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Saudi Arabia’s rich visual bounty reaches glorious peaks in its mountain territory.
Spectacular ranges extend for the entire length of the country from its border with Syria in the north to Yemen in the far south of the Arabian Peninsula. Ripe for exploring, these imposing peaks showcase fascinating cultural traditions, cool, airy cities and some of the finest scenery in the Middle East. Think cliff hanging mud brick villages, stone towers clinging to mountainsides and a culture almost untouched.
Jeddah is a commercial hub sitting to the west along the Red Sea with the second busiest seaport in the Middle East. It’s the principal gateway to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, and sees over a million pilgrims a year on their way to perform the Hajj. Despite this, Jeddah is perceived to be the most liberal city in Saudi Arabia and is a popular tourist destination, offering the beauty of ancient architecture mixed with the latest luxuries. Celebrate your arrival in the Kingdom with sunset drinks on the city’s attractive corniche. Spread out your carpet and your ‘takwa’, the smart Saudi picnic seat. Join the locals when the sun sets, the call for prayer sounds and the world’s tallest fountain comes to life in front of the beachwalk. Complete your first day in Saudi Arabia with a welcome dinner in modern style, befitting fast-paced Jeddah. (D)
2 nights Shada Shate’a Boutique Hotel or similar
Experience the Red Sea! Hop on a private cruise to enjoy the sea and sun. Snorkelling gear is packed to discover the wealth of underwater life the region is famous for. From Hawksbill turtles to lionfish, eels and even reef sharks, snorkelling along the coral sites will impress. The temperatures of the water are at least 21C and the high salinity is beneficial for your health. Complete your coastal experience with a seafood barbeque, skilfully prepared by your skipper.
Find out that things are equally convivial on dry land in the atmospheric old town, Al Balad, which achieved UNESCO World Heritage status in 2014. Its traditional multi storey buildings and merchant houses are an architectural treasure trove. It is a dive back in time with the buzz of trading, pilgrims shopping and the occasional tourist mixed in. The roshan or wooden window covers are the ancient way to create shade and cool in this hot and humid climate, and they make these alleys especially picturesque. (B,L)
So liberal is the atmosphere in Jeddah that it can be easy to forget about its proximity to Mecca. The holiest city in Islam is just under 100 kilometres from Jeddah and the millions of pilgrims who flock to Saudi Arabia from around the world to perform the Hajj generally ply this route on their way to the city’s sacred Kaaba. Mecca is off-limits to non-Muslims, but a glimpse of the city from a distance is sure to make an indelible impact on travellers of every creed or religious denomination. From the flat desert landscapes that surround Mecca, the road begins to rise as it passes by the holy city en route to Taif: the final destination for the day.
This elevation marks the transition between the coastal plain and the Sarawat Mountains, which start around here and extend all the way down to the Gulf of Aden in the south, running along the entire western coast of Yemen. The steep hairpin bends that curve sharply into the mountainside offer some spectacular vistas, while the monkeys that cavort by the roadside provide additional company on the journey. Taif itself makes for a satisfying conclusion to the road trip.
Known as the “City of Roses”, it is famous for its cool temperatures and for the fragrant flowers that grow in the city and its surrounding mountain valleys. The city has abundant natural beauty and is also known for the cultivation of grapes, figs, pomegranates, and honey. (B,L)
Overnight in Taif
Distances and journey time: Jeddah – Taif (185 km): 2 hrs 30 mins
Fill your lungs with cool, clear mountain air during an epic road trip along the spine of the Sarawat range. In fact, there are few more spectacular journeys than the one between Taif and Al Bahah on the entire Arabian Peninsula. Visual manna comes thick and fast on the route. It includes imposing looking ruined watch towers standing proud on rugged escarpments, tranquil mountain settlements where the pace and rituals of life have remained unchanged through centuries and cultivated terraces that give lie to perceptions of Saudi Arabia as a barren and unforgiving landscape. There are opportunities to stop and explore these tableaus on the way to Al Bahah. Al Bahah itself is another of Saudi Arabia’s highlights. The city, the capital of Al Bahah region, enjoys a pleasant climate at around 2200 metres above sea level and is surrounded by more than forty forests, including Raghdan, Al-Zareeb and Baidan. The views all around the city are spectacular. Some of the best vistas can be enjoyed from Raghdan park, which overlooks a deep wadi gorge. Near Al Bahah, the village of Thee Ain — accessed via a curving road that hugs the cliffside — is one the region’s best preserved and hosts a fascinating visitors’ centre which offers insight to local life. Wander the steep alleyways, peek into the stone houses and look for the local tea seller, hiding in the shade under the trees next to the village spring. (B)
Overnight in Al Baha
Distances and journey time: Taif – Al Baha (220 km): 2 hrs 45 mins
The journey south along the mountain range continues to wow as it meanders towards the Yemen border. Especially the route between Al Baha and Abha, the capital of the Asir region, is a multi-faceted feast of mountain wonders so take your time and enjoy it over two days. At the start of the trip, the scenery is relatively gentle with watchtowers and heritage villages left and right of the road. A highlight of this section is a crescent-shaped settlement perched precariously at the edge of a cliff. The locals work hard to ensure the preservation of their village in its challenging location and it’s fascinating to hear their tales over cups of sugary mint tea. Dress modestly in these parts, not many foreigners make it here, so your tea hosts might invite you for a tour of their home. Sturdily built for protection against both winter cold and summer heat, these stone houses are very different from the mudbrick mostly used in Saudi Arabia. Overnight in the simple roadside town of Beni Sabr. There is nothing more to do here than trying the freshly baked ‘khops’ or bread and a ‘mikato’ coffee. Hear the call for sunset prayer ring out and see the pile of shoes grow at the mosque entrance. Bengali and Pakistani workers join the Saudi mountain men in prayer. All together, Islam at its best. (B,L)
Overnight in Beni Sabr
Distances and journey time: Al Baha – Beni Sabr (160 km): 3 hrs
Further south, the scenery gets more rugged as the mountains get higher, culminating in the peak of Jabal Sawda: the highest summit in Saudi Arabia. Before reaching Abha, you will encounter traditional Asiri houses along with an impressive mosque and equally notable views at the village of Olayyan. With a network of alleys and its setting against the hillside it is sure to impress. The local ‘museum’ takes you back in time, showing the tools and trades of its inhabitants of the past. In the larger town of Namas, explore the fort-like ruler’s house that is now a museum , strategically situated along the main road. Imagine the traders pass, paying their tolls, adding to the wealth of the rulers. A picnic lunch can be enjoyed in an airy park with a view into the deep valley outside town. End the day by exploring Abha, a fascinating city surrounded by tall, imposing mountains. (B,L)
2 nights in Abha
Distances and journey time: Beni Sabr – Abha (180 km): 4 hrs
Abha and the wider Asir region are ripe for exploration. And the focus is on Asiri culture with local traditions, architecture, and heritage to the fore as we uncover the area that surrounds Abha. At Rijal Alma architecture spans mud houses and watchtowers. These buildings are shielded from seasonal rains by an ingenious system that involves lines of big round boulders that protect their foundations. Enjoy a refreshing drink under a shady tree at the village café. Another fascinating local settlement is the “hanging village” of Habala, which clings to a cliff, an effective tool in deterring potential invaders over the centuries. It is only accessible via a cable car that runs sporadically, but the views of the village hanging on to its precarious spot are a highlight of the region. After delving more into the heritage of Asir at the Fatima Museum of Aseeri Women—a fascinating overview of traditional design, home decoration and Asir natural painting techniques — the final road trip element of the Saudi mountain discovery is perhaps its most impressive. Pass by towering Jabal Sawda, widely believed to be the highest in Saudi Arabia, before descending a hairpin road down the slopes of the mountain to Rijal Alma. En route, there’s the chance to stop and discover a fascinating collection of around 60 multi storey traditional stone houses that hug the slopes. (B)
Distances and journey time: Abha – Rijal Alma (60 km): 1 hr Abha – Habala (60 km): 1 hr
Before departing, take some more time to explore Abha. It’s a fascinating city with plenty to offer. Stretch the legs at the city’s Art Street, a picturesque walkway lined with magnificent purple jacaranda trees. It’s a place where artists from all over the country catch up to share their creativity. The street is decorated with colourful pieces or art and there are numerous cafes and restaurants offering gourmet Saudi and international food. The culture of the city can also be absorbed by observing its intricately designed houses. These large, fortress-like houses are designed vertically, which helps heat escape and trap the cool air. If one would like to continue travelling in Saudi Arabia, we suggest adding on the Secrets of the South-module, including the coastal city of Jazan and the Farasan Islands. Or fly from Abha to another part of the kingdom. (B)
Distances and journey time: Abha city centre – Abha Airport (20 km): 25 mins
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.