I was fortunate enough to get an invite to Saudi Arabia for a week and experience the local culture and beauties the country has to offer. I started off in Riyadh for a day…
Edge of the World
We headed off to the top of the Edge of the World. It’s about a 30min drive from downtown Riyadh. Most of the road is a tarred highway but a good 2-3km off the highway is dirt road and bumpy so I’d recommend using a 4×4. The Edge of the World is breathtaking; with formations like a mini Grand Canyon. It’s a must see and makes for some awesome photos. Make sure to drive to the bottom of the Edge of the World. You can turn off the highway into a field, giving you a different perspective of the edge.
Red Sand Dunes
From Edge of the World it’s about another 30min drive to the Red Sand Dunes of Riyadh. Upon arrival, there are plenty of stalls where you can rent quad bikes. The dunes visible from the road don’t look spectacular because they have quad bike tracks all over them. Don’t let this deter you from going. The dunes are divided into two parts by a fence. The first half is for riding and the second half is untouched. Do yourself a favor, hire a quad bike and go ride the dunes up to the fence. You can take some great pictures holding your camera over the fence of the Red Dunes with a spectacular rock formation in the background.
When hiring a bike, make sure to hire a larger bike, it’s a bit more expensive but you need the power on the sand. I paid 80 Rial for 30mins. The locals at the quad bike stores didn’t speak English or accept USD so make sure you have local currency with you and, if possible, someone who can speak Arabic. I didn’t bother negotiating with the guy because of the language barrier and I just wanted to ride and take some pictures but I’ve read you can bargain and get better deals if you want to.
We then made our way to Diriyah, the second heritage site in the Kingdom, but it was under renovation and not open for viewing to anyone at the time.
We were lucky enough to go see some Falcons – this was a private arranged viewing, although I am sure there are places you can go in Riyadh to see this. The falcons were awesome to watch. They are housed in a private building and each falcon has its own stand in the sand. They are all covered with a cap, preventing them from seeing what is going on around them – this keeps them calm.
We were able to hold the birds for a little while before feeding took place. They are given small freshly killed pheasants as feed. It’s an incredible sight to see a falcon feed – Their beaks are extremely powerful and they are completely ruthless.
The birds are trained to trust their owners to the point where the owner is able to go up to the bird and take its prey from it once it has made a kill. The ultimate goal is to achieve this in the desert (If it were in a city area, or valley, they would lose the bird), where the bird is released into the wild and tracked – a common and expensive sport in Saudi.
Al Bathaa – The Old City
Al Bathaa still has its original standing fort – The Masmak Citadel -which is filled with history of Riyadh and the Kingdom. The building is a spectacular site and is open for free to the public. There were little kids running around when we were there and they followed us into the museum. This made us a little cautious of our belongings, so if you go, watch out for that. Close to the fort is also the execution square but we didn’t make it to this site.
The Kingdom Tower
The Kingdom Tower is probably the most iconic modern building in Riyadh – it was not that impressive but worth seeing the exterior up-close. I went up to the viewing deck but it is quite strict with pictures – this is mainly a money making scheme since you are allowed to take photos with your phone but not camera (There are photographers you can pay to take a photo of you for a fee).
We spent a day in Riyadh before flying off to Medina, the second holiest site for Muslims. Upon arrival there, we took a 3-hour bus ride to Al Ula.