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Saudi adventure tourism climbs to new heights

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The Saudi Climbing and Hiking Federation has developed crags around Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 ambition to diversify into tourism has added the action sport of climbing to its offer, a way for adventure holiday enthusiasts to explore the kingdom’s natural landscape.

Climbing is a new concept for the country, only born locally from young Saudis who studied or worked abroad and then returned home with a newfound appreciation for the rocky terrain. 

Within the last three years the Saudi Climbing and Hiking Federation was created with the purpose of developing climbing areas, teaching best practices, and organising competitions.

Several crags have since been developed throughout the country, with the strongest community around the country’s capital, Riyadh. 

As part of a larger project to develop the tourism industry in Saudi, a group of five international climbers were commissioned to bolt over 100 single pitch routes in the middle of the desert near the new development of NEOM. 

And in November 2021, Saudi Arabia hosted its first climbing festival, Rise 100.

The western edge of Saudi Arabia is brimming with sandstone, rising as sheer monoliths above the desert floor.

The same geology continues up into Wadi Rum, a well-known climbing destination in Jordan.

The Saudi sector, however, has remained relatively undiscovered. Such untapped potential is an exciting prospect for local and international climbers alike. 

Herds of camels that belong to local Bedouin families roam freely.

But the number of people who choose to live in the desert is now slim pickings and, just like in western cultures, Saudis are turning to their landscapes for recreation. 

Yasmin Gahtani, managing director of the Saudi Climbing and Hiking Federation, said the 100 routes are just a tiny sample of what is waiting to be unwrapped in this vast desert area.