Journey deep into the heart of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, the largest country in the Middle East and home to centuries of history and heritage, has opened its doors to international visitors.
Our inaugural trip starts in the ultra-modern capital city of Riyadh, and includes Al Ula – home to jaw-dropping Nabatean tombs to rival Petra, Madinah, the holy city which has only recently opened to non Muslims, the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, and as an extension, we include a journey in the stunning landscapes of the Asir and Jizan regions, home to rare Arabian leopards and Qahtani tribesmen donning floral headdresses.
Why not join us on a truly unique journey!
We are met at the airport and transferred to the Crowne Plaza Palace Hotel (3 nights/all meals).
Riyadh, home to 7 million people, is a city of very strong contrasts with bustling souqs, ultra-modern and traditional architecture. A quirk of Saudi culture which you will notice throughout the trip is that many places come alive after 4 p.m. with souqs, shops and cafes opening late into the night. Therefore, our guide will meet us at 4.00 p.m. for a city orientation tour which will include a visit to the Sky Bridge at Kingdom Tower, a stunning piece of modern architecture and one of the most iconic buildings in Riyadh. The 360-degree views from here are breathtaking. Dinner tonight in a local restaurant.
Riyadh is rich in history and culture and this morning our guide will take us to sights in the King Abdulaziz Historical Centre. We start at the National Museum, one of the finest in the Middle East. Encased within modernist architecture, it contains well designed and informative galleries covering Arabian history, culture and art. We’ll go on to visit Masmak Fortress, that houses an excellent permanent exhibition showcasing the history of Riyadh, and a fascinating range of photos of Saudi dating from 1912 – 1937. Continue to Murabba Palace, a remnant of the great administrative palace built by King Abdulazizin 1936 when the palace within the original city walls was no longer able to contain his increased household and administrative staff. Not much of the old walls of the palace remain, but the remaining buildings are interesting since they represent the transitional period between mud and concrete as building materials. Stop for lunch in a local restaurant.
After lunch wehave a short drive out of Riyadh to AlDiriyah Village, the ancestral home of the Al Saud family and the birthplace of the Saudi-Wahhabi union. This is one of the most evocative places in the Kingdom, and its UNESCO-supervised restoration saw it gain World Heritage status in 2010. The Visitors’ Centre is excellent with fantastic photos of the Old Town. We walk through the Al Turaif district which showcases Najdi mudbrick architecture in its most extraordinary form. The gates, panels and window shutters are very colourful, and the interior walls are covered with intricate geometric designs. Return to Riyadh for dinner
Culturally, dates have long played a key role in Middle Eastern cuisine and rituals
surrounding hospitality. After breakfast we visit the Date Souq. Most of the
dates at the Riyadh market are sold either by the kilo or by the box, but you can
always request a small portion and the vendors are happy to let you sample all
the different varieties available.
We have lunch today with a local family, to learn about their lifestyle and enjoy
a home cooked traditional meal. After lunch visit Souq-al-Zal, the oldest and biggest antique marketplace in Riyadh. Then walk through Deera Square to Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque. The prayer hall is huge and can accommodate
approximately 17,000 worshippers. Dinner tonight in the hotel
After breakfast transfer to the airport. Depart Riyadh on flight at 11.05 a.m. Arrive Tabuk at 1.15 p.m. We are met upon arrival and taken to a local restaurant for lunch.
Close to the border with Jordan and the Gulf of Aqaba, Tabuk has long been a
stop for pilgrims from Jordan and Egypt travelling to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The city was also an important stop along the Hejaz railway, built in 1900.
Today we follow Saudi Arabia’s epic mountain trail west of Tabuk to Wadi Hisma, home to imposing rock formations, and inscriptions made by ancient tribes dating back more than 2600 years. Archaeological remnants are common in the mountains, which formed part of a trading route for camel convoys. We spend the day exploring the valley and Bajdah Desert. BBQ lunch. Return to Tabuk for dinner and overnight.
This morning we drive 80km south to Wadi Al Disah, a 15km long palm-lined canyon running between walls of sandstone massifs. Then on to Al Ula, passing several villages enroute. This journey west follows along some amazing rock
formations and great desert sites where we may have opportunities to take photos of camel herds wandering in the vast desert. Picnic lunch enroute. Late afternoon arrival into Al Ula where we spend the next three nights in our desert-based accommodation, the Sahary Resort Camp (3 nights/all meals).
The ancient city of Al Ula dates back millennia and is a spectacularly preserved cultural and historical masterpiece. With 200,000 years of human history to uncover, it was once the capital of the North Arabian Lihyanites and then the
Nabataeans, and served as a meeting place for pilgrims, merchants and explorers.
We begin our exploration at the ancient city of Dedan, on the famed Incense Road of antiquity. Here we will see the Lion Tomb, the hollow tombs of this ancient kingdom’s rulers, carved into a mountain of rock, at different heights and of different sizes. The name comes from the carved lion sculptures found outside one of the necropolis entrances – denoting the importance of its owner. At nearby Jabal Ikmah, we see a vast collection of ancient inscriptions made directly upon the face of the great rock.
Drive to the old town of Al Ula, lying in the heart of exceptionally beautiful countryside, with palm groves, forbidding red sandstone cliffs and displaying some of the best examples of traditional architecture in Saudi. We have lunch
here and explore the town with our guide. Return to the Sahary Resort for dinner and overnight.
After breakfast we drive to the mysterious and remote Mada’in Saleh (Hegra), one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula. Its importance led UNESCO to list it as a World Heritage Site in 2008. This
crossroads of ancient civilisations, pilgrims, explorers, trade caravans and armies find its most remarkable expression in the elaborate stone-carved tombs of the Nabateans, most famous of which is Qasr al Farid. Taking shape in the 1st
century AD, the tomb was meticulously carved from a free-standing rock monolith. The isolated location in a boundless desert lends it an even greater sense of mystique.
Stop for lunch in Al Ula Old Town. After lunch we walk with our guide through the lush Al Ula Oasis trail under towering date palms, meandering through remnants of mudbrick houses, local farms and ancient city walls. We have an
opportunity to sit with locals, sip on Arabic coffee or fresh orange juice and take our time to enjoy the slow pace of what makes the Al Ula Oasis so special. We end our day at Jebel Al Fil (Elephant Rock), an instantly recognisable geological
feature that takes its name from the elephantine shape. Carved by millions of years of wind and water erosion, this impressive natural wonder measuring over 50mtr height, is set against a stunning landscape of golden sands, studded with rocky outcrops – it feels like an otherworldly movie set. Return to the Sahary Resort for dinner and overnight.
After breakfast, we leave Al Ula, and effectively pick up the same route of the Hejaz Railway. We drive south to the holy city of Madinah. The Prophet Mohammed lived and taught in Madinah after departing Mecca in 622 AD. His arrival in Madinah marks the beginning of the Islamic Calendar. The key focal point of the city is the Masjid an Nabawi, or the Prophet’s Mosque, constructed by Mohammed and the site in which he is buried. We hope to be able to get close to the mosque for exterior photos but due to the cultural sensitivity of a city that, up until late 2021, was off-limits to non-Muslims, we will proceed based on the local guide’s first-hand information at the time on whether this would be appropriate. However, we should be able to view some of the other key historic sites of the city. Overnight and dinner at Le Meridien Madinah
After breakfast transfer to the station. Depart Madinah on the high-speed Haramain Train at 10.30 a.m. Arrive Jeddah at 12.11 p.m. Transfer to the Ramada by Wyndham Hotelfor check in (2 nights/all meals). Lunch in the hotel.
Jeddah was established in the 7th century AD as the gateway for Muslims going to Mecca who arrived by sea. It is the second largest city in the country and, in relative terms, the most progressive city in Saudi Arabia.
Late afternoon we meet up with our guide to explore the Corniche, an area that comes to life after the Maghreb (sunset) prayer, with Saudi families dining al fresco. Here we will find a beautifully landscaped waterfront with an Art
Promenade showcasing 20 unique sculptures, including legendary works by Henry Moore and Joan Miró.
Then to the Fatima Al Zahra Mosque (Floating Mosque), built in 1985, overlooks the Red Sea, and appears to be floating when the tide is high. Its magnificent architecture includes 52 white domes supported by large pillars and 56 carved
windows adorned with Islamic art and motifs to let in the sun. Final stop today at King Fahd Fountain, currently the highest fountain in the world at 312m. The fountain blasts a stream of water from the Red Sea into the air to a maximum
height of over 244m. While the water jet can be seen during the day from many places throughout the city, it is best appreciated at night when it is illuminated by hundreds of spotlights. Dinner tonight in a local restaurant.
12 DAY SAUDI ARABIA TOUR
US$6800 per person twin share (approximately A$10,150 per person according to the current exchange rate @ .67)
5 DAY ABHA/JIZAN EXTENSION
Price is dependent upon numbers, so once we know how many people would like to do the extension then we can work out the cost
- All accommodation
- all meals
- private vehicles,
- private English-speaking guide
- all entrance fees
- domestic flight ticket
- rail ticket
- return airport transfers.
- international airfare
- visa ( visa fee for Australian passport holders is currently A$225 )