Sailing south by passenger ship across Lake Nasser – up the Nile to the border port of Wadi Halfa in Sudan during summer can be an arduous, but memorable journey.
So if you can, AVOID SUMMER.
The journey in June is brutal – as it’s the hottest month in Sudan. Yet I traveled this time, so here’s a rundown.
YOU CAN’T BUY A SHIP TICKET – UNTIL YOU HAVE THE SUDANESE VISA
SUDAN VISA in Aswan. Wait 3 days. NEED: $US50, 2 photos, copy of passport page. (but check for latest updates)
Sudan travel Advice – Ship Info for Wadi Halfa
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.
Getting there by train from Aswan 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 be used to 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.
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.
Arriving in 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).
Clambering onto an open truck.
Tired. Very hot.
Lack of sleep is intense.
Driven to customs building. Bags everywhere. Friendly, fast, hassle-free for the foreigner. In the back of a covered pick-up to the dusty, remote town of Wadi Halfa (cost: 10 SDP).
HOTELS IN WADI HALFA – don’t have running water and are just rope beds in bleak rooms or out in a courtyard. But Cleopatra Hotel does have fans – not much use in summer – BUT the showers in shared bathrooms is a big plus.
BLACK MARKET MONEY CHANGE IN WADI HALFA … RATES 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 the next few days.
Rooms stay hot – as walls and roofs exhale heat all night.
Any available fans, just surge hot air at you … sleeping outside is the only option.
Staying in Abri – Sudan Travel Advice
No electricity in Abri, limited washing water, too. Wretched Leger Hotel is the only option at 15 SDP per bed.
BUT you have to buy all 4 at 60 SDP for this broken, dirt-floor room. Beds dragged into the yard at night.
Use repellent. Manager helpful for transport.
Travel Advice – 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 connection = 5 SDP / hour.
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!
Onward travel across Sudan
Bare rooms and limited but okay eating options.
Thanks to recent Chinese improvements – transportation is easy; the roads are sealed and smooth, served by new micro-buses (and long-distance buses).
BACKPACKING TRAVEL COSTS in SUDAN are cheap: $US 15-25 daily (“monument” entrance fees are 50 SDP).
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).
BIGGEST SUDAN TRAVEL ISSUE – THE HEAT (It’s always hot but summer is very intense: June – the month I traveled, is the hottest.
Called “month of the sun” by Sudanese.
July + August are a little cooler, due to slight rain and clouds. (NOTE: The far north here is hotter than in Khartoum).
5 good reasons to visit the region between Wadi Halfa + Dongola while traveling Sudan
Well, if the photos above aren’t enough to get excited – let me spell it out😉
Follow the famous Nile River surrounded by stunning lonely desert.
Visit friendly Nubian villages or simply sit in a cafe with a shesha (pipe) and welcoming locals.
Wander around Sai Island and explore the ancient ruins of various eras.
Go to Kerma for the Dafufar – a mud-brick temple ruin from 2400 BC.
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).