Saudi Road Trip Part One: Riyadh-Abha

Saudi-Arabia is a country full of beautiful places to visit for those willing to make the journey to get there..While there are regular flights from Riyadh to Abha, we wanted to show my visiting mother as much of the largely unknown countryside as possible, so we decided to go on a road trip around Southern Saudi-Arabia, traveling with an SUV from our hometown Riyadh down to Asir region and the Farasan Islands. The distance between Riyadh and Abha is around 1000km when you drive on the route 10 through Al Kharj. We chose this route because my husband has family in Kharj, but according to the map the road via Muzahmiyah (route 30) the drive would be slightly faster (approx. 8h 30 minutes).

What an awesome way road trips are to explore the Saudi Kingdom! I love the fact that you can stop wherever and whenever you like to check out the surroundings. During our trip it was Eid Al-Adha holiday and my husband had almost two whole weeks off work which we took advantage of. We planned to have the following itinerary: Riyadh-Kharj-Layla-Wadi Al Dawasir-Khamis Mushayt-Abha-Jizan-Farasan…and back. But we ended up improvising and changed plans on the way, (we actually drove to Najran and Empty Quarter too) which makes road trips all the more fun!

In this post you’ll read about the journey from Riyadh through cities of al Kharj, Wadi Al Dawasir, Khamis Mushayt all the way to Abha which is about 1000km total drive. Check out all the amazing things which you can do in and around Abha in this post: Top 10 Things to do in Abha. More about the rest of our road trip in this post: “Saudi Road Trip

Road trips in KSA are fairly easy to make since the highways are mostly in excellent condition and well, gasoline is basically free. Or at least it’s cheaper than water.

There are affordable car rentals everywhere and we had our eye on a nice GMC Suburban but the agency screwed it up last-minute. So we ended up having to take whatever was left so last-minute: a crappy Land Cruiser. Sitting in the back seat of this so-called vehicle reminded me of the times I road on the buses in the Ecuador mountains. Fun times!

Lucky for me I was assigned the back seat and got to experience the constant rocking, bouncing, grinding and swirling motions of the car to its full effect. We left two hours late from schedule because we had to clean the car after the previous users. Apparently that’s not included in the service here. It might be a good idea to check on this before you rent.

roadtrip saudi riyadh abha

My little girl was only 7 months old at the time we took this trip and she was just such a little trooper. Sat in her car seat for hours without any complaints. We read books, played, watched the scenery and slept in the back seat while my mom was the head navigator in the front, My husband being the only one licensed to drive by Saudi terms (the one with male organ) was the designated driver, although I was dying to drive just a little bit in remote areas.. Which I finally did get to do while driving on a beach on Farasan Islands.

Our journey was so long and I took literally over a thousand pictures so I decided to divide the journey into three parts. All in all it was an amazing, surprising and enjoyable experience. The occasional setbacks and all the hours spent in the car were well worth it!

On our way out of Riyadh we saw many trucks carrying full loads of sheep on their way to Saudi dinner tables. During Eid it’s custom that Saudi families slaughter sheep for the special occasion.

saudi truck sheep

In Kharj we stopped to meet my husband’s great grandmother, my daughter’s great great grandmother! Her eyesight and hearing is a bit impaired and she didn’t expect us but nevertheless welcomed us into her house with such warmth and hospitality.
Births were not registered in Saudi back in the day so she did not now her age but estimated it to be near 90. She had 14 children that lived to adulthood and over 100 grandchildren. Imagine how many great great grandchildren that means!

While we were served tea and fruits by this sweet old lady, she told my husband how she had scolded some family members for not accepting his choice of wife because I was not Saudi. She said the most important thing is who she is and told him that she liked me and my mother. It felt so good to hear this. As the eldest family member her opinion will have powerful influence in the extended family.

We were shown all around her house and she would not let us leave, insisting we stay for lunch. She was amazed to hear we were intending to drive all the way to Abha that day. So we thanked her profusely and continued on our journey. This was one of the highlights of our trip.

The area around Kharj is dotted with green farmlands and date palm trees. My husband’s family has a farm in the town of Hotah Bani Tamim and we stopped by to take a look. It was like a small oasis! Huge palm trees, obese lemons and pomegranates. Nearby were some ruins of an old mud village.
In case you wondered, this is what an obese (raw) lemon looks like:
The road between Hotah and Wadi Al Dawasir was (according to the map) supposed to pass by a town called Layla. But we never found it! It remains a mystery. There was supposed to be some amazing caves near Layla, a town named after the tragic love story of Layla and Majnoon, the Arab equivalent to Romeo and Juliet.

This ^ is camel herding for the modern day (or very lazy) Bedouin.
Not much to see for about the next 500km. Read about what happened to us during this part of the trip, the terrifying near-death experience.

We reached Wadi Al-Dawasir and it seemed to be such a charming hillbilly town. The atmosphere was pretty laid back, men were sitting on couches at the gas station. Strangely there were no women in sight on the streets. Then we spotted a child driving a car, which is really not such an uncommon sight in the Kingdom. Women are not allowed to drive so the boy was most likely taking his mother around town for some shopping.

Finally we reached Khamis Mushayt, a small city next to Abha. It was very late so we only stopped at McDonald’s for a quick fix of ice cream. I was standing in line at the family section when a Bedouin man cut me in line(what line?). He started asking for a menu and didn’t understand the stuff was all up on the board. I cracked up when he started asking for “gambaari” He wasn’t asking for a drink but SHRIMPS! He kept repeating gambaari, gambaari, jib gambaari!
Dude haven’t you been to McDonald’s before? Mafi gambaari.

We reached Abha in the middle of the night. I recall it being almost 2 am. My husband went to the reception of the hotel we had booked. We wanted a family room with two bedrooms. They had an issue with this. They questioned him about my mother! Who is this lady and would not believe it’s his MIL despite the same surname. The staff told us to go to the police station and get a clearance that we were related! The nerve!

I was pretty pissed off at this point because a) It’s 2 am for God’s sake! We are checking into a family room with an infant, just let us go to sleep. b) if this isn’t my mother than who the heck is it? c) if she’s an unrelated random female why would she be travelling with us? c) if it were our Indonesian maid you would have no issues with her staying with us and d) are you implying that we are up to something haram in your hotel? Yet another example of customer “service” or should I say disservice in the Kingdom. This was the only hotel that asked for proof during our whole trip.
Needless to say, we changed hotels. But not to the above ‘I’m Hotel’-hotel! Duh we can see that you’re a hotel!

Abha turned out to be a very green and colorful city surrounded by lush mountains. Unfortunately very few traditional houses are left in the city. Most had been torn down. We headed out to the Asir National park, such a beautiful place!

Asir National park is famous for its baboons. Some of them were behaving aggressively toward the baby, showing their teeth and making weird noises. Unfortunately they seemed to be accustomed to tourists giving them food. I saw one man feeding them popcorn in order to get better pics!

We bought some delicious honey from this man. The honey was from Yemen and the man from Tahamah.

Unfortunately it was considered off season because Saudis find it too cold beyond October to visit the mountainous areas of Saudi and many of the tourist destinations were closed. As we wandered around the national park my mother and I surprisingly encountered some odd and even hostile behavior from Saudi men and women. I found this strange because I had heard people of Abha are friendly and welcoming. They shouted at us insults in Arabic, thinking we were Americans. I hate it when some people think you don’t understand when they say right next to you “hadi amriki”. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure that one out.
The three men in this picture were pretty rude and aggressive toward us. Still don’t understand why. My husband was walking further away from us with the baby so he couldn’t do anything. Later a group of young women followed us pointing and giggling. I guess we just look so amusing!
We found a perfect picnic spot! Or so we thought. Funny how Saudis are usually really private and don’t like people intruding on their privacy. Our picnic spot had lots of traffic and many “invaders” walked and talked loudly in their mobiles right next to us. Some Saudi women took their sweet time and the one in this above pic was stumbling around in high heels, peeking from underneath her scarf which she had thrown over her whole face. It was so weird I could only watch in amazement.
Look at this mess! Clean up after yourselves people! Would you throw this garbage on your mother? No? Then why do you throw it on your motherland!?
Mom and the little bear watching the sunset.
What is this? A stranded cruise ship?
Nope. It’s the Green Mountain. On top a restaurant and viewing platforms with magnificent views of the city.
On the green mountain we found what I would call the best souvenir shop in Saudi-Arabia! Loved these miniatures of the traditional houses of the region. They make pretty lanterns too. I bought similar ones from Sana’a a few years back.
When we were leaving Abha we managed to get lost a few times. Actually it was kind of my fault. I was acting as the navigator in the front seat and was reading the map. I opened the window in high speed and whooosh! The map was sucked out of the window before I could even say oops. That is what happens when you’re born blonde people. But hey we accidentally found this village of traditional houses so it didn’t really matter much. Or at least that’s how I like to see it.
Our journey continued to Jizan. The road from Abha to Jizan is very scenic and we stopped many times to take in the scenery or to get some snacks. Here a man selling corn on the cob.
Like I mentioned before in this post “I See Pink, people”  pink houses are very popular in this region! This one’s pretty lonely out there.
The baboons are a menace! They roam in large packs and jump around the roads all the time. Many had ended up as roadkill.

The winding roads in the mountains had occasionally only “suggested” speeds. Actually it doesn’t really matter what they tell you the speed limit is. Speed limit by Saudi terms means the limit is how fast you are physically able to drive under the specific circumstances. In these roads that would be about 140km/h.

The only time you will see a Saudi man driving 40km/h is when he is checking women out. So much for the suggestion. LOL



Get updates from Blue Abaya to your email!

Join 6000+ others and get Blue Abaya's latest updates directly to your inbox.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
(Visited 23,070 times, 4 visits today)
|pin this|tweet it|Share to facebook|Contact us
  • bigstick1February 6, 2012 - 2:13 am

    Looks like you had a good time. You take some great pictures. Looking forward to the next post.ReplyCancel

  • bigstick1February 6, 2012 - 3:51 am

    I did not notice before but you mentioned some hostility as people thought your were American. So is there an open hostility toward Americans?ReplyCancel

    • AliFebruary 29, 2016 - 2:48 pm

      Usually any white European considered as American , cuz Americans have been working here in petroleum industry since 60s..

      And who in the world really hate Americans?!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahFebruary 6, 2012 - 3:20 pm

    bigstick-thanks! we had a great time! I wouldn’t say there is open hostility toward Americans. Some people are just so ignorant and rude..Mostly the really conservative ones. But as you can see from the pic the young men were dressed in western clothes, I think they just had the mentality that “all western women are w****s” and thus fair game for them to harass! That happens sometimes. I don’t understand why they would be hostile toward my 60 yr old mother though.

    The other incident was a middle aged man with his family (including small kids!) he starting shouting insults as we walked pass them. I was was in such shock I could not say anything! What an example he was giving to his kids..sigh.ReplyCancel

  • GeoffFebruary 6, 2012 - 3:33 pm

    Laylah you rock, great pictures. I wish I had the opportunity to see some of these places, but have so far been confined to Riyadh and Dammam and (Khobar). Funny thing is, when I first got here I told my boss I wanted to see the baboons, he laughed and said “their are no monkeys here!, this is not Africa!”.
    And if I may be so bold for poster above bigstick1: Laylah has a lot more experience here than me, but as an American I can tell you that its…Yes, no, maybe so. All seems to be luck of the draw. I’ll walk into a gas station in jeans and a t shirt to buy cigarettes and a Pepsi and end up having to shake hands with everybody before I can leave, they’ll try their English, I’ll try my Arabic and we have a good old time. Other days I’ll be in a suit on my way home from work and be openly stared at and hear the same comments. I’ve met some of the nicest people and some of the not so nicest, I can’t see any rhyme or reason to it. I doubt it would be any different for a Saudi in a thobe in the states.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 6, 2012 - 3:39 pm

    Better than National Geographic ))) thanks for sharing

  • Stylish MuslimahFebruary 16, 2012 - 7:46 pm

    I love all ur pictures =)) I wish i could visit these places in the kingdom ! Unfortunately I m not allowed to enter this area with an umrah visa :( ..Urgh
    Anyways thanks for this post !ReplyCancel

  • TifyffeMay 29, 2012 - 11:03 am

    Hello Layla,what a lovely blog you have here.Please, i will like to know if i can use some pictures from this trip on my blog(i use it to communicate with my family back in Nigeria)I recently took a trip from Jizan to Abha-Khamis Mushayt(not recreational,so i could not take pictures)
    Looking forward to a favorable response from you.Thanks

    • LaylahMay 29, 2012 - 10:48 pm

      Tifyffe-Sure you can use them but please mention source and link back to this post, thanks!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 14, 2012 - 1:42 pm

    Hi Layla

    when will we get the rest. We are planning a similar trip from the 16 Aug- 23 Aug so your imput will help a great dealReplyCancel

    • LaylahJuly 15, 2012 - 11:51 am

      Hi there!
      I have been working on the second part (of three) every now and then, problem is I’m on holiday and with very limited time and the post will be long with many pics :) So hopefully I would get it ready before your trip!
      It looks like you’re going on Eid? If you plan on going to Farasan book EARLY and be prepared for a crowd.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 17, 2012 - 4:01 pm

    Thank you very much for your informative blog. I spent a good part of the afternoon today, reading and learning interesting tidbits about life in Saudi. I moved here in February this year, and I like it very much. I like the pace of life, the variety of Arab cuisine available in Riyadh and have enjoyed a few trips around the country. The people and the land fascinate me because it is the first time I’m experiencing desert living. Sometimes it can be frustrating having to rely on someone else to get from A to B, and the majority of expats I have met have been rather disturbed, frightening creatures, so generally I prefer not to engage other expats too intimately, and I have started to make friends with people who have lived here most of their lives. Thank you again for blogging such interesting pieces. All the best, and ignore the haters – cast them into oblivion, which is the sweetest revengeReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 20, 2012 - 5:39 pm

    hi layla,can u plz tell me is there any appropriate place/hotel to stay in between riyadh to abha route?ReplyCancel

    • LaylahOctober 21, 2012 - 8:04 pm

      The only place in between those two cities worth staying is Wadi Al Dawasir and it’s a small town, not too many hotels for sure. We didn’t stay there. I remember driving through it and seeing some of those small apartment hotels on the main street but there are no large hotel chains.The next city is Khamis Mushayt and that is practically right next door to Abha so you might as well drive all the way there..ReplyCancel

  • KhurramOctober 24, 2012 - 9:59 am

    @Laylah, I really like the way you described your trip. Would like to read the next part of it.
    I am planning to drive this weekend from Riyadh to Abha with my family. Need some tips from you on:

    1. We would be leaving at aroun 9 am. do you think we will reach by 5pm to Abha City?
    2. Is it safe to drive to Abha after sunset?
    3. What is the best way to reach farasan islands from Abha city and the best time to start with?
    4. Are there any good resorts in the mountains in Abha?



  • LaylahOctober 24, 2012 - 11:47 pm

    Khuram-No you can’t reach Abha that fast unless you speed like crazy and don’t make any stops on the way. If you don’t want to leave earlier then you might reach Abha more like around 7-8pm. It really depends so much on how fast you drive and how many stops you make. The road is really good and you can drive fast if you want to. It’s safe to drive there after sunset the roads are well lit especially after Khamis Mushayt.
    From Abha you need to drive to Jizan first. If you want to take your car to Farasan, you need to book the ferry beforehand. It being Eid, I would recommend doing that a few days in advance because with all likelihood the ferry and hotels on Farasan will be fully booked for the holidays!
    The drive from Abha to Jizan does not take long, I remember us making the trip in less than 2 hours.Keep in mind the ferry leaves at 7am from Jizan to Farasan!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 24, 2012 - 11:48 pm

    Forgot to say I can’t recommend any specific resorts in the mountains because we stayed in a hotel inside the city, sorry!ReplyCancel

  • drtaherJune 17, 2013 - 3:02 pm

    Interesting entry! I am really amused that the hotel in question actually asked you all to prove your own mother’s relationship to your husband! Some people will always be morons.


  • nomanSeptember 30, 2013 - 10:35 am

    great .. planning to go Riyadh via Madinah from Jazan in coming holidays .. will try this route for return journey …ReplyCancel

  • […] Let me share a story and a valuable learning experience from our Saudi Road trip. […]ReplyCancel

  • Mom’s Adventures in the Magic Kingdom | Blue AbayaMay 11, 2014 - 4:25 pm

    […] our road trip around Saudi mom and her granddaughter are watching the sunset at Abha mountains. The green scenery there amazed […]ReplyCancel

  • Srikaanth SekarJuly 16, 2014 - 9:30 am

    Hi Laylah!!

    Me and 5 of my colleagues are planning a 5 days vacation during Ramadan Holidays to Abha. The decision was taken, just because of your article about the place. We too planning to go by road from Riyadh to Abha. Unlucky me, I couldn’t trace out the 2 articles which follows this one. If its already posted, please share us the link – it’ll be really useful. Also, we couldn’t access the picture blog. Self, being a wildlife photographer, am interested in seeing more pictures. Thanks in advance.ReplyCancel

  • KhaleelOctober 1, 2014 - 4:20 pm

    Hi Layla

    We are planning a similar trip from Riyadh – Abha – Jizan – Taif – Riyadh for 5 days.

    great experience. any idea which places I can visit in ABHA & JIZAN..

    Thanks for reply & Sharing..ReplyCancel

  • Maria RamirezDecember 1, 2014 - 12:54 am

    I really enjoyed your adventure and how you described what has happened on your journey (Y) …ReplyCancel

    • LaylaDecember 3, 2014 - 4:24 pm

      Thank you Maria, it was an unforgettable trip with lots of precious memories!ReplyCancel

  • Saudi-Road Trip Top TenDecember 5, 2014 - 5:46 am

    […] Last week I skipped posting because I was on a week long road trip around Saudi-Arabia. Our journey was awesome, surprising and eventful. Promise to post about it very soon with pictures from the most amazing places I never thought existed in the Magic Kingdom. For the Saudi Road Trip Part One from Riyadh to Abha post go here: […]ReplyCancel

  • Imran Ahmad KhanJanuary 19, 2015 - 9:57 am

    Hi Layla,
    I was expecting some directions on getting to the highway leading to Abha from Riyadh…… would’ve been very helpful , like you explained in your writeup for other places around Riyadh .ReplyCancel

  • […] over to this post Saudi Road Trip Riyadh-Abha to find out more about driving to Abha from […]ReplyCancel

  • Mohammed AneesSeptember 22, 2015 - 10:26 am

    Hi layla,

    Your blog seems to be very interesting and it shows that you had really wonderful time., I am going to Abha this evening with my parents on Eid-Al-Adha vacations. On random browsing to know more about Abha I found this website which gave me lot of information.
    Thanks for posting this article.I really appreciate it.I have prepared notes from your article and made plans accordingly.ReplyCancel

    • Laura of ArabiaSeptember 22, 2015 - 1:59 pm

      Thank you Mohammad for your comment, please let us know how your trip went! Have a safe trip and Eid Al Adha Mubabrak!ReplyCancel

  • Bushra Qamar AhmedDecember 3, 2015 - 9:21 am

    Moving to ksa was scary and it was soooo difficult for me to find something fun for me here until I found blue abaya website:-)
    For all the places I visited including tourist sites, peaceful gardens, spa or shopping places in kingdom ,I have always followed the blue abaya website. The best thing I like about her is her honesty focusing details which are “actually” important or interesting.
    So thanks to you for your wonderful guidance on road trip to abha we followed exactly the same and checked all top ten things to do smile emoticon it made our Eid very special.
    Keep it up Layla ! Your blogs are as amazing as you are!
    Bushra qamarReplyCancel

  • AnonMay 1, 2016 - 1:56 pm

    Your ” I m Hotel ” exp was funny dude !!ReplyCancel

  • zayedMay 5, 2016 - 11:18 am

    Hello I am very happy with this and I wish you a pleasant stay in my country and that Being may enjoy while you are here..
    thank you to show you a beautiful part of the nationalReplyCancel

  • Sameena Khan (Dr. Sam)August 12, 2018 - 4:27 pm

    Hi Laura,

    I am really shocked and sorry to hear your experience with the racist and rude Saudis out there in Abha. The problem is some of those people are really confined, havent seen or met many people and probably not very well educated (hence narrow-minded). Plus after all these years I’m sure you have figured it out on your own how people really behave here with foreigners. It is one of two extremes. But I want to comment here to let you know that I totally understand how amusing (and sometimes frustrating) it is when people take jibes at you because of the way you look. I visited France, Italy and Switzerland in March this year and being a niqabi, faced a lot of that slack that you faced here in Saudi. They thought I was either one of three things – a terrorist to be feared, an extremist to be hated or an oppressed woman to be pitied and ridiculed. They never thought I have free will and I am who I am by choice. People are the same everywhere in the world, they have the same prejudices and the same stereotypes. I wish we all started behaving civilized, started respecting each other as humans first. I wish you never have to face hateful people as you are an amazing person (from what I gather after being a regular, recurring reader of your blog) and I wish people around the world get some sense in them. I really wish that people like you and me could really write content that focussed on these issues and help towards shattering stereotypes especially about western women, muslim women, niqabi women, we need to empower each other..

    Till then, more power to you and keep up the amazing work.ReplyCancel

    • LauraAugust 23, 2018 - 10:20 am

      Thank you very much Sam for your message I fully agree ????ReplyCancel

  • Fahad JeeJuly 25, 2019 - 9:09 am

    Waaaooo …. you really know how to write… i just read your trip and trust me i m feeling like i was on the that trip …and really feeling tiredness of driving all the long wayy … today is thursday and really i will sleep who weekend and will get refresh after all this long drive.

    keep writting and dont loose your style its awsome…

    be blessedReplyCancel

  • AhmedOctober 6, 2020 - 10:09 am

    Took up my first road trip (& yes from Riyadh to Abha) inspired by your road trip to Abha. Couldn’t find Part Two of this blog ?ReplyCancel

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked * *