If you’ve ever felt the urge to stargaze under a jet-black night sky or bound over rolling sand banks, then a trip to the desert landscapes on the outskirts of Jeddah should be on your travel list. The combination of otherworldly outcrops, pitted dunes, and the vast solitude of the sands draws travelers of all stripes, keen to sample this most evocative and timeless part of Arabia.
Whether you’d prefer to arrange your own travel or wish to join an organized tour group, there are a number of options to suit solo travelers, as well as visiting groups.
Camping at Moon Mountain
An hour’s drive north of Jeddah and suitably named because of a landscape that would be familiar to Apollo astronauts, Moon Mountain is a popular hideaway for locals looking to escape the urban bustle in favor of weekend hikes and camping under the stars.
You’ll find your moon landing by first taking the Asfan Road route 285 out of the city towards the University of Jeddah, and on to the small village of Asfan.
While there, take the opportunity to stretch your legs with a gentle climb up to the 18th century Asfan Fort. Constructed entirely from the basalt rock found in the valley, this hilltop outpost served as a rest stop for pilgrims on the well-traveled route between Makkah and Medina.
After that, a further 25 minutes on route 4,720 will take you east towards the Jabal al Jadib mountain range, where striking rock formations jutting out from the sand and endless desert views will signal your arrival in Moon Mountain. Pitch your tent and start your campfire in time for sunset, for a stunning sundown is only the warm-up for the main event; a dizzying blanket of stars.
As with any trip to the desert, it’s advised to travel in groups and ensure you’re fully equipped for the journey and the seasonal conditions. For solo travelers, or those looking for an organized tour package, the answer lies south of Jeddah.
Adventures in Jeddah’s desert
For a more intrepid trip into the dunes, book with a licensed tour operator who will be able to provide you with options ranging from an afternoon off-roading to multiday camping adventures.
In Jeddah, a popular choice is an eight-hour all-inclusive trip to a Bedouin-style camp located 40 minutes south of the city, 10km east of route 55.
Here you’ll find the landscape is less lunar and more Martian, where black rocks form mountain peak vistas surrounded by miles of sand disturbed by little other than meandering scarab beetles. It’s the perfect terrain for a wealth of activities tailored to match your adrenaline levels.
Thrill-seekers will delight at the quad biking, sand boarding and 4x4 dune bashing on offer, while kids and families looking for something more serene can enjoy camel riding, mountaineering and sports including football, volleyball and tug-of-war.
Following an early afternoon central pick-up, the bumpy off-road journey will take in Jeddah’s largely uninhabited lands, interspersed with occasional glimpses of roaming cattle. Arrival at camp typically brings a traditional scene, set with a welcome drink of Arabian tea.
Drinks and snacks – including Arabian bites such as Balila chickpeas - are usually provided throughout the afternoon, followed by an evening. This commonly ranges from Jeddah fast food favorite, Al Baik, to a Bedouin barbecue feast using traditional slow-cooking methods, depending on your package.
In the evening you’ll be encouraged to trade stories with your fellow guests and new friends around the campfire as the sun sets. A clear sky then promises a prime opportunity for stargazing before returning into Jeddah, or bedding down in your tent for the night.
Costs for desert safari tours start from around SAR299 (US$80), by vary by operator and package.