Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 September 2020

Al Ula: inside the RV camp in the middle of the Saudi desert

It's called Canyon Park and will become a permanent fixture to the opening-up destination

Drive down an unmarked desert road in Al Ula in Saudi Arabia and you may just come across Canyon Park, a hotel made up of 31 RVs shipped in from the US.

Operated mostly by a team who run luxury hotels in Makkah, the RV park is so new there's no website for it, and not even a pin on Google Maps. It's currently open for visitors to the Winter at Tantora season in Al Ula.

Operators tell us it will be open until Saturday, March 7 this year, the end of the festival, but will then re-open once the tourist sites of Al Ula are ready for general visitors in October.

Visitors to Winter at Tantora who want to stay in the caravan park can put in a request with their travel agents (such as Al Mosafer, who do the majority of the Al Ula season bookings). A representative told us that once it's bookable, a night in an RV will cost around $200 (Dh734), making it one of the more affordable options hotel-wise in the area of Al Ula.

However, there will soon also be a number of farms available on Airbnb as another affordable accommodation option.

Duty manager at Canyon Park Osama Al Baity is from Makkah: "I am Saudi, and even I was shocked when I saw Al Ula," he told us of the natural beauty of the area. "And the people of Al Ula are so friendly."

Those who currently stay in the RV park will be taken in a buggy from the reception to their caravan, where breakfast is delivered in a box from about 8.30am. The hotel team can light fire pits for guests at night who want to relax under the impressive blanket of stars, given the lack of light pollution in the area.

The living room and kitchen of one of the RVs
The living room and kitchen of one of the RVs

The RVs come as twin rooms or as double rooms, and have their own bathrooms, showers and kitchens (complete with Nespresso machine), as well as a terrace with an awning.

These are still RVs, so the beds are small and the space is tight, but the room service and hotel amenities definitely adds a level of luxury.

The area of Al Ula is roughly the size of Belgium and is about four hours north of Madinah, however there are direct flights from Riyadh to Al Ula: it's highly likely that direct flights from Al Ula to the UAE will operate in the near future, with the airport currently undergoing an expansion.

Inside one of the RV's bedrooms.
Inside one of the RV's bedrooms.

The area's fertile land and position as a key stop for the trading routes from the Arabian Peninsula to Damascus and beyond means it was a hub for many ancient kingdoms, such as the Dadans and the Nabateans.

There are various hotels and campsites around Al Ula, which have only been built on sites that have been cleared and approved by the archaeologists still digging around the area.

The three main heritage sites in Al Ula are temporarily closed for both archaeological research and in order to set up the future visitor experience. The plan is for them to reopen in October, and that's when Al Ula will really start its journey as a tourist destination.

Updated: January 30, 2020 12:08 PM

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