As Saudi Arabia swelters in scorching desert temperatures, some are escaping to the “City of Fog” – a mountainous oasis of coolness where warm clothes are needed even in summer.
Sitting with friends on a picnic blanket, in light rain and thick, swirling mist in Al-Namas, Abdullah Al-Enizi wears a vest over his traditional white robes to keep out the cold.
The retreat, 2,800m above sea level in Saudi Arabia’s rugged south, stands in stark contrast to other parts of the vast, largely desert country where summer heat of up to 50C is a annual challenge.
In Al-Namas, the wet monsoon weather keeps temperatures below 30°C, dropping to 15°C at night, as fog blocks the sun on the green hills.
“It’s 46° in Riyadh and only 20° here, it’s 26° cooler,” Al-Enizi said at the resort, about 850 km southwest of the Saudi capital.
“We are escaping the heat. It’s cool here and the rain and fog are there almost all the time,” added the 45-year-old semi-retired Saudi Arabian, who drove about 12 hours from Riyadh.
Around his group of friends, families are enjoying the breeze as their children run around in the fresh air, rather than being cooped up in their air-conditioned homes as is usual elsewhere in the country.
Clusters of vacationers in raincoats and woolen hats sip Arabic coffee and crowd under umbrellas, while kites flutter in the wind.
“Before coming, we packed all our winter things!” said Nouf, who didn’t want to give her surname, as she remade her daughter’s coat.
Tourist authorities have constructed a “mist road” for hikers and cyclists crossing a high peak that overlooks mist-shrouded mountains.
Khalaf Al-Juheiri traveled to Al-Namas with his wife and children from Tabuk in northern Saudi Arabia to take advantage of the “cool weather”.
“We really miss that weather when the temperature goes over 40 degrees in summer” in Tabuk, the 33-year-old official said, covering his head against the rain.
In 2020, a study published by the Scientists progress magazine showed that the Gulf region has the hottest and wettest climate on the planet.
Due to global warming, some Gulf cities could become uninhabitable before the end of this century, experts say.
Thanks to its altitude and strong winds, Al-Namas escapes the worst of the rising heat, says Hassan Abdullah, a Jordanian official with weather technology company WASM.
It has become a popular destination at a time when the Saudi authorities, in search of new sources of income apart from oil, are strongly promoting national and international tourism.
The “Visit Saudi” promotion is in full swing just three years after tourist visas were first made available to foreign visitors in 2019.
As plane fares rise after the pandemic, Saudi families spent 80 billion riyals (around RM95 billion) on domestic travel last year, a 30% increase from 2019, figures show. Ministry of Tourism.
“Summer is the high tourist season, running from May to October,” explains Abdullah Al-Shahri, a hotelier in Al-Namas where winter temperatures sometimes dip to 0°.
At the top of a hill overlooking the green valley, Mushabab Al-Omari admires the view, seated next to his wife.
“I’ve been here almost three months,” said the pensioner, “and I’m ready to stay another four or five months if the weather stays like this.” -AFP