It is a land rich in history, culture, natural beauty, and unspoiled areas. Many people desire it, yet Saudi Arabia has long remained inaccessible to travellers.
Previously, the only way to enter Saudi Arabia was on a business visa, through a good local connection who could sponsor your visit, or with a pilgrimage visa to visit Mecca and Medina (only for Muslims).
As a result, Western visitors, both men and women, may now visit Saudi Arabia on their own, with a backpack, which is a radical change.
Why have we recently heard so much about it, and why is Saudi Arabia so appealing to tourists? Images of Al Ula, an astonishing area that appears to be propelled into a science fiction film.
Despite what you may have heard in the media, Saudi Arabia is a fantastic place. This country has so much to see and do, full of gorgeous natural and archaeological attractions, vastly different landscapes, and incredibly hospitable people.
In this fascinating country, 131 monuments of remarkable beauty rise from the desert sand, surrounded by a unique ecosystem of sandstone mountains and plateaus, rocks with the oddest forms, small “wadi” (passages) and gorges, and even lush oasis farmed with date palms.
Al Ula is a living museum with preserved tombs, a crossroads of ancient civilisations, and old history. Hegra, now known as Mada’in Salih, was the kingdom’s major city, and it was here that some of the most stunning monumental tombs were created. Someone has already dubbed her “the other Petra.”
In the middle of the desert, among sand dunes, time-carved rocks, and ancient civilisation ruins, you can see ultra-modern installations such as Maraya, a cube of mirrors made in 2017, the largest in the world, so large that it has entered the Guinness Book of Records, that reflects the landscape and whose presence can barely be seen. It is primarily a music venue and will also hold events and performances.
This initiative is part of the country’s ambition of being one of the premier tourist destinations in the world by the end of 2030. It has already become a huge worldwide success as Saudi Arabia’s first revitalisation project.
The first resorts to emerge in the region are true architectural works in perfect connection with nature. Like the beautiful Habitas Al Ula, which will open in November 2021, a sustainable luxury hotel fully integrated into the site, where guests will be able to touch the stones physically. And it’s only the beginning of a beautiful hotel chain that will develop in the following months to accommodate all tourists who will soon visit Al Ula and Saudi Arabia.
Among the most anticipated is Sharaan, designed by Jean Nouvel and already called a “masterpiece” of design, constructed immediately in the mountains of Al Ula’s Sharaan Nature Reserve, blending in seamlessly with the terrain.
Zero-emission transportation will be available shortly with the introduction of compact “pods” with autonomous driving, which will be silent and sustainable. In the desert, zero-emission vehicles will transport visitors (22 at a time on each pod) back and forth from hotels to discover the site of Al Ula and the Old Town, as well as other tourist destinations in the area, such as the ancient city of Dadan, the UNESCO site of Hegra or (Mada’in Saleh), the second city of the great Nabataean kingdom of Petra, Jordan, and the village of Al Jadidah.
Not only will it be one of the top attractions in the world, but it will also be one of the most “eco-friendly.”
The Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) has launched various initiatives to entice people to this as-yet-unknown region of the world.
Saudi Arabia has done it with some significant events that have intrigued the interest of the most curious, such as Andrea Bocelli’s mega concert in 2021 right in the UNESCO site of Hegra, that of Alicia Keys and Seal, or even the recent Dolce & Gabbana fashion show, which took place in the Jabal Ikmah area, Saudi Arabia’s largest open-air library, were inscriptions in Aramaic, Dadanitic, Thamudic, Minaic
They also picked Al Ula for the global premiere of HBO’s “House of the Dragon,” a precursor to “Game of Thrones,” during which the House of the Dragon’s seal was engraved on the famous natural rock structure of AlUla, the Elephant Rock. Dragons will continue to appear in the natural and constructed monuments of the Site of Al Ula throughout the series.
I think this is the most overlooked country in the world, and I’ve prepared some information to help you plan a trip to the Kingdom.
Which countries are eligible to visit Saudi with a tourist e-visa?
All EU countries + Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Ukraine and the United States,
For visiting Saudi, you can apply for an e-visa through visitsaudi.com
The visa price is 535 Saudi Rials, which is around 142 US Dollars.
The visa allows you to stay in Saudi for 90 days and has a 1-year validity from the issuance date.
It’s also multiple entries.
This means that, within a year, you travel to Saudi as many times as you want with the same visa, as long as your stay doesn’t exceed more than 90 days.
Can single women apply for the same Saudi e-visa?
Yes, they certainly can; no restrictions for being a female.
Best time to visit Saudi Arabia
The best time to visit Saudi Arabia is during the cooler months, from November to February.
March, April and October could be bearable, but outside the winter season, the country could be too hot to enjoy.
By the way, note that the north of Saudi Arabia can be extremely cold in winter, with temperatures below 0ºC in transited regions such as Al-Ula and Tabouk.
Visiting Mada’in Saleh, like Petra but more epic
Mada’in Saleh is an archaeological complex composed of hundreds of tombs carved from rocks and scattered across the desert. Mada’in Saleh was founded by the Nabateans, the same civilization that built Petra.
Mada’in Saleh, Saudi Arabia, is a must-visit during your Saudi Arabia trip.
The city of Medina had remained off-limits to non-Muslims for decades, but from 2022, Western tourists are allowed to visit the city, as long as they stay just at the Holy Mosque entrance where Prophet Mohammed is buried.
Just outside of the Holy Mosque of Medina
Exploring Fayfa, a region of Saudi Arabia with Yemeni-like culture
Fayfa is a southern region bordering Yemen that historically had been part of Yemen, so several aspects of their culture – including how they dress and their cuisine – have remained.
Discover the natural wonders of the Tabouk region
Tabouk is a northern region bordering Jordan, home to incredible wadis, rock formations, deserts and Bedouins.
Snorkelling in the Red Sea
Everybody knows about the beauty of the Red Sea, the reason why Egypt has become a prime diving destination. However, few people understand that the same coral reefs can also be found along the Saudi Arabia coast, and I particularly like the area between Yanbu and Umluj.
Here is some handy Information.
Saudi Arabia is a very religious country; in fact, this is the most religious Muslim country in the world. Everybody knows that.
Most Saudis follow a branch of Islam named Wahhabism, characterized for having the most conservative interpretation of Islam and the law of Saudi Arabia strictly follows it.
However, in the last couple of years, the laws of Saudi Arabia have become more flexible.
- Women need to wear an abaya – The abaya is a local dress that covers your body (not your head).
- Some public spaces are segregated by sex – You will figure it out by yourself, but some restaurants or cafés are still composed of two areas: men and family. Women or men who go with women must sit in the family section. This kind of segregation is slowly disappearing, especially in Jeddah and Riyadh.
- Don’t drink alcohol – Drinking alcohol in Saudi Arabia is not legal, not even in 5-star hotels.
- Stay away from drugs – Drugs may lead to the death sentence, so don’t play with them.
- No public shows of affection – Same as when you travel to other Gulf countries.
- On Friday, everything is closed until Asr prayer, which is around 4 or 5 pm – Not everything will be closed, but some restaurants may open in the morning. However, at noon, during Dhuhr prayer, absolutely everything is closed.
- Eat with your right hand always – This is a generic Muslim rule in Saudi is particularly strict. If you share a meal with more traditional people, always eat with your right hand.
- Men and women who aren’t family related can hang out together in public – Some years ago, you couldn’t go to a restaurant or a café with a friend from the opposite sex, but now you can do it usually, like in any other country.
- Foreign women can travel around the country independently and alone. Single foreign women can also visit Saudi on a tourist visa – You can travel to Saudi with your unmarried boyfriend, and even if you are single, no problem.
- Women don’t need to wear hijab – You don’t need to cover your head, but, as I said, you must cover your body with an abaya.
- Women can drive, including renting a car – From June 2018, women can finally drive, and, as a female tourist, you can also rent it.
- Men can wear shorts – Nobody will say anything to you.