At 3,000 meters, perched on the side of Saudi Arabia’s highest mountain, the juniper-covered Al Soudah is the unofficial outdoor adventure capital of Saudi Arabia. Part of the vast Asir National Park, with its network of hiking routes, this is an area of cool mountain air, wild nature and mist-cloaked valleys. While hiking and guided camping trips are quintessential activities, this is also an area of ancient tribal culture — especially at the historic village of Rijal Almaa west of Al Soudah. Here, the annual Flowerman Festival showcases the culture of the indigenous Aseri tribe, including the men wearing flower wreaths as headdresses.
Clustered in the shadows of the mountains, the spectacular Rijal Almaa was historically an important stop for merchants and pilgrims travelling north to Makkah and Medina. The blocky stone buildings with brightly colored shutters are still mostly populated by members of the Aseri tribe, known for their vibrant outfits and floral crowns. A museum in one of the ancient forts tells the story of the village, which is in the process of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Consisting of 4,500-sq km stretching all the way to the Red Sea coast, this was Saudi Arabia’s first national park when it opened in 1980. The area around Al Soudah is all about hiking trails over misty, sweeping valleys pocked with little villages and stepped fields, with lots of campsites, picnic spots and lookouts. Look up for glimpses of the eagles and griffon vultures that cruise the air currents, or to spot the migratory birds that regularly pass through.
Al Soudah is the home of endless outdoor activities. Just coming up on the cable car, high above the mountain slopes, feels like an adventure in itself. The most popular activity is to hike into the national park, ideally with a local guide, but the area also offers mountain biking tours, horse riding trips and tandem paragliding over the valleys. The night sky here is unobscured by light pollution and on a clear night, it’s an excellent place to camp and stargaze, with an array of constellations visible overhead.
Where to stay: With its domes, frescoes, soothing fountains and heated pool, the palatial InterContinental is the best option in town. Located above 3,000 meters, it’s surrounded by tree-covered hills and wild nature.
Where to eat: Roadside stalls and traditional local restaurants line the mountain road into Al Soudah. Dine the traditional way by picnicking in the hills, taking in the panoramic views.
Learn more: Go Zahid’s tours of the Arabian Highlands include the slopes of Al Soudah, as well as the hanging village of Al Habala in nearby Abha.
The northeastern city of Tabuk has long been a resting point for Jordanian and Egyptian pilgrims, with a rich Bedouin culture that can be felt in the bustling Souq Twaheen, which still supplies patterned rugs and goat-hair tent covers for modern nomads.