9 things to know before visiting Jazan and the Farasan Islands
1. Not many people speak English. I live in Jeddah and can manage pretty well because many people speak English. This is not the case in Jazan and the Farasan Islands. Most of the locals speak only Arabic. This can be an exciting challenge for the off the beaten path traveler. My recommendation is to have a translator app on your phone ready to go. Another suggestion is to have a list of words that you can access quickly that might come in handy. (see my list of words to have with you in my post Planning your trip to the Farasan Islands).
2. The dress is conservative. If you’re traveling Saudi Arabia then you already know that the dress is more conservative than let’s say, the U.S. In Jazan and Farasan, many are wearing the traditional clothing, so travelers and tourist stick out like a sore thumb. My recommendation for the ladies is to just bring a couple abayas and something conservative to swim in (typically this covers up to your knees and your shoulders). Guys, you can pretty much dress normally. My boyfriend worse a tank top and shorts most days. There is probably no way for you to not stand out but showing respect for their culture through dressing conservatively is a good place to start.
3. You can bring your car on the ferry. This ferry is free! I would recommend staying in Jazan for a night before heading to the Farasan Islands, so you can buy your ticket for the ferry the first day arriving in Jazan. This was part of our trip I did not find intuitive or simple. The place to buy your ticket is called MACNA The Maritime Company for Navigation- see map to the left, but be mindful that tourism in Saudi is changing rapidly, so this system of buying tickets, I foresee, changing soon. We actually ended up missing the large ferry. If this happens you, there is another smaller port called Tourist Edge Marina that you can pay 50 riyals to ride in a smaller boat. These smaller boats basically just leave when they are full, so it is impossible to plan the timing of this. Because of this we were unable to bring our car over and just rented at car when we got to the Farasan Islands.
4. Bring your own toilet paper. Rookie move for every backpacker/traveler is this: there is no place to hang your bag and abaya, the floor is dirty so you decide to hold it all in your hands, you finally find a way to squat over the Asian style toilet, sweat is dripping down your face and back because there is definitely no air flow in the stall and you’re wearing 3 layers of clothing in 90 degree weather because you're trying to dress conservatively. You’re so proud of yourself for finding a way to keep your abaya clean through all of that, only to realize that there is not, and never was in the history of this bathroom, toilet paper. Supplying toilet paper in public bathrooms is a luxury that we should feel grateful for more often. BYOTP people. Bring your own toilet paper, hand sanitizer, maybe even some face wipes.
5. Booking online might not be an option. There are hotels on Farasan Island, some are not very active online. We stayed at Farasan Park (which I recommend because it is on the beach and there is a restaurant in the hotel), but they are not on booking.com. There is not a ton of competition right now for them, so there is no need for them to make online reservations accessible. Call the hotel and making a booking the old fashion style. How we booked out boat trip when we arrived is basically a guy knew a guy who had a boat. I love this sort of traveling, just getting to a place and taking the recommendations of the local people. While this sort of travel can be fun, it can also be nerve racking. Booking a tour is a great option (Ghazi tours) for an organized all-inclusive trip. This is a great option for solo travelers or if you are nervous about the language difference being an issue.
6. …be flexible, open minded, and have faith it will all work out. Trying to plan this trip beforehand felt a bit intimidating. Once arriving on Farasan Island I realized a lot of things are word of mouth. Be open to not planning everything ahead of time and seeing where it takes you.
7. Bring cash. There are ATMs in the city of Farasan. Paying for a boat trip from a random guy who lives on the island is most definitely a cash exchange, as is other exchanges you might do.
8. There are not many restaurants on Farasan Island. The city of Farasan is still pretty raw. There is everything you need- grocery store, coffee shops, ATMs, hotels. There is even a juice place which I was excited about! There are places to get food, but if you’re looking for fine dining or a sit-down restaurant you might be out of luck. Farasan Park Hotel has a restaurant which is an important consideration when booking your hotel.
9. Winter is the best time to visit. During the summer the heat is almost unbearable. Definitely not impossible to travel here during the summer, but the weather is much more pleasant during the winter.