From scuba diving and hiking to horse racing and wrestling, Saudi is claiming its title as an international sports hub
Few people realise just how big Saudi is. Its vast land mass is bigger than the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece combined, framed by 2,000km of tranquil blue waters and mostly untouched coastline. As a result, the country offers a diverse range of terrains and climates that lend themselves to a variety of sporting pursuits, from scuba diving in rich marine habitats to hiking along historic spice trails. With easy visa access and air connectivity, Saudi has also become a hot spot for spectator sports, drawing international audiences for big-ticket events from wrestling to motor racing. Here are just some of the bucket-list sporting pursuits to book in future.
Aim for the Moon
One hour’s drive – 90km – north of Jeddah, Moon Mountain is a hiker’s haven defined by striking natural rock formations jutting out from the powder-soft sands and endless desert views. Adventurers can sample off-road driving, mountain climbing or hiking. Head to the summit of Moon Mountain to watch the stirring, multi-hued sunsets, before returning to the valley base.
After dusk, the valley becomes a nocturnal playground, perfect for camping. Many visitors stay for two to three days, embracing the tranquillity after tiring hikes, and making use of the outdoor seating and barbecue facilities. Full moons illuminate the valley while darker evenings provide optimum conditions for stargazing.
Discover the hidden depths of the Red Sea
Bordered by the Red Sea to the west and the Arabian Gulf to the east, Saudi is a hotbed of marine life and a magnet for scuba divers and snorkelers. The coastal city of Jeddah is Saudi’s diving capital; an ideal base for excursions to the Red Sea, home to more than 1200 species of fish, including the rare and endangered Napoleon wrasse and Solitary Sailfish, ranked as the world’s fastest fish.
Year-round sunshine provides warm waters and good visibility. Jeddah's best diving destinations include Sharm Obhur for bull shark sightings, alongside large schools of goatfish and blue-striped snappers, and the island of Abu Tair, where the Greek Staphonos sank in 1978 carrying its cargo of industrial cables, hence the site – now occupied by whitetip sharks and blue-spotted rays – is often called Cable Wreck.
See world champions battle to make history
In spectator sports, boxing and wrestling have been a big hit in Saudi. When world heavyweight champion Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk defended his title against Britain’s Anthony Joshua at the ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ match, history was also made in women’s boxing. On the undercard that night in August, at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah, British-Somali Ramla Ali and Dominican Republic’s Crystal Garcia Nova went head-to-head, becoming the first women to box in Saudi.
A 10-year partnership between Saudi and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) also guarantees a regular programme of wrestling. Most recently, WWE Crown Jewel 2022 took place on 5 November 2022 at Mrsool Park in Riyadh. The eighth WWE event to be held in the country, it was headlined by Roman Reigns who successfully defended his world title against social media superstar Logan Paul.
Get geared up for a day at the races
Choose between world-class racing events on four wheels or four hooves. A day at the races in Saudi always draws crowds. The F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, which took place for the first time in 2021, is now a regular fixture on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit each March. Hospitality packages are available to purchase for 2023.
Eco-friendly motor enthusiasts might prefer the Diriyah ePrix, running each January, featuring Formula E electric car races in the historic surrounds of the Diriyah Gate UNESCO World Heritage site, northwest of Riyadh.
In equestrian contests, the richest race in the world is the Saudi Cup with a generous purse of $20 million (€20.27 million). In addition to the Saudi Cup, the riveting race day features five Group 3 races on both dirt and turf, the Group 2 Obaiya Arabian Classic for Purebred Arabian racehorses and the Jockey Club Handicap for locally trained horses. The meeting takes place each year during the last weekend of February at King Abdulaziz racecourse in Riyadh.
And there’s more sport in store…
Hosting skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey and figure skating competitions, the 2029 Asian Winter Games will take place in the planned Trojena winter resort in gigaproject development Neom. Meanwhile, football-obsessed Saudi has put in its bid to hold the 2030 FIFA World Cup. Local fans are on the edge of their seats awaiting the results…
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