It’s easy to forget that most of Saudi is still a vast wilderness, and one of the most ecologically pristine in the world: the Arabian Desert. The size of this sprawling beach without a sea is truly hard to grasp, covering more than three times the area of Texas and about 30 times that of Ireland — but if you’d like to try, one of the best places to behold its vastness is the Edge of the World.
Offering endless views of the dunes below stretching to the horizon, this famous landmark is on the itinerary of many visitors to Saudi. Few, however, know that you can take it a step further and actually camp at the Edge of the World, enjoying the legendary starscape at night and the magic of a desert sunrise in the morning. Read on to discover some tips and tricks for enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime experience of camping at the Edge of the World.
Jebel Fihrayn, or the Edge of the World, is an outcropping of the vast Tuwaiq cliffs, which snake through the Saudi desert for more than 600 kilometers. What makes this site so special? “The beautiful view of the sunset there, high on the mountain,” says Faisal Almshari, the founder of Riyadh Hiking. “And the history of the place — it was underwater millions of years ago, and that’s why you’ll see lots of corals and fossils.” Located about 90 kilometers from Riyadh, the viewpoint towers 300 meters above the valley below, offering jaw-dropping views of the dunes, camel tracks and ancient riverbeds of the Arabian Desert.
Spending the night at the Edge of the World is an unforgettable experience that any traveler would regret missing out on. To get there, you’ll need a 4x4 vehicle. In the Acacia Valley, which you’ll pass through between Riyadh and the Edge of the World, there are many campsites available for intrepid travelers — a rare opportunity to spend the night in a completely undeveloped landscape. Sheltered from the desert winds within the valley, resting in the shade of a placid Acacia tree, enjoy the sight of herds of camels and goats passing by. Camping is allowed in the Acacia Valley for up to two nights from Thursday afternoon through Saturday evening only. More camping can be found at Huraymila National Park, located north of the Acacia Valley and the Edge of the World. In either place, don’t be surprised if a friendly park ranger stops by to make sure you’re all right — and remember to bring plenty of water, food, warm clothes and gasoline for your 4x4. Want more packing tips? Check out visitsaudi.com for more guidance.
Almshari of Riyadh Hiking says the best time for an Edge of the World camping adventure is during the winter or spring, when the weather is more enjoyable. “Usually people try to avoid going to the desert [in summertime because of] the heat of the air, and also scorpions and snakes abound in the summer,” he says. While the summer can be hot and buggy, the winter and spring are ideal for outdoor fun, with high temperatures around 24 degrees C.
Hiking at the Edge of the World is another can’t-miss experience. The desert landscape presents no shortage of directions to stroll — just make sure you’re pointed away from the cliff! The most established trail at the Edge of the World leads down from the end of the road to the bottom of the valley, beneath the massive Tuwaiq cliffs. From the notch in the cliff known as the “rock window,” it takes about two hours to descend the trail and climb back up. Another option is to walk along the clifftop on one of the tracks leading north, offering stunning views of the valley below. Make sure you bring plenty of water and food, as there are no services along the trail (or anywhere at the Edge of the World).
But there’s more to do at the Edge of the World than hike and admire the stunning views. “The best activities at the Edge of the World are camping in the desert, stargazing from the dunes, and also sand skating and quad biking,” Almshari says. If you’re interested in more motorized fun on the sands of the Arabian Desert, a number of local guides in Riyadh offer fully outfitted expedition packages to the Edge of the World. And if exploring with others is your preference, look into meeting up with the Riyadh Hiking Group during your travels.
—Cody Siler is a travel writer who has written for Club Traveler, Alamo’s Scenic Route, Gambit Magazine, Backroads Active Travel and more.