Your Guide to Abha Saudi Arabia
Many imagine Saudi Arabia as a desert country with extreme temperature throughout the year. Fortunately, it is not. In fact, they have mild and pleasant winter but summer can be very hot. There are also places in Saudi Arabia that enjoyed mild weather throughout the year. One such place is Abha. Let me introduce and guide you through Abha, Saudi Arabia's city in the sky.
Abha's Mild Climate
It is about 1.4 miles above sea level and enjoys a mild climate throughout the year with average temperature of 70°F (21°C) in the summer and 60°F (15°C) in the winter. The city seldom experience temperature exceeding 95°F (35°C) which makes it a popular holiday destination for expatriates working in Saudi Arabia as well as for the Saudis.
If you travel deep into the desert country, the night temperature can drop to below 14°F (-10°C). There were occasions where it snowed in Abha.
Unlike other parts of the country, Abha and the surrounding area are subject to rain, which explains why agriculture is a big industry.
Abha, Saudi Arabia's city in the sky
One of Abha's attractions is its innovative and unique architecture as a result of its environmental and topographical conditions. Its relative remoteness and isolation from external influences give Abha its unique architectural character. Unlike other places in Saudi Arabia, Abha managed to preserve this unique architectural heritage.
Where is Abha?
Abha is in the southern part of Saudi Arabia in the province of Asir and is the capital city of the Asir province.
Mud and Stone Houses
The mud and stone houses are examples of these architectures. The old mud and stone houses were built in vertical rows and are more than three storey high. The walls are thick enough to repel heat but will capture the cool desert night air. It keeps the house interiors cool in the daytime even during hot weather.
There are several of these old mudhouses and you can spend a day exploring them.
If you drive to the outskirts of Abha, you will see more of these mud and stone houses and in the old villages, these houses are at least 300 years old. If you are with a tour guide, you will learn the construction techniques of these houses, which is something worth knowing.
Other attractions in the city with these unique architectures are Al Muftaha Village for Fine Art, and Shada Palace.
Al Muftaha Village
The old Muftaha Village that was in a state of neglect was re-built based on inspirations from Asir's heritage and culture. It was built using the traditional methods of construction with local mud and stones.
The new Al Muftaha Village comprises of King Fahd Cultural Center, Archaeological Centre, Media Centre and Al Muftaha Theatre. It was the first project in Saudi Arabia that embraced traditional crafts, photography and fine arts.
Shada Palace was built in 1927 and used originally as the headquarters of the Amara of Abha province. It is now a museum. It houses old planting & household tools, coins, several manuscripts and photographs of life in Abha in the second half of last century.
Farther away from these mud villages is the watering hole for various bird species at Wadi Mahala, which is about 6.2 miles (10km) from Abha city.
Jabal Al-Sooda or Black Mountain
Abha is also home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, the Jabal Al-Sooda or Black Mountain, which stood at 2 miles (3.3km) high. It is the highlight of any trip to this area for a breathtaking vista of the city and the surrounding area.
This is also the site for the paragliding competition held every summer during the Assir Festival.
The origin of Black Mountain name is a mystery but locals believe the names came from the dark Araar trees that grow all over the mountain and the dark clouds that loom above it.
Cable Car to the Mountains
In and around the city you will find four cable car networks that will take you to Al-Sooda or Black Mountain, Al-Habala, New Abha and Lake Saad: a picturesque lake, surrounded by rolling hills on both sides.
The highest for these cable car rides is the 4.3-mile ride from Al-Sooda. It also descends 1.2 mile to connect Sarawat Mountains with the Tihama villages.
Asir National Park
The Asir National Park, a 1.1 billion acre (450,000 hectares) of land and sea that was set up in 1976 is one of the major attractions in Abha. It is home to Jabal Soodah, the highest mountain in Saudi Arabia.
The misty mountains with its dense and pristine forests are homes to a variety of rare floras and faunas that are now protected from deforestation. Bring your camera, capture these rare plants, and share it with your friends.
At Asir National Park you might encounter baboons that are so used to people that they look forward to you feeding them.
Driving around Asir National Park is a ride filled with breathtaking mountain sceneries. The precarious two-lane roads that wind through its valleys and escarpments can sometimes give you that goosebumps. For every turn that you take will bring you another unbelievable view.
Among the other activities that you can do at Asir National Park are bird watching, hiking, and mountain climbing. There are also several campsites and picnic sites with toilet facilities but maintenance of these facilities is low.
About 20 minutes' drive from Abha is the Al-Habala Valley. Al-Habala means 'rope' in Arabic and the village is called 'Hanging Village' because the only access then was by climbing ropes! The villagers will use the ropes and pulleys as a mode of transport to trade with the nearby town or to bring back items they had purchased. It is much simpler now with the cable car connection.
How did this village come about? According to the official record, the Qahtan clan had to flee the Turks' attack and took refuge in this perilous, but safe place.
This perilous yet interesting site has become a popular tourist area and a favorite spot for paragliders.
If you look at the photo below, you will see that the villages are built on the mountain edge, a scary experience for a visitor when opening window or door to see ravine at the doorstep!
Al-Habala valley is also surrounded by Sarawat Mountains that stood at 1.23 mile (2 km) above sea level. The hanging village is about 0.19 mile (300 m) below this point.
Sarawat mountain range is the Arabian Peninsula's largest mountain range. It starts from Jordan and run through Saudi Arabia and ends in Yemen.
Shallal Al-Dahna and Tanumah
Shallal Al-Dahna is home to one of the few semi-permanent waterfalls in Saudi Arabia and is a photographer's paradise.
Tanumah is an area of broken granite hills that are mostly covered with acacia and juniperus plant varieties.
Both are about 62 miles (100km) north of Abha and are accessible via good roads, unlike some other sites.
Malaki Dam Lake
Malaki dam lake is situated on the periphery of Asir foothills. Four wadis run through this lake and it covers an area of about 2,471 acres (10 sq. km) when the water level is at its highest. One of these wadis is the famous Wadi Jawah.
The area is a popular breeding ground for several varieties of birds from the Arabian peninsula as well as migratory birds from the African continent. If the site is not managed properly, these breeding grounds will soon become history. The government must control and halt further land cultivation within these areas to preserve these important breeding grounds.
Note: Wadi means a valley or ravine, usually surrounded by steep banks that will become a watercourse during a rainy season.
Raydah Escarpment Reserve
You must visit Raydah Escarpment Reserve for its sheer beauty. It is about 9.3 mile (15km) from Abha and is off the Al-Sooda road.
This site has a vertical west facing slope with steep rugged rock that project upward as well as outward. The cool and damp climate at the top of this mountain contrast sharply with the hot and humid tropical condition at the bottom.
Abha and the region have several old mosques that date back as far as 70 AH (690 CE). Some of the popular mosques are Sadrid Mosque, Jahwah Mosque built on the top of Mount Akran in Mana’a, and mosque of Thurban.
Basket souq or bazaar is a treasure trove of colorful handmade baskets; made from reeds and even vinyl.
Made and sold by the local women, these baskets are favorite souvenirs with tourists that visit Abha.
Every Tuesday, near the Al-Mafteheh tourist center in Abha, there will be a traditional market selling mainly local produce, spices, and clothing. This market attracts mainly locals from the neighboring area but if you have a chance, visit this market to see how the locals do their shopping!
People of Abha
Despite the many beautiful attractions, the real attraction is the people of Abha for their poetic and artistic manner.
If you understand Arabic, you will be fascinated by the language of these people. Their use of poignant words and phrases will bring life to any topics of discussions.
The women of Abha wear black dresses with intricate embroideries known as Abha thobe. Jewelry is an essential part of any women's dressing and it is no different in Abha except that the amount of jewelry worn is also an indicator of the women's social status.
A wealthy woman will wear lots of jewelry and thus marriage dowries for this region are higher than any part of Saudi Arabia.
The people of Abha and the region are also friendlier and not so uptight as compared to the other parts of the country. Their clothing is more colorful and the men sometimes wear colorful trousers. Another unique practise is local women running and operating booths in the souks (bazaars) which is hardly seen in other parts of Saudi Arabia.
Getting to Abha
Abha is located almost to the southern part of Saudi Arabia and is geographically very far from almost all major cities and towns in the country. The best way to reach Abha is to fly since driving will take up most of your vacation time.
The airport is about 30 mins away from the city center and there are several domestic flights to Abha and are as follows:
Saudia and Nasair
International flights to Abha are as follows:
Saudia and EgyptAir
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The drive to Abha from most major cities in Saudi Arabia will be a long drive that takes at least seven hours.
You can either go along the coastal route (from Jeddah) or the interior route. Either way, you will be driving along major highways and old roads that can be both daunting and interesting.
Be warned; there are no hotels along the way so be prepared to rough it out.
Places to Stay in Abha
Besides staying in hotels, you have the option of staying in villas or apartments. There are several choices and if you intend to explore the area, it is best to use Abha as your base and travel to your respective points of interest.
Some of the hotels available in Abha are:
- Abha Palace Hotel: In a good location within the city and with a fantastic view of the surrounding mountain. Reviews by users are mixed.
- Intercontinental Hotel: Located at the highest point and away from the city center. Rated by users as "...the hotel that Intercontinental forgot..."
- Assalam Palace: About 10-minute drive from Abha Mall and is in downtown Abha. Offers free Wi-Fi.
- Boudl Abha: Located at New Al Taif Road at Abha Mall and is perfect if you are looking for city center hotel. Offer free breakfast and free wireless internet connection.
- Al Bouhaira Resorts: Located at Al Soudah Road and overlook the Abha Dam Lake. Rooms available are the standard, deluxe, suites and villas.
Come Visit Abha
Abha was referred as the land of spices and fragrances by the ancient Egyptians and over time it has become more than that; it is a land of humble people and unforgettable sights.'
Saudi Arabia has many things to offer such as the cool mountain resorts, scuba diving and fishing in its famed Red Sea.
If you have the privilege of traveling to Saudi Arabia, which is not an easy country to apply for tourist visa, make a point of traveling south to the province of Asir and enjoy the mild weather and the beauty that Abha and the region have to offer.
Traveling to Abha for the Paragliding Adventure
© 2012 Mazlan