Part of the mega Red Sea tourism project.
When news of the Red Sea tourism project came, it made headlines across the globe. After all, it is one of the most ambitious tourism projects in this part of the world.
The plan is to turn a string of islands between Umluj and Al Wajh into a global tourism destination. The project will cover 50 islands, spanning an area of 34,000 square kilometers.
With all the hype surrounding it, we decided to pay a visit to these islands and get a first-hand experience of what they are like.
After checking into our hotel at Umluj, we noticed a small poster that read “island tours.” The following morning, we call the number and he tells us to come to the seaport. It took us some time to find the location, as he kept on explaining the route as if we were locals who knew the nooks and crannies of the city like the backs of our hands. Nevertheless, we did manage to find the port. No ships or ferries here, just small motor boats, most of which are probably used for fishing.
We finally meet the man on the phone who was to be our makeshift tour guide. But before we can sit in his charming boat that even had a mini majlis seating arrangement in it, we had to submit our resident permits to the port authorities. They handed over a slip to us, which we had to return once we were back from our journey to get our IDs.
We step in the boat, wear our life jackets and off we go, passing the barrier of the light colored shallow waters into the deep dark waters. The boat rides fast, bumping off waves while its motor makes the sound of a jet propeller.
As we went deeper into the Red Sea, we saw two islands on the horizon. The islands were beautiful, the turquoise waters surrounding them just added to their beauty. It was like a tropical island sans trees.
Our boat couldn’t reach the island’s shore as the water was too shallow and, on top of that, we reached during low tide. Nonetheless, we anchored next to one of the islands and began exploring while taking mindless photos for our social media feeds.
We couldn’t swim in the waters as they were too shallow, so we tried our hands at fishing. The waters were abundant with marine life, so much so that we would just throw the bait and within a minute or two would catch a fish.
We moved around a bit in our hunt for schools of fish and we managed to find a few more, but we’d already caught more than we could in our wildest imaginations. Our guide informed us that there were islands further up ahead, but they were a good 30 minutes away. With seasickness starting to catch up with us, we decided to go back.
Though we only visited two of the 50 islands that are part of the project, we got a slight understanding of what these islands have to offer. The promise of a tropical gateway in the Middle East, offering coral reefs, year-round warm sun, pristine waters, virgin beaches and plentiful opportunities for island-hopping can be all too alluring. Plus, Saudi Arabia sits at what can be called the crossroads of the East and the West, so for much of the world, long flights will not be required to reach here.
So if one decides to go now to this place, there is not much that they can expect to see here, apart from isolated islands. But once the infrastructure is in place, these islands are poised to top the lists of must-visit places in the Middle East.