Mysterious, remote and undiscovered, Madain Saleh is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula.
The historic name of Mada’in Saleh is Hegra, or al-Hijr in Arabic. Madain Saleh is located in Al Ula, in the Hijaz region of western Saudi Arabia, some 300 kms north of Medina and 500 kms south-east of its sister city, Petra in Jordan.
In this comprehensive guide you can read in detail about Madain Saleh’s history, learn in depth knowledge about the different types of tombs and fascinating areas that can be found in Madain Saleh, Saudi Arabia’s mysterious desert city.
THE HISTORY OF MADAIN SALEH
Historically, Hegra had a lucrative position in the desert with an underground water supply that permitted agriculture, which in turn made it one of several indispensable stops along the incense trade route from Yemen to the Levant. This strategic location brought a certain wealth to its inhabitants, and with it, a number of passing kingdoms and civilisations since early history. It began in the 3rd millennium BCE with the tribe of Thamud, infamous in Islam for rejecting the calls to worship the one and only God by their prophet Saleh. It is from this very prophet that Hegra’s modern name, Mada’in Saleh which means “Cities” of Saleh, was derived.
The Dedanites and Lihyanites were other tribes who settled in the area in the 6th – 4th centuries BCE, followed by the Nabataeans in the 1st century BCE. The latter made Hegra their second capital city in case their main capital, Petra in today’s Jordan, was threatened by the Romans. Hegra’s golden age thus ensued and for the next century, while the city flourished, its inhabitants carved rock-cut tombs similar in style to those found in Petra.
The Roman threat did finally materialise in 106 CE when the entire Nabataean kingdom and its civilisation, including Hegra, were usurped by the Roman Empire. The city’s decline, however, had already begun when, in 70 CE, King Rabbel II transferred the Nabataean capital from Petra to Bosra in modern day Syria, rather than Hegra. Although Hegra continued to exist for at least another century after the Roman takeover, it later mysteriously disappeared from history, only leaving behind its many magnificent rock-cut tombs as a reminder of a glorious civilisation.
These tombs, coupled with a fun desert adventure and visits to the many other historical sites in nearby al-Ula, make Madain Saleh the most remarkable place to visit in all of Arabia. Its importance has led the UNESCO finally to list it as a World Heritage Site in 2008.
The vast area of Mada’in Saleh (Jan 2011)
MADAIN SALEH OVERVIEW
The Madain Saleh archaeological site covers a vast area. It is entered by car either from the south or from the north next to the Ottoman-period Hijaz Railway station, and both entrances join an unpaved road that loops around the whole site, making a few detours along the way. The ruins of the town of Hegra itself, where the Nabataean inhabitants once lived, is located at the centre of the site, but is currently under excavation in two distinct fenced-off areas.
Otherwise, nearly all of the visible ruins are in the form of rock-cut tombs, 131 in total, carved mostly in the first century CE, but only 86 come with a monumental façade. Though a few are isolated, these tombs were typically carved in clusters around the perimeters of large rock outcrops scattered around the site.
They are divided into seven areas (A to G), plus one additional mountain (Jebel Ithlib) used for religious rituals. In addition, there are more than 100 ancient Nabataean wells spread out across the site, and the dismantled Hijaz Railway Station, the aforementioned late Ottoman-period construction associated with Lawrence of Arabia.
The most famous tomb and iconic symbol for Madain Saleh is the tomb Qasr Al Farid, “the lonely Palace”. Photo: Laura Alho
At first glance, the tombs in Madain Saleh may all appear to be the same, but upon a closer look, the variety in styles and sizes becomes noticeable. The smallest carved façade is tomb N°3 (Jebel al-Mahjar Group), measuring under 3 by 2 metres, while the largest finished façade is Qasr al-Farid (N°110), measuring nearly 22 by 14 metres.
Some of the differences in architectural styles are quite obvious, but others require a sharp eye and some basic understanding of architecture to distinguish between them. With the exception of the signature Nabatean column capitals, Hegra’s funerary architecture exhibits strong borrowings from nearby civilisations, including features from Egyptian, Assyrian, and Hellenistic styles, and anyone who has visited Petra in Jordan would immediately recognise the similarities in architecture.
The signature Nabataean capital on Tomb N°93, Jebel Khraymat (Oct 2017)
There are eight main stylistic categories in Hegra:
#1 Madain Saleh Simple burial chamber:
This type of tomb is a simple burial chamber devoid of any ornamentation. It was used by poorer inhabitants of Hegra who could not afford more lavish tombs. There are over 40 such tombs in Hegra.
Simple Burial Chamber, Tomb N°106, as-Saneh Group (Jan 2011)
#2 Madain Saleh Single Row of Merlons:
This style is the simplest of the monumental façades in Hegra. It consists primarily of a single row of merlons at the top of the façade, but some additional decorative features may be used in some cases. These may be in the form of two large pilasters to support the row of merlons, a pediment and pilasters to frame the entrance, or statues above the doorway to honour a deity. Twelve tombs in Hegra are attributed to this style.
Single Row of Merlons Style, Tomb N°37 (Lion Tomb), al-Bint Group (Oct 2017)
#3 Madain Saleh Arched tomb:
Only one tomb in Hegra follows this style, Tomb N°92. It is a small façade consisting of a single arch over the doorway resting on two pilasters and topped by three urns.
The Arched Style, Tomb N°92, Jebel Khraymat (Jan 2011)
Arched style tomb in Madain Saleh. Photo: Laura Alho
#4 Madain Saleh Double Row of Merlons style:
This style consists of a double row of merlons at the top of the façade. Other features, such as pilasters, or face sculptures are added in some cases. In total, 14 tombs in Hegra follow this style.
Double Row of Merlons Style, Tomb N°75, Jebel Khraymat (Jan 2011)
#5 Madain Saleh Half-Merlons style:
Eight tombs were carved in this rather simple style. It consists of two large half-merlons arranged symmetrically at the top of the façade, resting over an Egyptian-style cornice. No pilasters or other entablature is used, but in some cases, the entrance may be framed. The half-merlons at the top create a five-step design that is the signature feature of most Nabataean tombs. Some speculate that the five steps – never more, never less – represent the five major Nabatean deities, including Dúshara.
Half Merlon Style, Tomb N°10, Jebel al-Mahjar (Jan 2011)
#6 Madain Saleh Proto-Hegra 1 Style:
This is the first of three styles that are the trademark of grand tomb façades in Hegra and is the most widely used. It is crowned by two large symmetric half-merlons surmounted on an Egyptian style cornice and an architrave resting on two large pilasters, often with Nabataean capitals. The doorway may at times be framed by an aedicule consisting of a triangular or arched pediment. In total, 24 façades in Hegra follow this style.
Proto Hegra 1 Style, Tomb N°113, Jebel al-Ahmar (Jan 2011)
#7 Madain Saleh Proto-Hegra 2 Style:
It is nearly identical to Proto-Hegra 1 style, except for one minor detail. The entablature below the large half-merlons is wider, consisting of an Egyptian-style cornice, an undecorated frieze and an architrave. The frieze is the extra feature in Proto-Hegra 2. Twelve façades in total were carved in this style.
Proto Hegra 2 Style, Tomb N°42, al-Bint Group (Oct 2017)
#8 The Hegra (MADAIN SALEH) Style:
This is the ultimate design in Hegra, thus dubbed the Hegra Style. It is similar to the two Proto-Hegra styles, except that it includes a second entablature above the two pilasters flanking the façade. The grandest tombs in Hegra follow this style, including several in Qasr al-Bint Group (e.g. N°21, N°22, and N°44) and Qasr al-Farid (N°110). The latter, though, is unique in that its façade contains four pilasters instead of two. In total, 14 tombs follow this style, though not all of them are particularly large.
The Hegra Style, Tomb N°20, al-Bint Group (Oct 2017)
As many as 38 of the tombs in Hegra contain a dedicatory plaque with carved inscriptions in the Nabataean alphabet, a precursor to Arabic. These inscriptions are legal in nature and often state the date the tomb was completed, the name of its sculptor and the family or person to whom it belonged, and sometimes also describe the punishment or requirement for anyone else who uses the tomb.
THE TOMBS IN MADAIN SALEH
Hegra’s plaques date the tombs to the period between 1 BCE and 75 CE, usually stated as the year of the reign of a specific king. They have shed important light on the life and practices of Nabataeans in general and brought to life the cosmopolitan nature of Hegra’s population, and have thus been tremendously valued by archaeologists, in particular because Petra (in Jordan) by comparison has only one such inscription! Many of the other façades in Hegra contain a space for a plaque but no inscription, which led some archaeologists to believe that wooden tablets with inscriptions may have been inserted in that space.
Nabataean Inscription on Tomb N°93, Jebel Khraymat (Jan 2011)
As-Saneh Tomb group
Upon entering Madain Saleh from the southern entrance, one first encounters a group of tombs known as as-Saneh Group, numbered 102 to 108 and designated as Area G. It consists of only seven tombs across two rock outcrops flanking the unpaved road: the first has a single tomb with a large carved façade, known as Qasr as-Saneh (N°102), which gave the group its name, while the second contains the rest of the tombs in the form of simple unadorned burial chambers.
The façade of Qasr as-Saneh is one of the largest in Hegra, carved in the Hegra style, which consists of two symmetrical half-merlons over an Egyptian-style cornice and an entablature resting on two pilasters with Nabataean capitals. The entrance is framed by a triangular pediment on two pilasters, but lacks any statues or figures, and above it is an inscription dating the tomb to the 17th year of the reign of the Nabataean King Aretas IV Philopatris, thought to correspond to 8 CE. It also states that it was carved by the mason, Abd’haretat ibn Abd’obodat, for Malkion ibn Hephaestion and his family, whose name suggests a Hellenistic origin (ibn = son of).
Qasr as-Saneh, Tomb N°102 (Jan 2011)
East of as-Saneh Group, just south, south-east of the ancient urban centre of Hegra, Areas C and D are often grouped together. Area C is a single rock outcrop, known as Jebel al-Ahmar, with 19 tombs numbered 112 to 130 around its entire perimeter. Jebel al-Ahmar translates to the Red Mountain named so because of the faint red hues of its rocks. Its proximity to the residential settlement of Hegra meant it was a well-utilised necropolis with nearly all styles of tombs represented, but many badly eroded.
The most remarkable of these tombs are the twin tombs N°112 and N°113, carved on the southern side of the rock outcrop. They are very well preserved, except for the bottom part, which was probably eroded in flash floods over the centuries. Both tombs follow the Proto-Hegra 1 style, but differ slightly in the decoration above the doorway: N°112 on the left has three urns above the triangular pediment, while the slightly smaller Tomb N°113 has an eagle flanked by two urns. Although both façades have a space for a plaque, there is no inscription on either one. Some archaeologists believe a wooden inscription plaque may have been inserted in the space upon completion, but no traces remain.
Tombs N°112 and N°113, Jebel al-Ahmar (Jan 2011)
Qasr al- Farid
Area D is further south and covers a large area with only three isolated tombs, N°109 – N°111. Among them is Qasr al-Farid (the “lone” or “unique” palace, Tomb N°110), Hegra’s most iconic tomb. It is a single tomb carved in its own rock outcrop, hence its name, and measures about 22 by 14 metres, making it the largest (nearly) finished tomb in Mada’in Saleh. The façade is crowned by two symmetrical half-merlons surmounting an Egyptian-style cornice, below which is an entablature resting on four pilasters with Nabataean-style capitals. A triangular pediment, resting on two pilasters and topped by a single griffin statue, frames the entrance, above which is a plaque with a short Nabataean inscription stating that this tomb was carved for bani Lahin ibn Quza (i.e. the family of Lahin, son of Quza).
The style of this tomb is known to archaeologists as the Hegra style, but Qasr al-Farid is again unique in that it is the only one with four large pilasters decorating the façade. The tomb was never actually finished, as seen in the very bottom of the façade, and is thought to have never actually been used as a burial chamber.
Visitors admiring Qasr al-Farid, Tomb N°110 (Oct 2017)
Qasr al Farid, the Lonely Palace of Madain Saleh. Photo: Laura Alho
Al Bint- Group
Al-Bint Group outcrop.
North-east of the urban centre of ancient Hegra lies al-Bint Group, another cluster containing 31 tombs, numbered 17 to 46 and designated as Area B. Twenty-nine of these tombs are carved around a single large hill, while two simple unadorned burial chambers are located in their own tiny detached outcrop. Some of the grandest tombs in Hegra are found in this group, which also has the largest number of Nabataean inscriptions.
The name of the group was derived from tomb N°24, Qasr al-Bint (no relation to its namesake free-standing temple in Petra). It is one of the smallest in the series of grand façades in this group and follows the Proto-Hegra 2 design. The triangular pediment above the doorway is richly decorated and topped by an eagle statue and two urns. The inscription is very legal in nature and, unusually, continues inside the tomb stating that it was commissioned by Abd’Obodat ibn Aribos for himself and his daughter, Wa’ilat, and her descendants. The mention of his daughter (i.e. bint) is likely what earned this tomb its name.
The inscription leaves specific instructions, almost like a will, from Abd’Obodat to his daughter and her offspring, forbidding them from selling or transferring ownership of the tomb, even though it belonged to them in perpetuity. It also states that if Abd’Obodat’s brother, Huru, died in Hegra, that he should be allowed to be buried in this tomb.
This inscription is one of two that mention Hegra in name, written as Hijr, the Arabic equivalent (the other is Tomb N°100). Aftah ibn Abd’Obodat is the mason who carved this tomb in the 44th year of the reign of King Aretas IV, equivalent to 35 CE.
Qasr al-Bint, Tomb N°24 (Oct 2017)
Other remarkable tombs in al-Bint Group include the Doctor’s Tomb (N°44), carved for Kahlan ibn Wa’lan, the doctor, and his descendants, and the Lion Tomb (N°37), a small one with two feline sculptures with curly tails above its doorway (are they lions or leopards?). Tomb N°39 is the oldest dated tomb in Hegra, carved in 1 BCE for Kamkam bint Wa’ilat and her daughter Kulaybat and it has an arched pediment and eagle bas-relief above the entrance.
The Lion Tomb, N°37, al-Bint Group (Jan 2011)
Tomb N°39, the oldest dated tomb in Hegra, al-Bint Group (Jan 2011)
The Doctor’s Tomb, N°44, al-Bint Group (Jan 2011)
Had the civilization at Madain Saleh lasted longer, then al-Bint Group would have boasted the largest tomb in the city, appropriately nicknamed the Unfinished Tomb (No°46). It would have measured 28 metres in height, but only part of the top step down motif (two half merlons) was completed, which clearly illustrates that Nabataeans carved their tombs from top to bottom, and is only visible from a distance. An inscription near ground level, just below the unfinished façade, states that this space had been acquired by Rabibel, a Nabataean governor, proving that a process of acquisition was necessary before a tomb was created for a particular person or family.
The Unfinished Tomb N°46 towering above Tomb N°17, al-Bint Group (Jan 2011)
Jebel Ithlib (The Nabatean Holy Mountain)
East of al-Bint Group lies Jebel Ithlib with its most unusual rock formations. For the Nabataean inhabitants of Hegra in the 1st century CE, it was the centre of much of their sacred religious rituals. On its northern side is a rock-cut assembly hall, known as al-Diwan, carved next to the sacred Siq, a natural crevice in the rock used for religious processions, similar but much smaller in scale than the Siq in Petra. Along the walls of the Siq are several carved cult niches for statues of deities, and at the other end of the Siq lies the Sanctuary, a natural basin with the remains of a Nabataean temple used for religious ceremonies and a water canal that channelled water into a cistern.
A small number of other religious sites have been discovered around Jebel Ithlib, including steles, altars, assembly halls and Greek and Nabataean inscriptions, but much more is thought to lie buried in the sand waiting to be discovered. For those with time and energy, a short hike up the slopes surrounding the basin offers a rewarding view over the whole of Mada’in Saleh.
Jebel Ithlib (Jan 2011)
The Diwan and the Siq (Oct 2017)
Carved niche on the wall of the Siq (Oct 2017)
Jebel al Mahjar ( Quarry Mountain)
West of al-Diwan and just north of the ancient urban centre of Hegra is another cluster of tombs known as Jebel al-Mahjar (Quarry Mountain), designated as Group A. Fourteen tombs are attributed to this group, numbered 1-14, and spread across three rock outcrops. An ancient well is also located in the vicinity of this mountain, and the top of its main rock outcrop has the remains of a Nabataean sacred high place. This group also boasts the tomb with the smallest façade in Hegra, N°3, measuring only 3 metres in height.
Only a handful of the tombs in Jebel al-Mahjar come with inscriptions. One of the more interesting ones is N°9, known as the Taymanite’s Tomb, which has as many as 53 burial niches, more than any other tomb and is one of three tombs in Hegra with two inscriptions, one on the façade and the other inside. The façade is moderate in size and was carved in the signature Hegra style, but is devoid of any sculptural or floral ornamentation. It is raised well above ground level and comes with a small platform in front of the entrance, plus a couple of exterior burial niches as well.
The façade inscription states that the tomb was carved in the 13th year of the reign of King Aretas IV (5 CE) for Hawshab ibn Nafi, a Taymanite (i.e. from the city of Tayma) and his extended family, many of whom are named. It also warns of severe punishment for anyone else who attempts to use, buy or sell the tomb. The interior inscription is shorter but marks the exact niches where the bodies of Hawshab and his two sons, Abdalga and Habbu, were placed.
The Taymanite’s Tomb, N°9 in Jebel al-Mahjar (Jan 2011)
The eastern rock outcrop of Jebel Khraymat contains three tombs. One on the northern side and two adjacent ones on the western side, numbered 12, 13 and 14, respectively, but only Tomb N°12 contains an inscription. Written in the Nabataean language, it states that the tomb belonged to Shubayt ibn Aliyu, the Jew, his wife Amira and their children, and that it was carved in the 3rd year of the reign of King Malichus II, equivalent to 43 CE. This inscription is interesting because it demonstrates that Hegra was a pluralistic society with prominent Jews, along with Greek or Hellinistic families as some other tomb inscriptions have indicated.
Tombs N°13 and N°14, Jebel al-Mahjar (Jan 2011)
West of the urban centre of Hegra is the most extensive group of tombs in the archaeological site, known as Jebel Khraymat. It contains 53 tombs, numbered 48-101 and is split into Areas E and F. Tomb N°64 is known as the Centurion’s Tomb. The geographic location, prone to winds and flash floods, has caused severe erosion in many of the tombs in this area, and N°64 was no exception.
It was designed in the Proto-Hegra 1 style, but much of the lower façade was completely destroyed. The inscription above the doorway has survived with some damage and is very legal in nature specifying ownership and fine for unauthorised use. It also states that this tomb was carved by the mason, Aftah, for the Centurion, Sa’dallah ibn Zabda, and his extended family and warns that the tomb is protected by the gods Dúshara and Manat. The existence of the title Centurion shows clear Roman influence on Hegra’s military regime. Unfortunately, the tomb’s exact date of completion is damaged, but occurred under the reign of the Nabataean King Aretas IV Philopatris, who ruled from 9BC to 40 CE.
The Centurion’s Tomb, N°64, Jebel Khraymat (Jan 2011)
Nearby is another fairly damaged façade, Tomb N°66, known as the Prefect’s Tomb. However, its inscription has survived well and states that it was carved by the mason, Aftah ibn Abd’Obodat, for Matiyu, son of Euphronius the Prefect, and his extended family, whose title and name suggest a military profession and possible Hellenistic origin. The tomb is dated to the 48th year of the reign of Aretas IV Philopatris, which is equivalent to 40 CE.
The Prefect’s Tomb, N°66, Jebel Khraymat (Jan 2011)
Jebel Khraymat’s crown jewel, however, is Tomb N°100, the largest in this group and its most richly decorated. Although it was carved in the signature Hegra Style, a few additional features distinguish it from the rest. It is the only façade with carvings in the attic space between the Egyptian-style cornice and the entablature below, consisting of four decorative Nabataean column capitals. The aedicular frame around the doorway is also richly decorated with a row of carved rosettes below its pediment and two griffin statues flanking it.
The left hand statue is the only one in Hegra that has astonishingly retained its head, avoiding the decapitation that befell all other statues in Hegra in the post-pagan period. The inscription dates it to the 24th year of the reign of King Malichus II (64 CE) and states that it belongs to the family of Tarsu ibn Taym.
Tomb N°100, Jebel Khraymat (Oct 2017)
The Griffin with its head, Tomb N°100, Jebel Khraymat (Oct 2017)
THE MADAIN SALEH RAILWAY STATION
To complete the tour of the site, one must visit the Madain Saleh railway station. It was one of numerous stops along the defunct Hijaz Railway, which was laid out in 1900 under the Ottoman Empire to link Medina with Damascus and ultimately Constantinople, thus significantly cutting pilgrims’ travel time during the important Haj season.
Plans had been made to extend it all the way to Mecca, but the strategically important railway was blown up by T.E. Lawrence and his Arab allies during WWI in an effort to weaken Ottoman control over the Hijaz region (western Arabia). With the breakup of the Ottoman Empire by colonial powers following the war, the railway was never repaired and its tracks and stations remain a relic of a bygone era. Here in Mada’in Saleh, the red-tiled station and adjacent buildings, including a fortress, are one of the attractions of the visit with the station now turned into a museum exhibiting the old locomotive cars.
The Ottoman Fortress with Jebel Ithlib in the background (Oct 2017)
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
- Routes d’Arabie, archéologie et histoire du Royaume d’arabie saoudite (published by Somogy and Louvre)
- The Nabataean Tomb Inscriptions of Mada’in Salih, by John F. Healey (Oxford University Press)
- Discover more amazing places in Saudi Arabia: Explore KSA
- Al Ula Royal Commission
This is a guest post by @zauravoyages, a traveler and writer hailing from Saudi Arabia with a passion for architecture, history and world heritage. All images @copyright zauracvoyages unless otherwise mentioned. Follow him on Instagram here: zauracvoyages
IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR VISITS TO MADAIN SALEH STARTING DECEMBER 15TH 2017 : Madain Saleh, Jebel Hekmah and Khuraybah sites have been closed by the Royal commission of Al Ula for development and archeological research project until further notice. Despite the temporary closure of these sites, Al Ula is a beautiful place to visit full of rich history and otherworldly landscapes. Stay tuned for more posts about Al Ula!
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I’ve been looking for a place to recycle waste in Riyadh for a long time. Probably one of the most frequently asked questions I get from readers are “where to recycle clothes, old appliances, glass, metal, batteries etc”.
I must admit, one of the most shocking things for me in transitioning to life from Finland to Saudi Arabia was the lack of recycling practices. Coming from a Scandinavian country, where we recycle almost everything (by law!) I felt like a criminal throwing glass jars and metal cans into the trash bin along with all the other rubbish. Recycling becomes a part of life when you are used to it from an early age, and recycling doesn’t really take that much of an extra effort. So the people who are already used to the system and mindset or materials being reused for other purposes feel guilt when they have to throw away everything in the same bin.
The problem that many people face in Riyadh has been where to take all these glass, plastic, paper and metal products for recycling? Where to donate all this old clothing to? How about old furniture and appliances? I was most shocked to find out that even batteries are regularly thrown in the same garbage dump.
I was so happy to hear about a recycling place in Riyadh where we can take all this problematic and toxic waste and everything can be dropped off in one place. Recycle center map location at the end of this post!
The use of plastic in Saudi Arabia is extremely worrisome. Whenever I go out to the beautiful desert and other amazing places that can be found in Saudi Arabia, I see what kind of detrimental effect humans and their obsession for plastic bags, water bottles and plastic cutlery does to nature.
Recycling in Saudi has always been close to my heart and I’ve written about it previously in this article: Recycling the Saudi Values and this list of Ten Ways to recycle in KSA
Thumamah desert fence January 2018. Photo: Laura Alho
Trash collected from Farasan Island beach April 2017. Photo: Laura Alho
One of my pet peeves is going to the supermarket, pharmacy or a baqala (small convenience store), where every single small thing you buy will be placed in one plastic bag. Why? Why is there a need to put a tiny box of medicine for example, into a plastic bag? When I can just put it in my pocket, or handbag or carry it in my hand!
The use of plastic bags in Saudi Arabia is totally out of control.
The country is drowning in plastic.
Habala village September 2017. Photo: Laura Alho
Sadly, going to the desert nearby Riyadh often means having to mingle with a bunch of left behind picnics, plastic bags and bottles. Same goes for the public beaches around Jeddah and Gizan, and the valleys, national parks and the beautiful forests in Asir. Pretty much anything within a 50 km radius from a city is going to look like a garbage yard due to those very same plastic bags we are forced to use everyday, and which people with complete disregard to nature throw onto the ground.
Sometimes large trash cans are provided in some areas, but they’re not emptied at all, or not often enough. Weather conditions and animals cause the trash to fly out of the garbage cans out into the nature. Other animals will come and spread trash around further. The large yellow trash cans we can see in many places have no lids, so all the birds and cats can just jump in and take the trash outside and it spreads around, even if humans tried to do the right thing and dispose of their waste in them.
Plastic bags bags should be BANNED in Saudi Arabia, like they already have in several places around the world. The plastic bags can be replaced by cloth bags, paper bags, or reusable bags.
Hidden Canyon in Riyadh September 2017. Photo: Laura Alho
An example of the plastic madness from everyday life in Riyadh: When you go to a grocery store the have baggers who are actually TRAINED TO WASTE PLASTIC. I know a lot of people reading this from outside KSA will not believe anything so absurd could be the norm in the year 2018 but it’s true. Yes, the bagger is instructed to use a mass load of bags for a just a couple of grocery items. Go to any grocery chain in Saudi Arabia and you’ll find the same problem, the baggers never fill the bags up, unless the customer specifically asks and insists otherwise. This has got to change!!!
For example if the customer buys a bottle of milk, a shampoo, a loaf of bread and some bananas, instead of using ONE single bag to pack all of them, these would be placed in five bags, double one for the bananas.
Every single time I go to the grocery store I face the same issue that I have to go and instruct the bagger to fill the bags up and stop wasting so much plastic. They give me weird looks but I still do it, because it’s really the least I can do if I don’t have a reusable bag with me. Sometimes they won’t understand and that’s when I just take the bags and start filling them up myself, I’ve also taught this to my children and they will advise and help the baggers each time. It’s definitely not the norm to do this and most people seem to have no idea why I wouldn’t want all those plastic bags.
An even better option would be to always remember to have your own reusable shopping bag for packing groceries. Although I’ve noticed that the baggers will not know how to use the reusable bags, unless instructed. They first try to place the items in the plastic bags then place all those inside the reusable bag! You can’t make these things up!
Everyone can start making small changes life, DAILY. Everyone can do it. REFUSE to take that plastic bag. Get a reusable bag for groceries. Tell the bagger to use less plastic. Refuse that straw, you don’t really need it. Take your glass, batteries and metal waste to recycle unit. Most people have drivers, give the recyclable items to the driver once a week and he takes them. No extra effort needed. When taking laundry out, refuse all the extra metal hangers and plastic wraps.
When you’re at the park, don’t litter. Call people out for littering. Honestly this really does help.
Pick up trash left by other people, be an example.
Show an example to your kids by teaching them how to recycle and pick up after themselves from a very early age. Insist that the kids school begin teaching recycling and respecting nature as part of the curriculum. There are hundreds of ways every single person reading this can help.
Are YOU doing something?
To be fair there are many environmental awareness campaigns in Saudi Arabia, more and more each year. So there definitely has been a positive change from what I’ve seen in the 10 years time I’ve been in Saudi Arabia. Things which have the most dire impact on the nature, such as the use of plastic bags and water bottles needs regulations and laws set to be effective.
Plastic bags in Saudi Arabia’s stores should either be
A) banned altogether and alternatives taken into use or
B) customers have to pay for their bags and this will greatly reduce the amount being used.
My main reason for this post was originally to share the location of the center where you can recycle in Riyadh that I found out about recently. As usual when speaking about matters close to my heart, I got carried away about how the environment is not being protected enough in Saudi. I do this because I genuinely care and I want things to change. It’s something I’m passionate about and can talk about on and on. Without these things being addressed and talked about, things will not change. This is my second home country and my children are half Saudi, I want them to be able to live in a clean safe environment in the future and for future generations to be able to enjoy Saudi Arabia’s nature the same way we can now.
Location of Recycle Center in Riyadh
I was so excited to find this recycling place in Riyadh where they will accept multiple things at one location. Instead of having to go around the town to multiple different locations to try to recycle waste and in the process spend several hours stuck in traffic, there is one place in the city center that we can now take it all to.
They can also come to your house to fetch larger items such as furniture and old appliances. So this is fantastic news indeed! It’s not the same as we have in Finland but this is absolutely better than nothing and a great start!
What to do: Drive to the location and have your items already separated in bags or boxes. Plastic bottles, glass, metal, clothing, batteries, all separately. Just hand over your waste to the staff and that’s it. Or alternatively you can use the existing recycle bins. There’s containers for plastic, paper, clothes, and one for shoes and they give these to charity.
Here is the location on google maps of the center for recycle in Riyadh:
It’s open daily from 9 am to 11pm. Fridays after Jumah prayer.
Recycling place in Riyadh.
If you know of a similar place to recycle in Jeddah, Khobar, Abha, Dammam, Qassim and any city on KSA, please leave the info in the comments to help others to find these locations.
Please also leave in the comments social media handles for Environmental awareness campaigns, charities that accept donated clothing and any other related information that will benefit everyone.
Recycle in Riyadh
Riyadh’s annual International Book Fair 2018 is coming soon this March! Riyadh international book fair will be inaugurated on 14th March 2018 and continues daily until 24th March. Read on to find out more about the venue, location info, timings and what this exhibition is all about!
The 10-day long Riyadh International Book Fair will offer books of different genres for readers of all age groups. Besides offering books on discounted rates for children and adults, the fair will encompass a range of events such as counseling sessions and discussions on books,
The 2018 Book Fair is being held at Riyadh’s International Convention and Exhibition Center (RICEC). For the Google maps location click here. Website (arabic) here.
GPS coordinates of RICEC: 24.7510400, 46.7255270
Dates: March 14th- 24th
Timing: 10 am- 10 pm
Fridays 3pm- 10 pm
Guest Country: UAE
Over 600,000 books and hundred of exhibitors; the Riyadh International Book Fair is one of the largest cultural festivals in Saudi Arabia. More than two million visitors come each year to find and buy new interesting books and to participate in the cultural program accompanying the exhibition.
Saudi religious police officers at Riyadh Book Fair
The International Book Fair is much more than just stall after stall of books, there are activities and presentations for both adults and children. Although the majority of books are in Arabic language, there’s an English language section and many of the children’s books are in English.
They also have educational toys and games for sale. The Saudi ministries also have booths at the Fair and one of the many interesting places to stop by at is the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) booth.
The Riyadh Book Fair used to spark controversy among the more conservative Saudis and in the past years extremists would come to the book fair and destroy books. In the past, groups of religious clerics have protested against allowing women to attend the book fair or to make public speeches. They’re also known for being on the look-out for and wanting to confiscate books which clash with their religious views.
Thankfully in the recent years, women have been allowed to participate in the book fair and less extremists are entering the exhibition. First they introduced a separate ‘family section’ where some female authors were allowed to sell their books. In the past two years things have rapidly changed for the better and in 2018 the Riyadh International Book fair will most likely be a completely mixed gender area open to everyone.
The Saudi religious police, the ‘Hai’a’ used to roam the fair, on the look-out for banned books. The Haia officers work under the Commission for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue (CPVPV) and they even have their own stand at the Fair which could be interesting to stop by at. On display, among other things, are items confiscated by the Commission Members. You can find out more about what the Hai’a officers duties are at their stall.
Riyadh’s Book Fair is definitely worth the visit! The best time to go is on weekday mornings when the place is not yet crowded and this is when schools will be visiting so there’s plenty of kids activities. The Exhibition Center starts getting very crowded in the evenings and the parking lot can be very hard to access because of the traffic, especially around closing time. There are ‘white’ taxis waiting outside the Exhibition Center and Careem and UBER rides sometimes offer discounted rates to the exhibition.
If you take your children, a stroller will come in handy because the exhibition area is huge with many large halls to explore. Take cash with you as payment, there’s an ATM inside the Exhibition Hall, but it can have very long waiting lines. A restaurant and cafeteria are located near the entrance, but both often have long lines during peak hours. There’s an info booth near the entrance where you can ask for a map of the area to have a better understanding of all the things on offer.
While most of the books are in Arabic language there are also a growing number of English books and especially worth a look for the children’s English language books.
Some of you may already know that I’ve been making Saudi souvenirs as wall calendars for several years now, five consecutive years in fact! I love compiling and designing the calendars using imagery from my travels around Saudi Arabia, despite it being a huge hassle every year to produce and print them.
The hardest part is choosing ONLY 12 beautiful places in Saudi Arabia (from hundreds of options) and then from those 12 locations, having to select just one or two images to showcase the location in the best possible way. It takes me about three months to finish the entire calendar design because I want the result to be perfect. I try to include something from each region of KSA and showcase the surprising diversity in landscape, culture and colors of Saudi Arabia.
The calendars make the ideal Saudi souvenirs to take back home to show the beauty of Saudi Arabia in a compact and affordable package. They would also make great gifts to visiting foreign friends. For more Saudi inspired gifts check out my Instagram: Inspired by Arabia
For this years calendar cover design I chose to feature al Qatt al Asiri, the traditional wall paintings of Asir region. These wall murals are done entirely by the women of Asir who have mastered this art form for centuries.
I was thrilled to hear that Qatt al Asiri was selected as intangible heritage by UNESCO in 2018 so the choice was perfect to celebrate this recognition! More al Qatt alasiri art can be found inside the calendar.
Other Saudi Arabia UNESCO sites (already listed or tentative) featured in this calendar: At Turaif district, Madain Saleh, Al Balad, Dhee Ayn village, Rijal Alma’a village and Hejaz railway.
So where can you get one of these wall calendars?
I’ve selected some of the best places in Riyadh, Khobar and Jeddah that you definitely should pay a visit to, even if you don’t get a calendar or other Saudi souvenirs :)
Exit 5 next to Kingdom hospital. Ladies only venue, beautiful cafe, delicious food and freshly brewed coffees. Monthly book clubs! Instagrammable level: 100.
Haya Tours office
Salwa is a wealth of information and visiting her office at Alia plaza you can book tours and grab a calendar as a souvenir!
Luxury women-only hotel, spa and salon near Diplomatic Quarter. Highly recommend them for all spa and salon services, probably the best haircut you’ll find in Riyadh. Don’t miss the authentic Moroccan bath and rooftop restaurant! Calendars from salon and spa receptions. You’ll also find Madeha al Ajroush’s book about Saudi Rock Art for sale at Luthan. Call to book: +966 11 480 7799
Keep a lookout for events and bazaars hosted at Luthan Spa by following them on instagram: Luthan Hotel and Spa
Draft Store Centria mall second floor
This shop is addictive, each time I go there I find new cool things and gift ideas. You will be compelled to grab something every time you visit! Magic Kingdom wall calendars can be found there too as well as many other items you could take home as Saudi souvenirs and gifts from the region. Find them on instagram: @draftthoughts
Open all day 10am -11pm (no break in between 👍🏻)
The Blossom Tree Bustan Village compound
Lovely concept store inside Bustan compound. Accessories and home decor, Saudi souvenir ideas. They stock the Inspired by Arabia canvas at Blossom tree.
A must visit place when in Jeddah- they select the best home bakeries, local designers and producers so you are guaranteed for a treat. Have coffee and shop for the perfect gifts in a beautiful instagram-worthy environment! They also host events and concerts at Crate- stay up to date on instagram: @crateksa
The go-to place for Saudi souvenirs in Eastern Province. Magic Kingdom wall calendars, Saudi doors pillows, phone covers from the Inspired by Arabia brand are available there too.
Unlimited Art KSA
A new online store based in Riyadh with quick, affordable shipping all over KSA and lots of Saudi inspired gift ideas. You can shop for my calendars and Inspired by Arabia phone covers online here
Lulu publisher (U.S.A & Canada)
Lulu is a print on demand site and they will produce and ship the calendar to you worldwide, shop online here: Magic Kingdom Wall Calendar 2018
Special thank you to calendar sponsor al Nakhla residential compound! Al Nakhla compound won the title of Best Luxury Residential compound in Saudi Arabia 2017, and once you visit this compound you will no doubt see why! It’s like stepping into a luxury holiday resort, except that people actually live there!
A very family oriented compound, with daycare, kids playgrounds, plenty of different pools ( 23 pools!), safe places for kids to ride bikes, skate and play. I’ve tried their open air buffet at the Majdool restaurant by the gorgeous pool. I’d highly recommended to try it out as an alternative to the five star hotel buffets for a more relaxed atmosphere.
Al Nakhla’s recreation office is well known for hosting some of the best events in Riyadh, and they allow visitors to attend! The best way to stay up to date with al Nakhla events is to follow their social media channels: Instagram and Facebook page. Visit their website for more compound info: Al Nakhla Residential Resort
The Janadriyah festival in Riyadh is an annually held cultural heritage festival of Saudi Arabia THIS GUIDE HAS BEEN UPDATED FOR 2018 schedules and visiting days for men and families.
The biggest cultural event of Saudi Arabia, the Janadriyah Cultural heritage festival is just around the corner! In this Blue Abaya guide you will find everything you need to know to attend the most important national festival for culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia.
In this Janadriyah festival guide you’ll find Janadriyah visiting hours, dates for family and single days, maps, location, directions, more festival guides, tips for parents and more.
For more Janadriyah updates, like & follow Blue Abaya on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
First of all, what exactly is the Janadriyah (Arabic: مهرجان الجنادرية) Heritage Festival?
An annually held, cultural heritage and folk festival of Saudi-Arabia organized by the Saudi National Guard since 1985.
The Janadriyah village was built specifically to host this festival. This is the largest festival of its kind in the Gulf, attracting millions of visitors from all over the region each year. The festival was cancelled in 2015 due to the passing of King Abdullah. During Janadriyah of the previous year 2017, over 3 million people from all over Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries visited the festival.
Al Janadriyah village is divided into sections according to the provinces of Saudi Arabia. Each area, or pavilion as they are referred to, showcases the unique culture, architecture, foods, dances, traditional dress and craftsmanship of that region of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Janadriyah will be held in the Al Janadriyah village on the outskirts of Riyadh.
Entrance to Janadriyah Village is completely FREE of charge and everyone is welcome!
SCHEDULE and VISIT DAYS for 2018 Janadriyah Festival as follows:
OPENING CEREMONY: February 7th
MEN ONLY: February 8th- 11th 11 am- 11 pm Friday 2 pm- 12 midnight
FAMILIES AND WOMEN : February 12th- 23 rd February 11 am- 11 pm Fridays 2 pm – 12 midnight
Janadriyah Festival Guide
Images from previous Janadriyah festivals check these posts: Why I love Janadriyah Festival and Janadriyah 2011
What can be found at the Janadriyah Village?
Al Janadriyah Village is a huge area, covering over 1.5 sq km of land. It’s is divided into sections according to the different Provinces of Saudi Arabia such as: Jizan (Gazan), Asir, Riyadh, Hail, Tabuk, Eastern Province, Makkah, Medinah, Taif, Al Baha, Qassim, and Najran. Each Province area has buildings which are replicas of the architectural style typical to said region.
Each year there’s also visiting country at the festival and in 2018 Guest country is India. India will have their own cultural pavilion at Janadriyah.
In addition to the province areas, Janadriyah showcases also the largest governmental organizations such as National Guard Health affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Saudi Ports Authority, Saudi Tourism and Heritage and many others. Additionally various social projects, non profit organizations, private companies and charity foundations are present.
A Camel race track which hosts camel races during the first three days is also a part of the Janadriyah village.
Several marketplaces, art exhibitions, food stalls, stages for traditional dance performances and commercial pavilions are also present.
When can I visit? Can I go with my husband/family/single male friends?
Dates and timings as follows: The festival grand opening is by invite only on Wednesday 7th of February 2018, you can watch it on live Tv from the KSA tv.
Janadriyah festival begins for families Monday 12th February until the 23rd February in 2018
Opening hours: Gates open 11 am until 11 pm everyday exept Fridays fro 2 pm to midnight.
Family days are when single women (either on their own or with their male family members) and married men with their families are allowed to enter.
Note that sometimes single males might be able to enter on family days accompanied with a tour group, by sticking with the group strictly at all times. The religious police are on the look-out for single males and all single males will be escorted out of the festival if found unaccompanied by family members. The Haia are very strict in particular with the Saudi youth, however expats might get some leeway in this matter.
Where is Janadriyah village located? How do I get there, is there a map of the area, or GPS co-ordinates?
The Janadriyah Village is located on Janadriyah Rd, opposite the Salwa Garden Village North of Riyadh, approximately 40 km from the city center. Further along the same road are the King Abdul Aziz Race track and Thumamah National Park. Three roads from Riyadh lead to Janadriyah. Check the Google map to see which one is closest to you and for driving directions. It takes about 30- 45 minutes from Riyadh city center to reach Janadriyah depending on the traffic. There’s no public transport available to the festival apart from taxis, they should all know the Janadriyah location.
GPS co-ordinates: 24.958592, 46.794462
Location Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/184ur
How to recycle in Saudi Arabia? This question is often asked by people interested in ways to make life in Saudi more environmentally friendly. Here are 10 easy and simple ways everyone in Saudi Arabia can recycle and conserve the environment.
Saudi-Arabia has some beautiful and unique nature and by even the smallest changes we can make a difference in preserving the environment. It might feel like just a drop in the ocean, but when hundreds or even thousands of people make that one small change it becomes a wave of change. I’ve listed some ways to recycle in Saudi Arabia that are relevant to people living in the Kingdom and the GCC. This is a topic I’m passionate about and first wrote about in 2012: Recycling the Saudi Values
10 Ways How to recycle in Saudi Arabia.
Sometimes we go about our daily lives without giving things much thought and just continue doing stuff the way we’re used to. However, once we look closer and think about it from another POV, a lot of the things we do are just pure madness! We can do so much better!
It’s time to start thinking and acting to stop the littering madness!
Where plastic bags end up. Thumamah desert outside Riyadh. Photo: Laura Alho
1. Reduce usage of plastic bags
The single most efficient thing everyone in the Kingdom can do is cut down how many plastic bags they take home from the store. A lot of people like to have their groceries and purchases placed separately in a GAZILLION plastic bags instead of placing everything in one or two large bags. But why? When you think about it, isn’t this crazy?
Think-Do you really need all those 20 plastic bags to carry the 21 items you bought? In fact did you know you can fit 21 items into ONE large bag with no trouble at all!
The problem is baggers in Saudi grocery stores will by default place only one or two items per bag. This can easily add up to 40-60 plastic bags per average family per grocery shop visit.
If the family grocery shops once a week, plus all the additional visits to get few things, adding 20 or so more bags to the total of approximately 80 bags a week. That becomes 400 bags a month and 4800 bags a year!
Plastic bags on a fence in Thumamah desert.
Multiply that by how many Saudi and expat families there are who are doing this..MILLIONS of plastic bags wasted! For nothing! And those very same plastic bags end up in the streets, in the desert, on the beaches, in the sea.
The baggers do it simply because they have been taught not to place for example a deodorant, a bread loaf, cheese or a milk bottle in the same bag. In reality these things do not need separate bags. if millions of people in other countries in the world are able to place everything in one same bag, surely this is possible in KSA too. In order to make this happen, we must re-train the baggers or pack the bags ourselves.
Some grocery stores like Carrefour sell large fabric bags you can reuse for your grocery shopping. Most baggers will not know how to use them and might even place the items first in tons of plastic bags, then place inside the fabric bag. Again, you might need to show them how you want it done.
At home re-use the plastic bags, use them as garbage bags and for storage. For more tips check this list of 99 ways to reuse plastic bags: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/reuses-plastic-bags2.htm
2. Recycle water bottles
Most people in Saudi drink bottled water. Some prefer to always purchase hoards of small bottles which accumulate into mountains of plastic in no time. WHY? This is really not necessary!
Buy the large recyclable water bottles from companies like Nestle that offer home delivery and save money and the nature and your back! You can place an order online.
If you still want to use the smaller water bottles: after use, rinse bottle, refill from large water container, you can safely use a few times before throwing them away.
Change to reusable water bottles made of metal which you can wash, refill from the large water tank and reuse indefinitely.
3. Use water sparingly
Many Saudi families will have more than one car. It’s usually the driver’s duty to wash the cars, and the housemaids are the ones who clean the outside areas from dust. And how do they do it? By spraying hundreds of gallons of running water from the hose all over the yard or the cars! WHY?? This is nuts!
Don’t have your car washed with running water from the hose. Ask the driver or whoever is cleaning the car to use a bucket and cloth instead. Ask the housemaid to SWEEP the yard once in a while instead of pouring hundreds of liters of water around on a daily basis. Don’t run the water the whole time while showering or brushing teeth and avoid taking excessive baths.
4. Reuse or return hangers from laundry places
Most Saudi families take their thobes, abayas and ghutras to be professionally cleaned and ironed. Every neighborhood has a laundry place or two. When they are picked up, the clothes will each be placed on hangers and inside plastic bags separately. And what do most people do? Throw the hangers away! WHY?? This is really a waste!
Don’t throw these hangers away! If you don’t want to reuse them yourself at home RETURN them to the cleaners! Also, request to have multiple thobes/clothing items placed inside one bag, no need for ten separate plastic wrappings.
How to recycle in Saudi? Take back the laundry hangers!
5. Buy Second hand clothing and furniture
You can do this in many ways, in Saudi Arabia the large websites for buying used goods are in english expatriates.com and haraj.com (Arabic only). In Riyadh you can visit the Princess Souk ( Haraj bin Gasem) where you will find just about anything you can imagine second hand.
6. How to Recycle in Saudi by Managing your waste
I’ve recently discovered a new recycling place in Riyadh where you can take all your waste for handling. The recycle center located in central Riyadh will take your plastic bottles, paper, metal, glass, clothes, batteries and old appliances. For larger furniture and household appliances call them to schedule a pick up. Location and info on this post: Riyadh Recycling Center. There are many collections points around the larger cities where you can take your waste for recycling.
7. Cut back on use of tissues/ mandeel.
Before I moved to Saudi Arabia, the Tissue Wonderland, I had probably used tissues a handful of times only in my entire life. It seems tissues are used for pretty much anything and everything in Saudi Arabia, as if it’s an essential item for survival. Tissue boxes can be found in every single room of the house and even in cars.
This pointless tissue-extravagance is just mind-boggling to me raised in Scandinavian culture, where we are used to towels, washable wipes and cleaning rags instead of disposable tissues. Reducing usage of paper (preserving the forests we so love) is a central part of our culture and this can be seen in how toilet papers are made from recycled materials and how they’re packaged in very compact, recycled packaging. You will not find many tissue boxes at Scandinavian stores.
That’s whysSeeing entire isles full of different brands and types of tissue boxes at Saudi grocery stores was a culture shock for me.
I understand that completely cutting out using mandeel in Saudi homes is not going to happen but it’s easy to at least try to reduce how much is being used.
Think- do you REALLY need to use them so much?
Start by using towels instead of tissues to dry hands, place them in convenient areas.
For cleaning use reusable wipes and rags.
Dry surfaces with washable kitchen cloths.
And for the love of God, don’t get scented tissues, those are the most environmentally destructive ones that you can get!
8. Avoid Styrofoam packaging and straws
The takeaway restaurants in KSA often use Styrofoam packaging which is extremely harmful to the environment and also for your health. In fact, styrofoam ( polystyrene) has been banned in many countries already due to its detrimental effect on the environment and humans. The probelm with polystyrene is that it does not decompose and it breaks into tiny microscopic particles which travel from the landfills with the help of wind into the oceans. Plankton then eats these particles. Small fish eat mass loads of plankton and also the microplastic particles. Bigger fish eat those plastic filled fish. Humans eat the big fish. So next time you’re having a fish dish in that styrofoam packaging, think about it. Read more about just how awful polystyrene is here.
The restaurants in Saudi Arabia use shocking amounts of of polystyrene packaging. One item will be placed in one large container instead of trying to at least save space or opt for environmentally sustainable packing materials. Tell the waiter to pack your food in more smart ways and opt for take out restaurants that use biodegradable packing such as Saldwich.
Also, grocery stores in Saudi often pack fruits, cheese, pastries etc. in styrofoam and plastic. Ask to have them just wrapped in plastic wrap which is really all you need!
Straws in drinks should be avoided as much as possible. Plastic straws are a major ocean polluter so try to avoid the straws whenever possible.
9. Buy local produce avoid imported goods.
There is plenty of good quality local produce available, yet many families always go for the imported, American stuff, just because it’s American. People will pay 50 sar for strawberries imported from U.S.A when a local one would cost 5 sar. WHY?? This is truly madness!
Always try to favor locally produced goods, organic produce, whether it be bread, fruits, ice cream or meat you are buying! Imported goods are often overpriced, have gotten damaged or ruined in the shipping process or have bad expiration dates.
10. Don’t throw trash on the streets, beaches, oceans or deserts!!
Well this should be a self clear thing. But some people tend to think that someone will come to the desert (or wherever they’re having the picnic) and pick up their trash. This is not true! Nobody will come. The trash will stay there, animals will come spread it, wind will blow the waste even further around the area.
The attitude “someone else will pick it up for me” needs to change. Everyone needs to pick up after themselves. Indeed, there are yellow-clad street cleaners around every corner in the cities. That doesn’t justify throwing trash out of car windows. That’s just a really trashy thing to do, period.
I know that people can do better. Just think. This culture of trashing beautiful places and littering the streets is actually a relatively new phenomenon which came along with the discovery of oil and Saudi families getting used to having house help.
Think-Would you throw trash on your own mother? Of course not. So why are you throwing trash on your motherland?
Spread the message! Please share this post with your friends and help them find ways how to recycle in Saudi!
“Top Ten Things To Do At Janadriyah Festival” is a quick guide and tips on the most interesting things to do in the festival area.
The annually held Cultural Heritage festival Janadriyah is undeniably one of the most important cultural events of the year and a must visit for all expats in the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia. This is when you can immerse yourself in the Saudi culture, enjoying what the real Saudi-Arabia and the friendly hospitable Saudi people have to offer.
The vast festival area may seem daunting for first time visitors; there seems to be endless places to see and it might be hard to choose which areas to go to!
Check out new guide for 2018 festival on Blue Abaya: Janadriyah 2018: Complete Guide for expats. All info about the location, opening hours, activities and more can be found in this guide. Click here to go to the 2018 guide.
Here are Blue Abaya’s Top Ten recommended things to do at Janadriyah Village:
- 1. Sample the delicious foods of the Makkah area. Try the special drink Subiya, the mouth watering Kabab meero, special Saudi dumplings and the flat bread made on the fire. Enjoy your foods while watching a traditional Makkawi wedding party at the nearby auditorium.
- 2. Watch the famous Al-Baha region dances. Get carried away by the catchy quick paced rhythm of the drums and watch in amazement as the dancers leap high in the air with their daggers in hand. This area gathers the most spectators for a reason!
- 3. Take a camel ride at the Qassim region square. Children will especially enjoy this activity while parents can sample the tasty fresh Kleja bread and mammoul from the nearby Qassim souk.
- 4. Browse the Al Madina Al Munawara marketplace for exquisite perfumes, Saudi style leather sandals in a
multitude of colors, fresh herbs and spices, colorful woven baskets, a wide selection of dates, gold jewellery and antiques.
- 5. See the hunting falcons at the Eastern Province area. The bravest visitors can get a chance to hold one too.
- 6. Get in the festive mood by decorating yourself with a necklace made of Jasmine flowers at the Jazan region marketplace. Men can join in on the fashion craze and wear a headband of flowers like the ‘Flower Men’ of Saudi Arabia do.
- 7. Discover the traditional treasures on display at the Najran area. Here you can find and purchase the traditional women’s dresses, unique Bedouin jewelry, pottery and wooden handicrafts all made by skillful Saudi craftsmen.
- 8. Wander around the Hail region museums and discover how people used to live in a traditional mud house.
- 9. For the best views of the Janadriyah Village, climb the Abha house up to the third floor. Don’t be discouraged by the rather unexciting appearance of the house from outside; once you step in you will be blown away by the colorful interior.
- 10. Get quick henna tattoos on your hands at the women’s only building while admiring the talented Saudi women weaving carpets from goat hair.
P.S. The woman in the images below is a Finnish friend of mine who enjoys posing in these images for Blue Abaya. She loves the Janadriyah festival as much as I do!
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. Please note some activities are available only in the mornings while others are best for the afternoons. Read on to find out more.
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
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
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 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.
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
Kids and Family
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
Interior of the Theatre. 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.
Sand sculpture at the Camel Festival. Image By: Laura Alho
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 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”
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
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.
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
The Alaibil Camel Festival hashtag. Image By: Laura Alho
Mosque at the 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:
Location Of The Festival:
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.
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 on Saturdays 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.
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
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. Read the camel festival guide here: King Abdulaziz camel festival 2018
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 auction, the heritage Souk, over 100 stands offering perfumes, spices, traditional foods, decorations, etc.
Check out the Sanam Exhibition, the camel through time. Watch traditional sword dancing ‘ardha’, and theatre shows aimed for kids like Sponge bob, and Saudi girls dancing traditional 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. for more information how to visit click here.
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
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
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 Seasonal Desert Lakes
There are many areas around Riyadh where lakes appear after the winter rains. Some years are better than others. In 2018 many of the seasonal lakes have remained dry due to the lack of heavy rains this winter. There is always Wadi Namar in the Wadi Hanifa valley which has water in it year round.
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
Don’t forget Janadriyah Festival in February! For all the details go here: Janadriyah festival Guide
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?
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 between 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 Drive
The safari experience starts with open-top vehicle rides around the safari park on a set trail. There are over 700 animals 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
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.
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.
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
-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
966 59 325 5918
Exit 857, New Mecca Highway
P.O. 66223, Riyadh 11576
Nofa wildlife safari. Photo: Laura Alho
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