I have to admit, my first reaction to visiting Khartoum was a mix of trepidation and curiosity. Frankly, all I knew about the country was that it had been ravaged by war and other inglorious tales that is fodder for mainstream news. So when a close friend invited me to her wedding, I was pleasantly surprised by this gem in the desert as it turned out to be.
Some of the highlights from the trip:
Yes! I know when you think of Sudan you think hot sweltering sun, but apparently not in January. For the most part, it was warm with a cool breeze, it was even chilly during the evening. So clearly timing your trip is crucial.
Everyone was very kind and friendly, from the taxi drivers, to the stewards at the hotel and the vendors at the spice market. We even got invited to a cup of Sudanese cafe by complete strangers at the market, and ended up chatting about football – the universal language seeing as they didn’t speak much English and we didn’t speak Arabic.
Make a point to visit the market at Omdurman for all things spice and local food. If you are there on a Friday, get a flavor of the local culture by attending the Sufi ceremony held at the Hamid El-Nil Mosque at sunset.
White meets Blue Nile:
Being geographically challenged, (I didn’t even know where Iceland was located until well recently) I was glad to learn that the confluence of the White and Blue Niles into a meticulous flow happens to be in Khartoum. We skipped the visit to the Niles meeting point in Tuti Island but did a night boat tour around it which was great. The tour kicks off at the pier which is lined with restaurants and cafes and a popular night spot especially for young guys dancing the night away on the boats.
Some of the sites worth visiting in Khartoum include the Al Kabir mosque at the heart of the city and Khartoum University, both of which boast of impressive architecture. You get a pretty good view of the Nile from the 23rd floor of the Conrinthia hotel pictured below.
All hail the pyramids:
The Meroe pyramids – by far the highlight of a trip to Sudan – date back to over 2000 years ago. About 200 km from Khartoum in al-Bagrawiya, the journey should ordinarily take a couple of hours but it took us almost 4 hours to get there owing to multiple check points on the way. But it was worth the drive. The pyramids are a site to behold, with the original hieroglyphics still intact inside. They are not massive like the Egyptian ones, but the architecture (some of which has been restored) depicts a clear picture of the ancient Kush culture it represents. There are about 300 pyramids scattered all over the Sudan. The contrast between the sand surrounding the pyramids set against the bright blue skies makes for a breathtaking scene. You can opt to walk around the pyramids, there are also guides peddling camel tours, so if you are looking to accentuate your experience well that’s an option.
My only regret from this trip was not making it to the temples in Naga that are supposed to be close to the pyramids. We unfortunately got lost trying to find them. It’s important to have a good guide or use GPS as the road to the temples is not marked. For me that’s one more reason to go back.
We only had 4 days on this trip so we didn’t make it to Port Sudan in the East, that has apparently some pretty nice diving and snorkeling spots…
Tips for visiting Khartoum
- You need both an entry and exit visa, we did not know about the latter until we reached the airport and spent a considerable amount of time at the airport trying to get it
- You need a marriage certificate to share a room as a couple – this is not a joke!
- It’s a great place to detox as alcohol is strictly forbidden
- Leave early if you plan to visit the pyramids and yes you need a special permit for this
- Tirhal is the Uber equivalent and is great for getting around. Air B&B also works although we didn’t try it
- Food is generally quite cheap. Some good places to eat include Ozone (below) which has the best omelets, delicious pastries and decent coffee, although they have no Wi-Fi. Delicious Lebanese food at Assaha where the staff are super friendly.