Saudi is full of rich history and impressive landscapes, but the sites to see are not limited to the ground. Look above — the skies in Saudi are an experience in themselves. Astrotourism has become a major travel trend in recent years. Tourists are eager to escape populated cities and visit areas unaffected by light pollution — and the desert skies take clear, bright skies to the next level. Camping under Saudi’s dark skies is a unique experience with out-of-this-world views. Here is a guide to Arabian desert camping and stargazing in Saudi.
Know before you go:
Travelers are advised to wear comfortable clothes and bring warm layers. Though it is a desert, these areas can still get cold when the sun goes down. Make sure to bring a camera to take breath-taking photos of the beautiful desert sunsets and starry skies. Solo travelers are advised to join tour groups for desert trips in order to gain a local’s perspective on the landscape.
Where to go:
Deep in the desert in north-western Saudi, AlUla is known for its archaeological wonders, including ancient tombs dating back to the first century BCE. The area is dotted with rock outcroppings with beautifully abstract shapes. The region is also famous for its dark skies, making it an ideal spot for stargazing.
For an educational guide to AlUla’s skies, visit AlGharameel: here, tourists can stargaze surrounded by the area’s unique rock formations, with a local expert to offer insights into the stars and constellations above.
In Jeddah’s desert, a popular option for travelers is an eight-hour stay at a camp located 40 minutes from the city. Before night falls, adventurers can go sand boarding, quad biking, and ride 4×4 vehicles through the dunes. In the evening, the tour gathers around the campfire to watch the sunset present the opportunity for stargazing.
There are a variety of desert safari tours available in the area, including Saudi Safari, Saudi Arabia Tours, Ramses Tours, and TourDragon — each offer their own take on the eight-hour camping stay, with a range of adventure activities during the afternoon, followed by campfires with Arabian tea and coffee.
Located on the outskirts of Jeddah, just an hour’s drive north, Moon Mountain is an otherworldly desert landscape. It is popular with locals looking to escape the city for hikes and camping under the stars. On your way from Jeddah to Moon Mountain, take the opportunity to stop at the small village of Asfan, where you can climb up the 18th century Asfan fort. This hilltop outpost served as a rest stop for pilgrims on the road between Makkah and Medina.
Further along route 4720, you will find the Jabal al Jadib mountain range. The striking rock formations here mark your arrival at Moon Mountain, where you can pitch a tent and get ready for sunset. When the sun goes down, the stars overhead are dazzling thanks to the area’s remote, desert location.
Hail is located between Mount Shammer and Mount Salma and is the capital of the north-central region of Saudi Arabia. It is home to the Al Nafud desert with its unique red sands. In Hail, explore rock art now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and discover inscriptions and petroglyphs that date back more than 10,000 years. There are also plenty of opportunities for dune bashing and sand surfing just outside the city.
Located in the northernmost region of the kingdom, Al Jouf is home to many historical landmarks and archaeological sites, including Sisira Wall, Al Dar’I Quarter, and Marid Castle. The area is formed by mountains, valleys and flat sand dunes in the Al Nafud desert. The city is known as the kingdom’s “Food Basket” due to its plentiful olive, palm and fruit trees, which produce thousands of tons of olive oil. In this area, visitors can castle-hop through the Nafud Desert and visit olive farms during the day, before setting up camp under the stars.
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.