AlUla has been a crucial cultural crossroads for the better part of 200,000 years. And with Saudi open to international travelers since 2019, the mysteries of AlUla make for a richly rewarding, off-the-radar destination for your clients.
It’s no surprise that the city has quickly established itself as one of the world’s top places to discover. As the location of Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, AlUla boasts a bounty of natural treasures, a thriving art scene, and some of Saudi’s most luxurious hotel offerings. In anticipation of the rising tide of interest in the destination, here are our top picks for experiences that will be the highlight of any itinerary you put together.
The citizens of Hegra, the ancient capital of the Nabataean Kingdom, left behind a wealth of clues that demonstrate just how advanced their culture was, most notably the monumental tombs and petroglyphs which make up the city’s nearly one-mile Rock Art Trail. Exploring the evidence from the Bronze Age to the Roman Empire and all the way up to the later Islamic period, travelers will find an abundance of inspiration in the area’s labyrinthine ghost towns and lush oases. And when you plan a trip between the months of January and March, visitors can participate in Hegra After Dark, complete with chariot rides among the candlelit tombs.
With so much unexplored history to take in, local guides help provide context. Try Tistahel, who can build off of their preexisting three-day tour of AlUla to customize a route that will suit any client interest.
Watch the sunset by Elephant Rock
Minutes from Hegra, Jabal Alfil—also known as Elephant Rock—is a curious geological feature formed by millions of years of erosion, and one of contemporary AlUla’s most iconic symbols. As night falls on nearby Hegra, visitors can find a cozy spot in one of the sunken lounge seats surrounding Elephant Rock for one of the most striking sunsets in the country. As a possible add-on, travelers can track the constellations with Husaak Adventures, who can help stage a campfire dinner and stargazing at nearby Gharameel.
Shop at Old Town Market
Old Town AlUla is in fact relatively modern, with today’s inhabitants occupying stone and adobe structures which date back as far back as the 12th century. The village welcomes travelers, particularly at its old market, where visitors cantake home a bit of history.
After reaching the uninhabited part of the old town via a zero-emission autonomous pod (electric jitney-style vehicles), a local guide will ensure that everyone can navigate these historic ruins safely and sustainably. Upon returning to the Old Town Market, visitors are then free to browse hundreds of shops dealing largely in traditional, handmade crafts, art, and cuisine, all followed by an authentic Saudi lunch you’ve booked for them at a restaurant such as the modern fine dining concept, Suhail.
Tour Dadan by vintage Land Rover
Another must-see for history lovers, the ancient capital of the Dadan and Lihyan Kingdoms dates to the first millennium C.E. Visitors can witness signs of their reign in the intact inscriptions carved into the walls of red rock tombs, guarded by intricate lion sculptures.
Your clients can see the city in style with a classic convertible Land Rover chauffeured by an educational guide. Tours last two hours and include a guided visit to Jabal Ikmah, a mountain featuring petroglyphs and thousands of additionalinscriptions in ancient, pre-Arabic languages, including one of the earliest examples of written Arabic on record.
Take in a concert at Maraya
Maraya stands as a symbol of things to come in AlUla, which is already proving to be one of the most exciting cultural centers in the Middle East. Wrapped in nearly 10,000 mirrored panes, the futuristic structure literally reflects the desert landscape surrounding it, making it a huge draw for those interested in exploring groundbreaking architecture. Even better, the cultural center it houses has been attracting the type of international star power, from Yanni to Andrea Bocelli, around which you can build a vacation.
Located on the roof of the complex, Maraya Social is a dining destination from Michelin-starred British chef Jason Atherton. Featuring farm-to-table dishes in an incomparable setting, its menus feature innovative takes on Arabic cuisine. You’ll want to book reservations well in advance.
See a contemporary art exhibit
More than just a concert hall, Maraya also hosts film screenings, mixed-media performances, and art residencies. For clients who are art lovers, you’ll want to plan around the venue’s calendar, which, through May 16, 2023, centers around FAME, a comprehensive exhibition of Andy Warhol’s greatest works, produced in collaboration with the pop artist’s hometown museum in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
For those interested in other contemporary shows, there are plenty to anchor a trip, including the monthlong, age-old Winter at Tantora Festival, held annually from December to January. On a more epic scale, the “Valley of the Arts,” or Wadi AlFann, will feature large-scale, immersive installations designed to interplay with the ancient landscapes when it is completed in 2024.
Sleeping in an oasis
When it comes to five-star hotels, travelers have no lack of choices in AlUla, and the blend of privacy, design, and sustainability offered by Habitas stands out. With their own exclusive bungalow set in an oasis, guests will find themselves in the cradle of dramatic sandstone karsts, palm groves, and a pool that exudes style and calm. For those who prefer something more social, the resort also features a neighboring caravan complex where they can stay in outfitted Airstreams and enjoy DJ and film nights under the stars, ensuring that there’s always something new to discover in this prehistoric land.