A well-toned young man wearing a Harvard University T-shirt jogs past young children as they play on brightly coloured slides and climbing frames. The long grass of the freshly landscaped gardens sways in the sea breeze.
Two cyclists in full skin-tight regalia, helmets and sports sunglasses whizz along the freshly laid cycle track, flanked by traffic on either side. In the distance, the sun glints off the shiny new pedestrian bridge, high up among the palms. A woman in a designer headscarf sits down alone at one of the high-tech benches and plugs her mobile phone into the USB port. She swipes her phone screen to reveal a social media feed and begins scrolling down.
Beyond her, a new lifeguards’ tower overlooks the artificial bay created for swimming, where several young boys splash around in the azure waters, their parents watching from the nearby pier, shielded from the Arabian sun by large canvas shades.
Welcome to Jeddah’s brand-new waterfront.
No longer called the Corniche, Jeddah’s coastline has been given the ultimate makeover. Costing a cool US$213.3 million, the 4.2km stretch is now a modern, stylish and pleasant recreational space.
Now, several safe and appealing parks line the waterfront, alongside spaces for various games and sports. Wooden piers stretch out to sea where young people connect to the waterfront’s Wi-Fi to take selfies, safe in the knowledge that if their battery runs low, there are charge points all over.
Designed to accommodate 120,000 people and 3,000 parked cars, the waterfront also has a new marina, a fishing pier and a tree-lined walkway that connects it to Prince Faisal bin Fahd Road via the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s largest pedestrian bridge, creating a wonderful route for walkers and joggers. That’s not all; at the northern end is a new open-air museum, where a collection of the city’s most celebrated sculptures have been brought together in one space for visitors to enjoy.
Despite the phenomenal new waterfront, arguably Jeddah’s greatest attraction and bestkept secret lies beneath its blue waters.
Untapped and barely explored, Jeddah’s Red Sea coastline is one of the world’s great scuba diving regions, and the historical lack of tourists means it is absolutely pristine.
Stunning coral walls, beautiful reefs and the most aweinspiring sea-life can be enjoyed within minutes of Jeddah’s flash new waterfront.
The closest and most accessible site is Sharm Obhur, just north of the waterfront. This shore dive site is easily reached from the coast and the reef here teems with life. Clownfish, turtles, lionfish, eels, rays and octopus all reside here, and some divers have even had the odd encounter with a bull shark.
Further north are the exciting sites of Abu Faramish (Ann Ann wreck) and Abu Madafi, which is home to three wrecks, the Boiler, Pipe and Old Coaster, as well as the White Tip Point reef.
The Ann Ann is a cargo ship that went down in 1977 and is the largest and most challenging of Jeddah’s wrecks. It sits almost upright and is home to blue-striped snapper, spotted stingrays, tuna and even the odd whitetip shark.
At Abu Madafi, most of the wrecks are now so overgrown with coral they are impossible to identify except for the Boiler wreck, which is surrounded by colourful pink and scarlet red coral as well as bushy black coral – ideal breeding grounds for small fish. There are also a series of narrow caverns and gullies cutting through the reef, where rays, bluefin jacks and kingfish often dwell.
The combination of world-class diving with a new world-class waterfront means Jeddah is now truly one of the world’s great coastal destinations.