Imagine a place so undiscovered as to be magical. That place is NEOM — and four pioneering women had a sneak preview to discover its secrets.
The open road calls to everyone — the wind rushing by, the sky above inviting contemplation… Add four pioneering Saudi women and an infinite landscape open for exploration and you have the makings of a journey unlike any other. Saudi Arabia’s first female DJ, Cosmicat, along with photographer Tasneem Alsultan, motorsport athlete Dania Akeel, and racing driver Reema Juffali, recently took a trip through one of the region’s most spectacular landscapes: the undiscovered expanse of NEOM on the northwest coast of Saudi Arabia.
The four pioneers are some of the first people to take in the vast beauty and potential of NEOM, with its rich red deserts, mountains with annual snows, vast open plains, and clear, dark nights. With a coastline on the Red Sea, this rugged land has much to offer — and is on the cusp of being discovered. This 26,500sq km site will eventually be transformed into a sustainably powered region, because NEOM is the future — and the future is now. Driving through the desert landscape, the four contemplate the vastness of the space — much of which will remain untouched, even as NEOM gets developed into the largest giga-project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and possibly the world. The Kingdom plans to maintain 95% of NEOM terrain as nature intended — a boundless wilderness where Mother Earth can breathe.
Driving across the majestic terrain, the four women see the potential and ambition embedded in the landscape. Witness the Hisma desert, where ancient tribes once roamed the red sands and rock formations. The foursome’s reward for hiking up the Hisma Arch? A glorious sunrise over the desert, after which they clambered through and explored the many caves that dot the area, some with ancient carvings hinting at the lives these inhabitants once led. Alsultan, the visual storyteller in the group, can but wonder about these ancestors as she captures striking images of the desert’s unique characteristics and views.
Since NEOM will be powered entirely with renewable energy, race car drivers Akeel and Juffali took turns behind the wheel of an all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQC. Driving noiselessly across the open terrain, Juffali comments, “I love what NEOM stands for: sustainability, looking to the future, and opportunity.” As they bring the car to a halt, their next experience awaits at Haddah Beach — a cove where hawksbill turtles and dugongs find protection — and the foursome gets ready to glide into the turquoise waters. While dolphins and whale sharks eluded them this time, the women could still marvel at the diverse marine life in these rich waters.
NEOM also hosts a few unexpected attractions, like an old seaplane abandoned at the site’s western tip. The Catalina plane is the last remnant of a fateful trip around the world in 1960, when the pilot made an unauthorized landing and was subsequently attacked — yet left unharmed — by the local tribes. The plane was not so lucky and makes for an interesting stop. As the four women clamber all over the wreck, they reflect on the meaning of NEOM. “I feel connected to the purpose of NEOM, which is to synchronize human behavior and human living with nature’s own evolution and survival,” says Akeel.
As night falls, the women marvel at the skies where the stars shine brighter than anywhere else. Unwinding around a crackling campfire, they point out various constellations hidden to city dwellers — and then Cosmicat leads them in an impromptu desert dance, taking in the sheer privilege and joy of being in a space filled with ancient reverberations and limitless potential for the future. “You reach areas that are so incredibly beautiful, untouched, so pure, so serene, so calm. It’s such a powerful place because you’re in nature, you’re connected,” Akeel says.
At the end of their epic road trip, the four women each had a clear vision of how NEOM will help shape not only the Kingdom’s future, but also the world’s. “I think that NEOM could be a reference for other places on how to create in a way that allows sustainable living and that allows us to respect the place that we’re from, which is the planet Earth,” Akeel says. “In ten years, I see NEOM as the city of my dreams,” Cosmicat adds.