One of the most popular outdoors activities for locals and expats alike is going out to the nearby desert for some quad biking. Quads, four wheelers, sand buggies, whatever you call them, it’s always a blast to drive them! The best thing is women can also drive, even in an all-women groups.
The Thumamah sand dunes outside Riyadh are a popular place for renting quads on the weekends. There’s a stretch of over 20 km next to the highway lined with quad bike rental places. They also have Saudi style tents with their own private yards for rent which would be ideal for families. There’s camel riding, horse back riding and other desert activities to enjoy.
The rental guys will be helpful in choosing the best bike and showing how it works. If they see a group of women going out on their own sometimes they might come with you some distance in case you get stuck and need pushing help.
To reach Thumamah drive out of Riyadh toward the Janadriyah festival area, you will pass it and the King’s farm on the left hand side of the road. Continue on this road and you will soon see the sand dunes on the left of the road. The rental places are on the side of the road and they are easy to spot with the bikes lined in rows.
The further you drive out on this road, the better. There are literally hundreds of rental places here. The further out of town you drive the less people there will be around and the prices become cheaper. The sand dunes have less trash and there’s not as much disturbance.
When you see a nice spot just make a turn left to the dunes and drive to whichever rental place you like. It might be worth shopping around a bit for a better price. If you go on weekdays during daytime there will most likely be nobody else around. On the other hand weekend afternoons and evenings turn this place crazy busy, dusty and crowded!
Prices will range according to bike size from 100-300 SAR an hour. You can choose a bike with gears (recommended) or an automatic one. There are even very small bikes available for the children to try safely. You will need to get one of the larger size bikes to be able to climb the steeper hills and venture out to the dunes.
Bashing in the soft sand is really fun but can also be tricky. You need to be careful watching out for sudden steep hills, thorny bushes, holes and large pieces of trash.
Sometimes a nuisance for the female bikers are the “shabab”. These Saudi men are curious and persistent and will sometimes follow unaccompanied women around. To avoid this it’s best to go during daytime and to places further out away from the crowds. It would be advisable to have a male accompany you during weekends and the peak hours. I’ve noticed that if these men keep bothering you, the best way to send them off is to start taking their picture.
Look out for falcons which can often be seen hunting in this area.
Everyone gets stuck every once in a while! The trick is to avoid driving too slowly, especially when going uphill! Don’t stop the bike uphill, only on a flat area or slightly downhill. If you get stuck get off of the bike and try pushing the bike out slowly while giving a little it gas.
Women can remove their abaya out in the desert if they so wish and it’s actually much safer to drive without it! The abayas hems that might get stuck in the wheels and engine. I’ve managed to ruin three abayas like this! If you keep it on, make sure your abaya doesn’t get tangled and burned from the hot engine.
Unfortunately many areas of the beautiful Thumamah sands are ruined with trash left behind by bikers and campers. Don’t leave any trash behind and pick up any that you can!
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