Marhaba, which means hello and welcome, to AlUla, Arabia’s best kept secret.
This ancient desert destination gave hospitality to the intrepid for thousands of years and now, since Saudi Arabia opened its doors to tourists for the first time in 2019, it’s tempting them again with its luxury resorts and mystical heritage sites set against an awe-inspiring desert backdrop.
Add to that a choice of exciting activities and a rapidly expanding arts scene and you have a unique destination with broad appeal.
Where is AlUla?
The vast region that comprises AlUla covers nearly 8,700 square miles of mostly untamed desert (about the size of Wales), though the majority of its sights are within 35 minutes of each other.
It sits in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, about 650 miles northwest of Riyadh and 400 miles north of Jeddah, with its own international airport. AlUla is crucial to the success of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 – an ambitious tourism project that hopes to rocket Saudi into pole position among future global tourism players by presenting upscale travellers with futuristic travel experiences, mountain and desert adventures and other luxury pursuits.
A CENTRE OF CIVILISATION
AlUla was once an important stop on the ancient incense trade route, at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe, where weary travellers transporting precious cargos stopped to enjoy its legendary oasis. Thanks to its strategic position, AlUla is home to a series of historic sites spanning 200,000 years of human endeavour.
Hidden amongst its fiery Martian landscapes of shifting sands and monumental rock formations are thousands of archaeological sites, many yet to be uncovered, including the lost cities of Hegra – built by the same civilisation who founded sister city Petra in Jordan, and Dadan, an ancient pre-Arabic city carved out of the sandstone mountains.
Whether your clients want to channel their inner Indiana Jones and search for ancient tombs, get their adrenaline pumping by ziplining across canyons, taste the unparalleled hospitality of Arabia, enjoy the silence as they gaze at the desert’s clear night sky or watch an A-list concert in an otherworldly setting, AlUla has something for everyone.
It’s never been easier to visit AlUla, but make sure your clients are prepared for this unspoilt desert destination.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched its eVisa programme in September 2019, meaning tourists from 49 countries including the UK, can apply online through its eVisa portal (visa.visitsaudi.com) ahead of travel. Visas are granted within minutes. Independent touring is welcomed for both men and women.
GETTING THERE & ABOUT
Fly into Riyadh or Jeddah on Saudia or British Airways and easy connections are available on Saudia domestically or on flynas. AlUla’s newly renovated international airport is approximately a 30 minute drive to most of the accommodation, taxis are available and your operators can provide transfers. Both low-cost carrier flynas and Emirates’ partner carrier flydubai offer direct services into AlUla from Dubai, providing a popular option of an Emirati/Saudi twin-centre holiday or a short break to AlUla. In October 2023, Qatar Airways added a bi-weekly Doha-AlUla service.
AlUla is easy to get around as most attractions are within 15-35 minutes drive of each other. Pick-up and drop-offs are usually included in tour operator packages. There is limited public transport, taxis are available and you can hire a car from the airport.
WHEN TO GO
AlUla is open year-round but, although it’s less humid than other Saudi cities, visitors may find the heat a bit much between June and August. The optimum time to visit is October to April, when temperatures are manageable and the biggest concerts are scheduled. It’s worth noting that the night temperature can drop fast in the desert and evenings can be surprisingly chilly. The terrain around AlUla can be uneven so a good pair of walking shoes is essential. If possible, schedule any visit for mid-week to avoid the busy weekends.
What to wear
Saudi Arabia has relaxed its rules for traditional dress and women may go without wearing a headscarf or abaya, but dressing respectfully and covering knees and shoulders is recommended. Swimwear should be worn strictly at the poolside.
Saudi Arabia is a conservative society and using bad language or raising your voice is considered extremely disrespectful.
Visit experiencealula.com for the latest product information and the most up-to-date calendar of AlUla’s events and festivals.
Supporting the trade
Extensive training material is available at alulaspecialist.com, covering historic sights, accommodations, sustainability, experiences, and the ongoing and already well-established annual events taking place in AlUla, including music and arts festival Winter at Tantora, AlUla Skies Festival and Ancient Kingdom Festival, marking Hegra’s 15th anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This one-stop shop for travel agents includes three training modules, a series of seven new short training videos, as well as imagery, agent perks, a directory of product suppliers and more.