Visiting Saudi Arabia is becoming ever more attractive for all kinds of travelers. The country boasts one of the largest sand deserts in the world, and it offers a wealth of activities and excursions for history buffs and adrenaline junkies alike.
The red sand dunes of the Al-Thumama desert, north of Riyadh, are perfect for outdoor adventures. Trips are often organized in groups of ten buggies to go out and conduct what is known as ‘dune bashing’. Renting a buggie is one of the best ways to discover the desert and experience all the adventure the dunes can offer.
Named after the Arabic word for desert bunchgrass, Al-Thumamah is a lowland desert area situated in Wadi Thumamah at the edge of al-Armah mountains in the northeastern fringes of Riyadh. It is located approximately 50 miles from Riyadh and is known for housing outdoor recreational places, namely the Thumamah National Park.
Another popular destination for dune bashing is in the Red Sand Dunes, an area of red desert sand south-west of Riyadh. This type of sand has a reddish brown hue due to its high iron oxide content. Though it is possible to find them in other parts of the country, the outskirts of Riyadh is a popular destination for people wanting to see red sand dunes. From Riyadh, it takes roughly 45 minutes to get there by car.
I tell them to enjoy the dunes, to feel the excitement, the adrenalin, especially when they drive the buggies.Adel Bensumeh, local guide
The best time to explore Saudi’s sands is during the country’s mild winters. Riyadh’s sand dunes offer sandboarding, dune bashing and other adventures. Another option is to venture into one of Saudi’s desert lakes to discover lush vegetation surrounded by vast expanses of red sand and iconic desertscapes.
“We usually come here at weekends, especially in spring and winter, because here you can smell the fresh desert air or see the little vegetation that grows after the rain,” Adel Bensumeh, a local guide told Travel Tomorrow. “People love it. They enjoy it every weekend.”
“Get on a 4×4 for a thrilling experience through Saudi’s sand dunes,” said Adel. This form of off-roading combines mud and hill driving, and it’s popular throughout Saudi. Balance and speed are key to steering and handling a vehicle going up and down the dunes, so it’s best for visitors to buckle up with an experienced local tour provider with good knowledge of the terrain.
Here you can smell the fresh desert air or see the little green that grows after the rain.Adel Bensumeh, local guide
Winter temperatures in Saudi are ideal for camping, and dune bashing and camping go hand in hand, especially at this time of year. There’s also ‘kashta’, a true Arabian experience that invites travelers to sleep among the sand dunes and beneath the stars. At night, travelers can try traditional food and drinks like Arabian barbecue, warm camel’s milk or Arabic coffee, listen to stories and Arabic music, and look for winter constellations on the night sky.
The following morning, visitors can fuel up on fresh Arabic coffee in the morning before heading out to enjoy the activities. “When tourists visit us, I tell them to enjoy the dunes, to feel the excitement, the adrenaline, especially when they drive the buggies,” said Bensumeh. “It’s a different experience. They’ll love it.”