Al Ula Sunset, Saudi Arabia
Another wilderness: Why visit Saudi Arabia?
Written by Faz Ali
On 26 May 2024

Saudi Arabia has emerged as a landmark of expansive travelling opportunities, offering an unconventional sophistication to those seeking a unique hidden gem experience.

Situated within the Arabian Peninsula, the once unattainable Kingdom has developed into a travel hot spot post COVID-19 pandemic and retains a fascinating capability to cater to a vast array of touristic expectations. Whilst sceptics invoke Saudi’s political nuances to stir away from indulging in this exquisite Middle Eastern travelling opportunity, exploring Saudi Arabia outside of its religious significance remains an appealing destination for travellers due to several factors.

To paint an adequate picture of the captivating Saudi life, the testimonials of three British travellers have been included to highlight their quest to explore the Kingdom’s diversity, advance, tradition and innovation.

From the Red Sea coastline and its mesmerising coral reefs to the eccentric and dramatic mountain peaks, Saudi Arabia offers a world of unchartered natural beauty, complimented by the vast desert landscapes and world-class marine reserves, sufficient to appeal to any adventure-seeking fanatic or nature enthusiasts.

The crystal-clear waters have made the Kingdom a sought-after destination for diving, snorkelling, water sports and sunset cruising. Saudi’s natural landscapes cannot omit the Asir region which includes mountainous terrain spreading in the southwest region, characterised by lush, terraced slopes, providing opportunities for hiking, trekking and unravelled panoramic views.

The Empty Quarter Desert remains one of the largest sand deserts in the world and reveals a vast, undulating source of dunes and stark beauty, making the Rub’ al Khali region a compelling destination for desert lovers seeking sandy outdoor adventures.

Sunset Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom situated at the centre of important ancient trading routes offers a glimpse into the country’s fascinating history and heritage, a cradle of an old civilisation delighting history enthusiasts in their search for antiquated towns and urban communities. Moreover, Saudi territory became the home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the ancient city of Al-Ula, Mada’in Saleh, Diriyah, Jeddah and Masjid al-Haram.

For instance, Al-Ulna, located in the north-western part of the territory remains a vast expanse of desert landscapes, ancient mud-brick ruins and rock formations which include the renowned Elephant Rock. The outstanding archaeological site of Mada’ in Saleh, also known as Al-Hijr, features the well-preserved Nabatean tombs and rock-cut facades, the second biggest Nabataean city beyond those found in the neighbouring territory of Jordan.

The expansiveness of the many captivating revelations that have changed the substance of history includes the features of the historic Jeddah, a unique district of the Kingdom known for its traditional multi-story buildings made of coral stones and often adorned with intricate wooden latticework, showcasing the region’s unique architectural style. The list of notable sites cannot end without the mention of the Masjid al-Haram, located in Mecca and surrounding the Kaaba – the holiest site in the religion and the most important landmark in Islam.

Al-Ula Highway, Saudi Arabia

James Alexander, a 28-year-old History teacher from London talks about how he was drawn to visit the Kingdom in 2019 when his close friend who already relocated here would regularly describe the major historic sites, exotic cultural attractions and one-of-a–kind natural landscapes.

After extensive conversations regarding the suitability of migration, James decided to travel out for a holiday and was by far most impressed with the destination of Al-Ula.

“From the moment I arrived, I delved into breath-taking views of the deserted landscape covered by rock formations unlike anything I have witnessed before. The uniqueness of the region made me fall in love with every aspect of the country, to the point where I have made immediate arrangements to become a Saudi resident.

“Since then I never thought about going back to London. Whether you’re coming here for a holiday or making a permanent move you won’t be disappointed.”

When asked of the human rights criticism directed towards the Kingdom, James unapologetically affirmed: “A lot of people question the Saudi government due to its human rights record, but I have to say that the government of every nation makes questionable decisions or can be accused of not treating people fairly. I have experienced life in Saudi and it is simply amazing.”

Accelerated modernisation and infrastructural development, the country once renowned for its traditional upholding of its society underwent an influx of expansive development, most notably including the overall modernisation of its tourism infrastructure. From old to new, the ongoing remarkable transformation experienced throughout Saudi Arabia remains a balanced blend of ancient customs with the ever-evolving modern world.

Mandi, a popular dish in Saudi Arabia

As such, the Kingdom has become an attractive destination for those seeking a balanced portion of tradition and modern amenities. The affluent allure of the cosmopolitan capital Riyadh and the coastal city of Jeddah are main the sources of extravagance within the peninsula, offering an impressive example of evolving modernity, including fine dining and opulent shopping opportunities.

However, since one cannot assume that the entirety of travellers is drawn to the Kingdom for its modern amenities, Saudi remains the destination for the many seeking authentic Arabian experiences and opportunities to immerse themselves in local traditions, cuisine and hospitality.

Historically, Saudi Arabia’s touristic reach was dominated by pilgrimage or expressions of the Islamic religious practice. However, in recent years, the country’s multimillion interest in professional sports, including football, boxing, Formula 1 and tennis have elevated Saudi’s global status. The Kingdom’s well-established acquisitions, hosting and sponsorship competence culminated in the winter of 2023, when the FIFA Club World Cup was hosted in Jeddah with teams competing from England, Brazil, Egypt and Japan.

David Brow, a 26-year-old Manchester City fan has taken the opportunity of visiting the Kingdom for the first time during the tournament.

‘’The atmosphere has been amazing in the games; the locals have been very accommodating of the English fans. Although you can only drink fizzy pop at major events, the atmosphere was still quite impressive’’.

David speaks of his initial reluctance to travel to support his team and says: ‘’A week in Saudi has been an eye-opening experience, the weather, the food, the people are all amazing but you can’t help thinking about the human rights record and how migrant workers are treated. I can’t really accept that I am having an amazing time here but not too far away someone is going through it. I can tick it off the list of countries I have been too but I don’t think I will be coming back in a rush.”

Elephant Rock, Al-Ula

In Saudi, tradition is congruent with the outstanding hospitality of its local population, renowned for their kindness, always willing to go above and beyond with welcoming tourists into their country and their homes. Ingrained into the Saudi way of life, the warm reception of travellers remains a main priority for locals, seekers of amicable interactions with willing visitors.

They always rush to offer Arabian coffee usually prepared and served as a ceremonial act of generosity. It is a means of bridging cultural differences and facilitating conversation, readily available to those looking to enjoy the simplest form of Arabian hospitality.

Baha Tashani, a Saudi enthusiast returning to the region annually, claims: “Whilst the natural landscapes and historical sites are of a rare beauty, it is the people’s kindness and graciousness what drives me to return over and over again.”

Baha explored the Arabia Peninsula extensively during the last decade, but he says that the welcoming nature of the Saudi people is what brings him back.

“I can say that the country has experienced a continual transformation since my first visit. But the only constant are the people, always smiling, curious to strike a conversation about my heritage as I am an Arabic language speaker and keen to hear of my impression of their country.

Al-Ula Village, Saudi Arabia

“Once I tell them that I come every year, their hospitality and warmth increase tenfold, and I always get invited to join them in their homes for a traditional meal or coffee. During my travels, I found myself developing livelong friendships where we keep in contact, see each other occasionally and exchange gifts when reunited. I am aware of the prejudiced westernised sentiment towards the Kingdom, but I feel grateful to have found a second home in Saudi Arabia”.

In essence, Saudi Arabia’s breath-taking natural landscapes, ongoing modernisation initiatives and the genuine warmth of its people position it as an intriguing and often overlooked destination for intrepid travellers. From the idyllic Red Sea coast to the awe-inspiring Al-Ula region, the country presents a tapestry of natural wonders and a vision for the future.

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