travels in Sudan – 2013

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