I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams. - The Little Prince
I never really imagined that I would move to the Middle East. Of all the places in the world, I chose to move to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as my first big adult decision after university. To be honest, it was by no means my first choice. I really wanted to go to Japan, but after living there for a year, it really grew on me! Exploring Saudi Arabia as a whole was, unfortunately, not something I was able to afford with paying off student loans and all. But, I did manage to go around Riyadh and see what the city had to offer.
My best memories were the times I went to the Red Sand Dunes! They’re no Sahara Desert sand dunes of course, but I was ecstatic about seeing these. I lived in California for a part of my life, so I was really only used to that rocky desert terrain. The Red Sand Dunes in Saudi Arabia were my first ever sandy desert.
Locations of the Red Sand Dunes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
There are actually a few locations just outside of Riyadh where you can access the red sands, but here I’ll be focusing on the two I have been to.
Al-Khararrah Park – Southwest of Riyadh outside Al-Muzahimiyah
This is pretty far from the main city, but this was by far my favorite location. Because you’re quite a bit out of the city, women can feel free to take off their abayas, the black outer garment that women in the country must wear while out in public. Police won’t patrol the deserts, so feel free to wear some leggings and a T-shirt while you’re exploring Saudi Arabia!
Thumamah Park – North of Riyadh near King Khaled Airport
Thumamah is great for families because you’re still quite near the city. However, as far as I know, women will not be able to remove their abayas here. It can be quite annoying when wanting to do physical activities, but you can tie it up at the bottom, just as I am on the bike in the picture below. This area may not be as large as Al-Khararrah, but there are still plenty of things to do and see here!
Activities in the Desert Sand Dunes
At both parks, you can rent out four-wheelers like the one pictured below. Because the red sands near Al-Khararrah cover more area than Thumamah, depending on the area within the desert you choose to park your vehicle, it could be out of range. If you manage to spot them, like my friends and I easily did in Thumamah, it’s definitely worth it to rent one!
Each four-wheeler can seat two people. The person in the back will feel like they’re about to fly off, but if you hold on tightly, it’s quite exhilarating! To rent one, it will cost you a fee per hour. How much is that fee? I honestly couldn’t tell you because it varies depending on the man you spoke with. If you have the language skills or a Saudi friend, you can haggle them down to a good price for the hour. Let them know how many you want and for how long, work them down to a better offer, and have fun! Just make sure you return them on time.
Exploring Saudi Arabia’s Red Sand Dunes isn’t complete until you have hiked for hours in the vast emptiness of the desert. It is such an amazing and humbling experience. It is by no means easy, though! I took a hiking trip in the rockier deserts near Riyadh a few weeks before hiking the red sands; hiking those mountains was a piece of cake compared to the dunes. Your feet get stuck in the sand, so you exert more effort trying to pull them out over and over throughout the hike.
To make it to the less crowded dunes, you will need your own truck or Jeep – whatever large, desert vehicle you prefer. Like I mentioned previously, things will get stuck in the sand; and yes, that includes the tires of your car. As a solo woman, I obviously didn’t have a car of my own. I joined an InterNations group. I’ve mentioned them before in my Moving Abroad as a Single Woman article (And no, I’m not affiliated with them). I really enjoyed the trips organized through the website. It caters to expatriates and, depending on the group you join, you’ll get a hike guide (so you don’t get lost), a car ride, and an awesome lunch! Plus you get to meet a bunch of different people, which is always great! I once met a yoga teacher for the royal family!
Picnics and Camping
As I mentioned before, lunch is included if you join a group. If you go with friends and/or your family, make an event of it and picnic out in the sands! Fair warning – it can get just a little messy, but it’s still a great experience (once you get used to crunching on the sand you just ate!) Even if picnicking isn’t your style, I recommend taking food because there really isn’t anywhere nearby to get food when you’re in the middle of the desert.
If you decide to go camping, make sure someone knows you’re out there. I did camp in Wadi Rum when I studied in Jordan, but I haven’t been desert camping in Saudi Arabia. For that reason, I can’t definitively say whether or not there is a campground or if you can camp solo. Honestly, I believe it’s fine for you to go so long as someone knows you’re out there. Just make sure before attempting it. Beware of desert snakes and scorpions that come out at night, and make sure you have some mosquito repellent. Sometimes bedouin shepherds roam the desert, so you may encounter them during your camp out (day or night).
I can’t explain how much I wish I had a good quality picture of sand drifters. If you don’t know what sand drifting is, you will definitely see it while exploring Saudi Arabia’s deserts! Saudis, particularly young Saudi guys, love to drift their cars up, down, and over the sand dunes. Look it up on YouTube if you don’t know what I mean! It’s seriously so much fun! Wear your seatbelt, obviously, because accidents can definitely happen. When I went, we nearly flipped over! I actually have a video of the moment, but it’s of everyone screaming and my phone flying around the car, so I haven’t posted it. (Maybe on Instagram in the future?)
Sand drifting in the desert sand dunes is an awesome thrill that you have to experience during your explorations! If you don’t have your own car, like I said, join a group on InterNations. You can join whether you’re single or have a family with small children or teens. Whatever you decide to do, just remember to have fun, mingle with new people, and enjoy your desert adventures!
Have you ever seen red sand dunes? Where was it? Tell me your desert adventures down below in the comments!
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