A desert oasis of shady palm groves and crystal clear springs, Al Ahsa Oasis stands as a dazzling haven against the harsh and untamed plains of the Rub' Al Khali (Empty Quarter). For millennia, this region’s fertile land made it a hub for traders and caravans crossing the region’s ancient trade routes, forging links across the Arabian Peninsula and beyond, and providing a stopping place for early pilgrims en route to Makkah.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a nod to the city’s many archaeological landmarks, which show traces of human settlement all the way back to the Neolithic period – Al Ahsa Oasis is rapidly gaining appeal as one of Saudi Arabia’s most captivating tourist destinations.
A visit to Al Ahsa Oasis offers entry to a picturesque world of sweeping greenery, sand-toned hamlets, vibrant markets, and evocative historical sites. Tour its network of artesian springs, wells and canals, which bubble water into the surrounding farmland, and take a dip in the refreshing waters.
In Al Hofuf, the city’s commercial hub, visit the country’s first royal school and the Eastern Province’s first masjid, Jawatha Mosque. Browse the hive of handicraft stalls and locally produced art, and sample the homegrown dates the region is famed for – both the Al Khalasah and Barhi varieties are farmed here. Other local delicacies to try, include the red-grained Hesawi rice the region is known for, and dishes such as Thareed (a breaded soup), Marqooq (a lamb-infused stew), and the saffron-tinged rice dish Majboos.
A trip out to Al Ahsa’s undulating sands offers a chance to climb the popular Al Qarah Mountain and explore the rock-hewn caves that weave through it, or just to gaze over the oasis from its summit. If you feel daring, hire an SUV and join the locals in ‘drifting’ down the looming dunes. As evening falls, Al Ahsa’s bustling Souq Al Qaisariy comes alive, ringing with street hawkers and the timeless sounds of this historic port city.