Familiar stories of Arabia conjure up images of vast deserts that span the territory and host some of the world’s greatest archaeological and geographical wonders, recognized by UNESCO and others. Beyond these desert scapes, however, the landscape of Arabia is incredibly diverse: rich, and fertile, dotted with dramatic mountain peaks, lush swathes of palm trees, and flowing fields of roses and pomegranate trees. Whether you choose to head for the rocky outcroppings to feel on top of the world, or stargaze overnight on the Wadi floor — the varying terrain of Saudi is pristine and welcomes adventure.
The Saudi tradition of hospitality and stewardship of natural spaces is complemented by modern efforts to innovate infrastructure around adventure experiences; you don’t have to be a daredevil to have a real adventure here. You can choose to run, hike, bike, climb, drive, swim, or dive around the country to experience its natural beauty. Better yet, the weather is comfortable year-round. Sunny winters make Saudi hospitable to outdoor enthusiasts through every season. What will you choose? Read through this guide of some of the best adventure experiences around Saudi and let us know.
Though there are plenty of stretches of flat desert, the topography of Saudi rises and descends again all over the country, creating landscapes reminiscent of the American West in some places and Siberia in others. Through the middle of the country, and adjacent to the capital of Riyadh, the Tuwaiq Cliffs form a dramatic escarpment that runs for hundreds of miles. This sheer range of cliffs was part of an ancient sea bed and overlooks land that nomads and merchants used as a trade route for centuries.
One particularly steep stretch of this escarpment, located about 90 minutes from the capital, reaches such dramatic heights that it has earned the name “Edge of the World.” Views from the clifftop perch make the horizon stretch to infinity — the perfect finish to an already rewarding hike. Catch glimpses of fossils, and riverbed remains along the Wadi floor, while camels roam freely. You’ll need to reach this location in a 4WD vehicle, and day-long excursions are offered as popular tourist packages in Riyadh. Or, why not stay after sunset and stargaze overnight by opting for a camping trip?
Like Edge of the World, AlUla’s temperatures are perfectly comfortable for a winter visit. A number of trails are now open,winding through the rocky territory around AlUla. The Adventure Trail is an 8km hike, a moderate physical challenge and opportunity to learn more about the area’s history from a knowledgeable guide. Sunrise and sunset excursions are available. The Oasis View Trail is a 3-hour excursion that takes you to the top of the Alfath mountain peak. Once at the summit, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the oasis below, thousands of palm trees dotting the landscape and dramatic mountain peaks stretching over the horizon.
Head further to the northwest of Saudi and you’ll reach Tabuk, a city rich in Bedouin culture known as a resting point for pilgrims journeying across the mountainous terrain of this region. To the west and southwest of the city, you’ll find staggering mountain peaks, otherworldly rock formations, and deserts whose sands radiate a magical shade of red.
One of the most diverse hotspots is in Wadi Al Disah, a stretch of valleys that largely contain ochre desert, but are also dotted with pools, palm trees, and sandstone columns reminiscent of Utah’s Monument Valley. Take a 4WD vehicle here, or hike through the valleys on foot. Furtherwest, Wadi Tayeb Al Ism is a valley through a steep granite massif, only separated by a winding road from the azure waters of the Gulf of Aqaba. Palm trees line the coast as a dry riverbed snakes through the valley, making this a perfect place to watch the sunset over the water.
Taif is another great destination for exploring the mountains of Saudi, but we haven’t mentioned it here because we’ve got a whole other guide to the city! Check it out here.
Craters, Caves, and More
The water running through much of the Arabian peninsula led to the formation of various oases, caves, and rock formations that Saudis and other travelers love to explore today, but volcanic activity also formed the geology throughout the region. One unique and much-visited remnant of this volcanic activity is the Al Wahbah Crater, about 160 miles away from Taif in the desert of the Hejazi region. The crater itself is massive, about a mile in diameter, so it takes almost an hour to descend to the bottom. Its white color comes as a result of the sodium phosphate crystals in the ground, making for an impressive and interesting photo, if you want to put your smartphone’s panorama mode to good use!
At the Al Ahsa Oasis in the Eastern Province of Saudi — a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the organization’s creative cities network — you can both enjoy the fertile land that pilgrims have used as shelter for centuries and tour any number of landmarks that are making this one of Saudi’s premier tourism destinations. Upon your arrival, a perfect way to take in a view of the oasis, and explore a winding cave system while you’re at it, is to climb the popular mountain Al Qarah. If the view stokes your feeling for adventure, rent a four-wheeler and go off into the dunes the next day, kicking up some sand all the way.
Lake, Sea, and Forest
If you make the trip to see historic Jeddah, no doubt you will spend some time along the Red Sea coast, a beautiful waterway complemented by the sleek waterfront corniche in that city. In Jeddah and beyond, from the beaches of Yanbu to the quaint getaway of Umluj, the Red Sea coast is an amazing feature of the Arabian peninsula that offers endless adventure possibilities. While you can choose to relax with a cruise along its waters or just a beach day beside the water, diving to visit shipwrecks or reefs is the ultimate way to get your fill of aquatic adventure in Saudi. Read our guide to diving along the Red Sea here.
If you’re more the type to admire water from afar, one honorable mention for our adventure list can be found just outside of Riyadh. In a place that is usually a beautiful red sand dune, worthy of a visit in a 4×4 at any time that you’re looking to escape the city, winter rains create a lake called the “Lake of Liquid Light” at Al Karrarah National Park. Against the backdrop of the sandy dunes, the turquoise waters are stunning and make for a great place to take a photo.
Last but certainly not least, we recommend a visit to Raghadan Forest Park in Al Baha. The area around the city is full of hidden gems, and though this wilderness area is really popular with locals, it’s a great way to get your bearings and do just as the locals do before striking out on your own. The beautiful forested hills are populated with baboons, paved with trails, and complete with food stalls and barbecues that allow sunset dining, in the local style. Come up here before making your way to the “Marble Village” of Dhee Ayn to soak up as much beauty as possible during your time in Al Baha.
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If you’re looking to visit Saudi Arabia, make sure you’ve got the latest information about Covid-19 travel precautions and restrictions for travelling to the kingdom.