The Place: Sharm Al-Jizzi, a beautiful beach on the northern Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia

05/06/2021

The beach offers its visitors the opportunity to discover the splendor of its rocky and sandy terrains and picturesque seascapes
Located in the south of Duba, Saudi Arabia, the beach of Sharm Al-Jizzi is known for its purity and tranquility.

It is one of the most beautiful beaches on the northern Red Sea coast, where locals looking for calm and comfort go on weekends and public holidays.

The beach offers its visitors the opportunity to discover the splendor of its rocky and sandy terrains and picturesque seascapes.

The rich environmental wonders of the area contain a host of treasures and landmarks, just waiting to be discovered.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Haql, the perfect beach getaway at northern end of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline

Time: 15 February 2021

Sparsely populated, the area is prime location for adventurers and those wanting to camp out on one of the charming beaches of the area. (SPA)

Residents of Haql like to head to the Palm Garden, a park area that offers wonderful views of the Gulf of Aqaba and its surroundings

JEDDAH: With more than 1,000 miles of Red Sea coastline, one of Saudi Arabia’s northern-most towns has the potential to be a diving hotspot for residents of the Kingdom and beyond.

Haql, a city at the northern end of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline, offers many natural destinations, from tumbling cliffs and clear waters brimming with a thriving marine ecosystem to colorful coral reefs and white sandy beaches surrounded by mountains such as Jabal Al-Tayeb.
Sparsely populated, the area is prime location for adventurers and those wanting to camp out on one of the charming beaches of the area.
Near the city lies Ras Al-Mashee bay, a little known area that has attracted divers who swim round the half-submerged Georgios G shipwreck, known as the “Saudi Titanic,” and enjoy the array of fish and coral. The British-made cargo ship, which ran aground on the coral reef in 1978, is home to moray eels, lion fish, barracudas, sand tiger sharks and garden eels.

HIGHLIGHT
Haql, a city at the northern end of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline, offers many natural destinations, from tumbling cliffs and clear waters brimming with a thriving marine ecosystem to colorful coral reefs and white sandy beaches surrounded by mountains such as Jabal Al-Tayeb.

Waleed Bakhraibah, 43, an advanced-level diver, has visited the site more than 20 times in the past decade, bringing along his wife and eldest son just a few months ago. Bakhraibah, a government sector worker, often thought his young children would enjoy the many pristine beaches of the area.
“I’m still in awe of the quiet beauty that surrounds the inside of the ship,” he told Arab News. “The last time I visited, I tried to stay still and take it all in and everything around me, from fish to eels, just swam freely. I was merely an observer.”
Al-Sultaniyyah beach, 42 km south of Haql, has attracted a small but steady flow of tourists over the past few months with its crystal-clear and pristine waters.
Residents of Haql like to head to the Palm Garden, a park area that offers wonderful views of the Gulf of Aqaba and its surroundings. The garden abounds with palm trees, and has many areas for families and children.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands, the place to beat the winter blues

Time: 02 February 2021

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From mangroves to white sandy beaches, the islands are an ideal spot for bird watchers looking to get a peak at over 165 migrating birds. (SPA)

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From mangroves to white sandy beaches, the islands are an ideal spot for bird watchers looking to get a peak at over 165 migrating birds. (SPA)

  • The bright turquoise waters are also home to dolphins, over 200 types of fish and if lucky, visitors can catch a glimpse of the dugongs that are native to the area

JEDDAH: With most of Saudi Arabia’s residents reeling from the cold, the Kingdom’s southwestern islands are basking in the warm sun, enticing many to head south.
The small archipelago, made up of 84 coral islands, are approximately 40 km off the coast of Jazan in the Red Sea and is considered one of the Kingdom’s most pristine areas.
It was chosen as one of the Saudi Tourism Authority’s (STA) 17 Saudi Winter Season destinations.
From mangroves to white sandy beaches, the islands are an ideal spot for bird watchers looking to get a peak at over 165 migrating birds.
Divers make their way around the bright colored corals and wanderers look for glimpses of history hidden in the villages’ old stone buildings that dot the islands, including the remains of an ancient Ottoman castle overlooking the coastline.
The bright turquoise waters are also home to dolphins, over 200 types of fish and if lucky, visitors can catch a glimpse of the dugongs that are native to the area.

HIGHLIGHT

The small archipelago, made up of 84 coral islands, are approximately 40 km off the coast of Jazan in the Red Sea and is considered one of the Kingdom’s most pristine areas.

The weather is at its prime during the winter months. With a lower chance of rainfall and an abundance of sunshine, the temperature is perfect for a short trip over the weekend.
The STA has provided a wide variety of touristic activities within the Saudi Winter Season for citizens, residents and visitors of GCC countries, to create long-lasting memories and unforgettable family experiences especially during the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
In its effort to promote local tourism, the season, which will run until the end of March, provides visitors with more than 300 experiences and packages by over 200 tour operators and tourism companies.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Al-Nawras Island in Saudi Arabia attracts thousands of visitors every year

30/01/21

Launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority, the slogan for this year’s season, which runs until the end of March, is “Winter Around You”

Al-Nawras Island Saudi Arabia is home to many majestic beaches and enchanting islands along its Red Sea coast and Al-Nawras Island is considered one of the Kingdom’s gems.
Located in the governorate of Yanbu and highlighted among the Saudi Winter Season tourist destinations, the tranquil isle attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Most travelers are drawn to the island in search of relaxation and recreation. Visitors can enjoy Red Sea fishing trips, delicious meals in one of the numerous restaurants, or can simply camp under the stars.
Spread over 11 km, Al-Nawras Island has been developed by the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu and boasts green spaces, fountains, and walking routes which are ideal for families. Paths are equipped with children’s games and also feature viewing areas offering panoramic photo opportunities.
Launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority, the slogan for this year’s season, which runs until the end of March, is “Winter Around You.” It has more than 17 locations throughout the Kingdom offering visitors in excess of 300 packages provided by 200 tour operators.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s caves reveal hidden treasures

Time: 10 December 2020

The western and northwestern regions of the Kingdom were home to caves and basalt tunnels between layers of lava rock near the craters of volcanoes. (Photo/ Supplied)
  • Research project opens door to tourist, scientific adventure

MAKKAH: They are among the region’s most striking natural wonders, formed over millions of years by ancient rivers — and still home to mysterious secrets.
Now Saudi Arabia’s caves, sinkholes and caverns are becoming hidden gems for the adventurous or merely curious to seek out and explore.
More than 230 caves — deep and shallow, and formed of limestone, gypsum and other minerals — have been discovered in the Kingdom’s deserts.
As the mysteries of Saudi Arabia gain wider recognition, these natural treasures are the subject of growing interest.
Mahmoud Ahmed Al-Shanti, a specialist in caves and dunes at the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS), told Arab News that caves are a valuable natural asset, and attract explorers, researchers and others interested in the field.
The SGS has launched an exploration project to determine the location, types and origins of the Kingdom’s caves.
In a study titled “Caves and Sinkholes in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Shanti said that caves or sinkholes vary in size from small, where a person can barely access the main entrance, to vast, with tunnels extending for hundreds of kilometers.
The Mammoth cave in the US state of Kentucky is more than 500-km long, for example.
Caves are a rare geological, tourist and environmental asset that must be preserved and protected, he said.
“Not only are they beautiful, but some caves can be used for academic studies and scientific research,” he said.

More than 230 caves — deep and shallow, and formed of limestone, gypsum and other minerals — have been discovered in the Kingdom’s deserts.

“Countries also can benefit from them economically through financial income, career opportunities in various fields of education and research.” Al-Shanti said the western and northwestern regions of the Kingdom were home to caves and basalt tunnels between layers of lava rock near the craters of volcanoes. Examples include the Habashi cave in Harrat Al-Buqum and the Umm Jarsan cave in Harrat Khyber, about 200 km northeast of Madinah.
Caves also form in sandstone exposed to a variety of environmental factors. Examples include Qarah cave in the Kingdom’s eastern region; Al-Doudah cave, east of AlUla; and Janine cave, near Hail.
Al-Shanti said there are also sinkholes and caves in limestone rock near Saudi Arabia’s northern border, and in the central and eastern regions.
A variety of plants is known to grow in the soil surrounding these natural wonders, with roots breaking up the limestone rock over millions of years, forming long, deep corridors that branch out in different directions.
In the depths of the cave, green plants give way to organisms that can survive without sunlight. Bacteria and algae utilize waste from animals that live inside, while some use minerals in the cave as a source of food and energy.
Al-Shanti said that caves often provide shelter for mammals, including wild cats and various types of rodents.
In desert caves, carnivores, such as foxes, hyenas and wolves, live and reproduce, emerging at night to hunt before returning to the safety of the cave.
With time and effort, more hidden wonders are being discovered beneath Saudi Arabia’s sandy dunes and rocky mountains, opening the door for adventure and discovery for all.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Wadi Al-Disah, in Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk region

06/12/20

Wadi Al-Disah in the Tabuk region is one of the most famous valleys in the Kingdom and one of the region’s most prominent natural tourist attractions. It is also known as Wadi Al-Habak, Tamar Al-Nabq, Wadi Damah, and Wadi Qarar. Visitors to this beautiful valley will be struck by its tranquility and fresh air.
The valley is located about 220 km south of Tabuk city. It penetrates the pillar-shaped mountains, under which a wide variety of trees are found, including palms, edamas, and basil and citrus trees.
On the edges of the valley are striking red mountains. The valley also features an area known as the Blue Eye, into which water from different springs pours. One of the springs in the center of the valley has an unknown source and flows from a rocky spot. The water is renowned for its clarity and freshness.
The weather in the valley is mild throughout the year, making it an ideal place to grow crops, including buckthorn — from which people make buckthorn jam and buckthorn molasses, vegetables, citrus fruits, banana, mango, tomato, and mint.
The valley’s Nabataean façade and rock-carved tombs add to its beauty, in addition to other archaeological sites that include the remains of residential settlements, such as Al-Mushairef, Al-Sukhnah, and Al-Maskounah.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi aerial photographer reveals secrets of AlUla Old Town to global audience

Time: 25 November 2020

Ali Al-Suhaimi’s eye-in-the-sky portrayal of the famous Islamic city has helped to provide a fresh insight into the past lives of the inhabitants of the now deserted settlement.
  • Use of drones by cameraman brings history to life in one of KSA’s most famous archaeological sites

MAKKAH: A Saudi aerial photographer’s passion for history has won him global acclaim for images revealing the secrets of AlUla Old Town.

Ali Al-Suhaimi’s eye-in-the-sky portrayal of the famous Islamic city has helped to provide a fresh insight into the past lives of the inhabitants of the now deserted settlement.

AlUla Old Town, located in the north of the Kingdom about 20 km from the archaeological site of Mada’in Salih, is seven centuries old and filled with mosques and markets that reflect its beauty and heritage.

Rich in history, the region was an ancient trade station linking the north and south of the peninsula and one of the main stopping-off points for pilgrims traveling between Syria and Makkah.

Al-Suhaimi told Arab News that his inspiration to photograph the area from the air came from his deep-rooted desire to find out more about the country’s ancient civilizations.

“The idea from the onset revolved around simulating the history of AlUla region, which has become one of the most important heritage attractions on a local and international level.

“The location includes stone landmarks and high mountains which set a breathtaking rocky harmony depicted by the drones of aerial photographers.

“It was the place of people who set the link with us on architectural and human levels.

The region is one of the great forgotten treasures of antiquity. (Social media)

They built a town which bears witness to the magnificence and cultural depth and momentum of its human legacy,” he said. Studies of AlUla’s castles have proved that the site was once a thriving community, Al-Suhaimi added. “Photographing these places in all their detail only adds to my enthusiasm for transmitting images to a world craving for the secrets of these places of old times to be unveiled.”

The high-flying lensman has snapped all of AlUla Old Town’s castles and villages, as well as the castle of Musa bin Nusayr, and the Aja and Salma mountains which rise to 1,000 meters.

By using drones, Al-Suhaimi has been able to get close-up pictures of the houses and buildings that occupy the site. “There are monolithic houses that reflect the depth of relationships that linked those people who fused with each other as if they were one family.”

HIGHLIGHT

AlUla Old Town, located in the north of the Kingdom about 20 km from the archaeological site of Mada’in Salih, is seven centuries old and filled with mosques and markets that reflect its beauty and heritage.

He pointed out that although the houses seemed to be randomly clustered together, they were actually “architectural enigmas” which had been cleverly designed to ensure a smooth flow of air in and around them.

Aerial photographs of the town had also raised questions about how its people had been able to move around from building to building in such a close-knit environment.

Al-Suhaimi said he had gained all the necessary licenses to operate drones in the area. “We were keen on taking pictures and transmitting them to the whole world, as internationally it is one of the most outstanding Islamic cities. Its mud houses are living witnesses that resisted time.”

He added that he had been astonished by the positive global feedback from his photographs of the region. One notable feature of AlUla Old Town is the Tantora sundial. The shadow that it cast was used to mark the beginning of the winter planting season.

“They set stones atop one another so that the shadow would be projected on the tip of the stone once per year, which is evidence of the astronomy legacy of the people of the region,” said Al-Suhaimi.

This article was first published in Arab News

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AlUla unveils new experiences, heritage sites open for bookings

Time: 30 October 2020  

There is an Experience AlUla app for an immersive digital guide, and visitors can speak to a Rawi (Arabic storyteller) for a more personal tour of the sites. (Supplied)
  • From late-December, parts of AlUla Old Town will be open to the public

JEDDAH: AlUla, the historical crossroad of ancient civilizations, has officially reopened for visitors.
The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has unveiled the full suite of experiences that are being introduced over the coming months.
Heritage sites, Hegra, Jabal Ikmah and Dadan are the first to reopen for bookings. The Hegra experience includes a full immersion into the Nabataean way of life at the Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza, including Jabal Ithlib, The Diwan, Jabal Alhamar and the well.
At the ancient city of Dadan, the capital city of the Dadanite and Liyhanite kingdoms and one of the most developed cities in the first millennia BC, visitors will get the chance to become an archaeologist for the day.
Archaeologists began extensive excavations at Dadan in February to explore this relatively unknown period in AlUa’s 200,000 years of human history. From December, a family-friendly 40-minute “Archaeology for Everyone” workshop will have kids digging for artifacts to get in on the action. There will also be live immersion shows, audio tours and visitors will have the opportunity to roam the site in a vintage jeep.
From late-December, parts of AlUla Old Town will be open to the public. While full conservation is ongoing, the visitor experience will include Rawi tours of Tantora Plaza and views from AlUla citadel, experiencing a bustling souq, handicraft pavilions, souvenir shops and new dining options.
Outside of the heritage sites, there will be plenty of other activities to keep visitors entertained.
A new Adventure Canyon area will offer a suite of experiences for those looking for high-energy thrills.

HIGHLIGHT

From mid-November, visitors will be able to appreciate the landscapes, rock art, dunes and peaks of the desert while zipping around in dune buggies, or book a stargazing tour at Al-Gharameel rocks.

From mid-November, visitors will be able to appreciate the landscapes, rock art, dunes and peaks of the desert while zipping around in dune buggies, or book a stargazing tour at Al-Gharameel rocks.
Another trail available from mid-November is a leisurely two-hour cycling trip, which runs through palm groves and citrus trees. A horse riding trail through the oasis is also slated for later in the year.
Available from December, a family bike track is being constructed as well as a zipline at the new Adventure Canyon by experienced operators Warrior.
For a more relaxing experience, the AlUla Fresh Farm visit offers visitors a glimpse into the agricultural life with fruit picking, animal feeding and seed planting. From the 2.3 million date palm trees to the 29 different citrus fruits, farms play an important role in AlUla’s economy and daily life.
AlUla will also welcome new permanent experiences in the arts and cultural space. The former AlUla Secondary School for girls near the old town is being transformed into an arts and traditional crafts hub.
Restaurants have also been given careful consideration and further announcements are to be made in the coming weeks about some exciting new dining options. In the meantime, key local cafes Barzan and Al-Makher are working with the RCU to ensure a year-round offer of fabulous local cuisine.

This article was first published in Arab News

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AlUla heritage sites reopen to public Oct. 31

Time: 16 October 2020  

Flights are available to AlUla from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. (File/AFP)

ALULA: The historical and cultural open-air museum of AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia will reopen its heritage sites to tourists on Oct. 31.
The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has confirmed that the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, the ancient kingdom of Dadan and the whispering canyons of Jabal Ikmah will be the first sites to reopen to the public, largely having been closed to visitors for more than two years.
RCU has announced that residents of AlUla will have the chance to access the sites exclusively on Oct. 30 for free on a first-come, first-served basis for the entire opening weekend. Visitors can sign up to experiencealula.com to find out about the bookings available for the heritage sites and when other experiences are live.
Visitors will enjoy significant airport enhancements, new comfortable transport options around town and the heritage sites, and information provision at two new visitor centers.
AlUla’s new quality assurance program will also ensure that visitors receive a warm and professional welcome.
Safety measures for the coronavirus pandemic have been put in place in adherence to Ministry of Health protocols, which align with the “safe travels” guidelines published by the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The measures include mandatory pre-booking of tickets, temperature checks at the airport, distancing and limitations of visitors at heritage and other sites, increased sanitation measures and mandatory mask-wearing.
Phillip Jones, RCU’s chief destination management and marketing officer, said that he was delighted that the sites were reopening in October.
“There is no doubt it’s been a challenging year for all industries but our teams have worked hard to deliver this important stage in our tourism journey, and in the next chapter of AlUla’s journey through time,” Jones said.
Activations and immersive experiences at the heritage sites, as well as adventure experiences and events, will be announced over the coming weeks and will be phased in over the winter months, with the full suite of experiences planned for the winter season expected by the first quarter of 2021.
AlUla Old Town will also be open as a visitor experience to the public for the first time from December.
“We are developing engaging, authentic, light-touch tourism experiences that hero the essence of AlUla — our heritage sites, natural assets and of course the AlUla community,” Jones said.
He added: “We have a full team onsite to get the destination ready to welcome those first visitors and we’re excited to give the local community a chance to revisit their heritage sites before the rest of the world, while we continue to build on the experiences.”
“Through our team of travel industry professionals, we are setting up the foundations for a fully integrated booking and travel distribution system to make visiting AlUla an easy, value-driven and seamless experience, and to get international-ready for when visit visas are reinstated,” Jones said.
Flights are available with Saudia airlines to AlUla from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
AlUla is a 10-hour drive from Riyadh, a seven-hour drive from Jeddah, and is just over three hours from Madinah and Tabuk airports. It is a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the Red Sea, which visitors can add on to their trip.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi village is a treasure hidden above the clouds

03/08/20

Located 25 km from Abha city, the region has become a top tourist destination due to its rich heritage, history, culture and all-year-round good weather. (Reuters)
  • Al-Souda overlooks the Tihama mountains with their stunning valleys and quaint villages dotted along the plains and slopes with terraces hanging from the steep cliffs

ABHA: Saudi Arabia’s southern Al-Souda mountains harbor one of the Kingdom’s most prized hidden treasures.
At 3,000 meters above sea level, a hidden village above the clouds gives spectacular views on the world below. The village of Al-Souda offers panoramic 360-degree views of the surrounding paradise on Earth consisting of mountains covered in sheets of greenery, dense forests, peaks and valleys.
Located 25 km from Abha city, the region has become a top tourist destination due to its rich heritage, history, culture and all-year-round good weather.
Al-Souda  overlooks the Tihama mountains with their stunning valleys and quaint villages dotted along the plains and slopes with terraces hanging from the steep cliffs. The villages are less crowded than other sites but unique in its location.
In the summer, temperatures can drop below zero degrees and rain clouds provide awesome sights as the higher peaks break through them.
Ahlam Mash’hadi, a physiotherapist and artist, said the mountains provided an inspirational and perfect environment for her work.
“I felt completely energized and meditation helped me relax and enjoy the natural scenery. The sight of the clouds sparked my imagination and I’m sure it would do the same for any artist who loves to create unique works.

Some people will be impressed with the beautiful scenery while others will enjoy the cold weather on the top. Some will stand in awe because of the overwhelming feeling of the place.

Abdulrahman Al-Zahrani, Psychology consultant

“The memories of visiting Al-Souda are etched on my mind because of the pure beauty of the place — very inspiring.”
The serene thick vegetation and clean air of the mountains offer an experience to visitors and those looking for inspiration or “escape therapy” to rejuvenate.
Another visitor to the village, psychology consultant Abdulrahman Al-Zahrani, said: “Some people will be impressed with the beautiful scenery while others will enjoy the cold weather on the top. Some will stand in awe because of the overwhelming feeling of the place.”
The area is a photographer’s dream and Nasser Al-Shehri said he gained immense joy from taking shots of the clouds and valleys from the mountaintop. One of the best times was at sundown, he added, when visitors could stand with a blanket of clouds at their feet and watch the reflected moonlight change the look of the landscape.
Al-Soudah’s countryside and mountains offer a plethora of opportunities for trekkers as well who would like to wander and get lost in the beauty of the forests overlooking breathtaking views of the world below.

This article was first published in Arab News

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