Not too long ago, Saudi Arabia did this thing where it finally started allowing people to get tourist visas. Sure, they went all out and let foreign couples stay together in hotels and let women stay without a mehrem, but 2019's been a big year for the Kingdom so we're not ones to judge here. Not much, anyway.
So, what's there to do in the kingdom for those who love to get out and explore the wonders of nature and see how far they can test their physical limits? Sand. Seriously, there's just so much sand. Saudi Arabia's known for its vast desert landscapes, which happen to come with a few mountains and a killer view here and there. Plus, keep your eyes open for fossil sites or ancient carvings – you know, casual.
THE EDGE OF THE WORLDvia inspirock
The name's a bit dramatic, huh? KSA's Riyadh is nowhere near the edge of the Earth – the very round and not flat and edgy Earth – so where did this name come from? This peak was originally named Jebel Fihrayn, but the formation of a huge wall-like cliff that's 300 m high made it as though you're standing at the edge of the Earth with a spectacular 360 landscape view. Originally part of the trade routes along the Arabian Peninsula that would connect caravans between Yemen and Persia, The Edge of the World is actually part of a much larger Jebel Tuwaiq – a 1,000 km stretch of desert between Najran in the South and Qassim in the North. You don't get trade routes on there anymore, but there are definitely trails along the cliffs that let you explore the escarpment.
You can camp at The Edge of the World overnight after enjoying a breathtaking sunset, but be careful not to fall off or anything. To get there, follow the yellow sand road (or Google Maps) knowing that you'll need to hop into a 4x4 once you pass the entrance gates since you'll be offroading the rest of the way.
KHASHM ZUBAYDAH AND THE FAISAL'S FINGER
via Faisal Bin Zarah
As huge as The Edge of the World that is a part of a much bigger 1000 km long Tuwaiq cliff might be a road blockage. But traders in the past developed routes and trails around the area one of them is still visible is at Khashm Zubaydah, 50 kilometers southeast of Edge of the World that offers also spectacular views. You will pass by some old manmade stone structures that are tombs that date from the Bronze Age. If you go 10 kilometers further you will find a natural 200-metre sandstone pillar known as Faisal's Finger.
Look up a location named 'Near the Edge of The World' on Google maps and you can start your trip there.
STAR DUNES, AD-DAHNA
via Horizon Tours
No, the desert hasn’t witnessed any stars falling out of orbit, and no the sand doesn't sparkle; it's just sand, with a twist. These dunes stretch across an area of 1,300 km that is the Ad-Dahna desert that connects between the two largest deserts in the Arabian Peninsula – El Nafud al-Kebir and el Rub al-Khali – that are lying laterally in the shape of veins... Except the iron oxides in the sand give it a red colour so it's more like arteries than veins. (Geeky moment: arteries carry oxidized iron in the red blood cells to deliver the oxygen around your body). So where does the name Star Dunes come from? Some of the dunes go as high up as 100 metres to give you the shape of stars amid the veins. These stars are actually the viewpoints where you can stop and take in the breathtaking scenery and capture a few shots. Otherwise, you'll be in the heart of the dunes and just enjoying the ride.
You an follow the location for the Sand Dunes on Google maps, but unless you're an offroading champ who can tackle the dunes with finesse, you better connect with a tour operator.
via: Hudson Mckenzie
Do you remember that maze that's the land of the last challenge in Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire? The one where the tragic death of Sedric took place at the hands of 'he who shall not be named' during another battle with the boy who lived. Jebal al-Rukkab will give you that experience but without any tragic death.
Jibal is the plural of jebel, which means mountains; between them hides a network of canyons that's going to bring those maze dream to life. While you are in there you'll find three dancers – no, don’t use your expecto patronum, they're not dementors, are just the stunning silhouette of three rocks. The erosion has created some spectacular pieces of art; plus, as an extra treat, you'll find old carvings that date back 2,000 years. This spectacular maze is best accessed through a tour provider, but check the weather before you go because heavy rains can flood the canyons.
JEBEL AL-LAWZ (ALMOND MOUNTAIN)
via: Arab News
Jebel Al-Lawz – Almond Mountain – is covered with snow in the winter, which makes you stop to do a double take and wonder why the Kingdom suddenly feels like Lebanon up here – and only up here. With its peak resting at 2,549 metres, Jebel El-Lawz is the highest in the Tabuk Province and is privileged with a location beyond the northern tip of the Red Sea that's exposed to low temperatures, which is why you get snow in the winter. Now, as for the name, almond trees once grew within this snowy region. Mystery solved.
If you're looking for a snowy winter experience without commiting to the constant cold that comes with it, follow this pin on Google maps.
By the Gulf of Aqaba and 15 km north of Magna stands a 600-metre high granite massif opposite the shore, surrounded by palm trees at the bottom that guard the entrance to its canyon. A hike through the canyon is 5 km, during which you'll pass by running waters, which explains the presence of palm trees in the canyon that create several oases along the way. This place is believed to be the land of Midian where Moses stayed before freeing his people from Egypt and the same land to which he later returned.
You can reach Tayeb Al-Ism through the location on Google maps and go exploring on your own.
EL NAFUD AL-KEBIR
If you were paying attention earlier, you know that El Nafud Al-Kebir is a huge desert. It covers an area of 103,600 square kilometers in the provinces of Hail, Al-Jawf, and Tabuk. A desert as huge as this has traces of very old human existence; Max Planck Institute announced the discovery of an 85,000-year-old phalanx that is so far the oldest directly dated fossil of a homo sapien outside Africa and the Levant – it was found at Al-Wusta in the Nafud Al-Kebir. Oh, and of course, rock art. El Nafud has two different sand pallets, one from yellow to white on the edges, and the second pallet from beige to red. Hop in a 4x4, follow this location, and go mess with the sand.
Among the seas of sand southwest of el Nafud, naturally-formed rocky arches stand high. Made of sandstone and sculptured by erosion, the tallest of the arches is 40 metres high and one of them happens to have a diamond shape. You can climb the arches or drive through them, or do both. When you reach the site of Hafriat Laqat, you'll find a 160-metre high arch covered with carvings.
If you thought snow is what you couldn’t find in KSA, then check out this valley in the desert that leads to the town of Dissah. It was kept safe and pristine up until they developed two roads, one leading to each entrance of the valley. The 15 km long canyon has cliffs that range up to 500 metres, but the magical element in that canyon is the running water that flows to the city of Dissah. That's what gives the valley so much greenery, from palm trees to grass that's 3 metres high.
Who would have known that in the heart of the desert lies a crater? This one is located north of the Riyadh-Makkah highway and is reachable after a 100 km drive from the Umm Al-Dum exit. What makes this crater different is that the errupted lava met underground water on its way up. The pressure resulting from the boiling water created an explosion resulting in a crater that's nearly 2 km in diameter. The dormant volcano is now accompanied by palm trees that prove the presence of underground water till this day. It seems Axel and his uncle the professor might have started their journey in the KSA and not in Reykjavik.
This is where the rules are broken and the rough environmental conditions change. On the high plateau of the Sarawat Mountas, the temperatures rarely rise above 35°C. Also, the Aseer Province benefits from two generous rainy seasons – one in March-April and the other one during the summer. That makes the mountains green, with terraces built for agriculture. With a difference in the altitude that could reach 2,000m, there are several roads going up and down the cliffs with parking areas on the roadsides allowing visitors to stop safely and admire the stunning views.
This one's for the road trip lovers; just follow the location on Google maps.
JEBEL AKHDAR (GREEN MOUNTAIN)
Located in the southern part of Abha, Jebel Akhdar is a green hill that is around 2,340m high. It offers one of the best viewpoints over the whole city and its surrounding mountains, as far as the edge of the majestic Sarawat Mountains. A small fee is collected at the bottom of the mountain before you embark on the road that leads to the top of Jebel Akhdar where there is parking and a cafeteria to welcome visitors who have climbed to the top to admire the stunning view over Abha. It stands on el Gabal el Akhdar Street in Abha, which you can find on Google maps.
Come nightfall, Jebel Akhdar lights up and can be spotted from the distance.
JEBEL SAWDA (BLACK MOUNTAIN)
Situated less than 10 kilometres west of the city of Abha in the Aseer Province, Jebel Sawda is the highest spot in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and part of the Sarawat range. The highest point of the area is Sehab Park, sitting at over 2,900 metres high on the edge of the Sarawat Mountains. This park offers stunning viewpoints, and at this point I will have to break it to you that the peak is private so this is the furthest that you can get. But, the road leading to Jebel Sawda from Abha runs through the hilly landscapes of Moshebah that break every stereotype a person can have about the Saudi Arabian landscape.
Tour providers will help you with this one if you don’t want to drive, but you can find the location on google maps.
JEBEL ABIAD, HARRAT KHAYBAR via CNN Arabia
Harrat Khaybar is one of the largest known volcanic fields and is named after the city that sits on its western side. Its ancient and recent lava flows spread between the provinces of Madinah and Ha’il, covering more than 14,000 square kilometres. It contains a 100-kilometre-long north-south oriented line of volcanic vents including scoria cones, lava domes, maars, basalt lava flows, and the only stratovolcano (a volcano built by many layers – strata – of hardened lava) in the Harrat of western Arabia. That may have sounded too complicated for just rocks, but this one's for the geology fans out there. In the centre lies a very rare kind of volcano made of silica-rich material called comendite, which gives it a whitish color. The two largest are the Jebel Abiadh – at 2,093 metres high – and the Jebel Bayda at 1.5 kilometres in diameter. Oh, and the two names literally mean white. As you can see, the view from the summit of Jebel Abiadh is absolutely worth the effort.
You can go on your own following the location available on Google maps, but we suggest going with a tour operator or a guide if you're interested in learning about the history and geology behind it.
Yes, this time Saudi Arabia is disguised as Sri lanka. Also known as 'neighbour of the moon', 'heavens of the earth', or the 'Magical Fayfa, this mountain is 2,600 m above sea level and 60 km from the Red Sea in the Jizan Province. It's green and inhabited, so you get to experience local life in Saudi Arabia with some out-of-this-world views of green terraces built over centuries.
You can use the location on Google maps to get there and, once you're there take the ride over in the handmade carriage that's how everything moves in Jebel Fayfa.
EL RUB' AL-KHALI (THE EMPTY QUARTER)
via Canvas Clubs
El Rub' Al-Khali means The Empty Quarter, and that says a lot. This seemingly large quarter extends mainly in the Eastern Province, but also in Najran and Riyadh Provinces. It's the largest sand desert in the world, with dunes that reach 250 metres high. In a past life, El Rub' Al-Khali was inhabited by animals and contained water. The place remained a mystery up until the 1930s due to its rough conditions and the spacious distance it covers. On December 10th, 2015 a team of voyagers crossed The Empty Quarter from Salalah in Oman and reached Doha in Qatar in 45 days, following the initial route that was taken by the first ever team to cross the desert 85 years ago.
Tour providers are your way into El Rub’ Al-Khali, unless you want to unleash the offroad adventurer in you – in that case, here's the Google maps location.