If Riyadh wasn’t your first pick for an up-close encounter with a cheetah, a trip to Nofa Wildlife Park on the outskirts of the city will change your mind.
This beautiful lodge-style resort is the canvas for an explosion of wildlife, and a rare opportunity to experience a piece of Africa in the Arabian Desert. The park has only relatively recently opened to the public – access was previously limited to private bookings or events – and a safari through its secluded reserve is a magical way to spend a morning. Here are just a few of the highlights on offer at the resort.
Nofa feels a world away from Riyadh’s frenetic traffic and fast-paced streets. Here, the peach-coloured plains are punctuated by gambolling giraffes and grazing white oryx, and ostriches pick their way across the dunes. The best way to see the resort’s more than 700 animals is with a guided safari drive, where an open-topped vehicle will bring you mesmerizingly close to wildebeest, impala, wallowing pygmy hippos and a roaming assortment of other wildlife. The resort fuses tourism with wildlife conservation – eight giraffes have been born at the park – and is also home to several endangered and threatened species. Look out for the graceful Grévy's zebra at shaded grazing stations, or wandering the reserve.
A tour of Nofa’s wildlife centre is included as part of the safari drive, and is an opportunity to see – and in some cases handle – a range of native and exotic animals. Spacious enclosures play host to falcons, owls, reptiles, desert gerbils and a number of other creatures, but the star of the show is the centre’s cheetah. Being able to lock eyes with this normally elusive predator, and to admire its fluid beauty from just an arm’s distance away, is a high point of the trip.
If a day trip has left you wanting more, you can stay overnight in one of the resort’s luxurious bungalows or villas. These secluded, thatched-roofed suites are exquisitely decorated with handcrafted furniture, brightly patterned African fabrics and wall art, and wooden sculptures. Watch the sun fade across the desert landscape from your private garden or pool, before visiting one of the hotel’s restaurants for an expertly prepared meal.
The resort also has a 232-stable equestrian complex and a spectacular 18-hole golf course, which is flanked by the desert and wildlife park and open to day visitors. The complex holds an annual horse racing event along with a series of show jumping competitions. Guests can also book rides.