By Antonio Khattar, Account Manager, Experience AlUla  

Upon receiving the news over Christmas that there was a possibility of us visiting AlUla in the New Year, Sonia and myself were in a self-imposed lockdown while Omicron started spreading around us. Everything became dependent on a simple PCR test 24 hours prior to departure and the nerves for that negative result were real.



Good news is we made it over to AlUla and it was honestly one of the most eye opening and amazing experiences either of us have had. It was a very special trip as this was our first visit to AlUla after over a year of us talking to the trade about it.

Under our masks, you could not wipe the smiles of our faces as we walked through border security, duty free and boarded a plane internationally for the first time since 2020 – onto Jeddah, Saudi Arabia we went – the first night and the first experience of Saudi Arabia – a country which was never accessible to tourists until 2019.

Jeddah is one of the main gateway cities for AlUla and it was good to experience what it had to offer visitors. We took an evening tour of Al Balad - “The Town”, which is a historical part of Jeddah featuring stunning coral limestone houses with the most beautifully created Rawashin (Bay Windows) in three distinct colours. Our local guide was Leila, walking us through the maze of small windy streets in her colourful abaya.  The place really came to life at night as the locals answered the call to prayer echoing out across the district – goosebumps! Welcome to Saudi Arabia!

However, the moment we both waited for was AlUla.  We arrived in the evening and driving our own car, we arrived at Shaden Resort to find amazing rock formations stunningly backlit among a candlelit driveway – we were speechless. In our excitement we dropped our bags and headed to nearby Elephant Rock, one of AlUla’s stunning geological sites. We shared a seat in a sunken sand pit with a Saudi couple and their baby as we drank our coffee with the Arabian music in the background under AlUla’s starry night sky – still pinching ourselves that we had actually made it - sitting in the very spot we have looked at in pictures for a year.

The next few days were long, non-stop and jam packed! We managed to do our site inspections, we walked through the Oasis, wandered around AlUla Old Town, we drove up the volcanic mountain side and we reached the most stunning look out at Harrat Viewpoint. Situated here was a bar serving amazing mocktails and Greek Food – this did not feel anything like you may expect from Saudi Arabia until you looked over the look out and took in the Oasis and AlUla below. We visited Hegra, Dadan and Jabal Ikmah, walked around the citrus festival, visited the most beautiful local farm, owned by a Princess no less (and yes, we met her!), with the most amazing Saudi style breakfast and then finished our trip with a scenic helicopter ride over all the sites from above – it was as though we were experiencing our product training presentation in person (finally) and we were mind blown.

The locals were friendly, it was safe, my Arabic speaking did come in handy in some places but for the most part, English was widely spoken. There was even a new unisex nail and hair salon which had just opened in an open-air old mudbrick house where men and women could experience side by side - any old perceptions about Saudi Arabia were out the window.

The trip was a great reminder to us as to why we work in travel and why visiting new and exciting places is so important. We learned and experienced a new destination and increased our knowledge and understanding of a culture and country that is changing at an incredibly rapid pace.  It was everything we expected – but more.  There is so much to say from our experiences in support of the greater good of the of tourism.  We cannot wait to have Australian agents and visitors experience AlUla first hand and just like us, walk away amazed.