Bicycle touring Saudi Arabia: the Red Sea snorkeling report

This snorkeling report only covers the places I snorkeled while cycling between Jeddah and Qunfudhah.  In brief, it was disappointing, not worth the effort.  Maybe the snorkeling is better north of Jeddah.  Maybe I didn’t find the right places — it’s very hard to find any information.  Maybe you really need to get out in a boat — although I did try this once and also failed to find good snorkeling.

One difficulty you’ll have both with snorkeling and bicycle touring is dealing with the “border patrol”.  They’re very active along the Red Sea and prohibit swimming in most places.  They also prohibit using the coastal track in many places.  However, they’re super friendly and polite, always giving me water, sometimes food, and once putting me up for the night in an air conditioned room.  They usually wanted my passport and entry stamp, sometimes my visa, usually made some calls, apologized for taking my time, and welcomed me to Saudi Arabia.  When I requested (which was every time I really wanted), I usually (always?) got permission to cycle their coastal track and sometimes permission to snorkel.  I don’t have any photos because, well, they don’t want people taking photos.  However, here’s a photo of the dinner they gave me when I spent the night at one of their merkez:

IMG_20200127_201524 by bryandkeith on flickr

I wrote about snorkeling at Al Qattan in my last post (more photos here).  I’ll mention it again because it really was good.  If you like snorkeling, it’s worth a detour (in a car) from as far as Jeddah.  I’ll say it again, the hard coral was stunning:

20200119_115554A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200119_143050A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200119_145314A by bryandkeith on flickr

A distant second was the snorkeling at Ras Muhaisen, worth the detour off the main highway (again, in a car).  There are no problems with border patrol here as it’s one of their designated swimming areas:

The snorkeling here was the second best I found in Saudi Arabia, a distant second from Al Qattan by bryandkeith on flickr

I found a living, healthy reef, unfortunately lacking coral diversity in both species and color.

20200128_100719A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200128_100930A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200128_102155A by bryandkeith on flickr

Near Sumaymah just south of Jeddah’s sprawl, the border patrol called me out of the water while I was walking through the shallows out to sea so I didn’t see anything.  It was very common to have quite a walk on shallows so bring booties.

I tried snorkeling at Al Saif Beach, but there was nothing to see.

South of that is Al Qattan and then Mujairmah, both of which I also mentioned in my last post.

Continuing south, access to the coast is blocked by the huge aquaculture operation all the way to Al Lith.  I snorkeled at three different off-the-beach spots in Al Lith, found some fish and mostly dead coral covered in algae.

20200124_100546A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200123_102433A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200124_112551A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200124_112750A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200124_112922A by bryandkeith on flickr

In Al Lith I was interviewed by the media, and they assured me that Al Lith was “Saudi Arabia’s Maldives” so with their help I arranged a boat trip for the following day to some off-shore snorkeling.  Yikes, that was a big disappointment — lousy and expensive snorkeling!

IMG_20200125_070851 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_9185 by bryandkeith on flickr

Disappointing snorkeling for sure; a half dead reef with no colorful coral by bryandkeith on flickr

The coral was better than at the shore Al Lith but not as good as Al Qattan or even Ras Muhaisen.  I think the places we snorkeled from the boat may be called Qita al Jabal and Al Qad al Wustani.

20200125_132249A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200125_131636A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200125_133246A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200125_151026A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200125_151616A by bryandkeith on flickr

20200125_150519A by bryandkeith on flickr

However, I think I got my favorite underwater photo of the trip there!

20200125_131830A by bryandkeith on flickr

There’s a developed beach at Wasqa:

IMG_20200127_091410 by bryandkeith on flickr

where I was assured there was good coral, but all I found was a clam:

20200127_102842A by bryandkeith on flickr

I must say I saw quite a lot of clams in the Red Sea.  That was one of the big ones.

Continuing south the views might look like this:

IMG_20200128_090342 by bryandkeith on flickr

but more commonly like this:

IMG_20200129_082833 by bryandkeith on flickr

Not far from As Safsafah, I found nothing but a ray and a turtle.

The border patrol gave me permission to go in the water at Kurma which I had marked on my map (perhaps because of this report?).  Again I found nothing but sand and a couple rays, one of which was at least a meter across, the largest ray I’ve seen outside of the Aquarium of the Pacific!

At the northern edge of Qunfudhah I came across this promising sign:

The sign sounds promising, but it was a tiny bit of shallow half dead coral with few fish. by bryandkeith on flickr

but, alas, disappointing yet again:

20200129_152211A by bryandkeith on flickr

Thank goodness the people have been super friendly.  Oh, the wind died too, making the bicycling far more pleasant.

IMG_20200123_130223 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200128_174040 by bryandkeith on flickr

Muhamed Osman from Lahore who works at this small water filtration operation by bryandkeith on flickr

Sultan and his friends treated me to meals, took me on a couple auto tours, and generally entertained me during my stay in Qunfudhah.  It was great to meet you, thank you!

Sultan (in white) and Khalid (on the right); they shared their breakfast with me; by 8am it was already hot in the sun that morning by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG-20200130-WA0013_5 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200131_192005 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20200130_153326 by bryandkeith on flickr

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2 Responses to Bicycle touring Saudi Arabia: the Red Sea snorkeling report

  1. Mike P. says:

    Nice to read, if not everything worked out. The people there sure seem great!

  2. Mike P. says:

    Meant to say: Nice to read, EVEN if not everything worked out. The people there sure seem great!

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