SAUDI ARABIA — a journey of discovery
SAUDI ARABIA - THE SEA AND AN UNKNOWN LAND
For outsiders, knowledge of Saudi Arabia is generally limited to oil, sheikhs, the desert and perhaps the odd headline-grabbing story like women being permitted to drive. Such a narrow view is a missed opportunity to discover this country’s rich offerings. Bordered by 560 kilometres of Persian Gulf coastline to the east, and 1760 kilometres of Red Sea coastline to the west, this vast country is a cradle and refuge of Islam with its colourful culture and distinctive architecture.
A place of fascinating contrasts with its old narrow city streets and hyper-modern buildings, sprouting like mushrooms in the city centre. Fragrant souks (markets) burst with tropical fruits where the bustle of shopkeepers touting their wares creates a unique atmosphere. Jeddah plays an essential role as a gateway for Muslims worldwide to the annual Hajj - a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
It’s not only the cities where a modern touch is being applied. The Kingdom recently announced the development of a vast resort city on the shores of the Red Sea. In an effort to replace petrodollars with tourist dollars, they plan to attract crowds of visitors to a presently untouched stretch of coastline. Perhaps a sign of the times (and maybe a little bit of skilful marketing!) the new city will be powered entirely with renewable energy. There’s also plenty to see outside the cities. The archaeological site of Mada’in Saleh is where, in the first century, the Nabataeans built an impressive settlement marking the southern border of their empire. There are a wealth of places that have become entirely unknown to western culture — it’s time for the world to rediscover them!
The beauty of the Red Sea is known to divers all over the world. Its exquisite coral and vividly coloured fish are widely admired. Some of us have been diving in Sudan or even further south in Djibouti — the western side of the Red Sea is well known. But what if we looked further east? This is the exact question we asked ourselves for a long time. Finally, 13 years ago, we organised the first Polish diving expedition to explore this area. Places on the trip sold immediately, and the diving certainly didn’t disappoint, but more on that shortly.
We won’t mention the arranging of various visas and permits and signing numerous forms for the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Let’s just say, with some hair pulling, we secured our right of passage and boarded the plane!
"When we landed in Jeddah, a very warm welcome greeted us, along with a comfortable hotel and an exotic city to explore. The locals were amazed by the arrival of these blue-eyed, blonde people to their land. Every so often, we would be approached and politely asked where we were from, then welcomed warmly to the Kingdom. We were always received with great kindness and hospitality; even the bedouins at the service stations invited us for tea!"
After a couple of hours to transfer south, we board our dive boat. She accommodates 20 divers comfortably in 9 twin cabins and one double suite, all equipped with air conditioning and private bathrooms. The vessel is new to Saudi waters but gained experience serving dive groups in Egypt. Both the captain and guide are well versed in local waters. The cabins are spacious and comfortable, and all have windows above deck! It’s a significant change from the boat previously servicing our groups in Saudi — a scientific vessel where comfort was INCREDIBLY difficult to find...
"Sailing south, towards Farasan, we were consumed by the peaceful isolation of the sea. The passing of a modest fishing boat from time to time, the only sign of humanity’s existence. We were on Saudi Arabia’s sole liveaboard diving vessel, a complete contrast to the hoards of boats littering the Egyptian Red Sea!
However, there was no lack of life below the waves! On almost every dive, we would meet reef sharks or hammerheads. Colourful, vibrant reefs in pristine condition left us in awe. The high quality of sites was hardly surprising — diving is uncommon among Saudis, and fishing is not a widespread activity. Between dives, we explored untouched islands, walking their virgin sands accompanied by the local birdlife, and occasionally stumbling upon a vacated turtle nest. Looking out over the surrounding azure waters, emptiness everywhere, you couldn’t help but feel calmness and tranquillity."
Most of us were seasoned divers of the Egyptian Red Sea, but the quality of diving here really surprised us. With excellent visibility, multitudes of fish species were on show, some already extremely rare in Egypt. Orange Fairy Basslets could be found all the way down to 50 metres, unlike Egypt, where you’d be lucky to find them beyond 15-20 metres! Stunning, healthy coral around every corner - we all agreed, the Saudi Red Sea was like Egypt 70 years ago, before its rapid development of diving tourism.
After returning from our trip, we immediately started planning the next. Two new groups were quickly formed for a Saudi adventure. Unfortunately, the Saudi King disbanded the pilot programme for selected nations to visit on organised tours. We waited eagerly, prepared to go at a moments notice… and at last, after many years, the visa programme has been rebooted. Now is your chance to visit an incredible country, uncharted by tourists. The guidebook is still being written — are you ready to help out and lay down some of those pages?!
The trailblazing nature of our last trip resulted in the discovery of an unknown diving site. We appropriately named it the Polish Fingers! It’s high time we revisited; come with us on an adventure to this unfamiliar country and be a part of its unveiling!
The Farasan Islands are characterised by the largest concentration of coral reefs found throughout the Red Sea. Here we can see the only tower reefs in the world — colossal coral pillars rising from the depths, teeming with extraordinary flora and fauna! Experts believe the Farasan Islands are a bridge between the ecosystems of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. This explains a lot; we find a tremendous number of species here. Dugongs, reef sharks, pelagic sharks, manta rays, dolphins and whale sharks, to name a few; in fact, the largest population of sharks in the Red Sea call this area home. Great clusters of unique corals, some still poorly described in scientific literature, are ready to be discovered and include the largest groupings of Plerogyra Sinuosa in the world, as well as the precious Anipatharians (black corals). On the virgin beaches of these islands, all manner of turtle species lay their eggs, unwittingly sharing them with various birds of prey of which the sea eagle dominates. We think you’ll agree, the geographical location, and most importantly, the inaccessibility of the Farasan Islands, make them one of the most attractive diving destinations in the world! Time to follow that trail!
What’s in it for you?
- you’ll be one of the first of many to come and explore the underwater world of Saudi Arabia;
- you’ll visit amazing Jeddah and optionally Mada’in Saleh or Riyadh;
- a chance to dive in pristine and untouched parts of the Saudi Red Sea — Yanbu in the north or Farasan in the south;
- experience a fascinating country where the travel guides are still being written;
- observe how a nation suddenly awash with cash manages its wealth and invests in the future;
- visit incredibly exotic and inaccessible places — the Kingdom is less accessible to tourism than North Korea!
- relax on beautiful sandy beaches enjoying the flavoursome cuisine created by our Filipino chef;
- feast on fresh fish straight from the sea every day — tuna sashimi will never be the same again after dining on it surrounded by azure waters!
Day 1 — Depart Europe to Saudi Arabia with a change in the Middle East.
Day 2 — Early morning touchdown in Jeddah. Transfer to our boat. Diving checks and we begin our cruise towards Farasan.
Days 2-7 — Diving in the most captivating locations of the Saudi Red Sea.
Day 8 — We disembark and transfer to Jeddah. An afternoon guided tour of Jedda’s old town.
Day 9 — Rest, afternoon transfer to the airport for our departure to Poland (with connecting flight).
Day 10 — Touchdown in Europe around noon.
IT’S POSSIBLE TO EXTEND THE TRIP WITH A VISIT TO THE INCREDIBLE ROCK ART OF AL-ULA BEFORE IT BECOMES OVERRUN WITH TOURISTS! UNFORTUNATELY, THE NABATAEAN RUINS OF MADA’IN SALEH HAVE BEEN CLOSED BY UNESCO UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.
PRICE per person: EUR 2450 + flights
An additional EUR 250 per person for a suite cabin.
Included in the Price:
- transfers between boat and airport;
- double cabin boat accommodation;
- full board while on the boat;
- 1 night in a 4 star hotel in Jeddah and a tour of the old city;
- services of an experienced English speaking guide/organiser/diving instructor 24×7;
- 6 days of diving;
- insurance: medical expenses (EUR 30,000), personal accident (EUR 4,000), baggage (EUR 300).
No Included in the Price:
- return flights from your departing location to Jeddah. Price depends on the timing of your reservation and departing location. For logistical reasons, these should be purchased through our office;
- diving equipment;
- entry visa fees;
- tips for the boat crew — suggested EUR 70/person;
- diving taxes, permit fees, port tax and fuel tax EUR 160/person;
- any meals while not on the boat;
- personal expenses;
- extended diving insurance;