For several kingdoms and peoples over many thousands of years, AlUla, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; offered much appeal as a place to foster a prosperous, culturally enriched life. As attractive as the region was for homemakers, AlUla was just as popular for tourists. In the heat of summer, AlUla’s oasis offered a cool respite from the arid desert, plentiful water, food and also trade for those bringing incense, textiles, jewels, aromatics and spices. The tourists came from near and far, India, Ceylon, South East-Asia, Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, Italy. They not only brought goods to trade but also ideas about art, architecture, agriculture, religion.
While the people are long gone, the conversations remain. The cultural exchanges are still visible via the earliest form of graffiti or social media etched into the rock faces and sculpted into the sandstone mountains.
Now open now as a year-round visitor destination, summer continues to offer an opportunity to explore this old land and embark on a new journey through the vast desert and cool oasis, to discover mysteries and uncover ancient truths of ancient societies and cultures.
1. Take a ride in a helicopter
Experience the breathtaking views of AlUla’s stunning desert vistas and landscapes from the sky. Be awed by the bird’s eye view of iconic landmarks such as Elephant Rock, Maraya and AlUla Old Town. Fly over the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra and take photos of the famous sandstone tombs. Sit back and relax while your pilot guides you over the land to identify the old and the new developments. These new tours will start in July, operate twice a day during July and August, and increase from September.
2. Get illuminated with culture
The night-time version of the Rock Art Trail takes place within the Hegra Heritage site. You will be guided on a walk around one of Hegra’s most fascinating mountains stopping at carvings and inscriptions that were left thousands of years ago by travelers, pilgrims and residents alike. Your guide will explain the meaning of the symbols with stories of travel, trade, offerings and warnings. The night-time experience includes torches for visitors to highlight the hidden details in the rocks not visible in the day. Learn how these people lived and the legacies that they left behind. The tour operates at 9:00 pm on Thursdays and Fridays.
3. Go to market
Visit the Old Town Market and shop for locally made arts and crafts, souvenirs and homewares. Desert Designs offers an irresistible range of jewellery, homewares, gifts and Sadu products – made both locally and regionally. Newly opened Otta offers one-of-a-kind hand-crafted ceramics, an oil press store offer products containing the magic Moringa and other oils, there are stores selling must-have fashion Abayas for summer, street-fashion, an art gallery, a script-art stall, precious stones, natural soap, spices, dates and citrus stalls. Oh and there is a new Virgin Megastore for all your entertainment needs.
4. Buy must-have bespoke souvenirs
Shopaholics cannot leave AlUla without a visit to the new cultural assets stores within the heritage sites. The flagship Hegra Boutique near to the visitor centre at Hegra has the biggest range and the boutiques at Old Town and Dadan offer a more specific range for those sites. Browse the shelves packed with high-quality artisan ceramics, leather accessories including notebooks, textiles, candles, oils and soaps, plaster artworks, t-shirts, caps, traditional wooden homewares, bespoke sadu, gold and silver jewellery and many other souvenirs, all celebrating the icons, patterns and designs inherent in AlUla’s heritage sites and natural geological landscapes.
5. See the stars in your eyes
After the heat has gone out of the day the cool evenings descend in AlUla. Experience the enchantment of a desert stargazing tour led by local experts. Far from city lights, vast open spaces in remote desert lands create some of the world’s most enviable dark skies, making AlUla an idyllic locale for star watching. Enjoy a Saudi traditional dinner under the stars during the daily-operated tours of stargazing and moonlit nights. An absolute highlight on any visitor’s itinerary, stargazing in AlUla is a not-to-be-missed experience.
6. Night Hike the desert
Experience the Hidden Valley Hiking Tour through AlUla’s dramatic landscapes and feel the wonder and peacefulness of the Arabian desert – at night. The hike is approximately 1.5 hours from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm and is suitable for medium-level walkers as most of the trail is through soft sand. Or enjoy the setting of the sun over the mountains while on the Sunset Adventure Trail. The guided trail is 3 to 4 hours with 8kms distance. Pull on your hiking boots and take on the challenge to explore this beautiful landscape where people have lived for thousands of years. The tour starts at 6:00 pm and is expected to finish at 10:00 pm.
7. Enjoy some sea with your sand
For holiday-makers who plan to head to the coast this summer, you might be surprised to know the Red Sea coastal town of Al Wajh is just a couple of hours drive from AlUla. You can be snorkeling the kaleidoscope of underground life at the Red Sea on one day, and awed by the precision of the creations our ancestors left behind on land the day after. A side trip to AlUla is an easy add-on to your coastal holiday whether it is a day trip or an overnight stay to explore the food, arts, culture, adventure and of course the heritage sites.
8. Get real deep at Dadan and Ikmah
The ancient capital city of Dadan is shrouded in mystery. We know it was a highly organised and sophisticated kingdom that prospered as the nexus of the caravan trade and archaeologists now suggest was developed in the 9thcentury BCE. But when did the Dadanites become the Lihyanites? Did the Lihyan King Han’as stage a coup? Did the Dadanites move from the red city of Dadan to Hegra before the Nabataeans? What do the massive Lihyan statues of Kings left behind tell us? Experts speak of a complex and cultured society of people, the most sophisticated of its era. Some of the answers lie in the inscriptions at Jabal Ikmah, which is included in the one ticket. Get deep into the history of Dadan and Jabal Ikmah and impress your friends with your superior knowledge.
9. Brunch, lunch and dinner
Whether its regional cuisine from the likes of Nahkeel – famous for its murtabak – traditional dishes at Merkaz, the many choices of coffees and juices at Al Rahbas or a taste of all things Saudi including the golden-leafed Jareesh and oh-so-tender lamb at the popular up-market Suhail – AlUla’s Old Town offers plenty of new cuinary experiences for every occasion. Or perhaps a long leisurely brunch of eggs, pastries, scrumptious toasties washed down with a lemon and mint juice to the backdrop of the oasis at Pink Camel that will fill your stomach with joy.
10. Going Green
The Oasis Trail from Dadan South, arriving in AlUla Old Town and passing by AlWadi area is 3KM long and will offer visitors an extraordinary nature stroll through AlUla farms, suitable for families and nature-lovers of all ages. The trail is open daily between 8:00 AM till 4:00 PM and is free for visitors, while you walk between the shadows of the palms on land that witnessed the rise and vanishing of many great civilizations.
AlUla’s vast desert landscapes are home to many more ancient traces of humanity, some of which are yet to be discovered. Embark on an exciting summer journey and be one of the lucky visitors to dwell in the mysteries of this epic land.