Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Farasan Island

Farasan Island is off the coast of Jizan, in the The Red Sea.  It was not on our alphabet list of places to visit while living in KSA, but we're glad we went.

While at an Embassy function Glenn met Neil.
It turns out Neil works across the road from Glenn.
They swapped contact details, as you do at Embassy functions.

One day, Neil sends Glenn an e-mail. Someone he knows is organising a group trip to Farasan Islands. The group will spend the weekend snorkeling the Red Sea waters around Farasan. Perfect We're in.

Me: Where is Jizan?
Glenn: South of Jeddah.  About 150k's from the Yemen border.
Me: Is that safe?
Glenn: Mair fi mushkila (Arabic for 'No Problem'). 

When ever Glenn uses that phrase you can guarantee he actually has no idea. 
Apparently criminals used to be exiled to Farasan Island.  It's desribed as 'flat, arid and dusty and, in parts, rather poor, run down and litter strewn'.  Definitely off the main tourist route.... sounds exactly what we're looking for.

Departure Day - 8pm flight delayed till 10, then 12.  It leaves at 1am. Arrive Jizan 2.30am

Convoy to a local boat ramp, where our ID is checked by military types. Leave boat ramp 3.30am.
Boat ride to Farasan Island takes about 1.5 hrs.

This is our transportation to Farasan
Seasick prone people gather at the front of the boat. So glad the sea was flat and it wasn't raining.
Why did I sign up on a boat trip anyway? Arrive Farasan Island 5am
Convoy to the Farasan Hotel.  Very basic place but has a bed and, right now, that's all we need.  Parvi is our host.  Very nice man.

In bed by 5.30am.
This day has been long.
That's Parvi in the center.
Awake three hours later for brekky and shower
Off on another boat at 9.30am
Spent the day snorkeling, swimming in the Red Sea and lunching on a coral island. An absolutely beautiful day. Here's some photos. If I had an underwater camera there would be photos of fish....maybe we'll save up for that.

The big boat and some of our fellow snorkellers

Glenn - doesn't he look completely chillax't.

Approaching our coral island for lunch

The water is beautiful - warm and clear

The view from the top
The entire island is made out of coral.
Definitely needed footwear to walk over this stuff.

You could either use the available amenities....smelly and hot.
If you didn't want to use that What to do Pounamu?... take advantage of the great outdoors - much the better option.
Totally excellent island for lunch
Our weekend included a guided tour around Farasan Island.  There is a bit of history here. Mokmul, our guide on day 2, could not speak English.  Glenn kept asking 'what did he say'.  I kept saying 'Hang on, I don't know that much' and out came the Arabic dictionary. 

We understand this is an old pearl merchant trading place.
The family that are caretakers of it let us in.

Saudi's version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  The house is made out of coral, the ceiling is made from imported materials.

Other sites on Farasan Island were mainly old places - the old fort, the old village, the old trading post. 
 Farasan also has a population of Gazelles that we went in search of....basically it was 4 wheel driving in a van...rough as.  Almost got hung up on a rock, but we saw two gazelles.    Our Van....Gazelle hunting at twilight. Our evenings were spent in the 'tent' - a room decked out as a Arabian lounge.  Excellent air con - Farasan is a lot more humid than Riyadh.  We were sweating. 

 Our trip to Farasan Island was organised privately.  The lady in charge has been many times and is friends with the owners of the launch that took us snorkeling.  If you would like to go as part of a tour group then I know  Haya Tours is one company that organizes trips to Farasan Island.  

It is possible to plan your own trip to Farasan.  Flights from Riyadh to Jizan are fairly regular and, from there, it's just a matter of finding the port with the car ferry that services the island.  You can take your own vehicle to Farasan or there are a couple of taxi's you can utilise.  The ferry used to be free, though there are moves afoot to change that.  Once you get to Farasan Island you will need some means of getting from the boat to your hotel but, don't panic, the locals are nice and helpful.

As far as I know there are currently only two hotels on the island - Farasan Hotel and the new Farasan Coral Resort.  Both can be Googled and I'm sure the hotel management will be happy to assist with any questions you have regarding boat hire for snorkeling and diving purposes.   When we went there were zero dive shops on the island so, unless that has changed recently, if scuba is your buzz you need to take your own gear.

Would I go back to Farasan Island?  It was a nice place to visit and the snorkeling was great, the water pristine and warm.  Early summer is probably not the best time to go.  The Powers That Be are trying to turn Farasan into a tourist place.  I'm glad we went before this happens - the prices are reasonable, the people are real.  Farasan Island isn't ruined by the tourist - not yet anyway.

Map of Farasan Hotel, Farasan Island

Ka Kite,


  1. we are glad that you like the island which most saudis don't know about it. And we hope you post other reports of trips in saudi.

    we wish you all the best

  2. Dear Sir/ Madam

    I just ended up on your site after searching for Farasan Islands on google.com

    From your photos, I feel the place just amazing.
    And being born and lived here in Saudi for more than 20 years, I never knew there were islands
    In Saudi waters.

    By the way, did book any tourist guide or any tourist company in Jizan or Farasan Islands.
    Is the place safe for foreigners.

    Whats the best time to visit the islands.

    Also, can women wear swimming dresses on the beach.
    (as u know its not allowed in Saudi)

    1. Hi, thanks for stopping by my blog. Our trip was organised privately from Riyadh but my friends have booked trips through tourist companies. I suggest contacting Salwa at Haya Tours (www.hayatour.com) for some advice or, alternatively, contact one of the Hotels on Farasan for tour ideas. (Farasan Hotel Tel: +966-(0)7-3160876)

      The coral islands surrounding Farasan are usually deserted so, if you visit them, you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in.

      I'm not sure what is the best time to visit Farasan. Most people visit Farasan for the swimming and diving so it depends how cool you like the water. We went in early summer and the weather was very humid (we are not used to high humidity) but the water temperature was beautiful. A friend and her family visited about 3 weeks ago and they said the weather and water temperature were perfect.

      Best of luck with your research.

  3. If you need any more information about farasan island or any help you can contact us Alsa3ya to organize tourist trips in farasan island
    email : alsa3ya@gmail.com
    Certified from Tourism Authority of saudi arabia

    1. Hi, thanks for the contact information. Farasan is such a lovely, unspoiled place - I'm looking forward to going back again one day.


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