• Quilt.AI

Travel Tuesdays With Quilt: A 36-Hour Virtual Visit to AlUla

Updated: May 24



The Quilt AI team was in Dubai last month for a much-awaited company retreat after two years of remote work. We did a lot of fun team-building activities, launched a product, went dune bashing, and planned for the year ahead. If we had more time, we could have hopped over to Saudi Arabia to explore the fascinating city of AlUla which is fast becoming a leading cultural travel destination!


AlUla is one of the oldest cities in the Arabian Peninsula and is Saudi’s best-kept secret. Once part of the ancient Silk Road and the Incense Route, it has breathtaking landscapes, stunning natural rock formations, a wide range of cultural festivals, and plenty of opportunities for old-world luxury glamping. Since we couldn’t make it there in person, we decided to revive our Digital Travel series with a 36-hour virtual tour of AlUla, inspired by the New York Times’ 36 Hours travel series.


We used our AI models to source recommendations from travelers on the Internet by studying over 1000 Instagram posts tagged #alula, #alulatourism, #alulamoments, and #experiencealula. Our Culture AI detected Solitude as the top emotion in Instagram posts of AlUla, derived from the countless photos of individuals posing in front of the stunning rock formations or the endless expanse of the desert. This is followed by Creativity and Affiliation, reflected in the plethora of cultural activities and historical landscape of AlUla.


Travelers' photos on Instagram

Emotions detected in Instagram posts by our Culture AI

When it comes to colors, our Culture AI detected an earthy color palette with hues of brown and green dominating the photos.


Top colors detected in Instagram posts by our Culture AI

A semiotic analysis of the captions revealed the top four themes associated with AlUla to be: history, cultural events, handicrafts, and natural landscapes.


Having just reopened to tourists, here’s how we recommend spending 36 hours in AlUla in case you make a trip!


36 Hours in AlUla


DAY 1


10 AM: Soak in the history of Old Town AlUla was once a vibrant kingdom that attracted traders and travelers from all over the Middle East. A prominent settlement along the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Mecca, the ancient alleys of Old Town are the narrowest part of the valley.


The best way to get familiar with AlUla is to visit the Old Town. Start your excursion with a guided tour to learn about its history. Walk past the heritage buildings, houses, shops, mosques, and town squares made of mud bricks that date back seven centuries!



1 PM: Gourmet lunch at SKLT Enjoy a special gourmet meal at SKLT. Located amidst picturesque surroundings with spectacular views of AlUla Old Town from AlJadidah, you can devour charcoal-grilled burgers and steaks for lunch.

Google review of SKLT

4 PM: Visit Elephant Rock Witness a monolithic sandstone shaped like an elephant standing tall in the desert sands of AlUla. Also referred to as Jabal Alfil, this historical rock, and its surrounding landscape will leave you enthralled. Shaped by millions of years of wind and water erosion, it is a natural marvel that must not be missed and features in most travelers’ posts of AlUla.


If you fancy a snack, head to SALT, a food truck restaurant, to enjoy delicious burgers and stunning views of Elephant Rock.


In the winter, Elephant Rock transforms into a vibrant, cultural hub with live music concerts, cultural performances, and pop-up dining. It is also the site for Desert X AlUla, a Coachella-inspired art exhibition.


6 PM: Witness a sky full of stars in the desert Head to Gharameel, a remote part of the desert known to be one of the best stargazing sites. Devour a traditional al fresco dinner (or Iftar during Ramzan) under the stars against the backdrop of exquisite rock formations and soak in the silence of the night.



DAY 2


10 AM: Explore the ancient city of Hegra Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, is located in AlUla. An archaeologist’s paradise, it is believed to have over 23,000 historical sites and over 100 well-preserved monumental tombs of the Nabataean elite, including the tomb of Lihyan Son of Kuza. Some of the most magnificent clusters of tombs include Jabal Albanat and Jabal Ithlib, and the entire region is like a living museum.



If you are an adventure buff, take a vintage 4x4 Land Rover tour and explore the hidden ceremonial chambers of yesteryears. Pick up a souvenir at the Handicraft Pavilion.


1 PM: Devour an Arab meal Pick a local restaurant from the wide array of choices available in Old Town to get a taste of Arabian food. ACME, AlNakheel Cafe, Pink Camel Pastry Boutique, and MYAZŪ come highly rated and feature rave reviews online.

TripAdvisor review for Pink Camel Pastry Boutique

Google review for Myazu

4 PM: Discover the Diamond in the Desert Head to Maraya, a 500-seater venue and the largest mirrored building in the world, with mesmerizing reflections of the Arabian desert and mountains. In 2021-22, a magnificent Candlelit Symphonic Concert was hosted here to kick off the Winter at Tantora festival.



Alternatively, embark on the oasis trail or make a visit to the Sharaan Nature Reserve to sight local wildlife like red-necked ostriches, Idmi gazelles, Nubian ibex, and endangered Arabian wolves and leopards. Spread over 1500 sq. km. of red-canyon rocks and other natural wonders, the reserve also features unique flora, including indigenous trees and rare herbs.


7 PM: Festival time End the evening by attending an event at one of the ongoing festivals. In the winter months (December-March), there are four main festivals that are organized: Skies, Wellness, Arts, and Winter at Tantora which are collectively referred to as ‘AlUla Moments.’


The Skies festival brings the AlUla skies alive with hot air balloon rides for magnificent aerial views of Hegra, nighttime drone shows, helicopter rides, and symphony concerts under the stars.


The Wellness festival features yoga and mindfulness programs for the five senses, reflective art installations, and sound and light shows. With a focus on everything mind, body, and soul, all the curated activities and events are extremely soothing and uplifting.


The Arts festival is a celebration of Middle-Eastern and International artists. Showcasing a mix of traditional and contemporary art, the festival features everything from performing arts and installations to photography and paintings.


The most popular Winter at Tantora is a glamorous art and music festival with music, culture, and art offerings. It also includes a Saudi Fashion Cavalry show, desert polo, and a Citrus Festival among other events.



AlUla has a lot more to offer than what most travelers envision and caters to a wide range of interests, from history and culture to outdoor activities and luxury stays. Home to 200,00 years of unexplored history, this mystical city is waiting to be rediscovered and explored!


LOGISTICS


How to get to AlUla

AlUla is easily accessible from Riyadh and Jeddah by air and road.


Places to stay

AlUla has a variety of hotels to choose from, ranging from luxury villas to boutique hotels and camper vans. Shaden Resort, Sahary AlUla Resort, and Habitas AlUla are some of the popular options.


When to go

AlUla is accessible all year round but the weather is pleasant and best suited for travel from August to April. The winter months host a variety of arts, music, and wellness festivals and make for a fun time to visit AlUla.



For more such digital travel itineraries, subscribe to Quilt AI’s magazine. Write to [email protected] to learn about AI-powered market research.




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