Following the Nile

Spectacular natural beauty on the Nile in Sudan, Tom Allen.

The Nile River (father of African rivers), a primary water source for Sudan and Egypt, is generally considered to be the longest river in the world. The river can be divided into two “flows”, the Blue Nile coming from Lake Tana in Ethopia and the White Nile coming from Lake Victoria in Uganda. These two flows come together near the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. Due to the availability of the water throughout the year, in combination with the area’s high temperatures, makes it possible for intensive cultivation along the river. You can follow the approximate 7000 kilometers of length of the river all the way from central Africa to Egypt and a large part is flanked by a famous railway. The railway between Wadi Halfa and Khartoum was once thé example of railway innovation in Africa, but has largely been neglected. Luckily the majority of the railway lines in Sudan are still accessible, but with strict speed limits and at a very low operational level. It’s probably not the most efficient way for travel toward other countries, but it’s certainly an experience you will never forget. There are always options of alternative transportation methods, and you shouldn’t worry about finding it. Travelers agree that the Sudanese are among the friendliest and hospitable people in Africa so they’ll sure help you on the way!

Once every three weeks the Nile Express operates between Wadi Halfa (Northern Sudan) and Khartoum (Central Sudan). This train has 1st class sleepers and seats in multiple classes. The train is incredibly slow, but the views you will see and the locals you will meet make up for that fact! It is by far the best way to travel in Sudan if you don’t want to sit on an fancy air-conditioned bus (of course, do take it for here and there sightseeing trips :)). This railway was once a prime example of what was considered the best railway network in Africa, but it hasn’t been well maintainted. Luckily the occassional passenger trains and freight trains do still operate! The southbound train departs Wadi Halfa once every three weeks on a Tuesday and the northbound train departs Khartoum once every three weeks on a Saturday. Although no schedule can be found online, I recommend to check in advance with a local via couchsurfing. Couchsurfers are generally very approachable people with usually basic English knowledge. Most likely you’ll end up with a new friend, ready to show you the hidden gems of Sudan. The railway passes by various interesting places, such as a branchline to Karima and the pyramids of Meroë, but then keep in mind that you’ll most likely cannot travel back or forth by train unless you have an itinerary lasting 3 weeks (which is very well doable!). The trains used to operate once every week but it is unclear whether or when the current 3-week schedule will be upgraded.

One aspect of Sudan which absolutely cannot be missed is the Nile steamer! A ferry operating once every week between Wadi Halfa and Aswan (Egypt). Besides the obvious (car, plane) this is the only way to travel accross the border with Egypt. This ferry is immensely popular with traders and can be really crowded! If you decide to travel between Sudan and Egypt better arrange your tickets in advance (once again, locals are your friend! Although multiple options are also available online). From Aswan the ferry departs every Sunday, arriving 1 day later in Wadi Halfa. The other way around the ferry departs Wadi Halfa every Monday, arriving in Aswan on Tuesday. Do your homework about the visa requirements in Sudan, it’s quite the hassle! Anyhow, traveling through Sudan makes one awesome itinerary that you can extend with travel to/from Addis Ababa (Ethopia) with public bus-transport (which makes it possible to explore the new railway line to Djibouti) and with travel to/from Aswan (Egypt) with the famous Nile steamer (onwards to Cairo and Alexandria by train!).

Update August 2017: The train between Wadi Halfa and Khartoum is no longer operating. A daily train between Khartoum and Atbara does still operate, and a bus replacement service to Wadi Halfa is in place. Schedules are unknown, please check locally.

– The fare between Khartoum and Wadi Halfa in “1st class” (sleeper) is 25 euro.
– The fare between Khartoum and Wadi Halfa in “1st class” (seat) is 15 euro.
– The fare between Khartoum and Wadi Halfa in “2nd class” (seat) is 10 euro.
– The fare between Aswan and Wadi Halfa in “1st class” (sleeper) is 20 euro.
– The fare between Aswan and Wadi Halfa in “2nd class” (deck) is 10 euro.
– The fare between Aswan and Cairo in “1st class” (seat) is 10 euro.
– The fare between Aswan and Cairo in “2nd class” (seat) is 5 euro.

Train 980
Train 983
Nile Steamer
Nile Steamer
3th Tuesday
3th Saturday
Cairo (Egypt) dep/arr 08:00 21:30
El-Giza dep 08:25 21:10
Luxor dep 18:25 10:55
Aswan (Egypt) dep/arr 21:50 07:30 12:00 13:00
Wadi Halfa (Sudan) dep/arr 08:00 17:00 17:40 23:30
Abu Hamad dep 00:00 19:00
Berber dep 15:00 05:00
Atbara dep/arr 18:00 02:00
Ad-Damir dep 19:00 23:00
Shendi dep 04:00 17:00
Khartoum (Sudan) dep/arr 12:00 09:00

Entering Sudan requires you to have a visa on forehand or buy one on arrival. Entry permits must be arranged on forehand by a tour operator or a hotel. Within three days of arrival in Sudan you have to register yourself in either Khartoum, Port Suda, Gallabat or Wadi Halfa. Furthermore in every town where you will sleep over-night you have to register with the local police. Last but not least you also need travel permits when going outside of the Khartoum area. The total costs would be around 150 euro’s.

It is highly advised to read all details at lonelyplanet.

The mysterious pyramids of Meroë,

Camel and Cattle Market in Omdurman near Khartoum,

Sufi ritual at Hamed el-Nil Tomb near Khartoum,

The ferry between Wadi Halfa and Aswan,