With travel back on the cards between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, there’s another destination open for quarantine-free travel.
Known as the last frontier of travel, Saudi Arabia spans a whopping 2.15 million square kilometres making it almost nine times the size of the UK. Given its vastness, the kingdom has a wide variety of things to see, places to visit and landscapes to wander. From the mountains of Taif to Al Ula’s ancient heritage sites, the largest country in Arabia offers travellers a largely undiscovered landscape that's ripe for exploring.
Since the announcement that travel between the UAE and Saudi Arabia was back on the cards, Wego, the largest online travel booking agency in the Middle East, has recorded a massive jump in flight searches between the two destinations.
“The region was eagerly awaiting this announcement. Saudi Arabia is one of the most preferred destinations for Mena travellers. Through our platform, we saw a 1,700 per cent increase in flight searches from Saudi Arabia to the UAE in the last two days," Mamoun Hmedan, managing director for Wego Mena and India tells The National.
"We expect to see more growth in flight searches and bookings in the coming days.”
And with an influx of travellers expected, the Saudi Tourism Authority has released the top Instaworthy spots in the country, ideal for tourists keen to fill up their travelgram in Saudi Arabia.
Here are five places unique to the kingdom where visitors are guaranteed to get that perfect shot:
1. Edge of the World, Riyadh
Topping the list is Riyadh's’ Edge of the World, or Jebel Fihrayn.
This viewpoint is reachable via a 90-minute drive from the Saudi capital and is part of the much larger Tuwaiq Escarpment, which drops down about 300 metres into an ancient ocean bed.
The viewpoint is reached through the desert rails that run along a ridge of Tuwaiq, taking travellers to a place where they’ll get uninterrupted dramatic views from the valley floor to the horizon line.
2. Soudah Mountain, Asir region
Saudi Arabia’s tallest mountain rises about 3,000 metres above the Sarawat Valley in the south of the country. Looking at Soudah, you might find it hard to believe you're in the ancient land of Arabia thanks to its verdant green juniper forests, wild nature and misty, cloud-shrouded valleys. The views from here are some of the most spectacular in Asir.
The mountain is also the unofficial outdoor adventure capital of Saudi Arabia, and is super popular for anyone keen on hiking, biking, camping or climbing. For a dose of Saudi tradition, the historic village of Rijal Almaa west of Soudah is where Saudi Arabia's indigenous Aseri tribe live, famed for their annual flower man festival.
3. Al Wahbah Crater, Hejazi
If its natural wonders you seek, head to Saudi Arabia’s Al Wahbah Crater, which is a popular hot spot foradventure travellers.
Carved into the western edge of the Hafer Kishb basalt plateau, the volcanic crater is about a two-hour drive north of Taif, with another two-hour climb to the top. Measuring more than four kilometres in width and going down to about 250 metres deep, the trek isn't for the faint-hearted, but its worth it for what waits at the end — a lunar-like landscape that’s perhaps the most dramatic view in the kingdom.
And once you've taken some Instagram shots from above, don't skip venturing into the heart of the crater where sodium phosphate crystals create a glittering crust visible from the sky. This salt-bed transforms into a pearly lake whenever rain gathers in the hollow, and is fringed by shrubs and palms that dot the crater’s rim.
4. Al Balad, Jeddah
Step back in time with a visit to Jeddah's historic Al Balad. Famed for intricately designed houses, built using coral from the Red Sea, this charming community is filled with colourful rawasheen balconies, known as mashrabiyyahs, which make for perfect backdrops for some fantastic pictures.
Otherwise known as the Gate to Makkah, Al Balad is listed as a Uneco world heritage site and its existence may date back to the era before Islam. The unique architecture here has been well-preserved and is unlike anywhere else in the world. Wandering through the maze-like streets, you'll soon get a feel for what the medieval city’s ancient walls once looked like.
5. Elephant Rock, Al Ula
One of Saudi Arabia’s most famous landmarks is Elephant Rock at Al Ula, in the north-west of the country. Towering about 52 metres above the ground, this ancient rock has been sculpted by wind, water and sand over millions of years to shape it into a mammoth sandstone structure that now quite clearly resembles an elephant standing with its trunk on the ground.
Elephant Rock blends perfectly with the surrounding desert landscape and is prime Instagram fodder thanks to its picturesque combination of orange and brown hues accompanied by dramatic shapes and shadows.
As one of the oldest cities in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Ula is also home to Hegra, the country’s first Unesco World Heritage. Reachable via a domestic flight from Riyadh, Jeddah or Makkah, Al Ula is also within reach by car from Madinah, if you’re up for a five-hour road trip.