The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has grown from a totally conservative country to one of the most popular Middle Eastern tourist destinations within a couple of years. Tourists are now allowed to tour almost all corners of the kingdom with minimal restrictions, with the holy cities of Medina and Mecca being the only out of bound destinations for non-Muslims. And because the kingdom’s invaluable antiquity has been hidden from the outside world for centuries, explorers from the west now feel like they’ve discovered a new planet in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps that is why historians and archeologists now refer to Saudi Arabia as an archaeological treasure chest.
The KSA has tons of goodies to offer all kinds of visitors. If you are into camping, there are many unbelievably tall cliffs in the desert for you to try. If you travel for snorkeling, you have a whole untouched coral reef along the mythical Red Sea to explore. And if you love learning the history and the cultures of different people, Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer you in that regard.
Perhaps one key drawback for as far as Saudi Arabia tourism is concerned is that it is a little bit pricey compared to the South East Asian destinations. Another disadvantage would be limited political and religious freedom even for tourists- Saudi Arabia is among the countries with the worst human rights record in the world. And as if a lack of free speech is not enough, you will not be allowed to bring in alcohol or mingle freely with a companion of the opposite gender, even if you are married.
The Kingdom is, however, gradually revising its public-decency laws and making them a little bit more lenient for visitors. This is in a bid to boost its competitiveness in the global tourism industry. Tourists are, for example, allowed to expose knees and shoulders when swimming at the beach, unlike in the past when shorts were considered inappropriate dressing.
What Is There To See In Saudi Arabia?
The kingdom is far more diverse in landscape and scenery than the outside world thinks. There are several mountains that go as high as 3000 meters, the azure reefs of the Red Sea, the magnificent architecture of Riyadh, and the winding backstreets of Jeddah. Here are 6 places to visit when in Saudi Arabia:
- Mada’in Saleh
This is home to the ancient Nabataean ruins. It is located in the kingdom’s northwest region. The ruins are defined by beautiful carvings that bring out the kingdom’s desert setting. While here, you will learn tons of history regarding the Arabian Peninsula and the famous Arab revolt of 1917.
- Asir Mountains
These mountains border Yemen on the kingdom’s south-west corner. It is home to over 500,000 wild Hamadryas baboons, dazzling blue agamid lizards, and tons of birds’ species. The landscape here is totally different from the dry desert of Saudi Arabia. The weather is in most cases lush and verdant.
- Camping in the desert and diving in the Red Sea
KSA has started allowing tourists to go camping in the Saudi desert. There are travel companies and tour companies that offer visitors overnight trips to Jebel Fihrayn (the Edge of the World). There are several 1km-tall cliffs. The view here is just as amazing as at Grand Canyon in Arizona, if not more spectacular. If you are bold enough, you can choose to pay for climbing tours to the “Edge of the World” or dive in the Red Sea.
- Jewelry shopping
Saudi Arabia is the best place for shopaholics to shop for gold jewelry and electronics. One of the biggest malls in the world- the Jeddah International Shopping Center- is located here.
- Religious tourism
If you are a Muslim, you cannot afford to miss out on the Hajj pilgrimage that goes down in Mecca every year. The city of Mecca hosts approximately 1.8 billion Muslims from around the globe every year for this auspicious Islamic event.
Note that Saudi you don’t need a tourist visa to visit Mecca for Hajj pilgrimage. KSA authorities allow pilgrims to enter the country using a Hajj visa during the Hajj period.
- Architectural wonders
Riyadh, Jeddah, and other Saudi Arabia cities are arguably the most architecturally-advanced cities in the Middle East and Asia as a whole. The Jeddah Tower, for example, is going to be the world’s tallest building when it opens its doors later this year. The tower is 72 meters taller that the current world’s tallest structure, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
Saudi Arabia Food Culture
When touring KSA, you need to try the mouth-watering and unique Saudi Arabian cuisine. The kingdom’s food culture is largely influenced by other Arab countries, but there are plenty of local delicacies that you should sample. Major cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh have many international restaurants that offer both local dishes and international cuisine. For traditional culinary experiences, however, you may have to reach out to the locals who are always ready to share their food culture with visitors. Some of the local cuisines that will probably excite you include:
- Kabsa: This is a dish made of basmati rice, meat, and vegetables. It is then spiced up by locally-sourced spices.
- Umm Ali (Om Ali): This dish is largely influenced by the Egyptian culture. Perhaps that explains why locals call it umm ali, which loosely translates to “the Egyptian dessert”. The dish is basically puff pastry minus the eggs. It is, however, mixed with milk, coconut meat, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins, among other ingredients.
- Tamees. This dish originated from Afghanistan but has grown to become a staple meal among the Saudi people. It is basically a flatbread that’s baked in a metal oven. It is served with fuul soup and adas.
What to Pack for a Trip to Saudi Arabia
You need to pack everything you’d need for an extremely hot destination. You will need sunscreen, open shoes, a hat, and other obvious hot-weather stuff. But there are other essentials for your Saudi trip:
- Loose pants. It is hot here, but women are not allowed to wear tight clothing that reveals any curves.
- Long skirts for the same reason as above.
- Long-sleeve shirts for those desert trips.
- A scarf.
- Conservative t-shirts that doesn’t carry any offensive phrases, un-religious slogans, or inappropriate imagery.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has an incredible culture and heritage that you need to experience at least once in a lifetime. It is also a very beautiful country with very amazing locals. All you need to do is follow the kingdom’s specified tourism laws and you will have a time of your life touring the countless Saudi destinations.