Explore Umluj

Azure waters and idyllic islands

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It doesn’t take long to work out why this small coastal town and region is often referred to as the Maldives of Saudi Arabia. The 104 little islands to the north of the town are all about egg-white sands and ancient swaying palms, and there’s a gentle technicolor world of nudibranchs, turtles and dugongs under the aquarium-like waters. The beach at Umluj is postcard-pretty, but the main attraction is taking a boat to islands like Jabal Hassan, or palm-covered coastal beaches such as Ras Al Shaaban and Doqm. From town, it’s possible to tour nearby mango farms or travel an hour or so inland to Harrat Lunayyir, a curious black lava field of craters and cones, a world away from the dunes and turquoise waters of the coast.           

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Underwater fun

Underwater Fun

Warm, clear waters and abundant coral make Umluj a prime area for diving and snorkeling, and still much less crowded than famous Red Sea dive spots like Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh. Many of the fringing reefs are found just off sandy beaches, for example at Jabal Hassan. The warm seas are home to green and Hawksbill turtles, dolphins and dugong sea cows, with more than 1,200 fish species and 300 species of hard coral, four times as many as in the Caribbean. 

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Island hopping

With more than 100 islands to explore, this is the quintessential Umluj activity — dolphin spotting on the way to deserted atolls and sandbars, whether to snorkel, fish or just relax. There are day tours on larger boats, but many visitors go on private trips with drivers in shaded little fishing boats. There are plans to eventually build resorts on 50 of the islands as part of the Red Sea Project, but for now most feel undiscovered, their fine sand and technicolor reefs just waiting to be explored.    

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Bird watching

The Umluj coast is as attractive to migratory birds as it is to humans, especially the untouched islands of Libana, Ataweel and Um Sahar, where cranes, kingfishers and white-tailed lapwings arrive at various points in the year to nest around the curved beaches and reefs rich in sea life.  

Where to stay: The boutique Juman Hotel offers beautiful sea views, while Royal Tours’ Permanent Camp is home to Bedouin-style glamping tents, set in the sandy desert on the edge of town.

 

Where to eat: Head to Zaeem Al Asmak for epic seafood platters, straight from the nearby Red Sea; or Jareesh Omnee for dates, chicken rice and traditional local food. But the classic Umluj meal is a picnic or barbecue on a deserted island. 

 

Learn more: Bondai offers three-day tours including desert stargazing and a day-long boat trip round the surrounding islands. Shamal’s two-day package includes a boat trip, secret caves and tour of the surrounding volcanoes.

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