Why exploring Saudi Arabia?

A large country broadly unknown...

Since the beginning of the 20th century CE the land that will become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was still a blank on the map. And a big blank as the country is alone as large as France, Spain, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Portugal, and Ireland altogether! Until its creation in 1932 only few foreign explorers had made the great adventure in the unknown through the center of the Peninsula and with limited means to establish any proper cartography of this vast territory.

Harry Saint-John Philby, British explorer and adviser of King Abdelaziz ibn Saud, was the first westerner to provide detailed descriptions of the central plateau, the Nejd. He led there several expeditions in the 30'ies till the 50'ies that led him until Yemen and during which he took notes of precious details about landscapes, historical sites, and Arab people lifestyle. He also brought back from his travels the first pictures of those remotes regions.

When his countryman Bertram Thomas performed the first recorded crossing of the Rub' Al-Khali , the largest sand dune desert in the world, from Salalah in Oman until Doha in Qatar, both northern and southern poles had already been reached for nearly 20 years.

Harry St-John Bridger Philby (Image from

Harry St-John Bridger Philby (Image from "The heart of Arabia, a record of travel and exploration", London: Constable and Company, 1922)

Oil well drilling rig with airplane and men with camel, ARAMCO (SMU Central University Libraries)

Oil well drilling rig with airplane and men with camel, ARAMCO (SMU Central University Libraries)

Since the discovery of oil in 1938 the country has experienced a dramatic development on many regards but tourism in the Kingdom is still today a quite confidential activity practiced by few curious people only. This is mainly due to the fact that Saudi Arabia still remains as unknown to the external world as it was at the foundation of the Kingdom in 1932. Actually the terrifying reputation of the desert as a hostile and harsh place is still vivid in most people's minds, including the Saudi nationals themselves.

... that is still not accessible to every traveler...

​Today with a large network of roads throughout the country with many fuel stations, traveling in an air conditioned 4X4 with a navigation system is a much more comfortable experience than the conditions endured by Bedouins on their camels less than a century ago. But driving off-road still requires strict security rules including proper equipment as the dangers of the desert haven't faded away with modern times.

Therefore it is highly discouraged to travelers novice to desert exploration to drive off-road, especially in the sand. Even if there are still many fascinating sites that are not reachable on tarmac, the Saudi Arabia Tourism Guide recommends to ask for the services of professional tours who can ensure satisfying level of safety.

And there is still the issue of tourism visas that are issued in very limited numbers, but that may change soon.

... but that hosts fascinating places

Even today, despite the extraordinary variety and the unique beauty of its landscapes, the stereotype of vast monotonous extend of sand remains the only image that comes to mind when speaking about Saudi Arabia.

But be sure that to the curious-minded people willing to see over the stereotypes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reveals its hidden treasures. And they are plenty.

Indeed, nobody will be surprised that Saudi Arabia hosts the largest sand dunes desert in the world, the mythical Rub' Al-Khali...

Grandiose extent of massive sand dunes in the Rub' Al-Khali (photo: Florent Egal)

Grandiose extent of massive sand dunes in the Rub' Al-Khali (photo: Florent Egal)

... but who knows that on the west of this immense desert stand the high plateaus of Aseer and Al-Bahah that reach 3000 meters of altitude...

Green hills and terraces in Aseer's countryside north of Abha (photo: Florent Egal)

Green hills and terraces in Aseer's countryside north of Abha (photo: Florent Egal)

... and overlook the coastal plain of the Tihamah from the top of of vertiginous cliffs?

Sarawat mountain's impressive cliffs close to the village of Mohayil (photo: Florent Egal)

Sarawat mountain's impressive cliffs close to the village of Mohayil (photo: Florent Egal)

Who knows that some of those mountains carry countless of thousands-of-years old carvings including inscriptions using ancient scripts that have disappeared for more than a millennia?

Inscription of Dhu Nuwas in Bir Hima (photo: Florent Egal)

Inscription of Dhu Nuwas in Bir Hima (photo: Florent Egal)

Who knows that all along those mountains that run through the whole country from the Yemen until Jordan are hundreds of volcanoes...

Wa'abah crater (photo: Martin Beuvelot)

Wa'abah crater (photo: Martin Beuvelot)

...including rare white-color craters?

View on the out-of-this-world Jebel Bayda from the Jebel Abiad (photo: Florent Egal)

View on the out-of-this-world Jebel Bayda from the Jebel Abiad (photo: Florent Egal)

Who knows that along the western shore of Saudi Arabia lay hundreds of kilometers of coral reefs displaying their flashy tones through the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea?

Coral reef in Obhur (photo: Ilkka Tuohela)

Coral reef in Obhur (photo: Ilkka Tuohela)

Maritime birds at Farasan Islands (photo: Florent Egal)

Maritime birds at Farasan Islands (photo: Florent Egal)

Who knows that Saudi Arabia has dozens of kilometers of pristine beaches along such as the coral archipelago of Farasan populated by countless birds?

Who knows that the Nabataean people who built Petra in today's Jordan had their second most important city, Hegra, in today's Saudi Arabia?

Nabatean tombs in the ancient site of Hegra (Maddain Saleh), first site of Saudi Arabia listed as UNESCO World Heritage (photo: Florent Egal)

Nabatean tombs in the ancient site of Hegra (Maddain Saleh), first site of Saudi Arabia listed as UNESCO World Heritage (photo: Florent Egal)

Who knows that the iconic sandstone formations of the famous Jordanian desert of Wadi Rum spread 200 kilometers south of the border with Saudi Arabia where it is named Jibal Hisma? Who knows that some rock art of the northwest of the country which is over 10 000 years old depict a time when today's arid deserts were green savannas?

Ancient rock art at Luwaee (photo: Florent Egal)

Ancient rock art at Luwaee (photo: Florent Egal)

For now only few people know about those magical places. But I hope this website will help to make this number growing so that the hidden treasures of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia earn the reputation they deserve.



A large country broadly unknown that is still not accessible to all travelers but that hosts fascinating places (author: Florent Egal)

About the Author

My name is Florent Egal, I am a French national living in Riyadh since January 2010. After six years of exploration of Saudi Arabia I have decided to show with this website that KSA has much more to offer than the stereotype landscape of empty extends of sand dunes. I hope that after reading through these pages people will feel the same willingness and amazement than I have to discover this fascinating country

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