It’s 45°C outside and I have a week-long vacation because of Eid Al Fitr. So instead of just sitting and sleeping the whole week at home, I decided to pack my ever reliable backpack and head to an adventure somewhere new.
What better way to escape the scorching heat of Riyadh than to go somewhere cold?! Guess where?!
To the city of ABHA.
For those who say that Saudi Arabia is just a plain hot desert, Abha is an exception.
Located more than 900 km southwest of the capital Riyadh, Abha is a favorite summer getaway due to its great location and cool climate throughout the year.
Abha is the capital of Asir province situated 7,200 ft above sea level. It lies on the western edge of Hijaz Mountain range.
From Riyadh, I took the 6pm SAPTCo bus to Khamis Mushayt for more than 14 hrs. since there are no direct buses going to Abha. From Khamis I took another bus to Abha with less than 30 mins. travel time.I was overwhelmed with the views that I missed to go down at the right station, I just realized that the road signs are already heading to Jizan so I asked the other passengers and confirmed that I was lost. When the bus driver dropped me off, I immediately checked Uber for a ride to city center only to found out that Uber is not working in this area. I started to feel nervous for I am the only person walking on the street and there’s not much car around. But since I already made a little research about the place and read on some blogs that Careem app is working here, I already downloaded it beforehand as backup. And thank God, it really worked. That was my first ever Careem ride with the captain Mr.Yahya, and this was where my Abha adventure began.
At first, I only asked him to bring me to Abha Saptco station then I changed my mind and asked to bring me to Soudah mountain instead. I’m glad he’s cooperative. He’s even giving me suggestion on where to go, etc.
I was really surprised to see the difference between Abha and Riyadh. Abha feels like you’re not in Saudi. The streets are colorfully designed. There are mountains and hills everywhere you look. They also have terraces where they plant crops.My initial plan was to go to Soudah Mountain to ride the cable car going to Rijal Alma but since my Careem captain offered to tour me around the city and other neighboring towns for a very reasonable price, I did not hesitate to accept it. I believe it’s already a good deal to have an 8 hour tour for Sr300.So we arrived on our first destination, Soudah Mountain, believed to be the highest peak in Saudi Arabia. The spectacular view of mountain ranges was so tranquil and refreshing. Soudah Mountain is part of the extensive Asir National Park that starts from the mountains in the west of Abha, through Tehama plains, until the end of Red Sea coast. It’s a favorite picnic and camping site among locals and expats. And according to my guide, there are also paragliding activities here during late afternoon. There are also some areas where you can see rock inscriptions that are a thousand years old.So after an ample time exploring Aseer National Park, we headed to the neighboring town of Rijal Alma to see its famed stone village.The long and winding road of Asir mountains is already an attraction itself with adorable baboons to greet you along the way.Hidden in between rocky mountains and valleys is another gem of Asir region, the Rijal Alma Heritage Stone Village, which is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The well conserved multiple-storey stone buildings and houses were such a beauty to behold. A museum was built through the efforts of the local community to preserve their heritage.
On our way back to Abha city center, we took another route. The Abha-Jizan road is another amazing roadtrip experience for its picturesque mountain views. I learned that it always drizzles almost every day in this part of Saudi.We had a quick stop for lunch in a mandi restaurant in Muhayil town. Mandi is a popular Arab dish where the meat is cooked in tandoor which is a special kind of oven. The tandoor is usually a hole dug in the ground and covered inside by clay.We also passed by a souk where they sell all kinds of stuffs from souvenirs to local produce. By the way, this region is well-known for its high quality honey.One thing that I couldn’t help but notice is that flower crowns and garlands are a common thing here. Both men and women love it. You will see kids selling it on the streets.Off to the city center. I can say that Abha is also a progressive city with lots of shopping malls and establishments. But what set it apart from Riyadh is the greenery; there are trees (not only date trees) and plants all over.We headed to Al Meftaha Village. The cultural center aims to promote Asir’s culture and heritage by showcasing the locals’ artistic talents through fine arts, traditional crafts, photography, etc.Another must visit place only a few meters away from the village is the Art Street. This part of King Khaled Road decorated with colorful flower balls and pieces of artworks is such a perfect place to capture some instagram-worthy photos. The place is so lively and busy for there was an ongoing event that day.A visit to Abha wouldn’t be complete without riding the cable car. This is definitely a great way to have a bird’s eye view of the city but not recommendable for the faint-hearted. We took the cable car going to Green Mountain.Green Mountain is a hill located in the middle of the city illuminated with green lights at night. There are restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy a meal while being amused by the overlooking view of the city. You can also try the pendulum ride if you want a more thrilling experience. Watching the sunset on top of Green Mountain was such a magical experience. I could say that this was the highlight of my trip. The long travel was really worth it and I wouldn’t mind doing it all over again.So before I end this amazing tour of Abha, my guide took me back to King Khaled Road where a festival was going on. There was a program for kids and lots of stalls where different products were being sold. After lingering a while, it’s time for me to leave. On our way to Saptco station there was another quick detour. It was an old Turkish fortress on top of a hill. The place is called Shamsan Castle. From here I can see the beautiful bright green lights of Green Mountain.What a lovely way to end the trip!