JEDDAH: With the weather turning cooler and beaches set for bonfires and barbecue dinners, Jeddawis have instead turned to deserts and mountains for weekend getaways as part of their yearly exploration for new lands to discover.
Jeddawis have always romanticized their city by sea, giving it the title “The Bride of the Red Sea.” A normal weekend for most Jeddawis is spent at the beach, taking part in water sports activities or enjoying seaside picnics all year around.
Now that it is winter, high tides have become a problem for divers, the wind has hindered some water sports, and it is not a popular time to get a tan, so beach lovers have gone to test out different sands in the desert.
Arab News spoke to tour agencies and hiking guides to find out why hiking and desert trekking have risen in popularity among residents of the city and western region.
Bandar Al-Jehani, 33, founded the tour agency YOLO Jeddah in 2017. He said that people began to hike and arrange public excursions in the area around three to four years ago, and that since then, it has spiked in popularity.
“It used to be more exclusive — just groups of friends or small groups that all know each other, and it took off from there,” he told Arab News.
Al-Jehani said the change in weather affects beach trips, which are organized and available year round. People often choose to head east as soon as the weather drops below 30 degrees Celsius, he added.
Jeddah winters are known to be mild and temperatures rarely drop below 20 degrees Celsius during evenings, which is considered peak time for desert excursions.
“Jeddawis are known to be beach lovers. They’re always at the beach in the summer, but strong waves could arise in winter. From here, Jeddawis turned to hiking in the winter,” he said.
The practice of hiking in the Kingdom dates back to the ancient Lihyan kingdom.
He added that there are many great places in Jeddah for outdoor activities, even for sand dune riding.
Ahmed Abduljawad, a senior marketing specialist at Destifind tour agency, said hiking has been practiced in Jeddah for more than 12 years, but that it used to be closed to small groups of friends and was nonexistent for the general public until tour groups for daily excursions in the area began to appear, with the help of social media.
“None of these activities were organized or referred to an association,” he told Arab News. “We wanted to make it proper and meet higher standards in terms of organization and safety.
“Jeddawis are always active. When the weather gets cold and beautiful they try to find alternative activities other than the beach. And that’s when they start looking for nice outdoor locations to spend the weekend.”
For the past few years, many new opportunities have been provided to Saudis after explorers revealed some of the hidden gems the Kingdom’s vast lands have to offer.
Hassan Humadi, a 43-year-old Saudi tour and hiking guide certified by the Saudi Climbing and Hiking Federation and the Ministry of Tourism, said hiking traditions in the Kingdom date back to ancient civilizations.
“The practice of hiking in the Kingdom dates back to the ancient Lihyan kingdom where people crossed long paths and valleys, and climbed mountains for food and water,” he told Arab News. “It became popular in the Kingdom and has been considered a sport during the past five years.”
He added that Jeddawis have been exploring the activity in growing numbers, especially this year after lockdown restrictions were eased. Humadi said that he guided many groups on hiking trails in the area, often up to four or five groups a week, all from Jeddah.
“We all love going to the beach, and Jeddawis love going to the beach as it is close to them and plays a part in their daily lives. Hiking has become another hobby added to their list.”
Humadi said hiking is not dependent on seasons and can be practiced year round, but that there are certain activities that feel special in the winter, such as making a campfire in the cold weather.
“Jeddawis come to Taif in August to enjoy cooler weather, rain and nature. During the winter, they enjoy the fog and making campfires.” He said that areas around the
city are filled with tourist spots with high potential that deserve to be visited.
“As a tour guide, and even before attaining this position, I knew that Jeddah is a special historic area famous for its beautiful beaches and sea. When I first became a tour guide, I gained knowledge about Historic Jeddah (Al-Balad) and other beautiful historic areas. In all honesty, Jeddah deserves to be visited as a tourist destination.”