DESTINATION OF THE MONTH
WEEK 3 OF 3
The AlUla team from The Walshe Group have just returned from their first visit to the destination and are excited to share their first-hand experiences with LATTE‘s readers.
Below, Sonia Holt and Antonio Khattar from The Walshe Group have provided feedback on some of the most frequently asked questions they have received about AlUla since returning last week.
What was the most unexpected thing you found in AlUla?
The landmarks were even more breathtaking than we expected. However, what you can’t see from the images is the incredibly cool vibe in AlUla.
For example, Elephant Rock. This is not just a monumentally beautiful piece of geology; it’s an experience. We arrived in the evening to find around a dozen fire pits behind the rock. All were busy with local people, enjoying the stunning desert night as the melodic music of the oud seemed to blare directly from the rock itself. We shared a pit with a Saudi couple and their baby. It was the most beautiful atmospheric evening to be out in the heart of the desert in front of such a geological marvel, enjoying the music and company of local people. It set the tone for the rest of our trip. (Elephant Rock is open every night until 2am, entry is free, drinks and food are available for purchase).
Is AlUla as spectacular as it looks?
Yes, it genuinely is (and so much more). While Hegra remains an absolute highlight, this is just part of a two-hour tour exploring over 100 carved tombs from the Nabatean era. A number of the elaborate tombs were built for women. One of the tombs is open for visitors to go inside. A very special and unique touch, harking back to AlUla’s roots as a place of ancient hospitality, is that visitors will be seated and offered Arabic coffee and dates before visiting each of the heritage sites such as Hegra and Dadan.
The oasis that winds itself through AlUla is also spectacular and provides a stunning backdrop to the sandstone outcrops and vistas. There are a number of walks through the oasis and several cafes to discover within. Old Town with the remnants of the mud bricks houses brings a reminder of the community that has lived in the region for centuries. It’s a sensitive blend of the old and the restored with the ancient citadel still towering above. You feel very much a part of history everywhere you go in AlUla – the old and the new.
What is the dress code?
Conservative dress is required – ideally long pants for both men and women, with shoulders covered. (Similar to what you would wear anywhere in the Middle East). There is no requirement at all for women visiting to cover their heads. In any given scenario, you will find women, some covered and some not. As a female traveller, I freely walked alone and felt 100% safe at all times.
If you are planning on attending a concert or have a reservation at one of the more upscale restaurants, feel free to pack something more glam to wear – you won’t be out of place. Otherwise, good walking shoes/boots for dusty conditions are the key essential, along with sunscreen and a jacket during the winter season.
Are the local people friendly?
As a country Saudi Arabia is changing rapidly – AlUla is at the forefront of many of these societal changes. Visitors will have many opportunities to engage with local people – young people generally speak excellent English and are open to talking about life in Saudi and about how they see their futures and what is happening in their country. (Saudi Arabia has a particularly youthful population with two-thirds under the age of 35). The community is very proud of the re-opening of AlUla to the world, and local people happily welcome tourists to the region.
We paid a visit to the first unisex hair and beauty salon, run by two young entrepreneurial Saudi women that opened in AlUla the week before we arrived. Many of the recently trained tour guides are females (and are doing a brilliant job) of proudly re-telling the ancient history of Arabia. There is live music, young people are out and socialising – AlUla is a place that is guaranteed to change your perceptions.
Are there many restaurants?
The highest concentration of restaurants is in Old Town and the nearby village of Al Jadidah. The restaurant scene is growing quickly – in the past fortnight, three new venues have opened. Visitors will also find stunning pop-up restaurants, open for the winter season, such as ‘Annabels’ from London. British Michelin Star chef, Jason Atherton, has also opened ‘Maraya Social’ in a beautiful location atop Maraya (the largest mirrored building in the world, which houses a concert hall).
For cutting-edge Saudi dishes, we recommend ‘Suhail’ in Old Town as a must-try. Note that alcohol is prohibited, but you won’t miss it, there is such a fantastic array of mocktails and fresh juices on offer.
How did we get there?
We flew via Dubai to Jeddah. Jeddah makes an ideal stopover on the way to AlUla. Don’t miss the UNESCO heritage-listed old town of Al Balad with its unique architecture featuring the exquisite roshans. There are regular flights from Jeddah to AlUla (ULH) operated by Saudia and Flynas. On our return, we flew back directly from AlUla to Dubai with Flynas (currently a twice-weekly service).
What are the must-do highlights in AlUla?
- First and foremost the heritage areas of Hegra, Dadan and Jabal Ikmah – this will take almost a day.
- Old Town – restaurants, cafes, and shops juxtaposed against the mud-brick ruins.
- The oasis – discover citrus and cafes within!
- Breakfast at Princess Noura’s farm
- The view from the lookout Harrat Uwayrid
- A helicopter ride – recommended at the end of your trip – re-cap all the places you have visited from the air.
- Try Arabic coffee – it’s not the thick black coffee you may expect – but a yellow/gold colour, flavoured by cardamom and other spices.
What are the COVID/travel requirements for Saudi Arabia?
- At the time of writing, visitors need to make sure they do the following before they arrive in AlUla;
- Apply for the e-visa to Saudi Arabia (approval is generally instantaneous). Currently, the visa includes an additional mandatory fee for COVID insurance.
- Complete the Muqeem vaccination registration form.
- Have your international vaccine certificate on hand.
- Have proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival
- Download the Tawakkalna app – this enables entry into restaurants and attractions.
(You will need a local SIM for the app to work – available at airports).
Top Tips for Selling AlUla
- Minimum three nights to really experience AlUla.
- Get the trip organised through a wholesaler or DMC. It is highly advisable to have your arrangements organised beforehand.
- If travelling from December to March, check out the event program called AlUla Moments. Including a concert or festival in your visit is a super special experience.
- Credit cards are widely accepted. ATMs are also available. Visitors can exchange USD and EUR for Saudi Riyals at the airport.
- Wholesalers in Australia currently selling AlUla include Abercrombie & Kent, Crooked Compass, Arcadia Expeditions and The Explorer Society.
For more information
If you have questions or would like to know more – please contact Sonia and Antonio via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(The pair participated in hotel inspections of all the properties, and are happy to share their feedback and recommendations for clients.
Learn more at experiencealula.com.