Hofuf and the Al Qara Mountain Caves

Saudi Arabia's flag
Middle East » Saudi Arabia » Dammam » Hofuf
October 15th 2009
Published: October 15th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

This content requires Flash
To view this content, JavaScript must be enabled, and you need the latest version of the Adobe Flash Player.
Download the free Flash Player now!
Saudi Aramco - AbqaiqSaudi Aramco - AbqaiqSaudi Aramco - Abqaiq

Notice how lush and green everything is here. This is the Abqaiq Saudi Aramco location.
Today eight of us headed two hours south of Dhahran to a town called Hofuf. It's about an hour south of Abqaiq, which is another Saudi Aramco facility. We rented two large Suburbans and two drivers for the day. It was an amazing experience and yet another "I'm not in Kansas" moment for me.

Hofuf used to be the capital of the Eastern Province (the area along the Persian Gulf) until 1953. At that point it was moved up to Dammam, which is a city I’ve visited on previous trips. The area is more broadly known as Al Hasa (that’s the region) and it is an oasis. That’s why you will see lots of palm trees in the photos. These palms are the kind that produce dates (the kind you eat, not the match.com type). Of course, I expected to see camels and desert travelers around a pool of water, but that’s not how an oasis works. It’s more underground water that can be tapped for irrigation.

The first stop was the camel, goat, and sheep market (what a bonus: I had heard there were only camels and goats!). For once, WE were the objects of attention. It’s safe

Flowers at Abquiq
to say that not many Westerners visit the market. Due to a couple of accidents on the highway, we were too late to watch the auctions, but we weren’t too late to see the camels, et. al. The sheep farmers were especially proud of their sheep and they wanted me to photograph each sheep individually. There were white sheep, black sheep, white and black sheep, brown sheep, and more varieties of sheep than I knew existed. And then there were different sections for the Saudi sheep vs. imported sheep. The sheep herders also insisted I need photos of them too (they insisted on it), but it was quite a nice change from having to take quick photos of Saudis.

However, I have to admit my favorite were the camels. I mean, come on, this is Saudi Arabia and it’s in the middle of the desert. We have sheep and goats in the mid-west of the US, but not so many camels (the Como Zoo does not count). What a great experience. I have some photos that will give you the flavor of what it was like.

We started at the fort in Hofuf. This fort is an Ottoman
Abqaiq to HofufAbqaiq to HofufAbqaiq to Hofuf

This is what the REAL Saudi looks like. Lots of tn sand and a few camels.
Turkish fort. The walls date from the 17th century. There is a mosque inside the walls, the Quba Mosque, which was built in 1571. (This updated date information is from a blog reader, Hans who lives in Switzerland.) We walked around the perimeter which is about a block in circumference. There was only one entrance and it was closed. This wasn’t a friendly fort! And there was no fence to climb under like we did back in Qatif. It’s as if the fort was trying to keep people out of it. Go figure. However there was a very small hole in the old wooden door and I was able to get a photo through the peep hole.

There were a few interesting shops that we stopped at that sold old Bedouin objects and more coffee pots that you can count. We tried to go to the old souk (market), but couldn’t really find anything else but the gold and jewelry shops. It was a bit disappointing, but we moved on to the next thing on the agenda which was lunch.

If you’ve traveled in Saudi Arabia, you’ll know that lunch time comes right at the time of one of the prayer times. And when it’s prayer time, all of the restaurants and shops close. The timing is always bad. So we went to the Intercontinental Hotel because hotel restaurants usually stay open at prayer time. Not so much. They were closed too.

Oh well. Fortunately we had coolers of snacks, water, and sandwiches. The non-Americans were not too fond of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but for once, my many decades of American eating served me well. I thought they were great, even if they were made with orange marmalade.

We continued on to the Qara Mountains (also spelled Gara Mountains), which are these great rock formations that contain caves you can walk in. These limestone rock formations make it look more like the moon than Saudi Arabia. A photo is worth a thousand words. Since I took nearly 200 photos, I guess those would be worth a million words. I hope you enjoy. What a great day! Be sure to scroll down this page for LOTS of great photos. Hint: Double click a photo and go to slide show mode.

Additional photos below
Photos: 69, Displayed: 25


The Camel MarketThe Camel Market
The Camel Market

No, this isn't blue screen technology. That's a real camel behind me.
What, me worry?What, me worry?
What, me worry?

Sort of the Alfred E. Neuman of camels.
Herd of camelsHerd of camels
Herd of camels

What's a group of camels called? I have no idea. By the way, they grow hay in Saudi.
Minnesota CamelMinnesota Camel
Minnesota Camel

This one is made for Minnesota -- all white, so it blends in with the snow.
Ted and his camelTed and his camel
Ted and his camel

This is the one I bought and will bring home with me. Checked camels cost $15 on Delta, right?
Sheep ShephardSheep Shephard
Sheep Shephard

These are Sudanese sheep.
Assistant ShephardAssistant Shephard
Assistant Shephard

It must be a family business.
Hofuf HiltonHofuf Hilton
Hofuf Hilton

Apparently they sleep and live here in the market. We saw a lot of these.

15th October 2009

Excellent Blog Pix
Loved these.
15th October 2009

PB & J
They thought the orange marmelade was strange to have with peanut butter. However, I thought it was good. Go figure. If I don't agree to another cat, I'm sure she won't agree to a camel. Fair is fair.
15th October 2009

The shepherd with a stick
Could have been a picture of me last week trying to herd my pack of dogs (and break up fights). Great pix -- looks like fun!
15th October 2009

Isn't it Dodge that's Ram tough? Or did i just miss the joke? :-) great story and photos! thanks for sharing.
16th October 2009

Dodge - Ram Tough
Oops. I've fixed it. You didn't miss the joke, I just missed the point of the commercial (the name of the manufacturer). Sorry Dodge people.
16th October 2009

Hofuf photos
Thanks, Sherri. Yes, those sheep guys were really fun. And why there was a sofa outside the fort, Im not sure. Perhaps its Saudi hospitality: you can come into my fort, but at least I can make you comfortable.
26th December 2009

just a silly q..are women allowed to go and have a tour on these spots? lol..
28th December 2009

Women and Hofuf
Yes, women can tour these spots. It's probably not something you'd want to do on your own, but certainly women are welcome. In fact, you'll see the wife of one of my co-workers in the photos.
11th June 2011
Lots of dates

A comment
Great blog !!
3rd November 2011

My inquire id like to go in Hofuf in Gara mountain this coming dec 1-2 id like to know how to get visa,hotel and tourism tour for this cave please let me know what to do. thanking you
6th November 2011

Hofuf and the Al Qara Mountain Caves
Thanks for your inquiry. I stayed in Saudi Arabia on a business visa and I know that it is difficult to get a tourist visa unless you travel as part of a group. I will respond with more information in a separate email. Best regards, Ted
15th January 2012

Past Blast!
Whoa! I lived in Abqaiq from 1978-80. Most of these pics could have been taken back then! Hofuf and the caves have not changed much in 32 years! What fond memories of the people and land. Thank you for sharing.
4th June 2012

A friend
Hi, I like your blog. I graduated from from Georgetown University's FLL where among other things I became fluent in Arabic. Someone mistook me as someone who lived Saudi Arabia several days ago. One of my best friends grew up in Abqaiq
15th July 2012
Lots of dates

desert hafuf
hafuf is dry desert,one can find not a single green plant or bush, it is hottest place, i wonder how tourists survive here, anyway winter is proper time of photography in hafuf desert.
15th July 2012
Lots of dates

lot of dates
i like eating dates, dry or fresh, saudi arabia is dates growing area,dates trees are common here saudi are very hostile, saudi love to share fresh dates with guests and travellers, above photo of dates in the sun look good,naseem khan karachi/pakistan
15th April 2014
The caves of Al Qara

Do you know why it is so cool inside ? Your fotos are amazing. !
19th April 2014
The caves of Al Qara

Hohuf and the Al Quara Mountain Caves
Nasrin, thank you very much for your kind words. I'm glad that you like the photos. All caves are cool inside, regardless of where they are in the world. The cave walls insulate the inside from the outside air. In very cold climates, such as where I live, the caves are the same temperature, but they feel warm to us because it is cold outside. This is a wonderful place to visit. Thanks for reading my blog.

Tot: 0.161s; Tpl: 0.015s; cc: 13; qc: 36; dbt: 0.041s; 1; m:apollo w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 6.4mb