When traveling to Saudi Arabia, you might wonder how to get to Madain Saleh and the Al Ula Valley. As one of the country’s foremost sights, you’re sure to want to visit the wondrous rock-cut tombs of Madain Saleh. And you won’t want to miss the other breathtaking discoveries to be had in the Al Ula Valley. All of the best spots are covered in our guide to visiting Madain Saleh and Al Ula. These range from the ancient mud-brick town of Al Ula to the Ekma Gorge or the nearby volcano fields.
Situated in the country’s northwest deserts, getting to Madain Saleh and the Al Ula Valley might seem impossible. In fact, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is in fact very easy to reach. And once you’re already there, why not take a 3 day tour of Saudi Arabia and Madain Saleh from Al Ula to learn all of its secrets? Here are the best ways to reach Madain Saleh from Saudi Arabia, as well as Aqaba and Israel.
How to Get to Madain Saleh From Riyadh
With transport already arranged and expert guides on hand, guided tours are the easiest way to reach Madain Saleh, and allow you to simply sit back and enjoy the landscapes of a country still shrouded in mystery. Removing the risk of getting lost, or of losing insight on the day because of the language barrier, calculated minute for minute, guided tours are in fact a cost-effective way to explore Madain Saleh and Al Ula, and a whole lot less stressful too.
Should you decide to go it alone, the Saudi capital of Riyadh is approximately 10 hours by road from Madain Saleh. Driving in the kingdom is fairly straightforward, since the roads are well-maintained, however accident rates are some of the highest in the world. Fuel is inexpensive because of Saudi’s vast oil reserves, at around $0.4/liter, and vehicles can be rented in Riyadh for approximately $35/day. All you’ll need is an international driving license.
The Saudi Public Transport Company SAPTCO operates comfortable air-conditioned buses from Riyadh to Al Ula, which take approximately 13.5 hours from end to end and cost around $60. While these coaches stop regularly for comfort breaks, there’s obviously no way of exploring sights along the route more fully. Coach stations are also often inconveniently located for travelers. Local taxis will then take you on to the valley, 22 kilometers away. The fare will cost you $10-15 one way, although you’ll need a vehicle to explore the spaced-out ruins too.
If time is not on your side, the best way of getting to Madain Saleh from Riyadh is to fly, which reduces the travelling time down to around three hours. Saudia, the national carrier, flies into Prince Abdul Majeed bin Abdulaziz domestic airport at Al Ula four times weekly, with flights evenly distributed throughout the week. The airport is roughly 35 kilometers south of Al Ula, and is connected to the city by taxis.
How to Get to Madain Saleh From Jeddah
A whole string of archaeological sites and other attractions newly opened to the wider world exist between Jeddah and Madain Saleh, and while information on them remains difficult to come by, a guided tour ensures you miss none of what this intriguing country has to offer.
If you’re set on renting a vehicle, the most scenic way of reaching Madain Saleh from Jeddah is to follow the coast of the Red Sea north to the town of Yanbu. King Abdullah Economic City acts as a useful rest stop roughly halfway. You then need to turn inland in a north-easterly direction until Al Ula, with regular directions ensuring it’s difficult to get lost. However, the road journey from Jeddah will take around 8 hours to complete, and more still if using any of SAPTCO’s coach services, costing around $50 per person instead.
From Jeddah, flying remains the most sensible option of getting to Madain Saleh for the time conscious. Flights on Saudia to Al Ula’s modern domestic airport around three times per week in either direction.
How to Get to Madain Saleh From Medina
While non-Muslims are not permitted to visit Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, they are allowed to visit Medina. It has a large number of important sites worth considering on any itinerary to Saudi Arabia.
From Medina, it is a much shorter journey by road than from Riyadh and Jeddah; only four hours or 350 kilometers. It is also a simple journey, with the most direct path following Route 328 north for most of the way. Unfortunately, it is unlikely SAPTCO coaches will take non-Muslim passengers from Medina to Madain Saleh. This is not an official ban and appears to depend on individual ticket sellers.
Both shared taxis and private taxis will complete the whole journey for you at a price. If you bargain well, a private taxi is about $150 one way. Shared taxis are around a quarter of that price per person. This makes a private taxi a reasonable option if you are traveling as a group.
How to Get to Madain Saleh From Aqaba
Tours taking in this fascinating archaeological treasure aren’t just an option from inside Saudi Arabia. A number of companies running multi-country tours that take in both Jordan and Saudi, including this 4 day tour from Aqaba. This allows visitors to compare the two most important cities in the Nabatean empire, Petra and Madain Saleh.
Crossing the border from Jordan south into Saudi is pain free. While opting for a guided tour means there’s someone else who speaks the language to worry about the red tape at the border crossing, it is also possible to do it independently.
From the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, buses and shared taxis run to the two nearest borders with Saudi Arabia. The Dourra border post connects with the Saudi city of Haql on the Red Sea. The Al Mudawara border post lies around two hours and 150 kilometers inland. It has better road connections to Tabuk and its stunning national park, and on to the Al Ula Valley.
Transport to the border will cost around $25, with a similar price for continuing on to Al Ula. Both border posts are open 24 hours a day. You will need to have organized a Saudi visa before traveling, as they are not available at the border. Expect border formalities to take around an hour, and a little longer at peak times and on public holidays.
How to Get to Madain Saleh From Israel
Even if you begin your journey around the Middle East in Israel, it is still possible to hand all the hard work of organizing transport and planning itineraries to the experts. Many tours to Madain Saleh operate from Israel too. They include this 13 day highlights of Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia tour that leaves from Tel Aviv, or this 4 day tour from Eilat. Given the site’s location in the northwest of the country, travel times are no greater than from Riyadh or Jeddah either.
At present, political disagreements mean there are no direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, it is possible to travel overland between the two countries by road, via Jordan. If you have already organized a visa for Jordan, you can use any of the borders from Israel. If you haven’t, you can buy a visa at the border. Your best option is the Arava border near Eilat. The border is open daily from 06.30 to 20.00 Monday to Thursday and 08.00 to 20.00 on Fridays and Saturdays. Visa prices vary depending on nationality, but cost about $60. On crossing the border, the fastest route onward is to take a taxi to Aqaba. It costs around $15, and then follow our guidance above from Aqaba to Madain Saleh.
Visiting Saudi Arabia’s Archaeological Gems
This guide on how to get to Madain Saleh and the Al Ula Valley covers both independent and guided travel. Visiting this area is well worth the effort, and can be done from across the Middle East. Be sure you know what to wear in Saudi Arabia, and when to visit Saudi Arabia!