This time on Blue Abaya’s Wanderlust in Saudi Arabia series featured are the Farasan Islands, the Crown Jewels of Saudi Arabia’s travel treasures. One of the last places on earth where you can explore and discover such a unique natural habitat without another soul in sight.
Located approximately 50km off the coast of the city of Jizan in the Red Sea, the Farasan islands archipelago consists of 176 islands. The islands are formed of elevated coral reefs and fossils, which is why they are mostly flat with shallow shores and scarce vegetation. The mangroves, beaches and underwater world are the true stunners of Farasan Island’s beauty.
This region also contains the Farasan Island Marine Protected Area, established in 1996. The Marine Protected Area covers approximately 3,310 km2 and includes about 128 islands and 18 shoals, including the three largest and only permanently inhabited islands (Farasan al-Kebir, Sajeed and Gumah). Farasan Islands are also home to the endangered Farasan Gazelle and many species of birds use the shores as their nesting grounds.
The Farasan islands and nearby reefs are a divers paradise. A rich marine life and colorful coral reefs remain mostly unaffected by tourism or divers. No diving centers are based on the Island and divers are expected to bring their own gear from the mainland.
Farasan Islands have a rich history. There are many interesting historical places to explore such as an Ottoman fort, historical village, old mosques, pearl merchant’s homes and coral houses. Most of the historical places are located on the main Farasan Island, but the smaller islands accessible with a rented fishing boat have some forts too. It’s highly recommended to bring your own car to the island because taxi services there are limited.
The islands can be reached via a free ferry from the port of Jizan twice daily. Another smaller ferry can be taken at any time of the day for an extra cost. Although the islands are becoming more and more popular as a tourist destination, they remain mostly underdeveloped and tourists should not expect to find many facilities there. This might also be the best part, because you can truly experience the feeling of having a whole paradise island with a white sandy beach to yourself. The best part of going to Farasan islands is how untouched and undeveloped it is. This brings a lot of challenges but also blessings in the form of the private islands and isolated feeling.
I’ve been to Farasan Islands many times during the course of 10 years, and always organized everything myself. My last trip there was in April 2017 alone with my two kids aged 4 and 6 at the time. A couple of friends joined us there and had such an a amazing time on that trip, despite a few setbacks with arrangements. The hardest part is probably figuring out transport and how to find services. The island has no taxis and places seem to open and close at whim. Admittedly, it’s not an easy place to visit on your own.
Many facilities and items are not available and must be brought from the mainland. Especially for a women solo traveler or women in a group, I’d recommend you join a tour group so you won’t waste time trying to figure out how to do things, at least until women are allowed to drive and it will become easier.
There’s only two hotels and it’s nearly impossible to get in touch with them beforehand. But then again, it’s sort of what makes these islands so special! Example of how things work on Farasan: we were at the largest grocery store of the island and they don’t have a till at the cashier. The payment process happens so that one man takes the items from the cart placing it on a table, another guy taps the prices into a calculator, and a third takes it from the table and bags them back in your shopping trolley.
The easiest (and most relaxing I’d say from personal experience!) way to see the islands would be to join a guided tour group and not have to worry about all the arrangements. If you’re looking into doing a tour of Farasan islands, drop us an email contact (at) blueabaya.com. Going as a part of a tour group is not a bad idea to cut down costs because the ( the only) good hotel on Farasan islands is not cheap and hiring a boat for a private island day trip (the only place women can swim freely) is costly. If you prefer to travel as your own “tour guide” good news is a Guide book to Farasan Islands is coming soon!
Whichever way you decide to visit these beautiful islands, please, keep them clean and don’t leave anything behind at the islands!
More Wanderlust Saudi Arabia Posts on Blue Abaya:
Read about the unique flora and fauna of the Farasan Islands: Farasan Archipelago Nature Reserve
Discover more beautiful places in Saudi Arabia: Explore KSA
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