Useful country information

Train operators :

Sudan Railways Corporation - www.sudanrailways.gov.sd.

 

 

Time zone:

 

GMT+3 all year.

Dialling code:

 

+249

Currency:

 

£1 = 3.4 Sudanese pounds.  $1 = 2.3 Sudanese pounds.  Currency converter

Tourist information:

 

Foreign office advice on visiting Sudan, www.fco.gov.uk

Visas:

 

UK citizens need a visa to visit Sudan, see www.sudan-embassy.co.uk.   

Page last updated:

2 January 2014.


Cairo to Khartoum by train & ferry

A weekly Nile steamer links Aswan in Egypt with Wadi Halfa in the Sudan, and weekly train connects Wadi Halfa with Khartoum. This page explains how to make that journey, and what it's like.

On this page...

Cairo to Khartoum by train+ferry

Travellers' reports

 

On other pages...

Train travel in Egypt

Getting to Egypt overland from Europe

Cairo ► Aswan Wadi Halfa ► Khartoum

Khartoum ► Wadi Halfa ► Aswan Cairo

Nile steamer loading at Aswan   Abu Simbel

Aswan:  Loading the Nile steamer at Aswan High Dam.  Photo courtesy of Leonie Purvis

 

Abu Simbel, seen from the deck of the Aswan to Wadi Halfa ferry.  Photo courtesy of Elliot Bannister

Deck of the Nile ferry to Sudan   Nile ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa in Sudan   1st class cabin on the Nile ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa

The Nile Ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa. Photos courtesy of Elliot Bannister

 

1st class cabin on the ferry...

Train from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum, Sudan   Train from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum, Sudan

The train from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum...  Photo courtesy of Leonie Purvis

How to buy tickets - southbound from Cairo.

How to buy tickets - northbound from Khartoum.

What is the Aswan to Wadi Halfa ferry like?

The Nile Valley River Transport Corporation ferry Sagalnaam (meaning Ostrich leg) takes up to 600 passengers, most of whom are traders laden with all sorts of wares that they’re taking to sell on across the border.  The crossing itself takes around 18 hours, leaving late afternoon in both directions, although on the day of departure, you’ll be busy from the morning with immigration, customs and check-in. The boat crosses Lake Nasser, the biggest artificial lake in the world, controversially completed in the 1970s and named after Egypt’s second president. Before the valley was flooded, monumental feats of engineering took place to relocate priceless Pharaonic monuments, including Abu Simbel, which can be spotted from the deck in its new location on the west bank.  This is not a luxury ferry and conditions on board tend to be unhygienic if not downright unsafe.  A first class ticket gets you a bed in a limited number of air-conditioned two-berth cabins, which are grimy but comfortable enough, with a porthole and writing desk.  A second class ticket is open seating on the padded benches that make up the lower deck (also air-conditioned, but less powerfully so).  There are two cafeterias, lunch on the day of departure is included in the ticket price and you can buy dinner and breakfast, as well as cold and hot drinks.  In 2nd class at night you can try to sleep wherever there’s space, whether it’s under the stars or under a bench.  With thanks to Elliot Bannister.

What is the Wadi Halfa to Khartoum train like?

The train has 1st class sleepers, 1st & 2nd class seats in compartments, and 3rd class open bench seats.  It's slow, old and basic, but should get you there give or take the odd breakdown, the desert views are enriching and the company is bound to be entertaining.  It's not air-con, so bring plenty of water as it can get very hot as the train crosses the desert.

About the railway:  The passenger line between the capital of Khartoum and the port outpost of Wadi Halfa in the north is the last remaining relic of what was the best railway network in Africa at the time of the country’s independence in 1956. This line was built under Kitchener during the Anglo-Egyptian conquest of Sudan, and was crucial to the campaign against Mahdist forces.  Work began under the summer sun of 1897, and progressed at a rate of around 2km a day into unsurveyed desert territory.  Two trains per day ran along the unfinished track to provide the working party firstly with building materials and secondly with personal supplies and home comforts.  More importantly, the railway was far quicker than the camel as a means of transporting soldiers.  Six months later, the Khalifa’s forces were defeated at Atbara, and the tracks were extended into the town and onwards to Khartoum.  Atbara became the hub of the Sudanese railway network and an important industrial centre. Union activity began to develop in the 1940s and four decades later, under Nimeiri’s rule, the railways were deliberately picked apart and decentralised in an attempt to crush workers’ strikes. The Sudan Railways Corporation has never really been revitalised, and the British-built bungalows and leafy avenues that make up the western half of Atbara now have a rather ghostly atmosphere.  With thanks to Elliot Bannister.

Traveller's reports...

The days of operation changed in April 2013, please bear that in mind when reading these reports!  Although little else has changed.

Traveller Emilia travelled from Cairo to Khartoum in June 2007:  "On the say when the ferry from Aswan sails, you should be at the immigration at the port by 10 am when the gates open and definitely go for the 2nd class deck tickets - the starry sky at night is definitely worth the lack of space! There was bit of a delay, which I suppose is the norm - the ferry departed around 5pm.  The ferry crossing from Aswan to Wadi Halfa over Lake Nasser is supposed to take 24 hrs. We arrived in Wadi Halfa on Tuesday around noon again, but due to passport control on board the ship and the off loading of goods etc we were not able to disembark before 2pm at least.  The train connection to Khartoum is conveniently on the next day, Wednesday at 7pm - however, it's better to get the tickets immediately in the morning or even upon arrival to Wadi Halfa after passing through Sudanese immigration on your way to the town.  Specially 3rd class gets packed full soon.....  The accommodation in town is very poor. There was a quasi-hostel which basically consisted of beds under a roofed terrace/courtyard.  We opted to sleep in the desert in tents in stead - BEAUTIFUL!!!  The train to Khartoum makes several stops along the way but the longest ones (about 30 min-1hr), enough to look for a toilet, are at Abu Hamad, Atbara and Shendi. The train arrives, provided there are no break downs, in Khartoum on Friday at 4am in the morning.  Now, so far I haven't done the trip Northbound but I was informed that in order to make the ferry from Wadi Halfa to Aswan, which departs on the Wednesday afternoon around 4pm the train from Khartoum leaves on Mondays at 7pm from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa - arriving in the same way at the break of dawn.

Traveller Leonie Purvis travelled Cairo-Khartoum in 2006:  "We got our Sudanese visas at the embassy in Cairo – after being told by the Sudanese Embassy in London that this was not possible!! I believe we broke the waiting record as we got our visas in 1 hour and 20 mins. Cost was US$100 each (but more if you are a US passport holder at US$150 and you are told to come back in a month!). Letter of recommendation is required from your own embassy regardless where you are from (this cost US$10 for a NZ passport holder and US$25 for a British passport holder).  Bought our tickets in Aswan for the ferry – first class cabin – was pretty expensive at £90 for two – but we decided to splash out!! Nothing special, just two bunks and a port hole window. Ticket included dinner and breakfast as well as a cold drink. Ferry left on Monday at 7pm and we were told to be at the port at 10am in the morning but they took all day to load the cargo. Was okay though as the captain plied us with hot tea and chatted the hours away! One thing to be aware of, although you don’t officially need a Yellow Fever Certificate, when you give your passport in to customs on the boat, they will ask if you have the certificate, if you don’t have one, you have to pay a “Fine”. Luckily, we had one from our previous trip to South America, which was still valid.   Arrived in Wadi Halfa around lunch time the next day. Have to go through customs hall while they search your bag for any alcohol you may be trying to smuggle in. Stayed in a local “hotel” which was a mud hut with two cot style beds in it for US$10 for 2 people. Shared toilet/washing facilities - Loo was a hole in the ground, shower was a bucket of water you take from a tap and go into a cubicle. This place was a great way to make friends with Sudanese people travelling to and from Egypt. Ate at a local restaurant which was fine and cheap. There was a local market with amazingly fresh fruit for sale.  Brought our tickets the night before for the train out the next day at a cost of US$40 per person first class. You also have to register with the police on entering Sudan which cost us another US$40 each. Even though there are banks in Wadi Halfa and they have exchange rate boards out – they do not exchange US$. You can do so through the guys hanging around outside the police station though – this is where we were directed by the police themselves!  Train to Khartoum is extremely run down – wouldn’t bother with a first class ticket as this hardly gives you any more comfort than 2nd class – unless you book the whole compartment but you will have to pay per seat and there are six seats. Our compartment was full of people (more than there were seats) as well as a huge amount of cargo which traders bribe the guards to store anywhere on the train. Most of the traders themselves did not even have a ticket but again bribed the guards so corridors, toilets and anywhere there was the smallest amount of space was full of bodies!  Fantastic journey though – amazingly friendly people who constantly shared their food with us and every time the train stopped, paid for our tea or coffee. The only way we managed to return the favour was to sneak out of our compartment and pay the tea seller in advance!! We reached Khartoum at about 9am on the Wednesday morning. Taxi from the station to centre of Khartoum cost us $4 – stayed in a hotel close to the centre – don’t know the name as was not in English. Found accommodation pretty dear – US$19 for our very basic double room – very run down – shared facilities no restaurant or anything. Ate in the market – kebabs and the like. Can highly recommend the fresh fruit juice stalls – fruit is blended with ice and boy you will need it!! I have never been anywhere so hot in my life – it was close to 50 degrees when we were there and we ate very little in Khartoum – just drank a lot of water and fruit juice.  For moving on the bus station has been relocated from the market to well outside of Khartoum – nice new building with Air Con though!!


Find hotels in Egypt & Sudan

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...


Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash (up to a limit) and belongings.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you're resident in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you're resident in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card to save on calls & mobile data...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, so consider getting a global pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone which can cut call & data costs by up to 90%.  At the time of writing, www.roamsure.com claims a definite 25% saving within the EU and up to 90% saving in the rest of the world.  Incoming calls are free in 73 countries, including the USA, Australia, South Africa and EU.  There's no contract or commitment, and at time I write this Roamsure is offering a global SIM card for free when you buy £20 of call credit.  Seat61 gets some commission to support the site if you buy airtime from Roamsure.

 


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