Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (December 23rd) - The world’s most challenging endurance race, Rally Dakar, will once again be travelling across the sands of Saudi Arabia from 31st December – 15th January 2023.
Spanning 8549km of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over 15 intense stages, the most daring of drivers will cross tough terrains from the shores of the Red Sea in the West through to the sands of the Arabian Gulf in Dammam in the East.
The length and diversity of the route opens the door to a stunning world of breath-taking scenery, extensive history and delectable cuisines within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that many a first time visitor may not be aware of. Ahead of the start of the world famous rally later this month, Saudi Motorsport Company (SMC), the Promoter of the event, has released a new video showcasing these phenomenal wonders in an ‘Alternative Map to the Rally Dakar Saudi Arabia 2023’.
From the beautiful coral reefs off the coast of Yanbu, to the Ancient temples of Hegra in AlUla, to the adventurers playground within the deserts surrounding Ha’il, to the modern cityscape of Riyadh as well as the historic Qaisariah Souq in Al-Hofuf and the cultural hub of Dammam – the Rally’s route winds its way through a landscape so beautiful, magnificent and mysterious that it quickly becomes clear why the world’s most epic endurance race has made the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia its new home.
Read on to discover the Alternative Map to the Rally Dakar Saudi Arabia and realise what you may have been missing.
Yanbu, Medina (Prologue & Stage 1):
The start of the ultimate Rally challenge starts on the Red Sea Coast port city of Yanbu. The city is split in two and has a rich and lively history: The Old Town to the north of the city is an ancient spice route staging post, home to a thriving and lively port area. The ‘new city’ in the south is an industrial hub, known for its industrial plants and oil refineries.
With its proximity to one of the most beautiful and diverse seascapes in the world, it is no surprise the area is known for its diving, watersports and seafood cuisines. Sharm Yanbu bay area is rich with coral, a diver’s hotspot and popular for water sports and yacht hire. For foodies, the old port area offers the best of local flavour serving the tastiest fish as fresh as it comes with a stunning coastal view.
Visitors can transport themselves to a tranquil Oasis by dipping their toes into Yanbu Lake. One of the largest man-made lakes in the Kingdom, Yanbu Lake is a botanical wonderland housing flora from all over the world.
AlUla (Stage 2 & 3):
AlUla, in the north-western region of the Kingdom, is home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, Hegra. Here, ancient tombs storing several millennia of history are hiding deep in the desert, neighbouring stunning rock formations and spectacular canyons. Unlike Jordan’s Petra, Hegra remains relatively untouched, visited by more wildlife than tourists.
Nearby within the mountain range of Jabal Ikmah, explorers will find the most extensive and varied collection of pre-Arabic inscriptions in the Kingdom etched on the rocks, regularly referred to as Saudi’s largest ‘open library.’
Elephant Rock - or Jabal AlFil - is a natural wonder located 11km Northeast of AlUla. In an instant, visitors will understand why this spectacular rock, standing 171 feet tall, is given its name. It’s a beautiful example of how the power of erosive forces over a period of millions of years can produce natural art.
In contrast to the surrounding dry desert, the lush AlUla Oasis has a longstanding history as a place for respite and relaxation. It also produces an abundance of unique citrus fruits, dates and more.
Ha’il (Stage 3 & 4 & 5)
Located in the shadows of both Mount Salma and Mount Shammer, Ha’il once was the capital of the Arabian Desert and home to legends like Hatim Al Tai, the Arabian poet who features in stories like “Arabian Nights”. Today it is the capital of the north-central region and is a popular stop during the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Commonly referred to as “The City of Hospitality”, Ha’il offers time-honoured dishes passed down through generations in a region filled with history. Here it’s easy to find traditional foods such as tasty Kebeba (spiced stuffed vine leaves), a hearty Thareeda (a warming stew) and delicious Marasiya (light pancakes).
The Jubbah Rock Carvings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site located an hour northwest of Ha’il in Jubbah Umm Sinman. These fascinating rock inscriptions are thought to date back at least 7,000 to 9,000 years to the Pottery Neolithic period and reveal social activities, clothing, animals and weaponry of the time.
Adventurers should head north from the city and into the intricate maze of beautiful red sand dunes for an exhilarating day trip like no other. Here you can surf the sands or find local operators to try dune-BASHING and experience a little of what the Dakar Saudi Arabia legends go through. A must do for all thrill-seekers.
The 40,000 square kilometre desert comprises a third of the region of Ha’il and is an important part of the region’s cultural identity. Each spring, Ha’il hosts the Desert Festival, celebrating the heritage of the desert through poetry, markets with traditional crafts, food, and more.
Riyadh (Stage 8 &9)
Formerly known as ‘Hajr al-Yamamah’, Riyadh is the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. It lies in the centre of the an-Nafud desert and attracts around 5 million tourists annually, making it the 6th most visited city in the Middle East.
Visitors interested in modern history will be fascinated by what’s on offer in Riyadh. The Al Masmak Fortress (aka the Al Masmak Palace) is a 150-year-old fortress located in the heart of the old quarter. This was the home of King Abdulaziz in 1902 when he united the different kingdoms and formed the Saudi Arabia known today. The restored building is now a museum, a favourite among tourists wanting to step back in time and explore Saudi Arabia’s roots.
Visitors can also experience one of the best views in Saudi Arabia by heading to the Kingdom Centre. Towering an incredible 993ft, the Kingdom Centre is the centrepiece of Riyadh’s growing skyline and offers a fantastic view from the daring Skybridge. Guests can do a bit of shopping within the large shopping mall, grab a bite to eat or book a stay in the Four Seasons situated within the tower.
Empty Quarter (Stage 11 & 12)
The Empty Quarter desert is the largest and driest sand desert in the world, spanning an area larger than France and only receiving 1.2 inches of rain a year. The Rally Dakar’s marathon stage, where drivers will not be able to receive help from their teams, will be taking place here.
For a true Arabian experience, visitors can Kashta (camp) under the stars amongst the sandy dunes - but should be sure to wrap up warm as the desert gets bitterly cold at night. It is traditional while taking part in a Kashta to warm up around a campfire, eating Arabian barbeque and drinking warm camel's milk or Arabica coffee.
Many Kashtah operators also arrange special treks across the desert on Arabian camels. For more than 3,000 years, camels have been a key staple within the Middle East, transporting goods and people and providing milk and meat.
Al-Hofuf (Stage 13 & 14)
A major urban city in the Al-Ahsa Oasis in the east of the Kingdom, Al-Hofuf is world famous for its dates, being one of the largest producers of the fruit in the entire world.
Heading into the city centre visitors will find the most famous historic market in the Kingdom: the Qaisariah Souq home to over 400 traditional shops and stalls. Believed to be built in 1822, this market is a 7000 sqm space and has been granted World Heritage status in 2018 by UNESCO. Here, you can buy handmade textiles and clothing, scented candles, varied foods and spices, antiques and trades and many more.
Visitors looking for a bit of history or culture can visit the Jawatha Mosque, rumoured to have been the first mosque in Eastern Arabia and where the second Friday congregation prayer was held. Throughout the years, the mosque has experienced wear but was recently restored and is now where Friday prayers are recited. Visitors can only visit the beautiful mosque outside of prayer times.
Dammam (Stage 14)
Nestled on the beautiful and tranquil Arabian Gulf coast, the Eastern Province capital, Dammam is a modern metropolis that boasts stunning coastal views. Damman is the fifth-most populous city in Saudi Arabia, with over 1.5 million residents. Settled in 1923 by the Dawasir tribe, the area was formerly used as a fishing hamlet. Today, it is known for its greenery, waterfronts and for being an arts and culture hub.
In the centre of the city guests will find the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra. The modern building is home to a theatre, library, cinema, galleries and museum, and interactive child-friendly activities. Known for its symbol of Saudi’s cultural renaissance, this hub features a 30-minute guided walk of the complex, known as the Ithra Journey Tour.
After a long day, the Al Khobar waterfront offers the perfect environment to relax and unwind. Here, guests can watch the sunset along the seafront, surrounded by landscaped gardens, various dining options, and cafes.
For those wanting to get out of the city, Half Moon Bay is a short drive south from Dammam. The pristine shallow cove is ideal for a quick dip in the warm waters or for a spot of scuba diving.