You don’t need a spaceship to travel to the moon — turns out you just need four-wheel drive. The lunar landscapes in the mountains northeast of Jeddah are out of this world. Fantastic rock formations that have been carved by the elements are dotted around the desert in every direction. Moon Mountain is a perfect spot for stargazing, as the pitch-black night sky is blanketed with twinkling stars. Overnight camping is possible in a group, or a handful of tour operators offer packages that include an Arabian-style barbecue and an evening campfire before turning in for the night.
Getting there: Moon Mountain is about 95 kilometers from Jeddah, and it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to drive there.
Saudi is a whole other world underwater, and the country’s coral reefs are some of the most pristine in the Red Sea. Many dive sites lie just off the coast north of Jeddah, and the offices of several reputable dive centers, including Red Sea Divers, can be found in the city. Sharm Obhur is an easily accessible shore dive, and the waters are teeming with Nemo look-alike clownfish, lionfish, eels and bull sharks. Blue Reef Divers is based nearby and offers diving gear rentals and courses for beginners. The skeletons of several shipwrecks, now overgrown with colorful coral and home to many species of fish, can also be discovered near Jeddah, with the most famous being the wreck of the Ann Ann, which went down in 1977. Many of the ship’s features are still intact, including the captain’s quarters and the cargo room. Scuba diving is possible year-round, with sea temperatures remaining consistently warm.
Getting there: Sharm Obhur is 50 kilometers from Jeddah by road, about a 45-minute drive.
High in the Hijaz Mountains, the city of Taif literally feels different than much of the rest of Saudi. That’s because its altitude of nearly 1,900 meters makes the temperature much more moderate, even during the summer months. Taif is a well-known agricultural area that grows pomegranates, grapes and figs, but delicate pink roses are one of its most important products. During harvest season in March and April, the flowers are picked at dawn and pressed into rose oil that can fetch almost US$430 for just 12 grams for use in luxury perfumes. Visitors can tour the Al Gadhi Rose Factory, one of the oldest in town, where local farmers wait to have their rose petals weighed on antique scales.
Getting there: Taif is about 175 kilometers east of Jeddah by road, which takes just over two hours to drive.
Surrounded by more than 40 forests, Al Baha is an oasis in the desert. Picturesque mountain roads wind into town, where playful baboons stare curiously at vehicles passing by. The primates also live in the nearby Raghadan Forest Park, which has views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. A twisting road runs through the park and leads to the ancient village of Dhee Ayn, where stone buildings from four centuries ago gleam against the backdrop of the colorful mountains and setting sun.
Getting there: Get an early start if you have only a day to spend in Al Baha. The drive from Jeddah is about 385 kilometers and takes four hours and 45 minutes. You might even consider camping overnight beneath the starry Arabian sky.
— Lauren Keith