Saudi Arabia

AlUla travel guide: (luxurious) journey through time

Ever wondered why AlUla is considered “cursed” in ancient tales? Embark on a journey through the captivating history and attractions of AlUla with my travel guide.

AlUla (specifically Madain Saleh, part of the AlUla region) is considered “cursed” due to its association with the ancient city of Thamud, which was destroyed by divine punishment for its people’s disobedience and idolatry, as recounted in Islamic tradition. Prophet Muhammad advised against visiting such sites lightly, emphasizing the need for reverence and reflection to avoid similar fates. AlUla’s destiny changed when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman prioritized it as a key project in his “Vision 2030” plan. If you are curious about the “Journey through time” and the destination marketing project read my post here


After spending 2.5 days exploring AlUla, I strongly suggest allowing yourself at least 3 full days to enjoy all the areas and experiences at a more relaxed pace. The desert vibes are so chill that you’d regret not having enough time to just kick back and enjoy the scenery properly. Trust me, it’s worth taking at least that extra day to fully immerse yourself in the laid-back atmosphere and enjoy all the cool stuff around here. If you’re an adrenaline seeker or like hiking you will find plenty of activities to keep you busy! 

If you find yourself in AlUla when there aren’t any festivals happening, it’s pretty strange—there’s always something going on, as you can see on the ExperienceAlUla website: from culture and art to wellness, to sport races (Tough Mudder or Desert Blaze) and music festivals like Azimuth,  you’ll find plenty of options to keep you entertained. A great alternative is to visit Dadan, an ancient archaeological site that’s rich in history and culture. It’s another fascinating destination in AlUla that promises an intriguing journey into the past. Another spot is Jabar Ikhmah, the so-called “Open air library,” an intriguing collection of inscriptions and carvings on rock faces that scholars believe served as a repository of knowledge, akin to a library. 


I’ve already covered transportation and accommodation tips for AlUla in my essential pre-trip guide. Be sure to check it out for helpful insights before your journey!

So in this post, I’ll share with you the activities and tours I experienced in the city. And while I (unfortunately) didn’t hit up every spot on the map below, here’s a roundup of the must-visit places for your stay and how much I spent for my solo trip. Since it’s a luxury destination, I wouldn’t recommend traveling solo, at least you would split the cost of the accommodation and all the transfers. All the other prices are anyway per person.  And now that I’ve done the math, I’m about to fall off my chair.


The cost of a long weekend in AlUla can vary depending on factors such as accommodation, transportation, activities, and dining preferences. Indeed it’s more of a luxury destination! On average, budgeting for accommodation ranging from $50 to $200 per night (not considering the luxury options like Habitas AlUla), transportation costs including taxis or rental cars, activity fees, and meals can amount to anywhere from $350 to $1000 or more for a long weekend trip. Here’s how much I spent for my 3 days traveling return from Dubai. 



After a quick stopover in Riyadh (since Flynas doesn’t offer direct flights from Dubai to AlUla anymore), I’m all set to go. I’ll be catching the first available flight, which should get me to AlUla around 12:30 PM. It’s just a 2-hour flight from Riyadh. I booked the transfer through my Hotel as I’m not sure what’s the taxi situation and I want to make sure I do not waste time, since half day is already gone for the flight. Scroll on the right to see what’s the plan for the day! 


Right from the plane, I could see the stunning landscape, reminding me of Jordan with its incredible brown, ochre, and vivid red colors. I had finally landed in one of my bucket list places!

My driver, Sultan, was waiting to take me to my place to stay. The weather was perfect, with blue skies and a warm breeze. In half an hour, we arrived at the Four Caravan, a simple but lovely accommodation, boasting mountain and palm tree views. It was so peaceful and quiet there, and I wished I could relax and enjoy the view for a while.

But you know me, I was eager to explore, so I took a taxi to AlUla Old Town for lunch where I stumbled upon Somewhere restaurant, a place inspired by a love for traveling, surrounded by the towering palms of this oasis farm.


Oh yes, with my belly full, I was now ready for a scenic flight over the vast landscapes of the area, an amazing way to see this beautiful place. What was better than an aerial exploration to soak in the mysterious and fascinating vibe of AlUla? Plus, I could not wait to see the most famous carved tomb from above!

The “AlFursan Helicopter Visitor Center” was very minimal, and after a few formalities and a short briefing, we were good to go. Once aboard, the helicopter’s blades whirred to life, a crescendo of excitement building as we lifted off the ground. AlUla unfolded below us like a meticulously detailed canvas, its hues and contours more vivid from the sky. The dramatic shadows cast by the setting sun accentuated the rugged outlines of the sandstone mountains and the lush greenery of the oasis.

The 30-minute flight seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, each moment filled with awe-inspiring sights. I knew it was a bit expensive, but it was really recommendable! If you were a morning person, you could opt for the Hot Air Balloon ride. This alternative provided a serene, hour-long journey at sunrise, where one could drift silently over the landscape.


After the helicopter ride, Suleyman from the Visitor Center kindly offered to drop me off at my next destination, which was conveniently just around the corner—Elephant Rock. Naively, I thought I could simply walk the distance, as it was merely 1 KM away. However, Suleyman advised against it, pointing out that the roads were not pedestrian-friendly. This turned out to be a wise decision, as the route, though short, was not suited for a leisurely stroll.

Soon, we arrived at Elephant Rock, also known as Jabal AlFil, one of AlUla’s most iconic natural landmarks. Its size and distinctive shape made it a popular spot for photography, especially at sunset when the changing light accentuated its contours and color. I could walk around, enjoying the stunning views from one of the many sunken lounges… how cool were they? I could smoke a shisha or have a coffee. There was also “Salt” with its delicious burgers for those craving more than just an afternoon break.

As the stars began to twinkle in the vast desert sky, it was time to return to the Four Caravan, where a night of restful sleep would recharge me for another day of exploration. AlUla had already exceeded my expectations, and I was eager to see what other treasures this ancient land had to unveil.

alula Helicopter
AlUla Old town

Today was a big day because I had two major activities lined up: visiting Hegra and experiencing Desert X. I’ll write a dedicated post on AlUla Desert X biennale, and if you are an art lover, stay tuned, you cannot miss it! These were the key highlights of my trip, so there was a ton of excitement and anticipation building up for them. Here’s the overview of the day. 


Early wake up! Unexpectedly it was a cold morning, with light rain gently tapping on the window, but this didn’t ruin my excitement. Sleepy but thrilled, I was ready for the proper visit to Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, to explore the most famous landmarks of AlUla. The Hegra tour kicked off at Winter Park, where I found myself sipping a hot coffee, mentally preparing for the day ahead while secretly hoping the caffeine would kick in faster than the tour bus.


Upon arrival at the visitor center, I was greeted with a cookie and a drink of my choice. Because, of course, what’s an ancient archaeological site without a little modern hospitality?  Fueled by sugar and caffeine, I hopped onto another smaller bus, ready to be explore the different sights.

The first stop was Jabal Ithlib, where the ‘Diwan,’ a large room carved into the mountain rocks, suggested communal gatherings of the ancient Nabateans. The passage through the Siq canal leading to it felt like a journey back in time. And if that looks familiar (AKA Petra style), it’s because of the Nabateans who influenced both regions.

Next, we visited Jabal Al Banat, home to 29 tombs, showcasing a large cluster of the Nabateans’ architectural ingenuity. Each tomb, with its unique facade, told a story of the past, echoing the grandeur of this ancient civilization.

And then what we were all waiting for…the Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza, the largest at Hegra, standing at an impressive 22 meters high. Despite being surrounded by people, it really felt like Indiana Jones stepping into the past.

The final stop was at Jabal AlAhmar, named for the red hue of its rocks. With 18 tombs, some recently excavated, this site offered a fresh perspective on the Nabatean way of life and their mastery of rock-cut architecture. 

The vast, open desert landscapes surrounding Hegra instill a profound sense of solitude and serenity. I’m a desert lover so I might be a bit biased, but it gives me an incredible peace of mind. 

hegra alula tomb of


Back at Winter Park, I grabbed something quick to eat in one of the two caravans. The choices are limited, so be prepared for that. After my brief meal, I hopped onto the bus that would take me to Wadi Al Fann, a 30-40 minute drive away.

AlUla is renowned for hosting an annual arts festival that includes exhibitions, performances, and workshops celebrating both traditional crafts and contemporary art. This year, I was fortunate enough to experience the Desert X biennale. Originally launched in California’s Coachella Valley, Desert X is an art exhibition dedicated to sparking dialogues about contemporary issues through site-specific art installations in desert landscapes.

Desert X AlUla is leading the development of the Wadi AlFann area, with aspirations to transform it into a hub for significant land art by 2026. For those interested in learning more, you will find my other blog post.

I love land art and was eagerly anticipating my visit to see the 15 installations under the theme “In the Presence of Absence.” The 2024 Desert X AlUla spanned three unique locations, but due to time constraints, I realized I would only be able to cover the main one… aargh!

The experience at Desert X AlUla was nothing short of amazing. As I walked through the vast area, I delighted in discovering art pieces that were ingeniously placed within the natural landscape—hidden behind sand dunes and tucked around rocky corners. Each piece seemed to be in dialogue with its surroundings, creating a harmonious blend of art and nature that was both thought-provoking and inspiring. For those who found the desert a bit daunting or were simply tired from walking, there was the option to hop on a golf cart, allowing visitors to rest their legs without missing out on the art and the stunning vistas.


After exploring Desert X AlUla, I took a brief stroll around the Daimumah Oasis and the Old Town, soaking in its ambiance, with the street filled with cafes and small eateries.

The old Old Town, a labyrinth of over 900 stone and mudbrick houses dating back to the 12th century. The city was surrounded by an ancient wall, parts of which still stand today, marking the community’s efforts to protect their oasis. Efforts are underway to preserve and restore this historic town, allowing visitors to walk through its narrow alleys and imagine life as it was centuries ago.

Too tired, I returned to the Four Caravan, ready to crash after the day’s incredible adventures. 

desert x alula
desertX alUla


On my last day in AlUla, time seemed to have flown by, and I found myself wishing for more days to explore. I squeezed in as much as possible, starting with an adrenaline-pumping activity that kickstarted my morning on an active note!


On the final day of my visit to AlUla, I woke up early again, and the trusty Sultan picked me up at 8 am. There wasn’t even time for a coffee before I found myself at the AlUla Adventure Hub, gearing up for the abseiling experience. If you’ve ever tried canyoning, it’s similar, but without the pools and waterfalls. I had a similar experience in North Bali earlier this summer, and since then, I’d been eager to try it again.


Abseiling in AlUla involves a controlled descent down one of the region’s majestic mountains. Equipped with a harness, helmet, and gloves, I lowered myself down the towering cliffside, reaching the ground with a rush of exhilaration. It’s an experience open to both experienced climbers and novices, the only caveat is that you are not afraid of heights . There was a moment when I descended a vertical cliff, and I must say, it fueled me with adrenaline far more than any coffee could! 🙂

The abseiling experience overall lasted about 1 hour and 30 minutes. To reach the starting point of the abseiling activity, I needed to hike for at least 20 minutes. This hike was an integral part of the adventure, setting the stage for the thrilling descent that awaited. At the Adventure Hub you can do plenty of activities: hiking, via ferrata, giant swing, zipline and rock climbing!


After the exhilarating abseiling experience, I finally got to enjoy a very well-deserved coffee and cookie. Refueled and refreshed, we proceeded to the next stop: Maraya. Naively I thought you could just stop by and see it from outside. But this is not the case: access to Maraya and the Ashar Valley area is restricted, with gates and security, so without a reservation at the restaurant or a ticket to a concert, you wouldn’t be able to even view the building from the outside. Thankfully, I had Sultan with me, and since I had a day pass reservation for Habitas, he suggested to take the entrance that passes through Maraya.  It’s unfortunate that this spectacular spot isn’t visible from the road, which is truly a pity, given its architectural marvel.

access to the inside of Maraya is strictly limited to individuals attending certain events or dining there: for lunch and dinners there’s also a minimum spending, so make sure you check the website before going, to avoid disappointment!

The mirrored building, consisting of nearly 10,000 mirrors, is the largest of its kind in the world and reflects the stunning desert landscape, creating a breathtaking optical illusion.

Habitas AlUla
AlUla Adventure Hub absailing


On my final day in AlUla, I decided to treat myself to a day pass at Habitas AlUla, a place known for its blend of luxury and nature (AKA too expensive too sleep here)  Although the pass included access to the pool, the day was too chilly to entertain the idea of swimming or even removing my jacket.

Instead, I strolled around, had lunch at Tama Restaurant ( Dubai prices, so all under control!)  enjoyed the huge trampolines, immersed myself in the other experiences Habitas had to offer. I attended a 30min “breathwork and meditation” session, which was a grounding and serene experience, a perfect counterbalance to the morning’s adrenaline rush. To complement the session, I was served a complimentary heartwarming ginger and cinnamon tea, freshly prepared, which was just what I needed to feel cozy and revitalized in the cool desert air.

The area is huge: from the entrance to the restaurant and pool area, which is situated at the opposite end of the property, it takes about 20-25 minutes to walk. But no worries, as usual, golf carts are there to help. Unfortunately only guests are allowed to use bicycles.  

After taking the time to slow down and savor the peaceful atmosphere at Habitas, I was ready for the next leg of my journey—the long ride to the airport. Positioned in the northern part of AlUla, Habitas was about an hour’s drive from the airport.

On my way to the airport, I looked back on the past three days in AlUla. They were packed with everything from thrilling adventures to quiet, thoughtful moments. I felt thankful for all the experiences, from exploring ancient sites to enjoying modern art and I really suggest you to add AlUla to your bucket list!


Habitas trampoline
Habitas AlUla
Habitas AlUla
Habitas AlUla

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