Trip to the Farasan Islands
Our next destination after Abha was the Farasan Islands where scuba diving, of course, should be the highlight of our trip. We didnt know anyone in the island. Unlike all our travels, there were no prior bookings made for our trip to Farasan islands. All we had relied to was googlemap and reviews/blogs from the internet.
We reached Jazan at 11am and we were directed to MACNA Office along King Fahad Road to get a boarding ticket for our cars. We were informed that the MACNA office will not be issuing car tickets anymore during the three Eid holidays. So we just booked round trip tickets for us passengers and we decided to join the queue for waiting cars.
There were two lines at the port, we took our chance and waited with the others. We were also instructed to do the same on the opposite side so we can go back to Jazan after our Farasan trip.
The procedures were smooth and organized at the Jazan port. The ferry left on time and a lot of border patrol authorities in uniform were roaming around to see everything in place. Taking photos is prohibited in all areas of the port and inside the the ferry too.
While waiting for the ferry, we were lucky to meet Mohammed, owner of a new hotel in Farasan. He offered us to stay at his hotel which we gladly accepted. The ferry ride took exactly an hour and a half.
We reached Farasan Island at 4pm and checked in at Rasil Hotel. We had a quick late lunch (or early dinner?!). The receptionist, Abdulkareem, was kind enough to share useful locations around Farasan, including public beach areas like Dana Park and Ghadeer Park where swimming is also allowed.
Farasan islands is a group of islands off the coast of Jazan, southwestern part of Saudi Arabia. It is composed of more than 80 islands in which Farasan Island is the biggest, and only three are inhabited.
We met several locals in the island and all of them were friendly, accommodating and helpful. It reminded me of our trip in Hulhumale, Maldives, where locals treat you with very warm hospitality as if you have been close friends for many years. Ah, this spirit of human kindness which amazes me all the time has been a reason why I enjoy travelling to new places.
We rented tanks and weights from a small local water sports shop near the fish market in the Airport District along Prince Faisal Road. The shop name/signboard is written in Arabic which translates to Sailing Enjoyment - Sale and Rental of Diving and Swimming Equipment, Fishing Gear and Cruises. They also arrange boat trips/rentals and you can hire a DiveMaster from their team as well if you need one to go scuba diving with.
Scuba Diving in Farasan Island
We reached the jetty location early the next day, ready to go for scuba diving at the Farasan Islands. Although it is still the second day of Eid Al Ftr, there were a lot of small motor boats for hire in the area at 200 to 300 SAR per hour. We rented from an old, jolly local named Abu Reesh who was very friendly and patient with us. Imagine him not speaking English, and us, knowing very little Arabic, but we got along cheerfully well nonetheless.
Abu Reesh moored his boat near Qummah Island which is one of Farasan’s three inhabited islands. It gives you the feeling of the many islets in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro- clear waters, white sands, wild birds, and scattered reefs of various sizes.
Qummah dive site drop off point was 25ft, down to around 70-80ft. A sea turtle was passing by while we descended. The marine life count was extraordinarily plentiful. No wonder any diver who had dived at Farasan keeps coming back!
A little far east side of the wall, we found an Eagle Ray glided infront of us with such gracefulness and magnanimity. There were a couple of stingrays, moray eels, lots huge travellies, jackfish and hamours of different varieties.
Soft, purple corals were abundant, reminding me of the striking purple flowers of the jaracanda trees in Abha.
And then the most amazing thing happened in our dive. At 45ft, Our Master Instructor, Raul, spotted a shark! We hastened to where he was pointing at and lo and behold, we found a resting huge lemon shark, sleeping soundly in the reef. He would have measured a bit more than three meters in length and there were two remoras attached to him for the free ride. We tried to move closest to the shark as much as we can without waking him up.
It was my first ever encounter with such a gentle giant in the wild at approximately just 2 feet away! We stayed for a while watching him in full awe and amazement. At that moment, my heart was dancing with joy and disbelief.
Lemon sharks are considered near threatened species, and for me, to see one in a dive trip is just epic. My mind was filled with thoughts of how could I be so lucky to be right there beside him. I could see his gills opening and closing rhythmically with his every breath. My husband was filming me while I enjoyed every second of that experience. Seeing such a beautiful creature was indeed both a glorious and humbling at the same time. I could never be more grateful, Alhamdulillah!
We continued the rest if the dive elated with our shark encounter and just as we were slowly ascending to do our safety stop, a big school of barracudas encircled me and Eric! We both held our breaths for a second in disbelief. Being surrounded by hundreds of barracudas was absolutely bewildering! In my mind, I was like, “Oh Farasan, you definitely left me breathless!”.
When we surfaced after first dive, Ibrahim and Abu Reesh helped us back to the boat. The kids went snorkeling around the area. Also, it turned out that while we were diving, Abu Reesh was teaching the kids to catch fish using only a fish hook and a nylon cord. But just within less than an hour, they caught 10pcs if medium sized groupers. The old man steamed the fish and we enjoyed it hot and fresh from the sea.
Our next dive was close to Farasan Marine Sanctuary. It was mostly flat at around 30 to 40ft maximum with scattered reefs and a variety of different marine species popular in the Red Sea. We found sea turtles, stingrays, and a lot of gigantic groupers among other fish. It was a relaxing dive, not as exciting as the first one but certainly enjoyable too. A quick snack and a bit of snorkeling and we headed back to Farasan.
It was almost 1pm and the jetty was deserted. We were told that most locals do siesta during mid day to avoid the scorching heat outdoors. We returned the tanks and weights to the shop and bought our lunch from the nearby fish market before going back to the hotel.
We went out again at 6pm to explore Farasan Heritage Village, and the neighboring island of Humr. Then for a couple of hours more, we chilled out along the beach, infront of Ghadeer Park to enjoy the sand and the sea on our last night in the island.
As we were leaving Farasan Island the next day, i wondered why we have put off such trip for so long. I remembered planning one since early 2012 but it has never pushed thru. Now I’m glad that I have finally dived at Farasan which covers Saudi Arabia’s most phenomenal share of the Red Sea - home to a great variety of marine species and magnificent underwater life. Next trip back will be sooner, for sure!
I know how hard it is to plan a trip when there’s only a little info available in the internet. So I’m sharing below information which may be useful for anyone who would like to visit Farasan Islands, divers and nondivers alike.
Contact/Location Info for Farasan Trip
MACNA Jazan Office - Car Booking/ Ferry Ticket
055 543 2124
Rasil Hotel - Farasan Island
Mohammed - 0533987789/ 017 316 0005
Jetty/ Boat Rental in Farasan
Abu Reesh - 0507768320
Sailing Enjoyment Shop- Sale and Rental of Diving and Swimming Equipment, Fishing Gear, Boat Trips and Cruises
Farasan Island Port/ Car Booking for Ferry MACNA
055 543 2124
We left Riyadh at 6:30am on 11th May 2021. The roads were almost empty, probably since it was still the second to the last day of Ramadan. Our GPS was set to our hotel in Abha and expected travel time was almost 10hours.
When we reached Bisha, one of the cars in our convoy had a mechanical trouble so we had to stop. Fortunately we found a group of Filipino mechanics at Aman Car shop along Prince Sultan Road. They were very accommodating and helpful.
We hit the road again as soon as the car was fixed around 11pm. We reached our hotel in Abha a bit past 2am. We were up quite late the following day but we were prepared for a full day out in Abha. The spring weather felt very pleasant and welcoming.
Our first stop was at the Al Soudah (Jebel Al Soudah) trail and view deck. It was almost 10am and there were already quite a few tourists in the site. The view from more than 3000 above sea level was astronomical. Hundreds of baboons were roaming around, seemingly enjoying the nice cool weather at the mountaintop.
ff to our next stop, Rojal district where Rijal Almaa historical village lies 45km west from the city of Abha. Bordered by Soudah Mountain, which is Saudi Arabia’s highest peak, the way to reach Rijal Alma’s was a huge challenge by itself. In fact this very road is listed amongst the most dangerous roads in the world- stiff, curvy, narrow with the sharpest turns I’ve ever seen in all my travels, but nonetheless it also has one of the most stunning views.
Reaching Rijal Almaa safely after a nerve-wrecking drive was such a delight. The facade is very insta-worthy as my daughter puts it. We paid 20SAR each for the museum, strolled in and out of the forts and took pleasure of knowing about the significant role that this humble village played during the ancient times from trading, hunting and wars.
Because our second day in Asir Region coincided with the last day of Ramadan, some tourists attractions were closed including Al Habala settlement, cable cars, and the Green Mountain, so it was a little disappointing.
We then headed to Abu Kheyal Park to see the popular purple flowers of Jaracanda trees in Abha. The word ‘Jacaranda’ is believed to mean ‘fragrant’ in a native South American dialect, and the trees are known for their purple blossoms. Jacarandas bloom all over the city of Abha during Spring, offering stunning selfie backdrops, breathtaking views and probably a reminder that a new season has arrived.
As the call for prayer marks the end of fasting, we found most restaurants closed in the city center, so we opted for a light meal instead at the AlRashid Mall which was near Ostrava Hotel where we were staying at.
After a quick rest, we went to the High City in central Abha . Overlooking city lights, being surrounded by mountains, glowing stars in the sky, and feeling the cool, night air in Abha, all so peaceful and quiet, provides a soothing relief to any tired soul of a far city dweller like me.
We were up early the following day, hoping to take photos of Jabal Soudah’s sea of clouds. We reached the peak at 7am and we found a rather thick fog. The wind felt cold at 16C. Since it was the day of Eid Al Ftr, most shops were closed, and people were gathered up in the mosques for Eid prayers. Even the streets were crowded with worshippers. We went back to the hotel for breakfast and shower.
Rojal district where Rijal Almaa historical village lies 45km west from the city of Abha.
Bordered by Soudah Mountain, which is Saudi Arabia’s highest peak, the way to reach Rijal Alma’s was a huge challenge by itself. In fact this very road is listed amongst the most dangerous roads in the world- stiff, curvy, narrow with the sharpest turns I’ve ever seen in all my travels, but nonetheless it also has one of the most stunning views.
Reaching Rijal Almaa safely after a nerve-wrecking drive was such a delight. The facade is very insta-worthy as my daughter puts it.
We paid 20SAR each for the museum, strolled in and out of the forts and took pleasure of knowing about the significant role that this humble village played during the ancient times from trading, hunting and wars.
What makes me happy?
People. Everyone around me who believes and inspires me- my family, my husband, my two beautiful girls, my friends and colleagues.
Life itself is a happy experience. The world is a happy place.
I had my own share of struggles, life was not easy for us back then but my Dad taught me how to believe in myself, work hard , be kind and to be strong. He inspired me to go out of my comfort zone. He used to tell me that the possibilities in life are endless and so I believed him.
l Iost him quite a few years ago but he has left me with so much inspiration to follow my dreams - to visit places I have only dreamt of or have seen in the movies when I was little and to do things I thought were only for the privileged few.
Wherever I go, I always remember my Dad, wishing he could see me from afar and somehow be proud of me as I have always been so proud of him. Life is short and I promised him that I would make the most of mine.
Travelling makes me happy and in all other things, I choose happiness. We all should- always..