Saudi Arabia only opened to tourism in January 2020 for the first time ever and then was forced to close again due to Covid reopening in March 2022. For a destination that is so brand spanking new to tourism, wow, have they got it right! No plastic, female guides at all sites, a controlled way of experiencing all the incredible sites here so numbers are light on impact to these delicate areas, many of which are very young excavation sites. Clear paths that you must stay on, there is no possible way of climbing or disrespecting monuments like in Jordan and every site offers you fresh orange juice, water in a glass bottle and local fruit treats. You cannot visit sites independently, you cannot take your own private driver or guide to any of the sites – you must use the local experts who have incredible language skills and vast, detailed knowledge. Here are my myth busts from my travels here in November 2022 and attempts to assist in breaking stigmas surrounding travelling in Saudi Arabia – an absolute untouched paradise for those seeking something more rewarding.
The oasis city of Dedan was known as Lihyan and the capital of two old Arabian kingdoms in the 1st millennium BCE, close to the trade routes. Excavations revealed remains of large fortified cities. East of the city, you will find the famous Lion Tombs carved into the cliff of Jabal Dedan. A short ride took us to Jabal Ikmah, an open library of Aramaic, Dadanitic and Nabataean inscriptions in a beautiful desert landscape. We had female guides at both sites and a female driver at Jabal Ikmah. Two myths about Saudi broken right there.
Dining at Okto at the Edge of the World, we not only had an incredible subset viewing point, serving up incredible food. The myth buster here, is none of the staff wore traditional Saudi dress. Both males and females are dressed western – and in hoodies!
This is the monumental Jabal AlFil (Elephant Rock), AlUla’s most famous natural geological rock formation. Lit up in the evenings and surrounded by sunken lounges and hundreds of lanterns, gentle music pulses in the background. Virgin cocktails, ice cream or pastries are all available on site as you sit under the stars and soak in the magical atmosphere. Myth buster – couples travelling together are allowed to hold hands in public and dine together without males and females being separate.
Home for the next few nights. Myth busted – couples who are not married are allowed to stay in hotels together.
This is Maraya – the mirrored building! Home to a fine dining restaurant, theatre and art exhibitions.
Myth busted – you can’t take photos of women or with women in Saudi Arabia.
Looking to explore Saudi Arabia? Check out our small group tours.
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.