The Red Sea ranks high on the list of most beautiful coastlines on Earth, and it’s no wonder that Saudi Arabia is becoming a popular destination for cruise ships. With its sparkling turquoise waters, marine parks and coral reefs, the Red Sea coastline of Saudi Arabia offers exploration opportunities that were once off-limits to foreigners.
Saudi Arabia might not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of cruise holidays, but the Red Sea is fast becoming a buzzing destination for those looking for something different. With plenty of activities onboard world-class cruise ships that port in Saudi Arabia and unique historic sites, heritage, cultural experiences and natural wonders inland, this Arabian coastline should definitely be on your travel radar.
Saudi Arabia is an untapped destination with a coastline that has been off-limits for years despite being right in the middle of the world’s busiest marine traffic highway, linking the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal. However, Saudi Arabia is now opening up its coastline for cruise ships and is becoming a new destination for cruisers.
Saudi Arabia – a growing port of call for major cruise lines
Since the start of the 2021 cruise season, more than 70 cruise ships have made port calls in Saudi Arabia, including major cruise lines such as Viking Ocean, Silverseas, Scenic and MSC. The luxurious MSC Bellissima, one of MSC’s newest family-friendly cruise ships calls Jeddah Islamic Port her homeport. In addition, MSC Virtuosa made its maiden call to Jeddah in April this year while on her way to the Mediterranean and the British Isles for the summer season.
As part of the ‘Cruise Saudi’ initiative, cruise lines have added Saudi Arabia to their itineraries, and travellers are excited to explore this new destination. With Cruise Saudi’s continued efforts, it is only a matter of time before Saudi Arabia quickly becomes an established cruise destination in the Middle East.
Major destinations along Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Coastline
Saudi Arabia’s coastline on the Red Sea is home to a fantastic array of coral reef habitats. These reefs, along with the mangrove forests found along the Saudi coast, play a vital role in the health of the Red Sea ecosystem. In addition, the coral reefs provide a critical source of food and shelter for many fish and other marine creatures.
The Red Sea coastline is dotted with the ruins of ancient trading ports that attest to the region’s rich seafaring history. These sites provide valuable insights into the trade routes and settlement patterns of the past. But, perhaps most impressive are the still-surviving settlements that were developed as fishing and trading ports. These settlements offer a glimpse into the everyday life of Red Sea merchants and fishermen.
The diverse coastline has over 1150 islands, most with sandy beaches that offer stunning views towards its coastlines or coral reefs just offshore where snorkelling enthusiasts can explore under waterfalls pools filled with colourful fish.
The Farasan Islands are a haven for wildlife and nature lovers. This beautiful archipelago sits at the southern tip of Saudi Arabia, west of Jazan City along its coastline. It contains some absolutely breathtaking scenery and natural habitats for nesting sea turtles and seabirds.
Jeddah Islamic Port
Jeddah Islamic Port is a launch point to explore the Saudi Arabian coastline. From Jeddah, travellers can explore the city’s mix of ancient and modern architecture, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Al Balad, Jeddah’s old town.
A port call at Al Wajh is an invitation to explore the history of Arabia through sand and stone. The city’s white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters are a stark contrast to the surrounding desert sands, and visitors can enjoy a variety of water sports such as snorkelling, diving and windsurfing.
In addition to its natural beauty, Al Wajh is also rich in history and culture. The city was once an important trading hub on the Incense Route, and its ancient fortresses and markets offer a glimpse into Saudi Arabia’s past.
A three-hour drive from this coastal city takes us to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra and Al-Ula. Hegra is a forgotten city of the ancient world, hidden in plain sight. This site was designated by UNESCO for its incredible preservation abilities and seems to be lost amongst sand dunes that date back centuries ago when it served an important role as one piece within another larger puzzle – the Nabatean civilization.
Continue the exploration to the ancient city of AlUla with its citadel dating back to the 10th century. The old town has 900+ brick houses and 400 shops, with plenty of alleyways to explore.
Yanbu Al Bahr
Yanbu Al Bahr is one of the most popular ports of call on this coastline. The city is located on the Red Sea coast and is known for its beaches, warm waters and excellent scuba diving.
The Ras Al Abyad, also known as Coastal White Head for its pristine beaches on the coastline near Yanbu, features stunning beaches with pristine water and white sand and contains some all-female areas for those who want an escape without distractions.
Yanbu can become a true paradise for water lovers. Yanbu offers a good array of watersports opportunities, from scuba diving and snorkelling to windsurfing and kitesurfing. Yanbu is high on the list of places to scuba dive in the Red Sea.
The clear waters and abundant marine life make Yanbu a diver’s paradise. From the Seven Sisters Coral Reef to shipwrecks teeming with fish, Yanbu, ‘the Pearl of the Red Sea’ has something for everyone. And with a year-round climate that is perfect for watersports, Yanbu is the ideal place to enjoy the water, no matter your passion.
Ras Al-Sheikh Hameed and Sindalah Island
Heading north along the Saudi Red Sea coastline, towards the edges of Egypt’s Sinai and across from the waters of the world-famous Sharm el-Sheikh, we come to Ras Al-Sheikh Hameed and Sindalah Island, touching the Gulf of Aqaba and Strait of Tiran.
The Ras Al-Sheikh Hameed is a beautiful sandy cape with coral reefs and rich marine life just beyond the beach. Head to this cape for a stunning view of the Sinai Mountains of Egypt across the straits and gorgeous sunsets that silhouette the Sinai and the Red Sea.
Sindalah, an exclusive private island in the Red Sea, is a luxurious getaway for the privileged few. With five Royal Cabanas, an opulent spa, a beach club and two fine restaurants, Sindalah offer its guests the height of luxury and relaxation. The crystal-clear turquoise waters of Sindalah are a haven for snorkellers and scuba divers, and the beautiful sandy beaches are perfect for lounging in the sun.
Yuba and Shusha are great spots for snorkelling, while Sanafir and Tiran offer breathtaking views of their rocky shores. The smaller islands of Baraqan, Wallah, Sila, Al Farshah, Umm Qusur and Shujayrat are also well worth a visit. They’re home to rare birds and sea life, including green and hawksbill turtles.
If you love cruising, Saudi Arabia is a destination you won’t want to miss. With its sparkling turquoise waters and diverse landscape, the Red Sea coastline of Saudi Arabia offers explorers plenty of opportunities to discover new things. The cruise season has just begun, and there’s already excitement in the air for what this year will bring. So if you’re looking for a new and exciting cruise destination, put Saudi Arabia on your list. ◼
© This article was first published online in Apr 2022 – World Travel Magazine.