Grab a friend and a Jeep to ride Bahrain’s dirt trails

A 4X4 Jeep Wrangler is parked in front of the Tree of Life, a 400-year-old tree with no known water source, on a quiet day in the Southern Governate of Bahrain on May 11, 2019.


By JOSHUA KARSTEN | Stars and Stripes | Published: June 6, 2019

It’s Ramadan in Bahrain! Restaurants are closed, the streets are empty during the day. What to do, what to do?

As I drove on and off base, I couldn’t help but notice the large number of American four-wheel-drive vehicles in the lot. We live in a desert; why not take my own Jeep for a spin?

I asked around on social media and around base, but no one seemed to have any good gauge on off-roading spots. So I grabbed my Texas-born-and-bred friend, Steve, to take a quick trip to the Southern Governorate, the vast sands and rocks south of the sprawling metropolis that takes up much of the northern half of the island.

Not to stereotype folks from Texas, but my particular accomplice was a great friend to have as I am a city person myself. If you have not driven off road before, the first step is to ask a friend who knows what they are doing to tag along.

“I’m from Texas and we do a lot of off-roading. It’s always fun to get off the paved road to have some fun,” Steve said.

Geared up, tires checked and gas tank full, we hit the road to head south. Our first stop in our search for off-road trails came from a tip in our favorite local Bahrain Family Group page.

“There is usually a large group of 4x4s that hangs out every Friday near the Tree of Life,” one member shared.

“We go near the Tree of Life and wander freely,” another member added.

The Tree of Life, a tourist attraction in its own right, is really out in the middle of the desert. Some folks have seen Jeepsters and dirt bikes there before, so we headed that way.

Upon our arrival, we noticed that we were the only souls around for miles. We actually snapped some selfies with the tree without tourists in the background. Score!

But I digress. No tourists, no off-road enthusiasts. Just Steve from Texas, some random industrial zones, another fenced-off area and me. We drove to a Bahrain Defence Force post to ask if they knew where to go, but the concept of driving around in the dirt seemed foreign to them.

We drove farther south until we reached the pointy tip of the island. Plenty of flat desert sand to mash around in, but be advised: If you see a sign the reads “Bahrain Defence Force,” it is best to not cross into any ranges or artillery fields.

We were about to call it quits when I remembered a recent drive to the F1 track on the western side of the governorate. There is a small area of cliffs and steep hills where locals barbecue and picnic in the cooler months.

Steve and I arrived and again, not a soul in sight, but the fresh tracks in the dirt gave us enough assurance that this was the spot we have been looking for.

The trails led us up and down some winding craters and bluffs, an easy ride for a beginner like me.

“The trails were mostly dirt and sand and probably beginner to intermediate level,” Steve said. “Nothing too challenging, but that’s good because it probably won’t damage your daily driver.”

What does Steve know? The experience for me was novel and exhilarating and an excellent quick trip getaway that did not cost any money, a rarity in Bahrain.

However, if you feel like spending some dinars after sunset, the location is just a stone’s throw away from the popular Iftar at the Sofitel Resort. For me, I will be back to my off-road spot again, next time with a cooler, a picnic basket and some stories to share with other off-roaders.

Twitter: @joshua_karsten


DIRECTIONS: Location: GPS coordinates 26.0659, 50.5210, just north of the University of Bahrain and wedged between the intersection of the Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman and Zallaq Highways, Southern Governate, Bahrain
From base, head west on the Shaikh Isa Bin Salman Hwy and south on Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Hwy toward the F1 Complex. The road ends at a roundabout in front of the university. Circle left onto Zallaq and you will see the hills on your left.

COSTS: Free, if you’ve already got access to a 4x4 vehicle, registration, insurance, gas, lift kit, etc.

A 4X4 Jeep Wrangler navigates an off-road trail on a quiet day in the Southern Governate of Bahrain on May 11, 2019. The Southern Governate is home to Bahrain?s more arid and less-populated landscapes, perfect for off-roaders looking to escape the city.

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