As we approached the end of Ramadan 2019, we had a week off work due to the Eid Al Fitr holidays, so rather than stay at home watching tv, or fly to another country, we thought we’d visit a local place instead – Abha.
Abha has been promoted as a tourist destination by the Saudi government for the last few years now and from what I can surmise, tends to be popular with the local Saudi’s as a getaway spot.
Abha is in the south west of Saudi Arabia, not far from Jizan, and is in the Asir region of Saudi. It is set in the mountains, quite a good height above sea level ( 2,270m above seas level / 7,450 ft ) so tends to be much greener than the arid conditions that dominate much of the country. More importantly, it is also very much cooler than the blistering heat of Riyadh. June in Riyadh would see temperatures of mid-40’s c, whereas Abha will be around the high 20s . This of course appeals to those used to Riyadh and the dry, hot and dusty conditions which prevail over the central region.
The plan is to drive , spend three nights, and then drive back to Riyadh. Approximate journey is 1,100kms each way. There are two routes from Riyadh ( according to Google Maps ) :
1- Riyadh – Al Kharj – Wadi Ad Dawasir – Khamis Mushyat – Abha ( 11hrs 24 mins , 1,121kms)
2- Riyadh Mecca Highway – Bisha – Khamis Mushyat – Abha ( 9hr 01 mins, 967 kms )
The range of accommodation on offer seems quite limited. After looking through the two main hotel booking websites I usually frequent, the hotels seem quite basic, which a greater emphasis upon apartment type accommodation. I know this tends to be more popular with the locals, as they can accommodate more family members. A lounge, kitchen, bedroom or two, means the whole family can relax, rather than being cooped in a hotel room.
Riyadh to Abha.
We departed Riyadh at around 6.30am, and took Route 2 – headed down the Mecca Highway out of Riyadh and then took an exit signposted to Bisha. Once on this road, it is a single lane each way, with a sort of hard shoulder. The custom and practice seems to be that cars being overtaken pull in slightly into the hard shoulder.
There are quite a number of speed cameras but we were cruising at around 130-140kmph at times, and no cameras flashed at us. It’s generally a flat road, not much to see. There are sporadic petrol stations around, so not too much of a worry in terms of re-fueling. The road actually goes around the outskirts of Bisha. Once this point is passed, the road stretches to a two land highway for a distance and tends to be better quality. We refuelled just after Bisha. Onwards to Khamis Mushyat and as we approach the town, the road again narrows to single lane, and starts to climb a little and some more interesting scenery appears. Approaching Khamis, the speed cameras are operational and we were flashed, travelling at around 110kmph on a stretch marked 100kmph. A fine of 150SR.
Eventually, this route takes you through Khamis, and onwards through to Abha. We arrived at our hotel in the outskirts of Abha at around 4.30pm, after stopping for coffee and lunch.
Our first evening, we went to Green Mountain. This is a large hill in the middle of the City, that’s lit up bright green, so pretty much visible from most parts. There is a cable car ride, but we drove into the ‘park’ itself. Entry fee is 30SR, which can then be redeemed at the restaurants at the top. From the entry gate, there is then short drive up a very steep hill to the car park. Once there, there are a couple of view points over the City, and a choice of two eating places, a cafeteria type and a Lebanese restaurant. We were there around 8pm, and it was chilly enough to wear a light sweater. View are expansive over the City, and it is quite a nice setting to enjoy a pleasant meal.
The phone camera doesn’t do the views justice, but here’s a pic anyway.
Day two and we ventrued out to Al Sooda Mountains – very well known spot, which was quite busy with mainly tourists. From Abha, around an hours drive. There are two things to see here
1- Escarpment. An incredibly steep mountainous road, with some very tight curves. There is a stop point around half way, with a mosque and some basic play park acitivites. Many cars took this opportunity to check their vehicles.
Warning – when driving down this hill, use low gears only. With an automatic, putting into “Drive’ will just accelerate, increase speed and then rely upon the driver to continuously brake hard, resulting in the brakes being overworked, over heating and potentially giving way. Put the car into gear 1. Similarly when driving up the hill, you will need the low gears, especially if you’re in a big, heavy SUV. Small cars with manual transmissions will have no problems! We drove down the hill, and stopped half way down to check the brakes which were overheating. After around half an hour, we made our way right down to the bottom for a picnic lunch.
After lunch, we drove back up the escarpment and wound our way to the Cable Car Station.
Cable Car. A short drive away from the Escarpment, leads you to Al Sooda Cable Car. This drops into the valley below, where there are some basic amenities, refreshments and a chance to relax a little. An adult ticket is 80SR. The trip down takes around 10 mins.
As this was the day of Eid, it was incredibly busy, with waiting times around an hour to get a cable car down. AS tehre were only two of us, we managed to jump in with other families and so our waiting time was much shorter. At the bottom, we had a short time to rest and enjoy the scenery. At around dusk, we ventured back up to the top in the return journey.
I’m not one who enjoys heights and the thoughts of cable car rides makes me quite nervous, but I have to say the whole operation ran quite smoothly.
Day Two – Habala
Habala is an historic village, built into the cliffs and was a fully living occupied village for quite some time. It was forcibly evacuated and developed into a tourist site around 1990 and again, there is a cable car ride down to the village, where you can walk around the twisty paths, climbing up and down the village steps. There is limited refreshment in the actual village, but a slightly wider range at the cable car stop. Habala is around an hours drive away from Abha.
The photo shows the village just to the right, bottom, and gives some perspective as to it’s location.
There is literally no other way to access the village other than cable car.
Abha to Riyadh
On the drive back home, we took a slightly different route which took us through Wadi ad Dawasir and eventually close to Al Kharj. This was a slightly longer route, but we arrived safely back in Riyadh just after sunset.
We both really enjoyed Abha and it was so nice to see something different to the dry and arid region that is Riyadh. Mountains, greenery, some historic sites and generally, many people enjoying their Eid Holiday which added to the fun of the short holiday.