“It’s just incredible what’s there,” says Daniel Ponzo, an Italian-Swiss expat based in Jeddah and the managing director of Zahid Travel Group. “It’s a living museum. I’ve been there a few times, and what you see in terms of color of the rocks, color of the sand, shape of the rocks — it’s just unique. It’s one of the ultimate beauties of the world.”
Once a major trade hub along the ancient Incense Route connecting the Arabian Peninsula with the Mediterranean countries, the vast 22,000-square-kilometer territory is a lasting reminder of the kingdom’s pre-Islamic history: The Nabataean civilization — which also built the remarkable city of Petra in Jordan — left behind 111 immaculately preserved tombs carved into the sandstone rocks at Hegra. Best of all, “You don’t see the crowds you see at other heritage sites,” Ponzo says. “You feel that you are living this experience alone.”
The wind-swept expanses of AlUla are a true living museum spanning hundreds of years of Arabian history. Now you book a ticket any time of year to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra, the 18th-century Fort of Hegra and the Hijaz Railway Station, the ancient capital of Dadan and the “open library” of inscriptions in the rocks at Jabal Ikmah.
The surreal rock outcroppings that dot the landscape are great for exploring on foot, bicycle, 4x4, Arabian horse. “It’s very different from one rock to the other,” Ponzo says. “You can look and see whatever you want in those rocks.” One of the best known is Jabal AlFil, or Elephant Rock, where you can even arrange to have a special dinner awaiting you. There is now a range of hiking trails to suit all fitness levels to appreciate the stunning landscapes. The region’s renowned dark skies make stargazing at AlGharameel and other locations a popular way to end the evening.
From Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s signature infinity room at Winter at Tantora to an AlUla edition of Coachella’s Desert X AlUla 2020 festival bringing installations from El Seed, Gisela Colon, Sherin Guirguis and more to the sandy expanses, you never know what world-class art might be waiting for you amid the dunes. Musical sensations including Andrea Bocelli, Lionel Richie and Enrique Iglesias have all performed at AlUla’s man-made masterpiece, Maraya, the concert and entertainment venue that reflects its desert surroundings as the Guinness World Records’ largest mirrored building.
You’ll find high-end villas, gourmet restaurants and a spa at the Ashar Resort - opening mid 2021.
The pool deck of Habitas is located among sandstone canyons - opening mid 2021.