AL ULA – SAUDI ARABIA
We flew into Medina and took a three-hour bus ride to Al Ula. Upon arrival in Al Ula, we were astonished by sight of spectacular rock formations that surround the town. This little town was so surreal. It was like driving through the Grand Canyon and having a small town in the middle of it. What was more impressive was all the palm trees growing in this desert town that bore incredibly tasty fruit.
There aren’t many hotels in Al Ula, in fact there were only two to be exact. We stayed at the Al-Ula ARAC Resort, which is where almost everyone who visits the town stays.
King Abdulaziz National Park
On our first night we went to the mountaintop in Al Ula known as King Abdulaziz National Park. From the top you get a breathtaking view of the town. The Sunset isn’t as striking because the view looks out into the East but nonetheless, a great spot to see the town from.
We went to a local’s house for dinner. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the restaurant but it was located at the bottom edge of the mountain, over looking the palm tree oasis. We ate in a very traditional way – carpets on the floor and we ate using our hands instead of forks and spoons. It was definitely the tastiest Middle Eastern food I’ve had (I’d hope so being in the heart of the Middle East).
Desert Jeep Tour of Hawiyah Canyon
We had jeeps waiting for us at 6am to take us to the Hawiyah Canyon from our Hotel.
The drive was about 20min from Al Ula and the roads were very quite. Once arriving on the sand, we stopped for 10min to deflate the wheels – this gives the car more traction in the sand. While driving through the desert canyon we were able to see a bit of the sunrise.
The first picturesque site we approached is known as ‘Al Ragasat’, which translates to the ‘The Dancers’. Named after the three pillars of rocks that look like dancers. From the areas we visited in the desert, this had the most beautiful rock formation and was definitely the best place to take pictures. The Dancers are located in a valley. We drove into the valley from the top of a sand dune. The view from the top and bottom are both unique and definitely requires a good 15-20min stop to take in all the beauty. We then drove to an enclave where we stopped for about 45min. The drivers spread out Persian carpets where we sat and sipped Arabian coffee and Mint Red Tea and snacked on dates. We spent about 3 hours in the Canyon, having fun and skidding on the sand before heading back to Al Ula.
Hajaz Railway Mada’in Saleh (Al Hidjr Station)
Originally built to transport pilgrims from the city of Damascus in Syria to the city of Madina in Saudi Arabia. The Mada’in Saleh Station – 1906 – is one of the larger stations that have been restored, still holding all the original buildings, stone and tiles on the roofs. This particular station was a workshop along the train line, which has now been turned into a museum. The museum holds a refurbished train that still has the original Hejaz plates on the wheels. There is a lot of history behind the Hejaz railway but there is Wikipedia for that.
We were supposed to have dinner under the stars at Elephant’s Rock – A rock that looks like an elephant – but it was pouring on the night we were supposed to visit and the area was flooded. It rains approximately 12 days out of the year, the villagers must have loved us since we brought the rain. The only time I’ve been excited to see rain on a vacation, what a rare sight in the desert. We went to see the rock the next day instead.
The Mud City (Al Deerah Heritage Village)
This is an old city, recently declared a heritage site, dating from 6th Century A.D and was occupied until about 1980 when the government declared the city unsafe and offered locals a handsome lump
sum to move out. The government started to renovate the city and it is still being renovated today. Many of the walkways are closed and dangerous to walk through, it is a construction site made from mud after all. However, there are some paths that are safe and you are able to walk through an area and peek into the rooms. Make sure you walk with a guide because it is very easy to get lost.