A classic journey up the Nile...

A weekly Nile steamer links Aswan in Egypt with Wadi Halfa in the Sudan, and fortnightly 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   

  Khartoum to Cairo by train+ferry

  Travellers' reports

 

On other pages...

  Train travel in Egypt

  Getting to Egypt overland from Europe


Useful country information

Train operators :

Sudan Railways Corporation - www.sudanrailways.gov.sd.  Although this features virtually no useful information.

 

 

Time zone:

 

GMT+3 all year.

Dialling code:

 

+249

Currency:

 

£1 = 7.8 Sudanese pounds.  $1 = 6.2 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:

5 May 2017.


Cairo to Khartoum by train & ferry

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

Train from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa

The train from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa, January 2016.  Courtesy of Elaine Galloway.

How to buy tickets - southbound from Cairo.

How to buy tickets - northbound from Khartoum.

What is the 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 train to Khartoum 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...

Traveller Guillaume Mestrallet used the ferry in 2017:  "The Khartoum to Wadi Halfa train has now reduced from every 2 weeks to running every 3 weeks.  George, of Acropole hotel in Khartoum, is of immense help.  He can arrange invitation letters, train tickets.  He has an agent in Wadi Halfa who can assist in booking ferry tickets to Aswan.  Better check with them when the train is running.  Sudanese immigration is done at the ferry terminal before boarding and is pretty straightforward. Egyptian immigration is done onboard the ferry shortly after departure. For foreigners who got visa on arrival, you cannot buy the visa on board : the passport will be stamped but the visa (25 USD) will have to be purchased when exiting Egypt. Upon arrival of the ferry, a train is waiting, going to Aswan station where you can travel onwards to Luxor and Cairo."

Traveller Stephen Buchanan took the ferry from Aswan High Dam to Wadi Halfa in late 2016:  "The ferry is reliable and leaves AHD every Sunday at about 3PM. Locals advise you get to the port around 10 but if you do, there is a lot of hanging around whilst the boat gets loaded. I reckon if you get there by midday you will be fine. I saw people boarding all the way up til departure time. As per Seat61, the one way 1st class fare with cabin (you may end up sharing with 1 other passenger) is E 375 + E 40 port tax, the 2nd class (deck) fare is E 225 + E 40 port tax. These include 2 fairly basic meals on board (a small bowl of meat stew or eggs plus bread). If you buy a ticket excluding meals it is E 40 cheaper, and you can choose to buy a meal on board, it’s E 20 per meal. If you use an “agent” in Aswan to get ferry tickets, it makes getting hold of a ticket quite easy and you can arrange this in advance from abroad, but you will probably end up paying quite a hefty “commission”. It’s straightforward getting hold of tickets at Cairo Ramses railway station (and coming the other way, it’s fine buying tickets from the ferry office at Khartoum station). When I took the ferry (13th Nov), it was only about 25% full, about 150 passengers, so plenty of deck space. Sleeping on the deck is fine if you have a mat, but it’s chilly at night, so a blanket is a good idea. Crossing to Wadi Halfa took only 18 hours. You can now also get to Wadi Halfa from Aswan via a long bus ride to Abu Simbel, a ferry across Lake Nasser, and then a bus through the desert to WH. This alternative route might explain the lower numbers on board the AHD – WH ferry. Once you arrive at WH from AHD, it’s about 3KM (walk, bus or taxi) into WH town centre.  As regards the Wadi Halfa-Khartoum train, one thing everyone agrees on is that the train in notoriously unreliable, often breaks down and does not stick to the schedule.  But if you’re lucky enough to be in WH on a week the train departs, I would still recommend taking it as I get the impression it may be taken out of service soon."

Traveller Elaine Galloway travelled Khartoum to Aswan in January 2016:  "The train leaves Khartoum on Saturday at 09.00.  On Jan 16th 2016 it left fairly punctually.  It went at a very steady 36.4 km/hour when it was moving - there are km posts every few km.  It stopped for some hours at Atbara to add another loco and then again somewhere else in the night.  The whole journey, 907 km, took 42 hours.  I paid 91 Sudanese pounds for a first class ticket.  The train was only about half full so there was room to stretch out in the compartment.  There are sleepers but they were full when I tried to buy my ticket.  The scenery is great and the numbered stations from Abu Hamed to Wadi Halfa look to be unchanged since Lord Kitchener's time.  But dust choking you and coating everything makes it harder to enjoy the trip.  There is a restaurant car serving tea and the Sudanese staple fava bean stew.  The ferry to Wadi Halfa leaves on Monday in theory although mine was delayed for a day by bad weather (a stiff breeze). I paid 350 Sudanese pounds for a "first class" cabin. The boat was about one third full.  There are now daily buses from Aswan to Wadi Halfa (I paid 150 Egyptian pounds) taking about 12 hours including slow transit through the border where all the flat screen TV's etc have to be unloaded and loaded twice. The buses cross Lake Nasser on a small ferry from Abu Simbel to a stretch of "beach" still in Egypt 35 km from the border."

The days of operation changed in April 2013, please bear that in mind when reading the following reports, although they are still useful as 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 has been named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site in the World Travel Awards and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling the same hotel at a cheaper rate.

►► My recommended booking site:  www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site, and unless HotelsCombined throws up major price differences I prefer doing my bookings in one place here. 

You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a great feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...


Travel insurance

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent 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 and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  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, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

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

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for 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!

 


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