Author Archives: Laura

Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

The yearly held King Abdulaziz camel festival in Saudi Arabia in ongoing in the Dahna desert outside Riyadh this January! This is the largest camel festival in the world packed with different kinds of activities and it’s definitely worth the visit! The best thing about it is that’s it’s entirely free of charge and accessible to everyone! We spent a total of 10 sar each for a delicious Saudi traditional home cooked meal there, everything else was free. The camel festival in local media is called Alaibil, which in arabic means “camels”.

It’s very easy to reach the camel festival by any type of vehicle from Riyadh, about an hours drive out. We went to the camel festival on its first weekend on a Saturday and it was a very nice experience I was positively surprised how beautiful and well organized the area was. The festival area is all brand new and it has a modern look with traditional touches all over. The mosque and astronomy dome are actually quite beautiful architectural structures in the middle of the desert! You can visit the King Abdulaziz camel festival any day during January 2018, it’s open from 8 am to 10 pm every day, free entry.

In this article you’ll find out all the things you can do at camel festival, when is the best time to go, how to get there and the exact location. 

King Abdulaziz Camel festival and camel Beauty Contest 2018. Image: Laura Alho

The World’s Biggest Camel Beauty Contest

Camel Beauty at Alaibil festival. Photo: Laura Alho

Also known as “Miss Camel”, this festival’s main activity features a camel beauty contest, with prizes amounting to almost 120 million SAR ($31 million). Thousands of camel herders travel with their herds here to have their camels participate in the “Miss Camel” competition. The Camel Beauty contest continues through the entire month.

Camel beauty contests are taken very seriously and this year some camels have been disqualified because their owners tried to make the camels more beautiful by using Botox!

There are several different categories of beauty camels depending on their colors ranging from the darker black ones to the red, brown, beige and white. Please note that the camel beauty pageants are held only in the mornings, so if you want to see these specifically you should be there around 9-10 am. The beauty contest is held at a separate stadium nearby to the festival area.

Camels at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Camels at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

We arrived at the festival in the afternoon around 4 pm and the camel beauty competitions were all over by then. The camel races would be in the mornings as well. Apparently, the camels are more motivated and co-operative in the mornings and that’s why the early timing:) You can also learn about how camel beauty pageants are judged at the camel expo.

Activities In The Camel Festival

Camel Exhibition

The camels played an essential role in day-to-day life for people of the region. They used to be a source of food and drink, transport, and a trading pillar. The festival recognizes their importance through a mix of traditional festivities. Visit the Sanad expo to learn more about camels. They have english and Arabic texts on display.

Recommended Article: “Camels – Miracles Of The Desert”

You can see the world’s tallest camel at the festival and also a two humped camels and a odd looking blue eyed two colored camels.

World’s tallest camel. Photo: Soile Haapalainen

Camel Caravan 

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Camel Caravan at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Camel caravans are circling around the dome from 10 am- maghreb prayer daily. You can hop on the caravan for a ride- free of charge.

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Camel caravan at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Camel Riding at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Camel Riding at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Camel Riding at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Camel Riding at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Kids and Family

Hwair the Camel. Image By: Laura Alho

Hwair the Camel. Image By: Laura Alho

The festival has a friendly mascot: Hwair the camel who is present in a variety of workshops. For kids there plenty of activities and they are all free of charge!

Plenty of activities and craft for kids at the Camel Festival Image By: Laura Alho

Plenty of activities and craft for kids at the Camel Festival Image By: Laura Alho

Interior of the Theatre. Image By: Laura Alho

Interior of the Theatre. Image By: Laura Alho

Activities at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Activities at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

There’s a theatre where they can watch songs and plays ( Sponge Bob, traditional dances etc) and an Arts & Crafts hall where you can drop your kid off for an hour to make all sorts of fun crafts. Special mention to the wonderful staff there, who almost all spoke very good English and were engaging and professional.

Outdoor playground, camel rides all free of charge.

In the sand art tent you can drop the kids for sand play while you walk around the exhibit.

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Sand sculpture at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Astronomy Dome

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View of the astronomy dome at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

The Camel Festival is the homage to a Panoramic Dome equipped with technology that allows guests to stargaze into the night and learn about what’s beyond our planet; an interesting option for kids and grown-ups.

This was really cool! Do not miss it! English shows available, ask for this with a group of english speaking friends from the staff working inside the dome. There was a very helpful friendly Saudi lady there who can arrange this for you.

Traditional souk

Traditional Souk at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Traditional Souk at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

A collection of goods such as spices, traditional Saudi food, artisans, decorations and clothing at the souk.

Recommended Article: “Camel Milk, An Elixir From The Desert”

Environmental Initiatives

Visit Exhibitions such as “Don’t Throw Away Plastic Bags Initiative”, “Food Waste Initiative”, and “Green Dahna”.

Art & Culture 

There are also activities related to arts, such as poetry and photography competitions hosted by National Geographic.Sand art exhibit with the talented sand sculptor Neelu from India. You can watch them making new sculptures live. Camel Hair Art and kids arts and crafts area.

Traditional dancing, songs and music at the tent and also in the desert area in the evening they have a concert. You can have your own bedouin tent with a fire and watch the concert.

Camel hair- art. Photo by Soile Haapalainen

Sand art at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Sand art at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Traditional dances at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Traditional dances at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

How to get there:

By any type of vehicle, drive yourself or hire a driver/ taxi to take you. It takes about 1h – 1,5 hours drive depending on traffic from Riyadh to the festival area. Hiring a taxi would be around 200- 300 sar back and forth for the entire taxi if you negotiate they wait for you at festival. Sharing the ride with friends would make it more affordable.

Parking lots separated into singles/ families but festival area is mixed.

Guided Tours:

It’s possible to experience the festival on a guided tour. I recommend you go with Haya Tours, for the tour sign up click here: Haya tour camel festival trip 27th January 

Best time to go:

If you want to see the actual Camel beauty contest in action, you have to go in the morning around 9-10am and head to the camel beauty pageant stadium. All of the other activities you can experience in the afternoons and evenings so arriving around 2- 3 pm would be best for a visit to the festival site only.

The festival is open daily until 1st of February.

The festival area looks very pretty in the evening lighting too!

Cafeteria at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Camel Riding at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Camel Riding at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

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The Alaibil Camel Festival hashtag. Image By: Laura Alho

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Mosque at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho

Where It Takes Place: The Southern Terrains of Al-Dahna (Between Ar-Rumah and Al-Hefnah) Check exact google map location of camel festival below. Turn off point to the festival area from the main road at this location:

https://goo.gl/maps/LQYYHteL9fq

Dropped Pin:
Location Of The Festival:

https://goo.gl/maps/1EsuhLGiQVG2

Dropped Pin:

 

Website: www.alaibilfestival.com

Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

Winter is here and the weather is just perfect for weekend activities outside Riyadh. There are so many fun things to do during weekends in Riyadh you would not believe it! Here are 15 suggestions of things to do in Riyadh, specifically during the cooler winter months. Most of the listed activities are best for the months December through February.

#1 Nofa African Resort Safari & Wildlife Center

The amazingly beautiful Nofa resort and its wild inhabitants are now open to the public for visits! To go on the safari tour you have to book in advance directly with the Nofa resort beforehand. The price of the safari tour is 100 sar per person adults and kids. Tour timings are from 930 am to 330 pm daily and the tour lasts about 2 hours. It’s a great way to spend some time out of the city and the animals are really well looked after.

The safari experience starts with open-top vehicle rides around the safari park where you’ll see zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, wildebeests, gazelles, ostriches, pygmi hippos and the endangered Arabian Ibex and Oryx, native to Arabian peninsula. You’ll then continue the tour at the Nofa wildlife center. A trip out to Nofa is definitely one of the best weekend activities around Riyadh! Read all about Nofa Safari and how to book here: Nofa Safari park and Wildlife center 

Giraffe playing peekaboo at Nofa safari park. Photo: Laura Alho

#2 Watch Ancient Youtube-Rock art panels at Qaryat Al Asba.

There are two sites quite close to Riyadh where you can view rock art. The one that’s easier to access and has more variety is called Qaryat Al Asba, about an hour drive from Riyadh. The rocky outcrop where the rock art is located can be reached with a normal car and it’s just off the Makkah highway.

Saudi Arabia possesses world-class rock art so much so that UNESCO has recently included it in the World Heritage List. Check out the rock art in Jubbah, Ha’il from this post: Hai’l Archaeological site. 

Although it is hard to believe, graffiti rocks that are now in the middle of the desert used to be in grassland areas next to lakes referred to as paleolakes by archaeologists.  Read more about these paleo lakes from the fascinating Green Arabia project: www.paleodeserts.com

Children looking at a rock art panel at Qaryat al Asba, Riyadh. Photo: Laura Alho

I took my kids there and we were all fascinated by all the different rock art scenes. It kept their interest better than youtube and it occurred to me that perhaps thousands of years ago parents would bring their children here and show these same images, telling them stories about them. I think looking at this ancient rock panels full of images is much more entertaining and educational than watching real youtube :)

We found carvings depicting camels, giraffes, an elephant, lions, ostriches, hand and foot prints, palm trees, and even a scene of people hunting ibex with a pack of dogs.

Important note! It is illegal to temper with this archeological site. Do NOT attempt to carve your own names in the rocks (as unfortunately, some ignorant people have already done there), the site is monitored by nearby guards and violators will be fined.

 

#3 Horse Races at King Abdulaziz Race Track

The racing season is on at the King Abdulaziz Race track with the main prizes of King Abdulaziz Cup prize of 600,000 sar. The horse races are one of the top fun and free Riyadh weekend activities!

The modern facilities are at a 9 square-kilometer property that is surrounded by green areas. Located next to the Janadriyah village, the Riyadh Equestrian Club and King Abdul Aziz racetrack is open on weekends with free entrance for everyone. Races start after Asr on Fridays and Saturdays.

The friday brunch at the Frusiya restaurant overlooking the horse races is really nice and you can book your brunch here online: Frusiya.com

#4 Camel Festival and Camel Beauty Pageant 

Camel dressed up in festive saddle. Photo: Laura Alho

In January 2018 you can visit the world biggest camel festival, the King Abdulaziz Camel festival everyday. Starting from January 1st to February 1st, programs run daily from 8 am to 10 pm. The festival is entirely free and open to everyone! All of the activities available at the festival are also completely free of charge. It’s like Janadriyah festival, you can get to it with a normal car. 

At the second annual King Abdulaziz camel festival visitors can watch camel races, camel obedience contests, camel caravans and of course the famous camel beauty contests. The festival area is located in Rumah, located about 120 kilometers North-East of Riyadh City.

The festival is mainly aimed to celebrate the country’s cultural heritage, and is focused on the Camel, the “Ship of the Desert” and its important role for the Saudi Kingdom.

The Festival is a great attraction not only for the camel beauty pageant but also because of the variety of activities: Camel auctionthe heritage Souk, over 100 stands offering perfumes, spices, traditional foods, decorations, etc.

Sand art gallery at Camel festival in Riyadh 2018. Photo: Laura Alho

the Sanam Exhibition, the camel through time, Poetry and photography competitions. Watch traditional sword dancing ‘ardha’, shows aimed for kids like Sponge bob, Saudi girls dancing traditional back dances. Beautiful sand art and interactive sand play area for kids.

Kids indoor arts & crafts center where you can drop them off free of change for an hour with English speaking friendly professional staff.

Free camel riding, camel exhibit, camel caravan, a camel book library and so much more. Visit their website for more information: alaibilfestival.com

Location: Google maps

#5 Dirab Golf Club & Horseback Riding

Dirab golf courses are a refreshing green escape from Riyadh city. They also have horse stables where you can take lessons or go riding in the nearby desert. This would also be a no abayas needed zone. Contact them through their website.

Dirab Golf course and horse stables are Located 45 kilometers south-west of Riyadh. Google map location

#6 Sandboarding

Saudi Arabia is a sand boarder’s dream, with never ending sand dunes of different colors to choose from. Sand Boarding on the Riyadh red sands is a fantastic adventure; dunes can reach over 100 meters in height, they are gigantic and ensure everybody an amazing thrill ride!

Sand sliding equipment. Photo: Laura Alho

Some of the best dunes to do this activity are located to the west of Riyadh along Makkah road. Near Lake Khararah you’ll find long steep slopes to slide down on. On the weekends it gets really crowded here, so head out very early or go on a weekday. Find out more about this red sand dune area here: Lake Khararah in Riyadh 

Sand surfer boy. Photo: Laura Alho

The sand is best to slide on after it has rained, this makes it more firm and you won’t sink in. You can get a sand board, sand sleds, sliders, and even sand scooters from the Sunaidi camping stores. It’s highly recommended you apply wax on the bottom of your boards, otherwise you might be going forward at snail speed! My sons favorite sliding device is a real surf board meant for the water, it works better than “traditional” sand boards.

For more info on Sand boarding and surfing in Saudi Arabia, check out these pro tips: Surfing in Saudi Arabia 

#7 Visit the Ancient Camel Trails

There are three camel trails along the Tuwaiq escarpment near Riyadh, named Camel Trail 1, 2 and 3.  Camel trail #1 is the easiest to reach, the others currently have been fenced off and are difficult to access.

In order for the camel caravans of the past times to travel up to Riyadh they needed to find a way to climb up the Tuwaiq escarpment. To achieve this the ancient camel trails were built.  The trails follow the natural water courses flowing down the escarpment, and were reinforced with small man-made retaining walls.

The caravans of the old days would carry not only traders with their goods but also pilgrims headed toward Mecca.

You can reach Camel Trail 1 with a normal car, but an SUV is recommend for comfort as the track can get quite bumpy and rains can destroy the roads. It’s a very nice spot to view the sunset from and hike down the trail to the wadi below. Please take all your trash with you back to the city as their is no maintenance of this site!

Ancient Camel Trail Riyadh. Photo: Laura Alho

Coordinates of Camel Trail 1: 24o 30.12’ N; 46o 24.85’ E

#8 Hike to Edge of the World

The most famous desert trek from Riyadh is definitely the Edge of the World. You need a SUV to reach Edge of the World. if you’re going on your own check out the ebook guide to Edge of The World- free download here: Edge of the World Ebook 

If you’d like to go on an organized tour there, including a lovely BBQ lunch and stops at less crowded hidden gem locations on the way, get in touch and we will organize a private tour for you with an experienced Edge of the World guide in a a safe vehicle fit for the desert email: contact @ blueabaya.com

Edge of the World Riyadh. Photo: Laura Alho

#9 Visit The Secret Lake of Riyadh

Secret Lake is one of the relaxing places to visit and a treat even if it doesn’t have water in it. The Secret Lake is hidden between valleys and it becomes a lake after the heavy winter rains. The rest of the year a pleasant meadow with flowers is in its place. Grab your Secret Lake ebook guide here to ensure you get there the safest and fastest way.

Secret Lake Riyadh January 2017. Photo: Laura Alho

#10 Visit a Heritage Village.

The picturesque Ushaiger heritage village and Raghbah village make perfect day trips from Riyadh. You can visit Ushaiger on your own by hiring a driver or driving yourself from Riyadh to the village about 1,5h one way. Once at the village the friendly villagers will show you around for free. There’s also helpful signposts in English around the village.

Guide to Ushaiger here and Raghbah here 

Ushaiger Heritage village traditional marketplace. Photo: Laura Alho

#11 Fossil Hunting in the Desert

Part of the Arabian peninsula used to be the bottom of an ocean hundred million years ago. Proof of this we can see in the desert in the form of coral reefs, seashells and other fossils from the sea. A great way to spend some time outdoors and get some exercise in the process. The best places can can be found along the Tuwaiq escarpments.

Collection of fossils found along Tuwaiq Escarpment. Photo: Laura Alho

Search places:  Areas having low hills with sand and stratified rocks such as the Tuwaiq escarpment and nearby areas.

#12 Visit the Organic Farm in Diriyah

The Ennessi Organic Farm, located next to the at-Turaif district in part of historical Diriyah, is a wonderful green haven in the heart of Riyadh. At Ennessi farm you can learn about organic agricultural techniques through field trips. Currently the farm is doing only school field trips

The trips include hands on learning about botanical history, geology and sustainable development, scavenger hunts, making scarecrows, planting, plowing and much more.

Contact them on their Facebook page here or email broccoli @ ennessifarm.com

Ennessi Organic Farm in 2013. Photo: Laura Alho

#13 Visit Reem Reserve for a unique Bedouin Camp Experience and learn about Falconry

Reem reserve is located about 70 km west of Riyadh. A beautiful nature reserve surrounded by Red Sand dunes with an area larger than Bahrain! They make authentic Saudi desert experience tours including falconry, camel caravans, with accommodation in Bedouin style camp. Contact Reem reserve through facebook for some or the best Riyadh outdoor activities!

Dunes at Reem Reserve. Photo: Laura Alho

#14 Shopping for Authentic Saudi Winter Coats Farwa & Bisht from Bisht Souk

The traditional Saudi winter coats, the farwa and the bisht, come especially handy when out in the desert where temperatures can quickly drop close to freezing after the sun has set.

A Bisht is a traditional Saudi cloak which is normally seen worn over the thobe at important occasions and celebrations such as weddings. These bishts are a very thin, sheer fabric. There’s also a type of winter Bisht made of thicker fabric perfect for the Saudi winter.

A Farwa is an even warmer and thicker winter coat, especially great to wear out to desert camping trips. Whereas the Bisht fabric is normally more rough to touch, the Farwas are soft and snuggly. Some farwas are incredibly heavy and thick, I swear you could wear these out to an expedition of Antarctica and survive! Visit Bisht souk: Riyadh Bisht & Farwa Souk

Riyadh Bisht Souk. Image: Laura Alho

#15 Flying over the desert

Several places around Riyadh you can fly a gyrocopters and other small aircrafts and view the beautiful scenery from new perspectives. The best places for this are the Thumamah airport and the BanBan airport.

Paraglider near Riyadh. Photo: Laura Alho

Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

You’ve probably heard of Nofa Resorts before and those following me on instagram and snapchat will already be familiar with the residents of Nofa safari park. This is the place where you get to see giraffes in Saudi Arabia! It’s such an incredible sight to see giraffes in the beautiful red sand dunes. Nofa resort is a hidden gem outside Riyadh where you can go an an “African safari” and visit their wildlife center, a unique experience in Saudi Arabia. Nofa safari is a great way to spend some time out of the city and the animals are really well looked after.

Nofa safari park used to be accessible only through corporate visits, VIP bookings and events. I’ve visited Nofa on several occasions during these events and private visits, always hoping they’d open this amazing place for the public one day.  Starting from November 2017 this dream came true and the Nofa resort has finally opened their safaris for the public!

We were so thrilled to be the first ever group to try out their safari tour for public this November!

Giraffe peaking under a feeding shelter at Nofa park. Photo: Laura Alho

Nofa Equestrian Resort. Photo: Laura Alho

Kayaking at Nofa resort lake. Photo: Laura Alho

Nofa Equestrian resort race track. Photo: Laura Alho

The Nofa resort area is massive and actually consists of several different resorts one being the safari park and wildlife center, which is now open to public. The rest of  Nofa resort, the Golf Club & resort, the Equestrian resort and the lake area still remain closed from public. To see those places you’d need to book a private tour with Nofa or attend one of the events they hold there from time to time. To keep up to date with these events, follow Blue Abaya on Facebook where updates will be posted. The good news is a Radisson hotel is being built inside Nofa, which would mean it the future it’s going to become even more accessible to public.

How to Go On Nofa Safari?

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Nofa Safari Park public safari trip #1 on November 4th 2017

To go on the Nofa safari tour you have to book in advance directly with the Nofa Resort by sending them a message. The price of the safari tour is 100 sar per person (plus VAT), safari prices are same for both adults and kids. (Babies under 2 are free). They accept cash payments only.

Contact info to book your safari and google map location of Nofa resort at the end of this post! The entrance fee includes the safari game drive and the wildlife center tour.

Tour timings are from 9 30 am to 3 am SATURDAYS and the tour lasts about 2 hours. You’ll first be taken on the game drive through the safari park then on to the wildlife center.

Drive to the resort which is about an hours drive (90km) from Riyadh toward Mekkah on the highway. Park cars in the visitor center parking lot and from there you pay the entrance fee ( cash only!) and get your wristbands. Buses will take the visitors on tours around the resort, first stop at the safari rest house where you’ll get some complimentary coffee, tea and water before your game drive starts.

The Game Drivenofa-resort-safari

The safari experience starts with open-top vehicle rides around the safari park on a set trail. There are over 700 species in the safari park, many of which are classified as vulnerable, endangered or even extinct species from the wild. You’ll see zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, wildebeests, gazelles, ostriches, antelopes, pygmy hippos and the endangered Arabian Ibex and Oryx, native to Arabian peninsula.

Pygmy hippo at Nofa safari park. Photo by: Laura Alho

To this list of animals some people will say, what are giraffes zebras ostriches and hippos, animals familiar from African continent doing in Saudi Arabia? Well what’s important to note is that most of the species living at the Nofa safari park have at some point in time in fact been inhabiting the Arabian peninsula. Only in the last century or so were ostriches hunted down to extinction for example.

Archaeologists working on excavation sites in various location in Saudi Arabia have uncovered fossils of hippo, bovine and equine species. They identified Hartebeasts, Roan antelope, cheetahs and even elephants among many other species in the deserts of Arabia. These animals used to roam the areas called ‘paleolakes’ which you can read more about from the fascinating Green Arabia project.

Hartebeast at Nofa safari park. Photo by: Laura Alho

More concrete evidence of the existence of these species on on Arabian soil comes from the hundreds of rock art panels around Saudi Arabia depicting these species being hunted by man. You can find rock art all over Saudi Arabia showing ostriches, oryx, gazelles, ibex, wild asses, bovines, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, leopards, wolves, hyenas and many other animals familiar from Nofa. You can see some of this magnificent rock art at the Jubbah archeological site in Ha’il.

Nofa safari park game drive. Photo: Laura Alho

Giraffes roamed in the Arabian peninsula thousands of years ago. Photo: Laura Alho

Gazelle at Nofa resort. Photo: Laura Alho

Waterbucks resting on a sand dune at Nofa park. Photo: Laura Alho

Endangered Arabian Oryx. Photo by: Laura Alho

Male Ostrich gazing at the sunset over Nofa resort. Photo: Laura Alho

Nofa Wildlife Center 

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My son holding a falcon at the Nofa wildlife center.

After the safari drive, you’ll be taken to the wildlife center where you can interact with the animals under the supervision of the professional Nofa staff. Most of the guys working there are vets and professional animal handlers. It’s apparent that each and every one of the people working there really care about the animals, which, lets be honest is not always a given in Saudi Arabia. This is why Nofa is definitely a better option than the Riyadh zoo! Nofa is setting a great example for all other zoos and wildlife reserves in Saudi Arabia; treat animals with respect, kindness and care, keep the park clean and train your staff!

Inside the wildlife center, they have all sorts of reptiles, and you will be shocked to hear that yes they do live in the Saudi deserts! Such as the sand boa, which although entirely harmless to humans, can disappear into the sand in like 2 seconds and you will not know it’s there! Which makes the thought of sitting on a dune next time unnerving.. Am I sitting on a snake?!

How about the yellow scorpion, which digs holes in the rocky areas and comes out to hunt at night. They are poisonous but thankfully not deadly (other than to children and elderly). These things are really good to learn!

Vipers and the freakish-looking dubb lizards are something I would gladly like to avoid when out and about in the desert. On the other hand, the adorable desert gerbils and the cutest little hedgehogs ( Desert hedgehogs species) are actually quite common in Saudi Arabia, we’ve been lucky to spot these in the desert and I’ve even seen hedgehogs in the parks in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter. My son insisted to hold one and the hedgehog rolled up into a ball when he held it. They also had some porcupines, hares, guinea pigs ( ok these are definitely not native species) and lizzards.

Cheetah at Nofa safari park. Photo by: Laura Alho

They also have a variety of birds you can interact with such as a friendly parrot, owls and falcons which you can hold. For the brave adults you might get a chance to pet a cheetah named Yaz. As a cat lover, I absolutely loved this experience. This beautiful creature was eating some raw meat off the plate on my lap while I got to stroke it and admire her beautiful coat up close. She was purring so loud, the sweetest thing. They did not want to burden the cheetah too much and limited the interaction with her so this activity is clearly only available if the cheetah is in the mood. Naturally, we can’t expect a wild animal to be sitting around all day just to be fed or expect it to behave OK if hundreds of people come to pet it. We were lucky because no other people came that day.

Outside they also have a crocodile which my kids were convinced was a fake one because this thing did not move one bit. It just sat there with its mouth wide open like a statue. My daughter innocently wanted to check the authenticity of this crocodile statue but thank god her hand did not fit through the fence because the croc snapped its jaws shut when she approached much to her amusement.

The endangered Grevy’s zebra at Nofa. Photo: Laura Alho

We had so much fun my kids did not want to leave and my daughter requested to come work there as an animal caretaker. One day maybe she will do just that :) The only sad looking animal we saw at Nofa was this Zebra. He might be the only of his kind at Nofa, and being a Grevy’s zebra, not many of his kind are left in the whole world. Maybe he is longing for a companion, and that’s why his eyes look so sad.

Tips 

I can highly recommend this trip especially for families with kids, a great learning experience! It’s clean, well looked after and the animals are all healthy (not drugged up like in some places just for people to take selfies with etc) The animals are not in cages, they have proper enclosures and room to move around. They have shady areas where they can seek shelter from the sun and other weather conditions. The safari drive actually only takes you to one small part of the entire area that the animals are able to roam in. This also means that some of the animals might not be visible during your game drive. Many of the animals come to feed in the mornings and late afternoons, when the light is also best for photos.

Pro tip for photographers: the vehicle will be moving at a swift pace most of the time, only slowing down slightly. Be prepared to take handheld shots from a moving vehicle! Bring your best zoom lens.

You will not find anything like the Nofa safari experience currently in Saudi Arabia.

I’d recommend to take some reading like a safari book of animals. I’d definitely take one with me if I were to go one more time on this safari with my children. On the actual drive around the safari park they don’t really explain much about the animals and the driver does not stop a lot ( also a challenge for photographers!). Having been on “real” safaris in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania, I was already familiar with all the different types of antelope species in Africa, but for someone who comes for the first time on a safari, it would be useful to have more information.

My improvement suggestion for Nofa Resort: More information about the animals in the safari park. Either by training the drivers to know the names of different species or by making flyers / info posts where each animal is featured.

Roan antelope and calf at Nofa safari park. Photo: Laura Alho

The Arabian Ibex is an endangered species on the Arabian peninsula. Photo: Laura Alho

African Wildebeest Nofa safari park. Photo: Laura Alho

Note

-Please note that this activity is available for families (no single males).

-This is also an abaya free zone for those who wish to remove them.

-Don’t bring any food to the safari. Coffee and tea, water are complimentary.

-Restaurant at Golf resort available for lunch after safari tour (bookings necessary)

-Do not litter!

-Children of all ages are welcome.

-Bathrooms can be found at the safari park visitor center.

-Arrive 30 minutes prior to your safari trip departure time.

-Reserve at least one hour each way for the drive out to Nofa.

-Bring cash for all payments

 

Nofa Contact Info

WEBSITE:

https://www.nofaresorts.com/ver/tr/en-nofa-african-resort.html

PHONE:

966 59 325 5918

EMAIL:

safaris@nofaresort.com

LOCATION:

Exit 857, New Mecca Highway

P.O. 66223, Riyadh 11576

Nofa wildlife safari. Photo: Laura Alho

 

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Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

Saudi Aramco is the state-owned oil company of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As the world’s top exporter of crude oil and natural gas liquids, Saudi Aramco’s economic and political influence has been widely note throughout the globe. The petroleum industry has long be synonymous with economic prosperity, but there are many other ways in which Aramco’s shaped the world.

-Three signatures changed the world’s relationship with petroleum forever.

In 1933, King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa’ud, along with Shaikh ‘Abdullah Al-Sulayman and Lloyd Hamilton, signed a concession agreement authorizing Standard Oil of California, now known as Chevron, to explore for oil in Saudi Arabia.

Since then, Aramco has discovered an unprecedented amount of energy reserves — which includes the “field of dreams” Ghawar, the world’s largest known oil field, and Safaniya the world’s largest offshore field. These findings sparked the rapid transformation of Saudi Arabia from desert kingdom to modernized global power.

-No matter where you live on planet earth, you’ve come in contact with Saudi’s petroleum products.

Saudi Aramco is the largest single producer of crude oil in the world. The company ships more oil around the world than any other single company or country. About 1 out of every 10 barrels of oil around the globe originated from Saudi Aramco.

-Saudi Aramco eradicated malaria from the eastern part of the country.

When oil explorers arrived, malaria was widespread throughout the region. In the early 1940’s, Aramco began educating residents about preventing the illness. The company also introduced minnows to eat mosquito larvae within the irrigation canals. In addition, Aramco used ddt to combat the pests and by the 1950’s the disease had disappeared from the region.

-Aramco added English words to Saudi spoken Arabic.

English terms used in the workplace became part of spoken Arabic within the region. For example, the word weyt, which means “tank”. The tanker trucks used to transport water to workers in Ras Tanura were white, so all tanks became known as ‘weyt’.

Another example is the word wanayt, or pick-up truck. All Aramco pickups had serial numbers on their doors that started with 1-8, or “one-eight,” and it was Arabicized to wanayt.

-The green lawns in Dhahran’s residential camp came from Egypt.

Today, the Dhahran residential camp is known for its greener appearance, but that wasn’t always the case. In 1947, a woman named Paula Weathers joined her husband in Dhahran with Bermuda grass from Egypt. She carried it in a coffee can and planted it when she arrived. That grass became Dhahran’s first lawn, and was later transplanted to nearly every home in the camp.

For more interesting facts about Aramco, please visit http://www.saudiaramco.com/en/home/about/history.html

*This author is not an authorized representative of Saudi Aramco, nor makes any claim as such. These facts are stated as provided by public company publications.

 Photos from Ayesha Malik’s book Above the Oilfields 

Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

Saudi Arabia’s al Khobar city located on the shores of the Arabian Gulf offers many activities and things to do for families on the weekends. The Corniche is the heart and soul of the city and most activities in al Khobar will be found there. Lydia from Our Dreams in Color-blog tells us her suggestions for the perfect weekend in her home city of al Khobar in this guest post.

For recommended restaurants in the Eastern Province check this post: Top Ten Restaurants in Eastern Province 

How to Spend One Weekend in Al Khobar

Al Khobar is one of three cities, including Dammam and Dhahran, that form one big city in the Eastern Province. Some of this plan might stray into Dammam or Dhahran but the edges merge a bit! Now, in all honesty, Khobar is not a tourist destination and is not exactly the prettiest city around. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some hidden gems to discover and fantastic times to be had. So, if you had a weekend to explore, what should you do?

First, head for breakfast at the Circle Café. This is a laid-back café with an airy family eating space and a great breakfast menu. The caramelised onion and goat’s cheese omelette or tradition foul come highly recommended and their healthy juice and smoothie options are amazing.

Filled up with yummy food and fuelled by juice-power you’ll be ready to explore. Leave the car where it is and walk along the corniche to the South. The promenade along here is beautiful and well maintained. The only downside is that littering can be a problem in the play areas. But the kids don’t notice and the children’s play areas are dotted all along the walk, with lovely stone benches to sit on and gorgeous views across the sea.

If you fancy the walk (about 6km) continue further along the corniche, or get back in the car, and head to the stretch near the Sheikh Salem Mohammed bin Laden mosque. This is such a pretty space and well worth a visit. A little further South again is the small fishing dock near where the corniche road curves into King Fahd road. This is full of small fishing boats, including a couple of traditional dhows. From here, providing it is a fairly clear day, you can see the King Fahd Causeway which connects Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. On weekends, you can walk along the sea front near here and watch people fishing over the sea wall.

For lunch drive to Parker’s. A fairly new restaurant in Khobar (there are branches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai), Parker’s is a welcome breath of fresh air. It is very Insta-friendly (whether you consider that a plus or not) and the atmosphere is brilliant, not always something that is easy to find in Khobar. The restaurant is all family dining and set in a fabulous greenhouse style room. Their food is just as delicious as it sounds on the menu. Save room for the Lotus Drama cake! You are meant to have a key to get in to Parker’s but they appear to have waived this for now. Check their Instagram @Parkers for more details on the hunt for a key.

After lunch drive out to the desert and spend an hour or so exploring, walking off the delicious calories consumed so far in the day. You can find a great stretch of gorgeous dunes along route 607 near Buqayq (Abqaiq). Head out of Khobar, through Dhahran, on route 40 and after about 40 minutes, make a left onto route 607. You can access these areas without a 4×4, just park up on the roadside and walk.

Although accessible, it is always best to travel in the desert with someone else, especially if you haven’t been before. This feels like “proper desert” here. Spot shy camel herds, look for desert flora and slide down sand dunes. There are also areas nearby that are great for desert rose (a beautiful crystal formation) hunting – let us know if you have found any! Take a barbeque or a picnic, some camping chairs and watch the sun go down over the picture-perfect scenery.

Saturday morning grab breakfast at Zaatar w Zeit, another chain, but this is popular for good reason. Then get to Scitech for opening time. This is an amazing science centre to find in the Eastern Province. There is an IMAX cinema, a children’s discovery play room, a space with amazing interactive displays about Saudi Arabia and several areas all about the world around us. You could easily spend all morning here!

Feeling hungry again now? Wouldn’t be a Khobar weekend without a trip to The Steak House. There are branches of this award-winning restaurant across Saudi and it is extremely popular with locals and expats alike.

Head to the souks for the afternoon. The centre area is busy and narrow and it is easy to get lost! Get someone who knows their way around to take you if you want to find a specific area (the gold souk and the craft/fabric area are awesome). Otherwise just wander around absorbing all the weird and wonderful things on offer.

If you can fit any more food in, I would recommend grabbing shawarma, spit chicken and rice from one of the local places. My favourites are along Khaled Ibn Al Walid Street but you are bound to wander past some as you explore the souk. Shawarma don’t tend to be on offer until after Maghrib (sunset) prayer but it does depend on the place.

For a last hour or two join all the local families and go back to the corniche stretch with a picnic (or head to the mall in high summer). Just enjoy people-watching as family groups spend the evening together. Children tear away from their mothers, whizzing down the seafront on bikes and scooters; young men in souped-up cars drive slowly past; fathers catch fish; grandparents nibble on pistachios and the smell of shisha lingers in the air.

The Perfect Saudi evening!

Scitech Science Center info and opening times:

http://www.scitech.sa

Insta: @scitech_edu

Open to the public 4-9pm Sunday-Friday

all day 9am-9pm on Saturday.

Visitors should check website for holiday hours as those can change.

Entry ticket is 20sar

Lydia is a teacher in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, where she lives with her husband and two children (and another on the way!). Lydia grew up in Jeddah and then went back to the UK for school and University. She and her husband moved to Dubai when their son was four months old. There, she started up her mural business, Dreams In Colour Murals after her daughter was born. They moved to Al Khobar two years ago. Her new blog Our Dreams In Colour is about their family life and travels. 
 
Instagram: @ourdreamsincolour
Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam — mandatory for every Muslim that is physically and financially able to make the journey. For centuries, adherents to Islam have traveled from every corner of the earth to fulfill their religious duty.

This spiritual exercise takes place over the course of five days, the 8th to the 12th of Dhul Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic (Hijri) calendar. The detailed rituals of the pilgrimage include purification, wearing modest white robes, walking counterclockwise around the kabaa, and stoning evil, or shaytaan.

In a little more than a week’s time, close to three million people will complete the pilgrimage. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be one of the pilgrims participating in Hajj 2017. After hours of research on how to prepare for hajj, I’ve established five Hajj preparation essentials to help you make the best of your trip.

HAJJ PACKING LIST

1. Creature comforts.

·      Extra clothes.

Travel clothing should be easy to wash and wrinkle resistant. Males should bring 2-3 sets of ihram clothes. Women should bring at least two abayas. It is also worth considering bringing moisture wicking leggings/tops to wear underneath your abaya. To say Saudi Arabia’s weather is on the warmer side is quite the understatement. Dress for the heat. Make sure to include plenty of light colored and breathable clothing on your hajj packing list.

·      A microfiber travel towel

Get one that is easily packed and dries quickly.

·      Good quality flip/flops or slippers and a plastic bag to carry them in. Public bathrooms can be dirty or flooded and cheap shoes can break or hurt your feet. Invest in a decent quality pair to last through the trip.

·      Pocket prayer mat.

Don’t underestimate the value of a clean prayer mat – floors can get quite dusty here!

·      Personal toiletries.

Don’t assume that everything you need will be available to purchase in Mecca. Contact solution, ibuprofen, hand sanitizer and other items are easily taken for granted – until the pharmacy is sold out and you have to face a crowd of several million. Don’t forget to take extra prescribed medicines!

·      Pocket sized guides, Qur’an, and the Fortress of a Muslim Du’a Book

In addition to these reference materials on how to perform hajj, bring a pen/small notebook to record your reflections. If you don’t want to carry the books, download these references to your smart phone.

·      Sun protection

Bring sunscreen (unscented), sunglasses, and umbrellas to shield yourself from the harsh sun.

·      Small shoulder bag

Don’t forget to bring a bag to hold all this stuff!

2. A du’a list

During Hajj, time is going to fly. A written list of prayers and people will jog your memory when you need it.

3. A clear mind.

Thorough hajj preparation will ensure you can focus on the journey ahead.

·      Copy all travel documents (passport, booking references, contact information). Leave a copy of your itinerary and documents with someone at home. Bring a photocopy of everything and store it separately from the originals. Store all emergency contacts in your phone, and written down somewhere else just in case.

·      Create a will and get your affairs in order before you leave.

It is a somber reality that the Hajj can be dangerous, just like any other day on earth.

·      Resolve any personal conflicts.

You are going on the spiritual journey of a lifetime – don’t be weighed down by emotional baggage. Some things can’t be helped, but do what you can to leave for Hajj without any festering battles.

·      Study the rituals of Hajj and memorize as much of it as you can.

Being confident in the required and recommended steps of how to perform Hajj can alleviate anxiety and allow you to devote more time and energy to worship.

4. An energized body

The pilgrimage is physically demanding. Praying, walking, and even just standing in the hot sun takes its toll on even the fittest and healthiest individual. Build up your stamina beforehand with long walks. Get plenty of fluids and rest on your journey.

5. An open heart

The most important step in preparing for Hajj is to open your heart to the experience. This journey is going to demand patience, understanding, and full trust in divine decree. There will be misunderstandings, times of discomfort, but simultaneously opportunities for mercy and forgiveness.

Soak up the lessons of these five days. Quiet the white noise of life, and turn your focus inward. Don’t forget the purpose of this journey. Let go of everything, seek forgiveness, and go forward with an open heart. Hajj is a journey, not a destination.

 

************************************

K.T. Lynn is an American Muslim convert living in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. She is a corporate writer by day and novelist by night. She blogs about her misadventures at www.ktlynn.com

Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

Maldives is often perceived as a romantic honeymoon paradise and might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of family friendly destinations.  I was surprised to find out that the Maldives actually has family friendly resorts where kids can enjoy just as much as the adults. We did a week-long trip to the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort which for us was the best family friendly option in the Maldives. And btw, for those living in Saudi Arabia, the Maldives are now just a 5 hour flight away from Riyadh and Jeddah directly to Male international airport on Saudi Airlines! Saudis also get a visa on arrival to Maldives (no need for advance procedures) so it’s really the best option when you want to get to a paradise island resort quickly and easily from Saudi Arabia.

The Maldives is an around the year destination thanks to its warm climate, there is a slightly rainier season during the summer monsoon. We had one rainy day during our stay in April and honestly it did not affect the day negatively at all. We just chose different kinds of activities. The clouds actually are nice and cooling during the midday sun and the kids were able to play on the beach longer that day.

Sun Siyam Iru Fushi Resort

The resort we stayed at is called Sun Siyam Iru Fushi which is located in the Noonu Atoll, easily reached by a 45 minute seaplane ride from the capital Male. The resort is Maldivian owned and it’s the only resort on the island so you have the whole paradise island and the surrounding lagoon and reef to yourself. The Iru Fushi island is not very large, you can walk around it in about 30 -45 minutes depending on your walking speed (for us it took like 2 hours to do reach halfway because the kids were obsessed with hermit crab hunting). On the other hand it’s not too small to make it feel crowded, when we were there the resort was almost full, yet it seemed like we were the only people there. Except when we went to breakfast buffet, that was probably the only time there was sign of other people around, and even then it didn’t get overly crowded.

The Seaplane Transfer

From the moment we stepped out of the airplane in Male, all our needs were met by the friendly Sun Siyam staff. They directed us to our connecting flight on Trans Maldivian airways directly to the resort. From the main terminal in Male we took a short car ride to the seaplane port, located just a few km away from the main airport. Our Saudi airlines flight had been late, (more on the Saudia flight later on in this post) so they had the seaplane waiting on us to arrive and we were able to take off right away.

The seaplane ride itself was an incredible experience, we watched the sun setting from the plane and the turquoise and blue water surrounding the picturesque islands below. It was really interesting to see the pilots in the cockpit flying the plane. Some of the pilots were actually barefoot! The staff was very friendly and helpful. The seats on the plane are small, but comfortable enough for such a short flight. It was not at all a bumpy or rough ride, despite my initial concerns having flown on small aircrafts over the Caribbean which have sometimes been extremely rough.

The kids really enjoyed the flight and the moment we landed on top of the water was so amazing for them. I would say the seaplane flight itself is an experience you should have once you’re in the Maldives, because seeing the islands from the air will truly take your breath away! The feeling when the plane touches down at the island is magical. Watch the seaplane ride video on my instagram here: Seaplane over Maldives 

We were greeted by the smiling Sun Siyam staff at the seaplane dock at the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort. A golf cart took us to our beach villa. We had chosen a split stay between a family beach villa for three nights and a pool water villa for the last three nights because we wanted to experience both and see which one we liked more.

In hindsight I would say the beach pool villa was a far better choice for us because we had the children with us. At the time they were 4 and 6 years old, so being on top of the water with opportunities for them to fall in while you look away was a bit stressful. With older kids it would make more sense to stay on the water villas. I would love to go there again and spend the entire vacation in the beach pool villa, it’s definitely the best family friendly option.

The Pool Beach Villa 

The first part of our stay was in the family villas on the beach which have their own private pools. Check out the official pictures of the Family Deluxe Beach Villa with pool by clicking here. This villa was literally like the dream vacation hideout for a family with small kids who adore the beach and the pool. You could literally just stay at your villa all day without getting bored. Our kids would not come out of the pool at all we had to bribe them out every time.

Our family beach villa was in a really perfect location on the island, very close to the sea with a breathtaking view to the picture perfect beach. We could see the ocean while sitting on our terrace, with the kids frolicking in the pool in front of us. Optionally we could sit on the beach chairs or our own beach cabana while the kids played with sand toys and swam in the ocean. You can even watch the kids in the pool from inside the villa. It’s as if the whole thing was planned keeping in mind the parents needs!

The beach pool villa is really perfect. I would highly recommend investing the extra money for this villa, especially if you’re looking for a holiday of just spending quality time with your family in full relaxation mode. The privacy at the villa is also superb for those seeking for a private area to swim with their kids. The few people we ever saw walking on the beach can’t view the pool thanks to the beach cabana built on a small hill which blocks the view nicely.

So the setup was perfect for families with small children you need to keep an eye on them all the time. There is also enough privacy from the surrounding villas thanks to the trees and bushes so all you see is your own little garden and the view to the sea. The beach villas have amazing enclosed backyards too, they have a swing, a jacuzzi, an outdoor rainwater shower and of course normal showers as well. The toiletries are provided from the luxury Thalgo spa. It’s like having your own private spa! The room itself was spacious and beautiful.  Two extra beds had been setup for the children and they had thought about every little detail we might need. Each villa is assigned their own butler and they help you with any requests you may have.

The Infinity Pool Water Villa

This was my first experience to stay on an overwater bungalow, I had always dreamed of staying on one of these when I go to Maldives. Overwater bungalows are something you can’t really do anywhere else in the world in the same way (maybe some remote Pacific Island like Bora Bora) so the Maldives is the best place in the world to get the overwater stay experience. We stayed in the gorgeous infinity pool water villa. Once we stepped in we were totally in awe. It’s even more amazing in person and the images just do it justice. Your own private hideout in paradise surrounded by the beautiful blue hues of the water.

The water villa was very spacious, with a master bedroom and separate living room which they’d converted into a kids bedroom for us. The kids bedroom even had a glass floor window they could watch fish directly from their beds! Everywhere you’d look the stunning turquoise water was there. The bathroom is like a small spa, a jacuzzi with views to the sea, a rainwater outdoor and indoor shower and a dressing room all in one large space. Robes and slippers were provided for the whole family.

The best part of the villa is of course the dock. They have placed walls so that people from the neighboring villas can’t see to your dock. It feels like you’re the only one there. Kids jumped straight into the pool but they didn’t want to get into the ocean. It was a windy day so they were intimidated by the waves. There’s also a strong current which will take everything to the right of the villa, which we discovered after one of the kids decided to throw our fins and snorkels into the ocean and I had to swim to fetch them. The kids spotted a pair of barracudas (the size of an adult) hanging out under our bungalow, so after this there wasn’t any chance the kids would’ve gotten in the water anymore :D

I’d recommend the overwater villas for families with older children to make the most out of it. For us it was a little bit stressful in the end to be constantly monitoring the kids movement on the dock. It’s just not designed for the needs of parents with small children, for example there’s a “blindspot” behind the other room on the dock where the kids went once and we couldn’t find them! It was a terrifying feeling when we suddenly didn’t see them anywhere and they didn’t reply when called. But all along the little rascals had been hiding behind the wall, with a bag of gummy bears they took without permission from the minibar :D

For couples the overwater villa would absolutely perfect though, the ultimate privacy, views and romantic setting. The stunning adults-only infinity pool is located right next to the dock which leads to the infinity pool water bungalows. For families with younger children, the pool villas located on the beach are the best choice! They’re also closer to the large family pool area.  I’m supper happy that I got to scratch the ‘Maldives overwater bungalow-stay’ off my bucket list, it’s a very special experience that I think should definitely be done once in the Maldives.

We were able to go snorkeling from our villa once when the kids were at the Kid’s Club. It was around the time the tide was coming in so the water was a little bit murky with shifting sand, but we saw a good amount of fish in the lagoon. The coral around this area was sadly mostly dead, you’d need to go further out to the reef to see more color and life. The snorkeling was better from the dive center where you can access the reef easily. The snorkeling equipment is provided free of charge from the diving center. 

The Restaurants

The Sun Siyam has 14 different restaurants and bars. The breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet is served at the large buffet restaurant Iru which is located in the center of the island. The best thing about this buffet setup is that they have thought out really well how to accommodate different types of guests there without anyone getting disturbed by the other. We saw solo travelers, honeymoon couples and families all dining there. Normally it would be a catastrophe for a honeymooner to find themselves dining among a bunch of toddlers but the great thing is that there’s actually an entire family section located on the other side of the restaurant!

In the family dining area they have a playground and the kids own buffet during lunch and dinner. This helps parents tremendously, we could actually enjoy meals (and even finish our food) while the kids played nearby. Plus you don’t have to take the kid to the main buffet area to run around because their food is right there.

The buffet restaurant had delicious dishes all made from the freshest ingredients (lots of organic stuff and specialty diets are covered!) and they change the theme every night. The kids loved the homemade organic ice cream which they could eat as much as they wanted after finishing their meals. They got to take it out from the ice cream machine themselves and there was a different flavor every day! It was a great motivation for them to finish their meals because they knew they could go to the ice cream machine afterwards ;)

The other restaurant we enjoyed dining at with the kids was the Islanders Grill located directly on the beach. While we waited for the food the kids could just walk around and hunt for hermit crabs and seashells so we didn’t have to worry about them disturbing anyone or not being able to sit still that long. I’d definitely recommend the beach restaurant as the best option for a la carte dining with the kids, they serve Maldivian cuisine and you can order fresh lobsters as well.

On a couple of occasions we used the resort nanny service which is charged per hourly rate basis. One of the employees from the kids club came over to our villa and watched the kids for a few hours so we could have a parents only dinner, which was such a luxury! To come all the way to this paradise island and not be able to have a romantic dinner at the beach would be such a waste. The kids really loved their babysitter Cecilia, they still ask about her and miss her. When we ate out just the two of us, we chose the restaurant Trio located over the water for the maximum romance factor.

Komas Kids Club

Having a kids club at your hotel is naturally on the top of the list for parents when choosing the best family friendly resort. The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi Kids Club Komas Kids Paradise was one of the best resort Kid’s Clubs I’ve seen yet. The facilities are located inside a large enclosed area where the kids have plenty of activities to choose from. The staff is so friendly and you can immediately see that they are people who take into consideration each child’s individual needs. We felt very comfortable leaving the kids there daily for a few hours. Especially the hours when it gets too hot and sunny to hang out in the beach or in pool, the kids club offers a great break for kids (and adults lol).

You can drop off your kids (4 years and up) there for as long as you like free of charge. The Kids club opens at 10 am and closes 6 pm daily. There are professional people working there and they even have their own little kiddy pool so you can leave the kids swimsuits in a bag with them and the staff will help change them. There’s also a outdoor climbing and soft play area, a library/ TV room, a play room with role play outfits, play kitchens, games and toys for all ages. A nap and quite room for kids to rest in. They have a menu there so the staff can order food for the kids as according to parents instructions.

In the afternoon they take the kids to the Ice Cream shop La Cremeria by the beach for their daily scoop of complimentary ice cream. The Kids Club has daily activity schedules and arts and crafts they do something different daily. Our kids could not wait to go there each day! That already tells how much they actually enjoyed it, instead of feeling they were just ” dumped” there for the parents convenience. It’s great for parents to get this few hours break each day and enjoy reading a book, snorkeling or whatever activity or inactivity you chose.

Watersports and Activities 

Speaking of activities, what I loved about the Sun Siyam is that you can make your stay there as active or inactive as you want. For those into water sports, the resort offers you complimentary non motorized water-sports, and you can borrow snorkelling equipment for your stay too. The kids club will lend you some sand play toys for your stay too, which I wish we had known because we bought very pricey sand toy kit from the resort shop on the first day. Having the sand play toys keeps the kids busy for hours so for us it’s like a necessity. The other water sports they have are banana boats, paddle boats,  jet skiis, the new flyboard and many different types of activities to chose from! In case you want to do something out of the sun there’s an air-conditioned game house with billiards and other games. You can also take a walking tour of the island, it’s like a tropical paradise inside the island.

Other activities you can do at Sun Siyam is participate in the various trips they offer, we went on the Sunset fishing trip and it was a lot of fun, especially since my kids are slightly obsessed with fishing! Everyone caught a fish and some of the guests who caught large enough fish even had their own catches grilled and made for dinner for them.

My husband wanted me to add that he did also catch a fish big enough for grilling. The only problem is we only got the head and the rest of it had been eaten by barracuda on its way up!

Sun Siyam also have their own diving center where you can take courses and dive on the house reef or do diving trips to further locations which I’d definitely recommend. The lagoon water was surprisingly slightly murky in the area in front our beach villa, and there wasn’t much coral around. I’m not sure why this was the case but we did see a boat nearby that we were told was “making sand” (from the looks of it probably by crushing larger rocks /coral) and it caused the water on this side of the island to be less clear as we saw on the opposite side.

The snorkeling was still great, at least my husband who is not very experienced in snorkeling found it amazing and had no complaints. We saw huge barracudas, angel fish, batfish and other reef fish just outside our water villa. Ive been a scuba diver for almost 20 years and admittedly I might be somewhat spoiled as a diver. From my expectations and experience, the resort lagoon and reef was a bit of a disappointment in terms of visibility and coral. Don’t take me wrong it’s not bad at all, but I’d highly recommend taking the dive and snorkeling excursions out to other diving sites if you’re very into diving. If you’re looking for a resort specifically aimed at divers, opt for the Sun Siyam Aqua Vilu Reef resort which is all about the amazing house reef.

Thalgo Spa 

The Sun Siyam also has a spa which we visited for a family massage! It was actually a surprisingly nice experience. I had not expected my kids to be able to settle in and stay still for that long and let themselves be massaged. But they actually did and I didn’t hear a peep for an entire hour!  The spa staff had planned it initially so that the children would be in one spa treatment hut and us parents in the other but the kids got nervous about it, which is understandable because they had no idea what a “massage” would be like since they never had one. (Our kids were 4 and 6 at the time). So we ended up doing mommy and daughter and daddy and son massages. We were all so relaxed and ready for bed after the massages. I had a hot stone massage which did wonders to my tense back muscles. The kids had chocolate massages and they still talk about that time they were covered in chocolate. The spa itself is so tranquil and serene, you will feel like you’re the only person there it’s really well designed for privacy and ambiance.

The Thalgo spa staff is absolutely lovely and friendly and they seemed to genuinely love to treat the clients big and small! I went a second time with my daughter for a mommy and daughter mani-pedi. My daughter was so stoked about her nails (she chose a different color for each nail) that she wouldn’t put her hands down for many hours after the treatment in fear of ruining the nails! It was so funny to watch and a very memorable experience for her, that time she got to come to the spa with mom.

Our favorite part of the stay was probably just hanging out at our own beach villa and pool, spending quality time together as a family. We did visit the family pool one day and it was awesome too. There’s a shallow area that has been sectioned out for the smallest swimmers, and beautifully landscaped pool built with the same black lava stone as the villa pools. The kids were obsessed by the little white stones which line the pool, they would drop them on the bottom and go find them. They’d do this for hours on end! Which was nice for the parents :) Another great thing about the family pool, there’s an Indian restaurant and a poolbar.

This is another very smart solution from the resort, they opted for two separate pools, an adults-only infinity pool by the ocean and a family pool with waterfalls, bridges and a shallow kiddy area in the tropical garden. This means adults and those honeymooners can enjoy the zen sunset view pool in peace and quiet while the families can splash and play in the family pool without having to worry about disturbing other guests. Perfect solution for everyone.

So is Maldives worth it? I would say most definitely YES, especially if you always wanted to experience the Maldives and go there with your kids, the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi is the best resort to choose for families with children. Kids under 12 stay for free at Sun Siyam Iru Fushi and they even dine for free at the restaurants when eating with parents.

 

Flight on Saudia

The Saudi Airlines direct flights are great if you’re short on time and want to save money (our flights were just 1700 SAR return per person). The Saudia direct flight is a good option if you want to reach an exotic paradise island from Saudi Arabia without having to deal with the change of flights, especially important point for parents traveling with small kids!

One thing to note with the Saudi airlines flight, it’s actually a connecting service to Sri Lanka (we only realized this on the plane when the pilot announced it). So this means the flight will most likely be full of people on their way back from Makkah (Umrah & Hajj pilgrims) especially if you fly around the times of Ramadan Hajj, obviously.

What’s noteworthy regarding Hajj and Umrah pilgrims is people often catch all sorts of communicable diseases on Hajj, which is perfectly normal anywhere in the world where millions of people congregate, but not something you necessarily want to face whilst in a small shared airspace with hundreds of people who got sick.

We were really concerned once we noticed that most of the people on our flight had a really, really bad sounding cough. Not some little sniffles or a common cold, but I’m talking about a dreadful, MERS sounding cough and they all kept coughing like NON STOP. The last thing you want just before your much awaited Maldives dream vacation would be a virus which has the potential to leave you bedridden for a week. Thank god we all managed not to catch whatever the group had. Just make sure to take care of hand hygiene especially after using any public toilets and touching door handles!

The other consideration for taking this flight is that most of the pilgrims are often on organized trips by agencies, who will book up the seats on the plane beforehand. We tried to check in as early as possible but despite that we didn’t find any seats next to each other! Which is of course a concern when traveling with two small kids. Luckily on the plane the flight attendants arranged our seats so we managed to get two and two together. So make sure to secure your seat selection when doing the booking.

Another thing that really annoyed me on the Saudi airlines flight is that their entertainment system was not working during our entire flight. With two kids who can’t wait to watch a movie on the plane, yeah that would be really crappy realization. 5 hours is a long time with kids on a plane. Plus the added one hour waiting at Riyadh inside the aircraft for the flight to take off made it a 6 hour flight. It was a morning flight so there’s no chance the kids would sleep. Anyways our kids are frequent flyers and the flight went like a breeze. For kids not used to air travel it might be a different story.

If these would’ve been the only problems we had during our Saudi airlines experience I probably would not even bother to mention it, but on the way back things got really interesting when at check in desk the staff first refused to let my husband on the plane in shorts (he was allowed on the exact same shorts when GOING to Maldives from Riyadh), and we had to get our already checked in luggage back so he could change. They also looked me up and down (my arms and legs were fully covered) and said I had to cover with abaya at the check in desk, in Male. The staff was so rude and completely ignorant of the fact that abayas are not even required at the arrivals in Saudi Arabia. Despite that I usually put mine on in the plane before disembarking anyway.

Edit August 2017: Saudi Airlines announced its ban on shorts and sleeveless shirts in their aircrafts. So make sure to cover up!

In our case it was really a disaster with the already at this point very exhausted kids to have an additional half hour just standing there at check in desk for the sake of the shorts. All the hassle actually made us so late we barely made our flight! On the plane we realized that AGAIN the entertainment system did not work on any of the monitors. As usual, they also had run out of chicken option on the flight and thanks to this the kids got meals they refused to eat. Because the staff at check in had made us so late, we had zero time to shop for souvenirs or “emergency snacks” as I call them for the kids to have on the flight.

These might sound like small details to forget and indeed they are and have long been forgotten. But at the moment when you’re experiencing all of it with those two kids, you just really wish for the airline’s service to go smoothly and at minimum for the services promised to be available. Not only for the comfort of yourself and kids, but actually for the sake of everyone on the flight!

Side note: I’m really tired of reading all these cranky people complaining online about how kids act badly on airlines, when sometimes they have no clue what the background of a whining child might be. To those people I just want to say- do consider that the crappy service of the airline might be contributing to a child behaving “badly” (also known as an over-tired, hungry or otherwise uncomfortable kid). Even though MOST parents (sadly not all) do EVERYTHING humanely possible to contain, calm down and keep their kids as quite and happy as possible, sometimes unexpected things happen and some things are simply out of control no matter how much parents prepare.

So what I suggest is that if the above mentioned factors will most likely ruin part of your holiday experience, you’re probably better off flying with Emirates or Etihad (or Qatar Airways if they lift the ban) with the added one stop.

Sun Siyam resorts

As for the destination, I’d say we would absolutely return to Sun Siyam resorts, and especially to the Iru Fushi if I were with my kids. The service is so excellent we would not hesitate to go to the same place again, even though I hardly ever do this as a frequent traveler.

As a diver I would love to try out Sun Siyam’s Aqua Vilu Reef resort. If I had the chance to go with my husband only or in a group of friends I’d try the Sun Siyam Olhuveli resort. At all times in the resort we felt welcome, at home and completely relaxed. The main worry of the day consisted of what and where are we going to eat today? Which is not at all a bad worry to have.

For parents, it’s really the best option in terms of the offers they have periodically for families, the free meals for kids, kids stay for free and the way the entire island is designed to cater for the families with the children.

I’m sure all parents had this feeling at some point, when you went to a hotel pool or restaurant and felt you’re bothering the other guests that don’t have kids. We didn’t get this feeling at Sun Siyam and that really makes such a big difference because you can completely relax knowing you’re not being a nuisance. I actually cannot remember ever having such a carefree attitude to how my kids were behaving at any hotel ever! No wonder they have won several awards for being family friendly!

For the kids this was really like a dream vacation. What our kids love doing most- swimming, fishing, searching for seashells and crabs on the beach. Eating unlimited amounts ice cream and yummy foods. Spending quality time with mom and dad. That sounds like paradise to me :)

To book your stay at the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi I highly recommend you book directly from their site www.sunsiyam.com and check their special offers. Look out for the meal plan upgrades which are of great value! The Sun Siyam resorts offer luxury accommodation with a more affordable price. For example the beach villas start at 297 dollars per night on the bed and breakfast basis which is a really awesome deal for the Maldives!

As for the meal plans I highly recommend going for the all inclusive option. We normally like to stay on half board basis at hotels so we have that one meal as optional in case we don’t feel very hungry and would not eat lunch anyway. But we noticed after the first day it would’ve been more economical to take the all-inclusive, mainly because the additional drinks itself became very costly (if you’re going to drink anything other than water which is complimentary) and our kids just became super hungry by lunch time and we had to order food for ourselves in order for the kids to eat free. So in the end we ended up spending much more on food and drinks than we had planned. You can expect to spend about 30- 80 dollars per person per dish plus drinks, so one extra meal for the entire family of four (assuming you’d want appetizers/ desserts) could end up costing almost 200 dollars. Then times that by two for lunch and dinner. A glass of wine would cost around 14 dollars and a beer is 8 dollars. Adding everything up and you’ll go over the price of the all-inclusive, which is 520 dollars per night in the beach villas. This is a very common price range in the Maldives, they say you pay extra for the special location.

 

How to get there:

From Riyadh:

Saudi Airlines direct flights to Male (connections service to Colombo) twice a week.

Etihad, Emirates and Gulf air to Male.

Check out the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi Online Booking Offers

T: +960 656 0591
E: 
info@thesunsiyam.com

They have an awesome offer for Eid al Adha– up to 50% off and meal plan upgrades!

You can follow Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort on Twitter here and on Instagram here 

**Our accommodation on halfboard basis and seaplane transfers were provided by the Sun Siyam resort.

Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

Warning! This is a satirical article. Readers who do not understand what satire is are advised to stop reading, now. Reader discretion is advised for individuals suffering from the following syndromes: HOFI (Highly offended about everything Individual) EGNOH (Entitled ignorant with no sense of humor) and CRAP (Cranky Annoyed Person).


Dear Mr. President Trump,

I heard that you’re visiting us here in Saudi Arabia this coming weekend. I must say, great choice for your first visit abroad! I’m confident that great things are about to follow from the Arab American Islamic Summit in Riyadh. I have a feeling it’s going to be huge. Yuge.

Donald, I’m so glad you appreciate Saudi Arabia as a travel destination. That means we actually have something in common!  Have you been reading the Blue Abaya blog? I bet that you or your team have been around. If your team googled just about anything related to travel and tourism in Saudi Arabia, you’d get one of my articles on the top Google search.

For example, if you Google: Amazing Places in Saudi Arabia.

I know you appreciate people who work hard, I want to tell you that the success of this website and all the social media channels are the result of my 7 years of hard work. Btw, it’s not my style to be braggadocious, but I’ve been taking some notes from you.

Blue Abaya is Saudi Arabia’s first and most well known blog about tourism and travel in the Kingdom. Have a look around and you’ll be amazed at the terrific places I’ve been to in Saudi Arabia. Can you believe I’ve been to all corners of Saudi Arabia? (I’m from Finland originally, btw. If you want to read more about me you’ll find that here.)

Who would’ve thought there could be such tremendous beauty in a land which most of the outside world thinks is full of sand and rocks? We do have a couple of nice rocks too though, such as this one here:  We also have mountains, forests and terrific beaches like this one from the Farasan Islands

Can you tell I could go on and on about places to visit in Saudi Arabia?

But enough about me, let’s talk about you Donald and America. I’ve noticed that a lot of your fellow countrymen, (I suspect they’re mostly your voters) don’t know much about the world outside the U.S.A. and certainly have no clue about what Saudi Arabia is really like. Ok they might know there’s oil. Camels. Some sand. And that women can’t drive. But that’s probably mostly it. So what a terrific opportunity this is to educate your people by visiting Saudi Arabia. Very smart move Donald!

I’ve checked your schedule in Riyadh and was happy to notice you’re visiting the National Museum (I’ve written a short guide to the museum if you need a quick briefing find it here: Guide to Riyadh’s National Museum.) You’ll learn a lot at the amazing museum about the rich history of the Arabian peninsula. The nearby Murabba palace and King Abdulaziz Historical Center are just great too, make sure to check out the traditional Saudi doors there. Wonderful isn’t it?

Donald, I’ve heard you hate reading long memos. So for your convenience, I’ve drafted a quick KSA check list for you.

As a bonus I’ve included what to pack for your Saudi trip so that you’ll absolutely feel like you’re winning!

DONALD’S SAUDI ESSENTIALS (WHAT YOU NEED):

Baby wipes. I’ve noticed you have a hard time in the heat, well here in Riyadh we’re currently at about + 42c ( about 120 F). So once you step out of the Air-force One, you’ll get this experience of stepping into a convection oven. You know the kind that blows hot air around. With baby-wipes at hand you’ll totally feel like you’re winning.  Some other fun stuff that happens in Saudi when summer rolls around find out here.

self tanning cream. Not sure how often you use this, but let me just mention that we have no self-tanning creams available in Saudi Arabia. You’ll only find whitening creams cuz you know, people are born with perfect tans around here. Imagine if you accidentally used whitening cream! What a disaster that would be.

swimsuit. (For you, not Melania or Ivanka). There’s a outrageously beautiful pool at the Ritz Carlton where you’ll be visiting. Unfortunately in KSA, women are not allowed to swim in the public hotel pools, not even in burkinis. Sometimes they won’t even allow us to sit near the pool while we watch our children and the men swimming. Can you believe that? Me either.

hats. This is for Melania and Ivanka. Don’t take headscarves. Wear hats. You know how the western media is obsessed with how women dress. Yes we have that here in Saudi as well. The “fake media” will be doing a piece on what the women in your family will be / will not be wearing. They will obviously not give a crap what you wear since you’re a man, (unless you put your ‘Make America Great Again’ cap on) however, having the gals wear hats will really mess with the fake news reporters heads. I know you enjoy messing with them, so here’s your chance.
When Angela Merkel visited us a few weeks back in Saudi Arabia, her visit was reduced to a headscarf by the fake media. It was reported as “breaking news” by the Independent that she arrived in KSA without a headscarf. I know, it’s terrible. Sad!

Important side note for the fake news reporters!

Headscarves are not required for foreign women in KSA. Only abayas are mandatory for everyone. If you don’t know what an abaya is, have a look here. If you think a foreign head of state not wearing a headscarf will somehow have an impact on the status of Saudi women, you are wrong, Very wrong. Saudi women do not give a camel’s ass about your choices, nor does it affect their lives in any way.

I just realized that’s another thing we have in common Donald, the problems with the terrible fake media. I just happened to stumble upon another Saudi fake news site that has stolen my image. Unfortunately there are no ethics or morals in this area when it comes to reporting and “borrowing” people’s ideas. Just check what I found on Arab News today:Looks familiar right? Just to remind you if you already forgot, this is my photo from Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia. They just removed my watermark and stole also my post title. I bet even your favorite American “fake media” New York Times aren’t as bad as these guys. This is not the first time either, or the only so called newspaper that does this. Sad!

DONALD HERE IS WHAT YOU DON’T NEED

driver’s license. None of your family members will need it. I know how much you HATE not being able to drive anymore, now that you’re President and this basic human right was taken away from you. It sucks doesn’t it? Another thing we have in common! So now that you’re quite literally in the shoes of women in Saudi Arabia, you’re in a very unique position to empathize. It might be a great idea to mention in your speech how awful it is not being able to drive yourself! It’s terrible. It’s a disaster.

Side note to your daughter Ivanka: her being all about #womenwhowork and equal right’s for women, Ivanka might be interested in the plight of Saudi women to get their equal rights.

FACT: Women employment levels are very low in KSA because women literally can’t commute to their workplaces. Saudi women are very highly educated (even more so than their male counterparts). Not being able to drive is literally preventing thousands of women from working.

Donald here’s a pro tip for you. Don’t be fooled by the statements “Saudi society is not ready for women driving”, which you will undoubtedly hear during your visit. These are alternative facts. Saudi Society is ready. Bigly. They only need a royal decree to lift the ban. Hint hint.

walls. Here in KSA we already have lots of walls, they segregate the two genders everywhere in public places. If you go to Starbucks, you’ll see a popup wall that divides people by gender into two lines. You could give some wall building tips to Saudis though, we know how you build the best walls in the world.

Donald I’m happy to inform you that your arrival has been prepared for even more bigly than when Obama was in Riyadh. There are about 57,295 American flags all over Riyadh (compared to 31,748 flags for Obama) and your face next to King Salman’s along with the slogan “Together we prevail” -posters have been set up all over the city.

I can almost guarantee there will be more people effected by your arrival to Riyadh than there were present at your historical inauguration. How awesome is that?

Welcome to Saudi Arabia Donald Trump!

Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

You know summer has arrived in Saudi Arabia when..

-the second you step outside you feel as if you’ve walked into a convection oven.

-you at the same time dread and wish for a gush of wind or even a breeze

-that gush of wind feels like someone is blasting the hairdryer on your face on full heat

-you take the sheets out to dry in the sun and after five minutes they have dried into something resembling crispy potato chips

-the kiddy pool you have outside has reached scalding temperatures

-a minimum of 10 giant bags of ice needs to be dumped into the kiddy pool in order to make it safe to touch the water

-you discover swimming goggles and inflatables melt into plastic lumps if forgotten in the sun.

-when all the trees and bushes in the desert have become brown and the camels have stopped eating them due to burnt taste

-camel hair turns black from burning in the sun

-you can cook eggs on the car hood

-the car door handle is so hot you need to open it with the sleeve of your abaya

-you are thankful for the abaya that protects from second degree burns when you enter the car now turned sauna and sit on the leather benches

-you leave the house in your bikinis, under the abaya

-all movement in the city stops from noon to 4 p.m

-most Saudis hide indoors until 8 pm.

-the bag of ice you placed on your head has melted after 5 minutes.

-the Saudis finally think it’s warm enough to swim in the pool but you think it has turned into a hot tub

-when your sunglasses turn foggy the minute you step out

-your face looks like a cooked tomato after about 20 seconds spent outside

-the water coming from the water tank is almost boiling hot and you can say your goodbyes to cold showers

-to get luke warm water you must turn the hot water boiler off and use that for “cold” water

-in order to have a “cool” shower you must wake up at 4 am

-the outside temperature doesn’t drop below 40c even in the night


-that Bebsi cola you left in the sun for 10 minutes has started boiling

-that book you read outside has melted and all the pages dropped off

-your cats scream and run back inside in panic after touching the scorching hot ground.

-your dog refuses to walk outside in the daytime.

-you discover that outdoor candles can handle fire, but not the Saudi sun!

Check out these funny comparisons between the Finnish and Saudi weather extremes and how to survive them!

Finnish- Saudi Temperature Extremes Chart 

Saudis and Finns- The Ultimate Weather Survivors 

Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!

Ever dreamed of surfing in Saudi Arabia? Is it even possible to surf (on the water) in Saudi? It sure is, and if you read on to the end of this post you’ll find “Saudi surfing expert” Mart Howell’s recommendations for the best places to surf in Saudi Arabia and where to get your gear from.

Whether it be on the sea, sand or roads, there is one go- to person I think of whenever I have a question about something surfing-related in Saudi Arabia. A few months back I was looking for the perfect sand-boarding device and thought of asking my friend Mart about his recommendations. We’d already tried the sand boards they sell in some of the camping stores, but they weren’t actually sliding very well.  I had an idea to test out a bodyboard on sand dunes, and after discussing with Mart I was convinced it will be the perfect device for kids to go to “pulkkamäki” (downhill sleigh-riding) with. But were to find surfboards in Riyadh? Turns out I managed to find a bodyboard in Riyadh with the help of some friends, and I can confirm it worked! A little bit too well, the board is so slippery it literally flies down a steep dune.

The following is a write up by Mart Howell, a blogger, surfing enthusiast, writer and teacher residing in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. His blog A Saudi Season was featured in Blue Abaya’s 2016 list of recommended blogs in Saudi Arabia. 

Mart’s Story:
Like so many expatriates that have gone before me, I arrived in Riyadh with fairly negative preconceptions about the environment, people, and prospects for fun in such a closed country. In contrast to most expats, my main concern wasn’t the non-existence of pubs and clubs, segregation of sexes, or fear of terrorism. Rather it was waking up to the reality of being trapped hundreds of miles away from the coast with zero prospects for continuing the life of a surfer.

You see I had spent many of the preceding years pursuing the surf dream in scores of tropical locations, and this was the first time in my life that I would be further than one hour away from a surfable beach. Creeping financial pressures had forced my acceptance of a one-year English teaching contract anywhere in the Kingdom, and now my life was in the hands of a dubious contracting company.
After just six weeks in Riyadh a twist of fate found me onboard a Saudia jet bound for the northern provinces. As the plane descended towards Al Jouf, sweeping views over miles upon miles of golden dunes gave rise to the idea of sliding Arabia. The following morning a close-up inspection revealed a host of gentle and steep dunes, that appeared perfect for boarding, less than 1 kilometre from the university campus.

The question remained how to become a sand surfer in a country without extreme sports shops. A month later, with the help of a Filipino carpenter, an American teacher and I shaped our first sand boards. We had scoured the internet for a suitable board design and sourced all materials from hardware outlets at the edge of the desert. Sand boarding became my form of big wave surfing. There was air from impromptu ramps. There were big drops and turns on steep faces. I waxed. not the top of the board, but the bottom, to go faster. In the most unlikely place, I was able to continue my love of surfing.

Life as a sand boarder imitated my surfer’s lifestyle in so many ways: travelling became partly about finding new, bigger, longer dunes, teaching English was quickly overshadowed by weekend informal boarding lessons for a troupe of Saudi kids who became my proteges, and upon departure a dozen boards and candle wax were left behind for the next generation of sand surfers.
My negative preconceptions had been completely shattered in a year of extraordinary experiences: warm, friendly locals invited me for frequent feasts in their tents at the edge of the desert, young kids embraced the joy of the glide and proved Arabs love surfing too, and unforgettable scenery in mountainous Tabuk province surpassed all expectations. That was over four years ago now, but the overwhelmingly positive experience inspired an eventual return to Saudi. Twenty months ago a direct-hire teaching position was advertised in a small city in the far north-eastern provinces. An inside contact persuaded management to hire me two months later, partly due to previous experience in a rural Saudi location. Hitting the ground felt like a homecoming: prices, products, people, driving all the same. The only difference was the board which accompanied me on the plane. Pre-departure internet research revealed winter storms regularly whip up swells up to three meters high in the Arabian Gulf. Google maps showed the city had both north and south-facing beaches, so if the wind blew hard enough waves seemed inevitable. It was enough to convince me to pack a wide, thick fish-style surfboard along with the smart shirts, ties, and newly purchased shoes.
Two weeks later and the waves of the north-eastern provinces were no longer virgin surf territory. It was a surreal experience paddling out at a beach where seemingly no one had gone before me. The mosque-strewn backdrop and bellowing call to prayer reminded me this was a far from normal surfing experience.

Over the next year I quickly became an expert on how to predict the arrival of waves in a country where no one really surfs. I learnt that around once a week the wind blows hard enough to produce rideable waves in the winter months. Fast forward to today and my six-year old son and I are regulars at a host of different surf spots in NE Saudi. The nearest documented surfers live over the border in Kuwait City and in Dubai, UAE. A year ago I connected with an Australian-based Saudi surfer, Mohammed Kurdi, on Facebook and introduced him to the remarkable waves in his homeland. A few years before he had surfed tiny days inside an Aramco compound in Dammam area, but reflected that the discovery of real surf inside the Kingdom was more exciting than any oil well he’d been involved in finding.

Of course Saudi isn’t a year-round surfing destination. The stifling heat of the summer months, and reduced strength of the breeze, turns the Arabian Gulf into a hot millpond. On the frequent flat days my son and I ride ripstiks, two-wheeled skateboards, which allow us to land surf along the beautiful corniche and other smoother surfaced roads near the grand mosque. Skateboards of any kind aren’t available in the city, and seem rare across the whole country. Like sand and sea surfing, land surfing will find you stand out against the local crowd, but it’s a whole lot more fun than drifting a 4×4 and it keeps you super fit too.

There is little doubt that the availability of these three pursuits has livened up my Saudi life and prolonged my stay to one of semi-permanence. If you want to follow in my footsteps then read the below guide to land, sea, and sand surfing in the Kingdom. It might not be easy to surf here, but rewards are out there if you have enough passion, commitment, and drive to turn a dream into a day-to-day reality.

Sand surfing

Best spots: (i) Al Nafud desert, Northern Provinces near Sakakah, you’ll find heaps of perfectly rideable sand dunes. Not that long, but the range of slopes makes this a beginners paradise. (ii) Al Ula, Western Province, has a range of slopes worth exploring with dramatic mountain backdrops (iii) Red Dunes, near Riyadh, are the ideal getaway from the big city. (iv) Haql, Northern Provinces, is an incredibly beautiful area with long sand dunes right on the beach overlooking Egypt (v) Empty Quarter desert, the ultimate sand dunes in the south of Saudi, but you’ll need a reliable guide.
Equipment: High quality sand boards are available to buy in Dubai for around US$100. Alternatively, go online and design and make one yourself or get a carpenter to help you. You’ll need wax too, to put on the metallic bottom of the board to reduce friction and allow the board to slide.

Sea surfing

Best spots: (i) Ras Tanura area, Eastern Provinces. Look for beaches exposed to frequent winter northerly swells when the Shamal wind blows out of Iraq (ii) Safaniya area, North Eastern Provinces. Look for accessible south-facing beaches between Safaniya and the Kuwait border. These beaches pick up south-easterly swells building between the Emirates and Saudi and offer the biggest waves in the country. (iii) Red Sea has possibilities too. Keep on eye on the weather forecast and head to the beach when the wind is blowing hard for a day or two.
Tide & forecast: (i) Best tide for Eastern Province surfing is high tide, when the waves get a bit bigger and more powerful. Swells rise and fall quickly in the Arabian Gulf, so you have to time your surf well if you want to ride the best waves. On extreme low tides the waves will drop to nothing, but as the tide rolls in waves can appear for a few hours. (ii) For a surf forecast and tide check click on this link https://www.tide- forecast.com/locations/Ras-al- Khafji-Saudi-Arabia/forecasts/ latest/six_day
Equipment: High quality surf boards are available to buy in Dubai for around US$600. Alternatively go to Bali and buy a good board for around US$400. To get the most out of the waves in the Kingdom you really need a long board or a thick, wide fish. It rarely gets bigger than chest high, so a 9′ long board will find you catching far more waves than a standard short board.

Land surfing

Best spots: Anywhere where the concrete is smooth, and ideally tilting downwards for a more thrilling ride
Equipment: Purchase online or once again head to Dubai to pick up a ripstik, skateboard or long skateboard.

More Information

I’ve been blogging about Saudi life for four years now, so please check my blog http://saudi-season. blogspot.co.uk/ which was recently included in Blue Abaya’s Top 20 Blogs in the Kingdom. It includes detailed pages on surfing and teaching in Saudi Arabia, and offers a glimpse into my day to day life too.
Finally, please watch my latest short film,”Saudi Rips“, in which my six year-old son shows off his growing skills on land and in the sea. Through his eyes Saudi rips, an expression of positivity in surf and skate circles, how about through yours? If you’re not getting enough out of your Saudi life then take steps to change it.

Hello there, I'm Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I've been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008. Connect with me on social media with the links below!