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Day 3 – Al Ula (Elephant Rock) | Nine Days in Saudi Arabia

The plan for today was to drive 4-5 hours from Medina to Al Ula, so after breakfast at our hotel in Medina, we headed out driving up north along the beautiful roads of Saudi Arabia. Having started early in the morning, we reached the small town of Al Ula around 1pm.

Hotels in Al Ula can be expensive, but we got a great deal at Hotel Sweet Inn, just south of the old town. After checking in to the hotel, we stopped by for lunch at Circolo Restaurant in Old Town.

Al Ula

Al Ula was a vital crossroad for thousands of years along the famous incense-trading routes from southern Arabia to Egypt and beyond. The fertile oases offered a much-needed respite for weary travelers, becoming a popular place to rest, commune and recharge.

Al Ula was also capital of the ancient kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan, which controlled the caravan trade. Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the principal southern city of the Nabataean kingdom, famed for its spectacular monumental tombs. Today, Old Town Al Ula is an abandoned labyrinth of streets tightly packed to create a defensive wall, and seemingly built over an ancient settlement.

From dramatic rock formations and sand dunes to archaeological ruins that trace the lives of the ancient cultures who built cities here can be explored.

Al Ula Tours – Bookings

The Experience Al Ula website lists all the tours and upcoming events, so make sure to check their website for latest updates on group and private tours, and special events.

Here are some tips:

  • Advance booking? – Although there are multiple tours in a day, it’s best to plan correctly if you are short of time. We highly recommended to book them in advance.(See below for our planning and tours we took.)
  • Payments online – If your international credit card (Visa or MasterCard) does not work on the website, contact the team at Experience Al Ula and they’ll do the bookings and provide a unique booking-code.
  • Everything you see..? – All the sights you’d expect to see during the tours will not be accessible or available as they are being built for tours! So make sure to contact them and check what’s included and not included. For example, on our visit we were not able to walk up to the tombs at Dadan, but had to see them from miles away through binoculars!
  • Pictures and timings – The tours run really quick, which means you will not be given enough time to take those pictures for your social media. At the end of every explanation, you will be asked to keep moving forward. Social media influencers, you’re warned! (P.S. this is true for the group tours only.)
  • Food and water – Water will be provided during the tours, but food is not allowed at any of the sights so make sure to eat before the tours.
  • Toilets – Toilet facilities are available at the starting point, but not during the tours.


Bowling Pin-shaped Rock Opening

After checking in the hotel, we headed straight to the Elephant Rock, that opens at 4pm. And right across from the site of Elephant Rock, is this amazing rock-opening in the shape of a bowling pin. Drive through the open desert to the nearest spot and easy-hike for 10 minutes to reach this structure.

View of bowling pin shaped rock opening from Elephant Rock site
[View of bowling pin shaped rock opening from Elephant Rock site.]

Bowling pin shaped rock opening near Elephant Rock.
[Bowling pin shaped rock opening near Elephant Rock.]

Bowling pin shaped rock opening near Elephant Rock.
[Bowling pin shaped rock opening near Elephant Rock.]


Elephant Rock

Known locally as Jabal Alfil, the Elephant Rock is a natural monolithic red sandstone ‘beast’ shaped by natural forces for millions of years. The “trunk” and “body” of the Elephant Rock gives it a unique resemblance to, well, an elephant; hence the name!

The beauty of the unrefined structure is enhanced by a landscape of golden sands, studded with rocky outcrops, many of which are equally impressive in size and have interesting shapes and figures.

There are pit-lounges, coffee bar and toilets at the site. We arrived at the opening time of 4pm, and stayed until after sunset when the lights turn on to give a spectacular view of the majestic structure.

Elephant Rock Tip

During the winter months, it can get cold at the site, so make sure to bring warm jackets to cozy up after sunset.

View of Elephant Rock from bowling pin shaped rock site
[View of Elephant Rock from bowling pin shaped rock site.]

Elephant Rock, Al Ula
[Elephant Rock, Al Ula.]

Pit-lounges at Elephant Rock, Al Ula
[Pit-lounges at Elephant Rock, Al Ula.]

Coffee bar at Elephant Rock, Al Ula
[Coffee bar at Elephant Rock, Al Ula.]

Night view of Elephant Rock, Al Ula
[Night view of Elephant Rock, Al Ula.]

Dinner was Msayya Indian restaurant that offered delicious (both meat and vegetarian options) food.
Our Experience Al Ula tours were booked in advance for tomorrow.



Note: All values in USD, unless otherwise mentioned, are approximate and based on the exchange rate of USD 1 = SAR 3.65 at the time of publishing. Each cost is for one adult.

What Cost Notes
Hotel $116.25 Hotel Sweet Inn. Two nights, four beds. No breakfast included. Total cost of $465 for four persons.
Coffee $3.00 Coffee at Elephant Rock.
Lunch $31.25 Circolo Restaurant ($$$$).
Gas $21.25 Full tank.
Dinner $8.75 Msayya Indian restaurant. Total cost of $31.25 for four persons.
Total Costs $180.50 Per person
Overall Costs $703.30 Per person


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Visiting the second holiest city of Islam.

Day 3

Al Ula (Elephant Rock)

Visiting Elephant Rock in Al Ula.

Day 4 – NEXT »

Al Ula (Hegra, Old Town)

Visiting Hegra and Old Town Al Ula.

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