In 2018, I managed to get a Saudi Arabia visa as I was travelling there to represent a travel company at the Hotel Show in Jeddah. As a group we ended up spending 10 days in Saudi Arabia and we backpacked it pretty hardcore. Of course, I did struggle with Arabic completely, phrases such as فنادق شرم الشيخ were increasingly hard to decipher, but luckily our guides spoke English! Here are my personal highlights from my time backpacking in Saudi Arabia.
1.Backpacking in Old Town Jeddah
Old Town Jeddah is a stunning place and a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. We backpacked through the marvellous streets of the old town, stopped in a cafe for a cup of the Maxwell, headed to the home of a local family for tea and dates and visited the streets and market area. You can find details on Jeddah from a tourist perspective from sites such as رحلات طيران من الرياض الى جدة (about visiting Jeddah and Riyadh).
2.Attending the Hotel Show in Jeddah
The main reason for going to Saudi Arabia was to attend the Hotel Show in Jeddah. We had a great time here too, mingling with new people, meeting others and helping promote tourism, a full year and a half before Saudi Arabia really began to open up to real tourists with a recent visa move.
3.Touring the Salt Flats near Shaqra
We headed on a desert tour towards the end of our trip, visiting Shaqra, Ushaiqer and Rabat. This was an unexpected highlight at the Salt Flats, where I also bought a bag of fresh salt for just 1 Saudi Riyal.
4.Riding on a Dune Buggy in the Desert
Another desert highlight was in the wilderness riding dune buggies through the desert!
5.Views Over Riyadh
We headed to the famous Kingdom Centre, which is a 99-storey, 302.3 m skyscraper in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. When completed in 2002, it overtook the 267-meter Faisaliyah Tower as the tallest tower in Saudi Arabia. We headed to the top to marvel at the views.
6.Touring the Fortress in Ha’il
The northern city of Ha’il providing us with an alternative look at Saudi Arabian city life away from the huge cities of Jeddah and Riyadh. Ha’il fortress the highlight here.
7.Attending The Roses Festival in Ta’if
Our trip luckily coincided with the Rose Festival in Ta’if. Ta’if was a fantastic city to tour and we also loved our visit to the Rose Factory. At night, after the festival we also toured the sights of old town Ta’if.
8.Train from Ha’il to Riyadh
I didn’t expect to be on a state of the art modern train in Saudi Arabia from Ha’il to Riyadh, but here we were. It wasn’t exactly an easy trip as the station in Ha’il wasn’t even in Ha’il, the tickets they barely sorted for us and we basically had to hold the train doors open in order to catch it. In the end it was worth it – the train journey was phenomenal.
9.Touring Jubbah and Jabal Umm Sanman Petroglyphs
Having seen plenty of Petroglyphs in Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan etc. on my travels, next up was the surprise of the lesser known Jabal Umm Sanman area, north of Jubbah.
10.Visiting Shaqra / Shagra
The town of Shaqra was a sublime surprise. It was a desert town made of mud in the middle of nowhere, with basically nobody living in it!! It was pretty obscure, we had the entire place to ourselves but still had great fun.
Overall, Saudi Arabia was a great travel experience and I hope to share more on my trip there soon.