From treks in lunar-like landscapes and lush green mountains to tours through ancient, open-air art galleries and bird watching in the world’s largest oasis, Saudi has so many bucket list experiences that your biggest dilemma during any trip will be working out which one to tick off first. Here’s our guide to five of the best…
Once thought to have been caused by a meteorite crashing to earth, but more likely to have been the result of a volcanic eruption, the lunar-like Al-Wahbah Crater, about a two-hour drive north of Taif, is one of Saudi’s most spectacular natural wonders.
Easily accessible from the road, visitors can take a three-hour hike around the rim, which affords glorious views of the desert, or trek 250-metres down to the pearly lake in the basin, which takes about 45 minutes. Try to go early morning or late afternoon when it’s cooler.
For a more other-worldly experience, you can camp overnight in the lava fields surrounding the crater and indulge in a spot of stargazing. Operators including Arabian Camp organise overnight trips.
With an entrance shaped like a giant eye (hence the name ‘ain’, which means eye in Arabic), Ain Heet Cave in the Al-Jubail Mountain is famed for its limestone formations and a deep underground reservoir, where you can take a dip in the crystal-clear water.
You need to scramble over sharp, loose boulders to reach the bottom of the cave and it’s a steep climb back up, so trainers or hiking boots and a sense of adventure are a must. Also, take a torch and plenty of water.
Ain Heet is only 40kms from Riyadh and several companies, including Musement, offer five-hour tours with hotel pick-ups.
You’ll feel like you’re walking through ancient times visiting the Rock Carvings of Jubbah, one of Saudi’s oldest and most interesting open-air art galleries.
The petroglyphs of ibex, oryx and camels, weapons and human figures, inscribed onto the rocks of the Nefud desert up to 9,000 years ago, give a fascinating insight into what life was like in the Pottery Neolithic Period.
Jubbah lies about 100kms northwest of Ha’il, from where you can arrange day trips.
Sitting at more than 3,133 metres above sea level, Jabal Al Soudah in the Asir National Park in the southwest of the country is one of the highest peaks in Saudi and its lush, dense juniper forests and cool mountain air provide an exhilarating trekking experience.
Seasoned hikers can take the 15km path to the peak, spotting some of the 300 species of birds along the way, or, for the more adventurous, there’s the option to go paragliding and sweep over the unspoilt misty valleys of the green mountain.
You can easily reach Jabal Al Soudah by public or private transport from the town of Abha, which is just 40kms away. For a unique experience, spend the night at one of the park’s 60 campsites, sleeping in a caravan or under canvas.
Go where only locals go and picnic in the world’s biggest, jungle-like oasis. Walk among the millions of lush date palms, draped in vines, take a dip in hot and cold springs, or explore the limestone caves of Al Qarah Mountain, where the artificial lights create a spiritual, cathedral-like vibe.
Climb the rocks of Al Qarah for the most breath-taking sunset and spend the night at a Bedouin-style camp, where you can chat with your local hosts round an open fire.
Early in the morning, drive over the dunes to Yellow Lake (Al-Asfar) to catch the sun rising over the water. If you’re lucky, you’ll see moustached warblers, Kentish plovers and greater spotted eagles. Al Ahsa is between Riyadh and Dammam. Rent a 4×4 to drive to the park, or hire a local guide.
From its diverse terrain to its thriving art and music scene, Insta-worthy food and natural wonders to travel for, Saudi is ready and waiting for you to discover. For more incredible, off-the-beaten track ideas for sites to see, experiences to try, and places to stay, check out Visit Saudi