Just off the coast of the southwestern part of Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea is the Farasan Islands an archipelago with 84 corral island, with only three of the islands being permanently inhabited.
Farasan Island might be the world´s most unexpected beach destination.
Only about 40km offshore from the city of Jizan in Asir region on mainland Saudi Arabia is a place you would never have expected to be in Saudi Arabia, but with the Kingdom´s recently opening up for tourism are now the hidden gems around Saudi Arabia also getting known to the outside world. Asir region is also home to the historic village of Rijal Almaa.
One of the natural wonders in Saudi Arabia is the Al Wahbah Crater.
The Farasan archipelago is a place the will question your knowledge about the largest country in the Middle East.
The archipelago was declared “Farasan Island Marine Sanctuary” in 1996 and covers approximately an area of 3,310 km2 and includes
Eighty-four islands and 18 shoals, full of pristine beaches, crystal clear water and even mangrove forest.
The marine sanctuary was created to protect the rich birdlife that´s on the small islands here and for the incredible sea life that´s around Farasan.
The marine sanctuary is home to 231 different species of fish and the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, dugongs, lobsters, Manta rays, three spices of dolphins, and during the months of April & May do Whale Sharks com by.
The Farasan Island Marine Sanctuary is also home to at least 49 times of corals.
There are currently no dive centres at Farasan Island, and you will have to carry your own snorkelling gear here, something I did, but unfortunately, did not the local boatmen know of any good snorkelling spots, they did take me to a spot they recommended but to be honest, it was pretty bad.
The waters around the Farasan archipelago are completely unexplored. Bring your own snorkel gear, and you might be the first person ever to explore some of the reefs. You just have to find them.
The corals were healthy and with no bleaching which is, of course, fantastic, but there was almost no fish.
And with only three of the islands in the archipelago being permanently inhabited, so should there be no surprise that the desolated islands are home to a variety of birds like the White-Eyed Gull, Saunders Little Tern, Crab Plover, Flamingos, Osprey, Sooty Falcon, Pink-Backed Pelican, Red-billed Tropic Bird.
On land is the “star” of the archipelago a Gazelle that´s even named after the Farasan archipelago, the Farasan Gazelle which only live on the biggest island, but is unfortunately on the brink of extinction due to uncontrolled hunting of these animals.
And there´s now believed to be less than 700 Farasan Gazelle remaining.
If you are not so much into beach life and wildlife so do, the Farasan Island also has its fair share of history.
Farasan island was known as Portus Ferresanus in the 1st century AD, and a Latin inscription dating back to 144AD has been found the largest island in the Archipelago, which attests to the assembly of a Roman garrison here.
It´s also believed that the archipelago was used as a maritime way between the ancient African kingdom of Aksum and Arabian kingdoms of Sheeba and Himyar.
One of the main sites are sandstone village of Al Qassar; the village is believed to be the oldest inhabited sites on the islands. The village is said to be dating back to the time of the Romans, but these days the village is completely rebuilt to show tourists how people used to live on the islands. No locals are living in the village these days.
Later the Ottomans constructed a small fort on the main island here in the 18th century, the fort still stands, but it´s closed for the public these days.
Beit Al Refai house particularly spectacular house on the main island dating back to 1922. The house was owned by one of the wealthiest persons on the island, Beit Al Refai was a well-known pearl merchant, and his house is considered to be the archetype of Farasani architecture.
The house is built with coral stones and plastered with gypsum, and the windows are beautifully engraved ornaments. The house is like no other house in Saudi Arabia, but time has not been gentle with this beautiful house and its now in desperately in need of repair and protection.
Getting To The Farasan Island.
The only way to get to the Farasan Island is by the FREE public ferry from Jizan departing twice a day.
The ferry leaves Jizan at 7 AM and 15.30. But you should be at the terminal around 6 AM (14.30) registration and security check, the security check is similar to the ones at airports. They will also check your passport and compare it to the name on your ticket. They are strict.
The ferry leaves the Farasan island back to Jizan at the same time. There´s two ferries a day in each direction, and they leave each port at the same time. The ferry also takes cars for free, but you will have to be at the port a minimum 2 hours before departure to be sure to be granted space.
The journey between Jizan and Farasan takes approximately one hour.
As a foreigner are you supposed to be at the port the day before to get your ticket. Bring your passport; you will need it for registration.
Where To Stay At The Farasan Island.
There is currently on four hotels on the entire Farasan Archipelago. And none of them seems to be offering online booking from the west. But more hotels are under development.
Farasan Park Hotel, the best hotel on the island, has a pristine private beach.
Farasan hotel, budget option, pretty basic. But the friendly staff speaks decent English.
Tansim Palace Hotel Suite.
Hotel Saso Suites.
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