One of the most famous desert treks from Riyadh, the Edge of the World is definitely worth a visit because of the amazing scenery and an unforgettable experience. The Tuwaiq escarpment that runs about 700km through central Saudi-Arabia is a scenic plateau with plenty of beautiful viewing spots. What makes Edge of the World special is this part of the escarpment has long edges that reach outward from the plateau and the view from them looks “endless”, in other words only a flat plain can be seen in the horizon as far as the eye can reach.
The location is about 90km outside of Riyadh and it takes about 1,5hours to reach. The Edge of the world should not be tempted to reach by other than a 4×4 vehicle as the last length of the trip is very rocky and there’s loose gravel. Some people have managed to get there by regular cars without getting stuck but it’s a big risk to take. The safest bet is to go in a convoy of several cars and make sure all the cars have a full tank and a shovel, tow strap and spare tires and/or tire repair kits.
The best season for visiting would be fall and winter months when skies are clear and the temperatures are warm or cool. Edge of the World can get extremely hot in the summer months as there is no shade there whatsoever. If you want the site all to yourself the best would be to visit on a weekday. During the years this site has become increasingly popular among expats and winter weekend afternoons might even have a small crowd on site.
When taking the trip, you should leave early enough to prepare to have at least two hours at the site and a good two hours for the way back during daylight hours. The desert track can be very tricky to drive in the dark and it’s easy to get lost. Eventually all tracks lead out of the acacia valley back to the gate. It should be noted that the rangers close this gate at 6 p.m so if you don’t make that time you are stuck in the acacia valley for the night.
At the site there will be a lot of climbing and walking to do to reach the actual edge, remember to take enough water with you. The cars are parked below the cliff and from here you can either take a trek down to the plains for a view of the Edge from below or climb up the cliff and continue until the edge. Keep in mind the whole site is in natural state and there will be no fences or warning signs anywhere, so caution needs to be practiced anywhere near the cliff ledges as there might be loose rocks and danger of falling and rock slides.
The danger of falling here is real, a western nurse fell to her death at this location a few years back while venturing too far out on the ledge. This is a good reason not to bring small children to this site or to be extremely vigilant in watching them.
Even though just climbing up the cliff is sufficient enough to enjoy the breath taking scenery, it’s worth walking all the way to the end of the cliff where one can really experience the feeling of being on “the edge of the world”. From the cliff continue walking right for a few hundred meters. Next there’s a steep climb down and then a narrow path that leads to the last rock cliff with the spectacular views. The walk will take about 15 minutes to half hour depending on your abilities.
You will see lots of sparrows and eagles flying around the escarpment and many birds have nests in the walls. Keep a look out for fossils too, the escarpment is rich in fossils because it used to be the bottom of the ocean some 50 million years ago! Looking down into the valley you will see dried up rivers twirling into the distance, after heavy rains they will become real rivers because the water rushes down from the escarpment into the plains. Some areas on the plains become very green in the spring time.
The climb down starts from the car park area, here you will see an opening in the escarpment and by walking further there will be a small path on the right side which leads all the way down to the plain. This is a very strenuous walk and you need to take lots of water to make this trip.
On the way back to the city you can see camels, goat herders, and the occasional Saudis putting up campfires under the acacia trees. If you are planning to stay the night this would be the ideal location because the valley is full of soft sand.
Directions: From Riyadh take the road 535 (King Khaled Rd.) north heading towards Salbouk. After approximately 30 km you will reach an intersection and turn left to route 5766 heading towards Jubayla. Set the odometer at zero here. Continue straight passing through a few small towns. Eventually the road becomes route 5762 leading to Sadus. From this road you will turn off to the desert track on the left at location N24 57 21.2 E46 13 41.6, approximately 30 km from the intersection. There are no sign posts here, it’s just a dirt track that seems to go nowhere but this is where you start your off-road part. There is a blue sign in Arabic about 50 meters from the road.
Now continue on this dirt track straight and you will soon see a fence on the left, continue beside it now slightly the track turning to the right. This track leads you to a dam and a gate next to a small building where the rangers are posted. Pass the gate and turn right. Now you are in Acacia valley. From here you will drive along the wadi for a good 20kms and the terrain will eventually become more rocky in the end until you reach the edge of the world location. The track has some forks in it, try to keep to the right but don’t enter into the small valleys, they are dead ends. GPS coordinates for the Edge of the World end location N24 56 41.4 E45 59 32.1
Raghbah and the Rolling Sand Dunes
This enchanting little mud town called Raghbah is located about 120 km outside of Riyadh and is easily accessible even with a small car. Nearby are date farms, red mountains and lovely rolling sand dunes that grow small bushes and other flora. In the rainy season small bodies of water gathers in the deep folds of the dunes.
Raghbah makes for a nice day trip from Riyadh and it’s really easy to find because of the prominent watch tower. The ruins of this town (built in 1669) are vast and the visitor can take hours to explore all it has to offer.
Many of the houses can be entered and explored from inside. Some have interesting details and there is one building especially well preserved with amazing detail inside. There are also wells and ruins of castles and walls on the outskirts of the town. The town has historical significance, it plays a role in the Najd history and it was invaded and destroyed by the Turks in the 19th century.
There are two mosques and the larger one is called the Al-Tali’ mosque, which is, like all the other buildings here made out of mud and straw. It’s worth going inside the mosque and checking out the courtyard, small well for wudu (washing for prayer) and the amazing prayer hall which is lit by natural sunlight. For more images of the mosque check: http://imagesofsaudi.blogspot.com/2012/04/mud-mosque.html
The most interesting part is the Marqab watch tower on the west side of the town. The tower is quite tall and surprisingly narrow! It’s possible to climb the tower’s spiral staircase all the way to the top to get a great view of the whole town and the beautiful mountains and sand dunes in the distance. The climb up takes time because the way there is extremely claustrophobic experience! Not for the faint at heart and only one person can go up at a time, otherwise you will get stuck.
On a clear day you can see the escarpment in the distance.
Although the town has been long ago abandoned, some very poor families and maybe illegal immigrants still live there.
Nearby the town are magnificent sand dunes, reachable with a small car if you don’t venture out too far. With a 4×4 it’s worth driving further out for better views but in general this place is has few other people around.
Be careful when driving here there are sudden holes and there might be water in them too!
The sand dunes seem to continue endlessly.
To get here from Riyadh, from exit 4 take the Qassim road (65W) until you get to the exit called Huraimila. Then continue until you see the sign for Raghbah. The drive takes about an hour. Drive until you come to the small village and you cannot miss the mud village on your left hand side because of the watch tower visible from the road. The village is not more than 200 meters from the main road. Turn left when you spot the tower and you can drive into the village from any place you see fit.
To get to the sand dunes just continue on the road that lead you to the mud village and the dunes are best on the right hand side.
The beautiful gardens of Rawdhat Khuraim can be found about 100 km outside Riyadh in the middle of the desert. An abundance of trees, bushes, birds and flowers welcome the visitor.
The huge park is fenced all the way around and accessible by foot only. You must drive next to the fence and when you find a spot you like park your car and then proceed on foot. No cars or other motorized vehicles are allowed inside which makes it a peaceful haven. The area is clean and free of trash, which is unfortunately a rarity for picnic places in Saudi. It’s a lovely place to go walking, birdwatching or just for a picnic and women can take their abayas off.
After rains and in the winter and spring months the Rawdhat (=garden) becomes very lush and flowers can be seen everywhere. If you’re lucky you might see flowing rivers and small lakes being formed after the rains. The park remains green even during the dry summer months.
Overnight camping is not allowed here and visitors should leave the park before 10 p.m. Caution should be practiced when making open fires and visitors are expected to keep the place clean. Don’t leave any trash behind!!
Directions: From Riyadh take the Dammam highway (route 40E), after about 40 km turn left to Rumah. Then drive another 55km and you will see signs for Rawdhat Khuraim, just follow the signs and the gardens are easy to spot from the highway. You will turn towards Rawdhat Khuraim to the right and you can the enter the park from anywhere you like. Cars can be parked outside the fence, no motor vehicles allowed inside. If you continue straight on this road you will reach the King’s area which is off limits to public.
For the most quiet places drive off to the right from the road, around to the back of the area beside the fence until you see a nice spot. The area is so huge you can drive for half an hour along the fence and still not see an end to the park. Alternatively you can go left from the road next to the red sand dunes but this place usually is more crowded because it’s easier to reach. You can drive here with a normal car but if you wish to venture further you will need a 4×4.