A land of mystical deserts, Saudi Arabia lures with the mysterious beauty of its expansive dunes and valleys. The deserts of Saudi Arabia possess a unique blend of tranquility and thrill; the arid sands are home to some major historical sites, dangerous adventures and encounters, and cruel heat. Still, the intimidating windswept dunes offer a pleasing sight, and have a lot to do and see. The views of Saudi deserts and dry valleys are breathtaking and unforgettable. Most of the tourist spots in these deserts are easily accessible, while the difficulty of reaching some sites makes them a lot more exciting and captivating.
Arabian Desert Facts
- The highest elevation of the Arabian Desert is around 3760 meters above sea level.
- The deserts in Arabia have been evolving for around 540 millions year now and have reached the modern-day state only 1100 years ago.
- Arabian deserts are rich in oil, making a large part of Saudi Arabia’s oil production.
- Rub al Khali desert hosts 17 species of plants that can grow in sandy and coarse desert soil.
- The total area of the Arabian desert is an astounding 2,330,000 square k
Arabian Desert Climate
The weather in the deserts of Saudi Arabia is extremely hot during summers and mild in winters. Summer maximum temperatures can reach up to 55 Degrees Celsius, while the winter’s lowest temperature can seep down below the freezing point at some locations. The average rainfall in these deserts can range from 4 to 20 inches a year. The rain is generally accompanied by dust storms and spring haze. The best time for tourism to the Arabian desert is in spring and autumn, when the temperature remains moderately pleasing at all times of the day.
Popular Deserts of Saudi Arabia
1. Rub Al Khali – Known as The Empty Quarter
Rub Al Khali is an endless horizon of gently rolling sand dunes rising from the ground, with the highest dunes reaching 250 meters. Its overall size is around 650,000 sq km. The desert expands in the southern part of the Arabian Desert, including parts of Saudi Arabia (mainly the eastern province and Najran, Riyadh), United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen. The massive Rub Al Khali dunes are a collection of different sand dunes with vertical, crescent, and dome-shaped dunes. Watch out for Sabka, a soft plain between huge sand dunes.
2. Al Nufud Al Kabir – The great Nufud desert
As the name suggests, Al Nufud Al Kabir is the largest and most famous dune in Saudi Arabia. It is at an elevation of 700-1000 meters above sea level. The pristine golden sand stretches 90 km from Jubbah town to Sakaka city and 300 km from Al-Zulfi to the castle border. It is spread over 103,600 sq km in the provinces of Hail, Al-Juf, and Tabuk.
3. Jubbah desert – Lying on the ancient lake bed
Jubbah Desert resembles a huge rock canyon with linear dunes. It is one of Saudi Arabia’s famous petroglyph sites dating back to the Palaeolithic times. The city of Jubbah in Hail is rich in agriculture, despite being set against the rugged sand dunes of the Al Nufud desert.
4. Ad Dahna desert – A series of seven deserts
Dahana is located along the Dammam highway 80 kilometers east of Riyadh. Ad Dahna desert, also known as the Small Al Nufud desert, serves as a sandy bridge between the mighty Al Nufud desert and ‘The Empty Quarter’. A vein of 45,000 sq km of gorgeous red sand terrain, the Ad Dahana desert is 300-600 m high and covers 7% of the Kingdom’s sand dunes. If you go up 200 km north of Riyadh, these dunes take a big star shape, almost 100 m in height. It is quite a sight!
5. Red sand dunes in Saudi Arabia – For a weekend stay
Drive to red sand dunes is almost 80 km from Riyadh. The red dune is a region in northeastern Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Many people rent an ATV at one of the Bedouin kiosks along the highway on weekends or drive across the dune sea in their SUV.
Arabian Desert Adventure Safari
One of the most sought-after activities in the Arabian Desert, the desert safari presents a challenging environment for adventure enthusiasts. Adventurers can participate in the 4×4 rallies or dune bashing to meet the desert head-on. The thrill lies in the maneuvering of the vehicle, as the sand can prove to be tough terrain to drive. Camel Safari through the desert is another great activity to enjoy the beauty of mesmerizing sand dunes. However, it is highly advisable to take part in these activities under the guidance of tour experts to avoid the perilous desert.
Fauna and flora in the Saudi Deserts
The Arabian desert is a vast arid region of western Asia that occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula. It covers an area of 2,330,000 sq km. The weather of the desert is mostly dry, with some areas receiving less than 50 mm of annual precipitation. Animals found in the Arabian desert have well adapted to the extreme climate of the desert. However, persecution by humans, hunting of human-raised livestock, and overgrazing have significantly reduced the number of desert animals such as gazelles, jackals, hyenas, and oryx.
Animals in the Arabian deserts
1. Rodents, hare, and rabbits – The desert has numerous species of rodents like jerboas, long-tailed jumping rodents found in the Arabian desert. In addition to jerboas, other small mammals such as rats, mice, hedgehogs, hares, and rabbits inhabit the Arabian desert. These animals typically have a coat that assists in camouflaging in desert habitats which protects them from predators.
2. Arabian Desert Birds – In the Arabian desert, birds breed from late winter to early spring. Some of these birds include the old bastard, tree grouse, striped lark, and Arabian partridge. Predators such as hawks and vultures, also inhabit the Arabian desert. Kestrels and crows are fairly common throughout the landscape. The Lanner hawk lives in eastern Saudi Arabia, while the Nejd and Peregrine hawks live in Asir. The area is also home to brown, brown-golden, and white-tailed eagles. Several species of vultures, including the Egyptian vulture and the bearded vulture, can be seen feeding on the carcasses of dead animals in the desert. Numerous species of owls also live in the Arabian desert.
3. Arabian Invertebrates – Several insects, such as ants, beetles, termites, fleas, lice, mantis, moths, and grasshoppers are present throughout the Arabian Desert. They play an important role in the desert food chain. Poisonous scorpions, spiders, and mites also inhabit the desert.
4. Arabian Baboons – Hamadryas baboons live in large herds on the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula. Specifically, they are found in the Asir region of southwestern Saudi Arabia. The lack of large numbers of natural predators allows these baboons to easily thrive in the region.
5. Reptiles and amphibians – Many species of reptiles found in the Arabian desert include dab (a fat lizard), monitor gecko, skink, gill, and collar lizards. Sand cobras and several types of vipers living in the desert feed on birds, mammals, amphibians, and desert lizards. Amphibians like toads, salamanders, frogs, and salamanders inhabit temporary waters and desert oases.
6. Camel spiders in Saudi Arabia – Camel spiders, also called wind scorpion or Egyptian giant solpugid, found in the desert are only about six inches long. Although not lethal to humans, camel spiders are fierce predators that kill insects, rodents, lizards, and small birds. These hardy desert dwellers have large, powerful jaws that reach a third of their body length. The spiders use them to grab their victims and kill them with a cutting or sawing movement. Camel spiders use digestive juices to liquefy the flesh of their victims, allowing them to easily suck the remains into their stomachs.
7. Arabian Desert Horse: The Arabian desert horse is an indigenous species that evolved to keep up with the extreme climate of Saudi Arabia. The breed has a unique wedge shape of the head and a raised back. These horses can run miles without showing the signs of fatigue. The standing height of these horses is around 57 to 61 inches making them highly agile with hooves apt for running in the desert. The horses also played a major part in the historical battles fought in the past.
Plants in the Arabian Deserts
8. Desert Rose – It grows in tropical and subtropical regions of Saudi Arabia. It is an evergreen plant that reaches up to 1-3 m in height. It has a thick stem and a basal tail with spirally arranged leaves clustered atop the shoots. The roots and stems of desert roses contain cardiac glycosides, used as arrow poisons and fish toxins. In the past desert rose photos served as postage stamps issued in several countries.
9. Charcoal tree – Trema Orientalis charcoal is a flowering species of the cannabis family. It is ubiquitous in tropical and temperate regions of the world. More than 15 species of butterflies and several birds each eat its leaves and fruits. It is also home to several insects and pigeons. Its leaves are also used as feed for livestock and water buffalo. Charcoal has medicinal properties in some cultures. The leaves and bark can treat sore throats and coughs. Its wood can be used to make paper sheets.
10. Red Acacia – It is a medium-sized bramble that grows to 6-17 meters tall and 60 centimeters in diameter. The bark is pale green or reddish with petiole and light grey thorns extending straight at the tip of the branch. Its crown looks like an umbrella. Red acacia is native to Saudi Arabia and parts of northern and eastern Africa. The bark can be used as feed for cattle and to treat dysentery. Due to its many uses and advantages, the plant is in high demand throughout the peninsula and beyond.
10. Bonatea Arabian – It is a perennial plant that grows to a height of 25-125 cm. It has huge green to yellow-green flowers with a strong scent. Arabian Bonatea is native to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, East, and North Africa. This species has important horticultural value in Saudi Arabia.
3 Important tips to explore Saudi deserts
The deserts of Saudi Arabia are full of scary animals and reptiles, hence it is a must to venture out prepared for unexpected situations and dangers.
- Tourists must have the right kind of vehicle, ideally a 4×4 car designed for off-roading.
- The weather varies a lot during the day and night. Especially in winters, the temperature drops significantly in the desert. It is important to carry some winter clothing along with the light ones, which are more suitable for daytime.
- Prepare an emergency kit with first aid, packaged food, lots of water, and equipment like a shovel, tow rope, flashlight, jump rope, and a foot pump.
Saudi Arabia deserts offer exceptional landscapes and adventures. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge they are rough terrain and one must be mentally and physically fit to plan an adventure in any of these deserts.
Deserts of Saudi Arabia FAQs
What is the size of Al Nufud Al Kabir desert?
It sprawls in an area of 103,600 sq. km in Hail, Al Juf and Tabuk.
Why is the city of Jubbah famous?
The city of Jubba in Hail is famous for agriculture, regardless of being set against the tough sand of the Al Nufud desert.
What are the different animals that are found in the Saudi Arabian desert?
Rodents, hare, rabbits, baboons, desert leopards are some famous animals that reside in the Saudi Arabian desert.
Which plants grow in the Saudi Arabian desert?
The plants that mainly grow in the desert are desert rose, red acacia, charcoal tree and the bonatea Arabian.
What are the famous shapes of Saudi desert dunes?
The popular dune shapes are crescent dune, star-shaped dune, dome dune, and linear sand dune.