The Sharaan Nature Reserve is home to a vast collection of flora and fauna
Wildlife Sanctuaries in Saudi

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4 nature reserves to see Saudi wildlife

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Wildlife Sanctuaries in Saudi

A nature reserve is a place where wildlife — both plant and animal — is protected. There are 15 such reserves around the country managed by the Saudi Wildlife Authority where you can experience Saudi’s biodiversity in all its splendor. It’s not always easy to reach these secluded spots, so be sure to double-check that the reserve is open before you go so you won’t miss out on the chance “to see amazing nature,” notes Saad Al Dawood, a hospitality student at King Saud University in Riyadh. Also, “going with a guide is always helpful when you’re visiting an area for the first time, especially if the terrain is unfamiliar,” says an expat living in the Eastern Province. Here are four highly recommended reserves in different corners of Saudi.

Jabal Shada

Located about an hour and a half from Al Baha by car, the Jabal Shada nature reserve is a lesser-explored biodiversity hot spot where unusual rock formations and flora and fauna that are endemic to the region can be found in quantity. Head out during the day to avoid riding down the snaking mountain roads at night. For a unique treat (or should it just happen to get late on your drive home), Saudi architect Mohammed Nasser Al Shadwee has carved out eye-catching architectural structures in the caves where you’re able to spend the night.

Farasan Islands

About a one-hour boat ride from Jazan, you’ll find the Farasan Islands. More than 80 islands make up the archipelago, the largest and most inhabited of which is Farasan Island itself. The island is known for its incredible biodiversity — the Saudi Wildlife Authority declared the Farasan Islands a protected area in 1996 —  and boasts pristine coral reefs for epic scuba diving, a variety of fish and world-class birding for species including the white-eyed gull, the crab plover and the sooty falcon. On land, you may catch a sighting of the endangered Farasan gazelle (there were only about 1,000 of these graceful creatures in the wild as of 2013). The Farasan Islands are also among the country’s best places to explore marine biodiversity. Consider diving with a guide to explore the Red Sea’s many treasures. “If you plan to scuba dive, you’ll need an international license and a car reservation so you can bring your equipment,” says Al Dawood, as there are no outfitters on the island.

Sharaan Nature Reserve

In addition to the many historical and cultural artifacts you’ll find in AlUla, the region is also home to a vast collection of flora and fauna. At Sharaan Nature Reserve, which covers 1,500 square kilometers, you may be able to see red-necked ostriches and idmi gazelles, depending on the time of year. The Sharaan Nature Reserve also provides sanctuary for species including the Cape hare as well as a variety of birds. Endangered Arabian wolves and large-eared red foxes are again roaming this land, too. Perhaps the most exciting and rare wildlife spotting comes in the form of the critically endangered Arabian leopard. Fewer than 200 of these animals are now roaming in the wild, but Sharaan officials are hoping to help the species thrive again. And if you’re after plant life, you’re sure to appreciate the acacia trees and Pulicaria incisa — an aromatic herb with bright yellow blooms.

Raydah Natural Reserve

This protected area in Saudi is situated adjacent to the Aseer National Park in Abha. Raydah reserve was listed as a protected area in 1989 and is a habitat for wildlife including the Arabian wolf, caracal, rock hyrax, mongoose and Nubian ibex. The reserve is also home to numerous species of birdlife, such as the Yemen thrush, Arabian red-legged partridge, Arabian woodpecker and Yemen linnet.

Read more about Saudi’s commitment to the environment and sustainable growth here.

—Didi Gluck is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience reporting on travel, culture and style for publications including Travel + Leisure, JWM, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar and Elle.