When envisioning a road trip, one might automatically picture traversing US highways or winding through the mountains of Europe. However, Saudi Arabia offers an unexpectedly diverse and captivating driving experience, featuring blacktop and gravel roads cutting through stunning deserts, vibrant towns, and lush oases.
Despite decades of limited accessibility for tourists, recent changes have simplified the bureaucratic hurdles for visitors driving in Saudi Arabia. Both men and women, whether locals or tourists, can now embark on solo or accompanied road trips.
A favored route for both expats and locals is the highway through the Eastern Province, stretching along the Gulf coast and bordering Kuwait to the north and connecting to Qatar, Bahrain (via an oversea causeway), Oman, and the United Arab Emirates to the south.
Though not a prime tourism destination, the Eastern Province presents an exciting alternative. The road trip offers a plethora of sights and experiences, making it a worthwhile journey.
Key Considerations for Your Road Trip:
Renting a Car
Accessing the Eastern Province coastline is convenient, with direct flights to international airports near Dammam and Al Ahsa. Car rentals are available at both airports, with major international rental companies represented. Visitors can drive the rental cars abroad with prior notification to the rental company, obtaining a permission letter and a valid visa.
Driving in Saudi Arabia varies from modern highways to gravel tracks, often interrupted by sand dunes encroaching on the roads. Opting for a larger 4WD vehicle is advisable for comfort, better views, and potential off-road situations.
Hitting the Road
The country’s road network, particularly Highway 5 along the eastern coastline, connects major destinations. Despite well-maintained roads, the threat of sand-covered stretches and occasional encounters with camels necessitate caution. Regular service stations are available, but drivers should keep a close eye on their fuel levels.
Along the Coast
Saudi Arabia’s rich history is evident along the coastal road, featuring fortresses like Uquair Castle and Tarout Castle. Dammam, a bustling city with a mix of old and new, offers attractions such as the Love Market and modern architectural marvels like the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.
Into the Desert
Inland toward Al Ahsa lies Al Hofuf, a city within the world’s largest oasis. Exploring the old city center, Ibrahim Palace, and Qaisariah Souq provides a glimpse into the region’s history. The Al Qarah Caves, eroded by rain and wind, offer a fascinating adventure.
The Eastern Province might not top Saudi Arabia’s must-visit list, but its unique blend of sights, cultural richness, and a relatively straightforward road trip make it an unmissable destination. Just be mindful of those camels on the road.