EmiratesMiddle EastSaudi Arabia

Goodbye Africa, hello Middle East! Straight through Saudi Arabia!

Ferry from Sudan to Saudi Arabia prenote: We run into a lot of surprises and challenges when we took the ferry from Port Sudan to Saudi Arabia (Port Sudan -Suakin axctualy- to Jeddah). So to help other travellers with this journey we collected all the up to date information about tickets, costs and harbour procedures. You can find all the information on our ferry from Sudan to Saudi Arabia page

The moment is there! After more than 7 months of touring through Africa, we are really going to make the crossing to the Middle East. With a ferry ticket in our pocket we arrive in Port Sudan (the port of Sudan) where the next day the ferry leaves for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

It remains Africa until the last minute. We are told in the harbor that the ticket has yet to be confirmed. Of course everyone wants to arrange this for too much money and we get changing stories about when this has to happen. The ticket office is nowhere to be found so we check with our contact person in Khartoum who has arranged the ticket. A friend of a friend of a friend is immediately called in to help us. Relax you would think, he only speaks no English so we have no idea what is going on or where we are. Our tickets disappear together with our contact person so we decide to let it go and we try to trust what is coming … We have learned that it will usually work out well 😉

Waiting, waiting and waiting longer at the port of Sudan

We are taken to a remote hotel and permission is requested from the police so that we can sleep in front of the door. Of course we have a lot of attention, that weird white person who sleep in the car, everyone wants to see that. Even the police come to see permission for permission after the call. We are offered tea and all night it is a mess of people coming and going for the ferry to Saudi Arabia. Roel is now integrated in the men’s section and Suus is taught about wearing the headscarf with the women. It takes the rest of the afternoon, evening and the next morning before we finally get a confirmation, but then the boarding passes for the Ferry! Yes, we are finally a step closer. On to the port train!

Border perils and thus just in time for the ferry

The ferry leaves that day somewhere between 7 and 9 o’clock in the evening and so we report at 1 o’clock in the harbor for the first formalities. You would think of seas of time. Well we were the last car to go on the boat at 9.30 in the evening and 20 minutes later the ferry left for Saudi Arabia!

It is really unbelievable how bureaucratic Sudan is. Stamp here, office there, another stamp, then another color stamp. 4 stamps, 3 forms and some copies later we finally have an exit stamp in the passport! Now the car still 😉 Without the help of a fixer, who knows exactly where you need to be, speaks the language and can occasionally penetrate the endless rows because he knows the people, this is really a hopeless mission. Advice; do not try this yourself !! With the fixer this entire process took us almost 6 hours. Without a fixer, I think you can start a day earlier and open your tent in the harbor 😉 For those who want to know all the steps or want to try it yourself, look at the post; Practical info ferry Port Sudan to Saudi Arabia .

On the boat to Saudi Arabia

6 hours later we are finally ready to board the ferry. We are stamped out, the car is stamped out. Now the car on the boat! For this we have to leave the carnet (passport of the car), the car keys and the ferry ticket of the car at the port boy. Haha that is obviously an absolute NO GO for us and therefore a fierce discussion. For the first time I see Roel explode as the port boy tears a new page from the carnet because he thinks it’s a ferry ticket! After a strong change of words and the charm of Suus at the Egyptian boat crew we manage to get Roel to lock the car and keep the car keys with him. On the boat we arrange a cabin and we see the African country slowly disappearing on the horizon.

Welcome to Saudi Arabia

A little 12 hours later we see land on the horizon, the port of Saudi Arabia is getting closer and closer. At Half 11 in the morning we arrive at the port of Jeddah. Halfway we are finally off the boat. We are still stopped by the boat for a check of our yellow booklet and unfortunately Roel really has to give the key of the car and we do not manage to drive him there ourselves. We expect it to be better arranged here, so go ahead. Then the waiting, waiting and again a whole procedure of filling in stamps and forms (unfortunately also here bureaucracy). Eventually we get our car back from customs 4.5 hours later! Do not ask how!

The roof tent is half open, the lock of the spare tire is broken open, the stuff at the front seats are completely messed up and the windshield wiper plus the mechanism is broken off. Fortunately, we had put our gate with the extra lock in the back and all valuables placed behind the fence, so they could not go beyond the front seats at customs! When the tent is folded in we discover that the tent poles have disappeared. Fairly essential if it is your house! It takes another 2 hours before we convince the customs officer that we really can not leave without the sticks. And then luckily they are found at customs. At 7 o’clock in the evening we finally drive out of the harbor. Day 1 of our 3 day transit visa and we have not driven a kilometer yet!

The impressions of Saudi Arabia

The first night we decide to stay in a hotel in Jeddah, so that we can make the long journey full of energy. We did not dream of a mission, but while eating a burger (of course in the secluded family section where women can go inside) we saw a building on the other side of the street that looked like a hotel. Everything is only stated in Arabic but thankfully they spoke English in a few words and it turned out to be a hotel: Top rooms for a good price. An Arab with his Mercedes S-class also parks his car just in front of the door and looks at our car full of admiration. He compliments Roel with the way Suus is dressed (read: totally in black, abaya, hoofdoek, black socks and that in 50 degrees !!) and throws a lot of money at the reception on the table with the announcement that they have to make sure that we get to eat. Haha welcome to Saudi Arabia!

The next two days we drive through the heat the 1500 kilometers to the border with the emirates. The landscape has changed from mountains to desert and with our car without Airco and Suus fully dressed in Abaya, headscarf and socks that is pretty flickering. Even our car has a hard time when it still has to climb up in 50 degrees! It is immediately a big contrast with Africa. The luxury, the perfect asphalt, large supermarkets, eateries. Everywhere is a single section (only for men) and a family section (also for women) and everything goes 5 times a day during prayer. The second night we find in the dark on coordinates that we have received from friends a super nice wild camping spot. The next morning it appears that we drove over the rubbish dump to get there 😉

And then the Emirates in …

At 5 o’clock on the last day of our transit visa we reach the border with the emirates. The first country that we do not need a visa for. So here we are so through it we think. Again everything is different than expected 😉 Saudi Arabia was no problem. Within half an hour we drive past the gigantic fencing with barbed wire, on our way to the border post of the Emirates. What a difference with the border posts in Africa, where a barrier on the road gives a land border. Here we see kilometers of fences between the countries. No chance to walk in here or accidentally cross the border without that being the intention, what ever happened in Africa 😉

‘Come by plane next time, much easier’

At the border of the Emirates they immediately ask for our work permit for Saudi Arabia. Euuuhhh we do not have that. ‘We have a transit visa and come from Sudan’. “Okay work-life for Sudan then?” “Eeuuhh, we do not even come from Cape Town, we are on vacation … ..” That causes a short circuit. Pressure is browsed through our passport and together with his colleague the two Arabs disappear up to discuss with their boss. Occasionally they come down with questions and then they disappear again. We even get interviews in separate rooms with the highest boss in rank to explain our journey. They do not understand anything. ‘Africa you go to help, not to travel’. “Why do not you go to beautiful countries like Malaysia?” We get more questions fired at us and it is clear that they have no idea what to do with us. For us it is clear that not many people come here that do the same as we do. Fortunately, after 3.5 we finally get a stamp with the announcement. ‘Better take the plane next time, much easier’.

After the car comes through the customs fairly smoothly, we finally enter the Emirates at 11.30 in the evening. We find a camping spot on the beach just outside of Abu Dhabi and have our first dive in the Persian Gulf! On to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Oman!

  1. Tom

    Fantastic story! And I thought we had troubles with border crossings; nothing compared to yours. Thank you for your writing. Tom

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