If you don’t know anyone who has been to Saudi Arabia before, it’s probably because this is not a very popular destination since it wasn’t open for travel until 2019.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been working under a less restrictive program to attract visitors for the past few years, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still at an early stage.
Last year, Saudi Arabia was among the first countries to remove entry requirements, the 11th country in the world, and now the government is working on tourism campaigns to attract more visitors.
You probably have seen recent news promoting this destination in the Middle East but don’t have many references of what to see, what to expect, and what to consider before visiting this country.
Here’s what travelers should know:
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Where Is Saudi Arabia?
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is located in Western Asia and covers most of the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula.
Saudi Arabia is next to the United Arab Emirates, not too far from the world’s top tourist destination, Dubai.
However, this country is home to Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and Medina, a major Islamic pilgrimage site.
But foreign visitors were restricted —and women had to follow very strict dress codes— until not too long ago.
Now, despite being a very strict religious country, the government is more open to foreign visitors and is welcoming LGBTQ travelers —authorities recently updated the Saudi Tourism website stating that “everyone is welcome to visit Saudi Arabia and visitors are not asked to disclose such personal details.”
Travelers must research and learn more about the local rules to determine whether or not they would feel comfortable visiting this destination.
What Are The Entry Requirements?
The monarchy recently launched a tourist e-visa available for around 50 countries around the world, and the United States and Canada are eligible.
American travelers can request an e-visa online by filling out an application and paying an $80 fee.
With the e-visa travelers can spend up to 90 days in Saudi Arabia and, once approved, is valid for one year.
What To See In Saudi Arabia?
Just a few months ago, Saudi Arabia announced a huge project: the construction of a modern city 33 times bigger than New York City in the Arabian desert.
The new city Neom will open one of its districts in 2024, but for now, the most popular attractions are these:
- Medina: This city has multiple attractions for tourists, including impressive mosques, religious places, museums, malls, and the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad.
- Al-Ula: This impressive city in the northwest of the country, is home to fascinating archaeological sites like Hegra, the first place in Saudi Arabia declared a World Heritage property. It also has an iconic natural attraction, the Elephant Rock, a photogenic geological marvel.
- Riyadh: this kingdom’s capital and financial hub is one of the main destinations as it has many attractions —modern and ancient— and is known as the cultural capital for its many events and museums.
- Mecca: only Muslims can visit this city—the holiest in Islam— and it has checkpoints to verify visitors’ religion. Non-muslims can see it from a highway.
In Saudi Arabia, travelers can also attend events like popular film festivals, taste delicious traditional food and beverages, and learn about their impressive culture.
Many travelers have mentioned that they have encountered very friendly and kind people in this country.
Is It Dangerous To Visit Saudi Arabia?
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has very low criminal rates, but there are strict laws, traditions, and customs that travelers must follow and respect.
The Department of State of the United States has warnings and does not recommend travel to certain destinations like the Saudi-Yemen border, the Abha airport, and Qatif due to terrorism and missile and drone attacks.
Saudi Arabia has been in conflict with multiple nations in the region, and recent events have raised uncertainty making countries like the United Kingdom update travel advisories.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) has recently included new information for travelers and recommends its citizens not to travel for leisure and avoid areas near Yemen and the Abha International Airport.
American travelers can visit the American government’s official site, Saudi Arabia Travel Advisory, to learn more about the risks and recommendations.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com