48 Hours in Sudan: Pyramids, Twirling Dervishes and UNESCO Temples
48 Hours in Sudan
After having explored most of the Middle Eastern countries reachable within a short flight from Dubai, we just had to do one last unexpected trip before saying goodbye to the UAE - so we picked exploring the Sudan with our friends!
A short non-stop Flydubai flight away, Sudan is home to many pyramids (more than Egypt, fact!), welcoming people, unique traditions and unbelievable raw beauty.
A true gem and yet-to-be-discovered off the beaten path destination, Sudan has so much to offer for a quick escape from the UAE, that you’ve probably never even heard about let alone dreamed of visiting.
Visit the Meroe Pyramids
See Khartoum's twirling Dervishes Ceremony
Visit Omdurman, the old capital of Sudan and it's UNESCO temples
See the Petrified wood forest
Explore Napata, the ancient Nubian capital
Climb Jebel Barkal archaeological sites
Subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the new 48 Hour video guides!
How to get to Sudan: Flydubai from DXB to Khartoum
Where to stay in Sudan: See the Hotels section below
Get around Sudan: You will need a driver, sorted by the travel agency.
Safety in Sudan: While South Sudan isn't safe to travel to this day, North Sudan, from Karthoum to the Egyptian border is safe and we didn't encounter any issue in our few days there. It's advised to go through a tour company like we did.
48 Hours in Sudan | Day 1: Market, Sudan Museum and Dervish Ceremony
After a convenient 4-hour Flydubai flight from Dubai arriving in Khartoum at 10pm (no time to waste!), we received a warm welcome at the Khartoum International Airport by our tour company driver, who brought us to our hotel for the first night, the Acropole.
Currency: Sudanese Pound
Time change: UTC/GMT +2 hours
Best time to visit: October-April
Alcohol: Sudan is a completely dry country - do not bring any alcohol in!
We started our 48 Hours in Sudan with an early visit to the bustling Friday market at the center of Khartoum. Food, clothes, even kitchen appliances were displayed, and the atmosphere was truly incredible. We felt totally in sync with the ambiance, and not completely as out of place as we could have imagined.
Make sure to not film or take pictures too much though, as locals don’t particularly like it, understandably. Unlike so many markets or souqs around the world that we have visited, there was no being bothered, hassled or barked at, everyone was just living their lives and we we so happy to just observe. Such is the case in a country with such few tourists.
We then visiting Omdurman, the old capital of Sudan, the Mahdi’s tomb and the Khalifa’s house, we headed to the Sudanese National Museum, home of many beautiful objects and two full temples rescued by UNESCO and moved from the Lake Nasser area, when it was flooded by the water.
As we do with most trips, we pulled a classic Jeff and Anne, barely researching anything before going, so it was a great start to our trip getting to know a little bit better the country we were in. Some people prefer to travel after exhaustive research into where they are going, we like to do the complete opposite, just show up and discover what is around us as it happens.
Around 4pm each Friday, a very unique Dervish ceremony takes place, near the tomb of the sufi leader Ahmed al Nil. The Dervishes ceremony gathers women, men and children together every week to pray, dance and sing together in one of the largest cemeteries in Khartoum, outside of a small mosque. We were lucky enough to be warmly welcomed around the prayers and songs, and constantly told that we were welcome in Sudan. Some young locals even enjoyed us being here to practice their English speaking skills with us, giving us an insight into their lives - all around an amazing human experience.
After getting some rest, we packed our bags, jumped in a 4x4 with our great driver Mortada, and headed north 500km out of Khartoum into the sahara desert. We stopped on the way in the ancient village of El Kurru, where there is one of the necropolises of the ancient capital, Napata.
Here we visited two tombs, which are excavated in the rock under pyramids - partially collapsed - and are completely decorated with images of the Pharaoh, of the gods and multicolour hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Not far from here there is an interesting site of petrified wood, an ancient forest with hundreds of huge trunks strewn out completely in the middle of a vast desert with little explanation. Later on we reached the necropolis of Nuri. After a little walk among these ancient ruins, we stumbled upon the pyramid of Pharaoh Taharqa dominating high above the the others. After the visit we reached our beautiful Nubian Rest-House, located just at the foot of the Jebel Barkal, with the small town of Karima situated nearby. We ate some delicious food, took a hot shower to get rid of the dust and passed out.
48 Hours in Sudan | Day 2: Jebel Barkal and Meroe Pyramids
After a delicious breakfast at the Rest-House, we headed over to visit the Jebel Barkal area. A landmark in the Nubian Desert, the Jebel Barkal can be seen from a few dozen kilometres whilst still in the open desert.
A huge rock mountain in the middle of desolate sand a few hundred meters from the banks of the River Nile.
At the foot of this wonderful and isolated red sandstone mountain, considered holy since the ancient times, there is a big temple, dedicated to the Pharaohs of the New Reign and to their patron, Amon. Amon's ancient "Pure Mountain", the Olympus of the Nubians, was the religious Nubian heart for more than 1000 years.
Besides the ruins of the big temple there are still several sculptured granite rams that were supposed to border a long avenue that probably led to the pier on the Nile.
The Jebel Barkal archaeological sites are on the World Heritage list and the royal necropolis of the ancient city of Napata, the Nubian capital (from 800 to 400 B.C.) before the Meroitic period, had a large number of pyramids, located in three different places: few hundred metres north of Jebel Barkal; a dozen kilometres southwards from the holy mountain, in El Kurru; in Nuri, which is located on the other bank of the Nile.
We then drove another few hours to head to the final destination of our trip: the Meroe Pyramids. All of a sudden, we could glance at more than 40 pyramids, located on top of a hill, some of them perfectly preserved that belong to the Royal Necropolis of Meroe.
Several pyramids stood out with their sharp shapes against the clear sky. Each one has its own funerary chapel with the walls fully decorated with bas-reliefs that show the King’s life and offers to the gods.
After an incredible sunset at the pyramids, we reached the Permanent Tented Camp of Meroe with a beautiful view into the pyramids.
This was as close as we could get to glamping! The fully furnished tents and incredible show of shooting stars in the sky made for a perfect end of our trip.
Driving back to Khartoum, we stopped by the site of Mussawarat, located in a beautiful valley crowned by hills. Here the ruins of a very big temple are visible; it once played an exceptional important role. Its main characteristic, the “Great Enclosure” is made by many constructions and boundary walls which surround a temple built in the 1st century A.D.
We finally stopped by Naga, a typical Saharan environment with rocks and sand, where we found a temple dedicated to Apedemak (1st century A.D.): a wonderful building with bas-relief decorations depicting the god with a lion’s head, the Pharaoh, noblemen and several ritual images. A few metres away there is a small and odd construction with arches and columns, named "kiosk", in which we could notice Egyptian, Roman and Greek styles, all at the same time. Not far away we reached another temple dedicated to Amon with many statues of rams and beautiful gates decorated with bas-reliefs.
In the evening we got back to Khartoum, just in time for our 11pm flight back to Dubai.
Tour Company in Sudan
We organised this tour with Italian Tourism Sudan, the tour leader company based in Khartoum, and we really recommend them.
From a smooth email communication, to visas sorting for 3 different nationalities without a hiccup, they’ve been very helpful and the trip went perfectly as planned.
Their contact: [email protected]
PS: this trip was not sponsored in any way :)
Where to stay in Sudan
Category: 3*☎: +249 1 83 772860 Zubeir Pasha street, Khartoumhttp://www.acropolekhartoum.com/The Acropole Hotel is the oldest existing hotel in Khartoum, founded in 1952. It is family run, cosy and characterized by a very friendly and warm hospitality.
I.T.C. - Karima Nubian Rest House
Category: Boutique Hotel☎: 00249 183487961http://www.italtoursudan.com/struttura/the-meroe-camp/
The Nubian Rest House, located at the foot of Jebel Barkal, is a charming boutique hotel with 22 A/C twin rooms, all with private facilities and a pleasant veranda where to sit in the cool starry nights.
I.T.C. - Meroe Camp
Category: Lodge☎: 00249 183487961http://www.italtoursudan.com/struttura/the-meroe-camp/
The Meroe Camp, overlooking the renown pyramids of Meroe, features 22 twin bedded tents.
Sudan has more than twice the number of pyramids in Egypt-- without the crowds
Sudan is home to more pyramids than Egypt, giving it the world's largest collection of pyramids in one place at over 200 pyramids total.
Sudan was once the largest and the most geographically diverse state in South Africa. However, it was split into two countries in July 2011. Now, it is the third largest country in Africa (after Algeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
With 114 native languages and more than 500 accents, Sudan has a diverse multilingual population.
The capital of Sudan is Khartoum. In Arabic, Khartoum means "elephant trunk," which comes from the shape of the Nile river near the city.
Find out all our 48 Hour guides below!