Travel Guide to Farasan Island

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Farasan Island Travel Guide: What to Do

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About 40 kilometers (or a one-hour boat ride) from Jazan, you’ll find the Farasan Islands. More than 80 islands make up the archipelago, but only three of them are home to year-round residents. The largest and most inhabited is Farasan Island: About 12,000 permanent residents live on this island, and many of them commute to Jazan for work. The island is known for its incredible biodiversity — the Saudi Wildlife Authority declared the Farasan Islands a protected area in 1996 — and boasts pristine coral reefs for epic scuba diving, a variety of fish and world-class birding for species including the white-eyed gull, the crab plover and the sooty falcon. On land, you may catch a sighting of the endangered Farasan gazelle (there were only a thousand of these graceful creatures left as of 2013). “Farasan is a very special place,” says Saad Al Dawood, a hospitality student at King Saud University in Riyadh who has spent time on the island. “It’s a small island with simple people where you can have a truly authentic experience. They have hospitality in their blood.”

The History of Farasan Island

Since the first millennium B.C., Jazan Province has been a draw for people from Arabia, Africa and Europe. The islands were once known as Portus Ferresanus, and a Latin inscription dating from 144 A.D. has been found on the island, indicating the existence of a Roman garrison. Throughout the centuries, many people have passed through Farasan and left behind evidence of their societies, including the Aksumites and Arabs. The strategic location of Jazan Province, and especially the Farasan Islands, proved of interest once again in the 20th century during World War II: The Germans built a fort on one of the islands of the archipelago.

What to See on Farasan Island

One of the main sites on the island is the sandstone village of Al Qassar, which is said to date back to the time of the Romans. It is no longer inhabited, and it has been completely rebuilt to host tourists. Beit Al Refai, a beautiful home that belonged to a prosperous pearl merchant named Munawar Al Refai a hundred years ago, is also worth a visit for its traditional Farasani architecture: The house is built with coral stones and features intricate carvings on its gypsum walls. Stop by the beautiful Najdi Mosque for another taste of Farasan’s distinct design heritage. Want a more unique and utterly memorable experience? Al Dawood recommends fishing. “My last visit, we took a boat to a small island and went fishing. We drank the traditional tea and ate bread with the captain. What made it unforgettable was eating the fish we caught ourselves.”

How to Get to Farasan Island

The ferry from Jazan is the only way to get to Farasan. As of November 2019, there are two ferry trips between Jazan and Farasan daily, departing at 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., respectively, from each location. There are no dive centers on Farasan Island, so be prepared to carry your own snorkeling gear. While there are hotels on the island, such as the Farasan Coral Resort and the Farasan Hotel, many people choose to camp on the beach. (Again, be sure to bring your own equipment if you plan to camp.) “When I was there, we camped by the sea for two days,” Al Dawood says. “When we woke up, we looked up to the mountains and saw two Farasan gazelles. It was amazing.”

— Didi Gluck

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