This story was created in partnership with: Visit Saudi
Welcome to Arabia, the land of a thousand and one adventures. From ancient cities and starry desert landscapes to incredible hiking and diving opportunities, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has an exciting experience for everyone. However, because it’s still a widely unknown travel destination, we’re sure you have lots of questions. That’s why we’ve asked Nada AlFuraih and Ghada Bander Almutairi (two highly esteemed female tour guides from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) to share their best tips for travelling to Saudi Arabia. Find out everything and more about this enchanting country and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
How to get there
The KSA is located in the Middle East and borders Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. With an emphasis on growing its tourism sector, Saudi Arabia has officially opened its doors to international travellers. In fact, if you’re from one of the 49 countries listed, you can now apply online for a tourist visa or obtain one upon arrival. For more visa information, you can also check the official Saudi Tourism Authority website.
Although the bus system connects Saudi Arabia with major cities like Dubai and Doha, the easiest way to enter is by air. As a matter of fact, the country has several international airports including the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, the King Fahad International Airport in Dammam, and the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh (the capital city).
When you’re ready to start planning your Saudi Arabia adventure, feel free to check here for your best flight options.
See Also: Saudi Arabia Travel Guide
When to visit
The peak season (November to February) is the best time of the year to visit the KSA. With balmy daytime temperatures (Riyadh’s average daily high in November is approximately 28°C) and lovely cool nights, the country truly comes alive during this period. Enjoy world-class hiking through the Alhada Mountains; explore enchanting cities like Riyadh and Jeddah; or embark on a desert camping excursion unlike any other.
With that said, there are also advantages to visiting Saudi Arabia in the low season (July to August). During the summer months, the temperatures peak, causing people to flock to the Red Sea for an aquatic adventure. Visitors can enjoy turquoise waters, pristine beaches, and magnificent marine life while they snorkel, scuba dive, or simply relax and savour the serene surroundings. Plus, travellers can take advantage of possibly even lower flight or hotel prices.
Being a tour guide is my dream job. It opens the door to meeting others from different countries, sharing knowledge with them, and getting to know a little about their culture and history.– Ghada Bander Almutairi, Saudi tour guide
Now that you know the best time to visit Saudi Arabia, you’re probably wondering what you should pack and whether you should travel by yourself or in a group.
Tips for travelling to Saudi Arabia: What to pack
Firstly, make sure you bring all of your important documents such as your passport, tourist visa, and any necessary COVID-19 paperwork. Secondly, only pack conservative clothing that covers your shoulders and knees – you can read more about the dress code in the next section. For now, a good rule of thumb is to leave behind your short shorts and bring an extra sweater for the evenings because it can get cool in the desert (or even in all the air-conditioned buildings!).
Thirdly, since credit cards and contactless payments are widely accepted throughout the KSA, don’t forget your travel credit card (some banks have specific cards that will save you money on transaction fees). Finally, once you’ve packed all the essentials, stay stress-free by remembering that you’ll be able to find anything else you need in Saudi Arabia.
Tips for travelling to Saudi Arabia: Adventure styles
In addition to planning your packing list, it’s always a good idea to consider how you’d like to travel. In other words, do you prefer solo adventures or guided group trips? An active experience or a slower-paced cultural immersion? The options are endless!
Before choosing what’s right for you, it’s important to do a little research on the place you’ll be visiting. For example, look up how easy it is to get from one popular landmark to another. Discover what type of adventures (hiking, camping, wellness retreat, etc.) are offered. Determine how safe the country is and what form of travel will bring you the most peace of mind.
Although the locals are very kind and welcoming, it can still be daunting for a traveller to visit a new country like Saudi Arabia. Therefore, many will find that a group adventure – which comes with the added benefit of having a tour guide around to answer questions and offer expert knowledge and tips – offers the best of both worlds.
“I love being a tour guide and sharing historical facts while visitors explore and take pictures. It’s wonderful and absolutely heartwarming to see the excitement on their faces.– Nada AlFuraih, Saudi tour guide
The dress code
Whether you’re a speed demon or enjoy spending time getting ready, clothes play an instrumental role in our day-to-day lives. In fact, some countries have local laws that require men and women to dress modestly in public. For example, the KSA expects people to wear loose-fitting attire that covers down to the elbow and below the ankle. However, the laws do not require locals or tourists to wear the traditional clothing.
If you’re still unsure about the proper Saudi dress code, just remember to cover as much skin as possible. Moreover, avoid short, tight clothes and anything that displays profane language or images.
Now that we’ve discussed the appropriate dress code, it’s worth mentioning the more traditional clothing (which is still often worn). For women, the most important articles are the abaya (a long, black robe that covers their everyday clothing), hijab (a headscarf), and niqab (a face cover). In terms of traditional clothing for Saudi men, it’s customary to wear a long-sleeved, dress-like garment known as a thobe (or thawb) along with a red and white checkered headscarf called a keffiyeh (or shemagh).
Customs and traditions
In a similar fashion to the dress code, the KSA’s customs and traditions often need a little introduction as well. So, without further ado, here are some additional tips for travelling through Saudi Arabia.
- The typical greeting is Salam Alaykum (or “peace be upon you”); followed by a handshake or a single kiss on the cheek. Due to COVID-19, the handshake or kiss has temporarily been replaced with a wave.
- Foreigners are encouraged to use other polite Arabic words such as Ahlan (for “hi”) or Shukran (which means “thank you”).
- Because Saudi people enjoy meeting foreigners, get ready for a warm welcome. Moreover, don’t be surprised or alarmed if locals ask to take a photo with you.
- Although you may agree to pose for a photo, remember that taking pictures or videos of others without their consent is a violation of public decency and can lead to penalties.
- Respectful public decorum is strongly advised. In other words, avoid profane language or gestures and refrain from public displays of affection.
- Finally, it’s important to understand that drugs and alcohol are illegal in the KSA.
No trip is complete without visiting some of the highlights. The question is, how do you choose from the many wonders that Saudi Arabia has to offer? Fortunately, we have the insider tip from our expert local guides, Nada AlFuraih and Ghada Bander Almutairi. Drum roll, please! Here are their top three picks (in no particular order):
- AlUla – This ancient city is home to Hegra (Mada’in Saleh), the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site (shown above).
- At-Turaif in Diriyah – A UNESCO World Heritage Site (shown below), At-Turaif is located northwest of Riyadh. This historic district was the original home of the Saudi royal family and served as the country’s first capital.
- Rijal Almaʽa – Dating back over 900 years, this ancient village is an archeological masterpiece.
Have you always dreamt of a dazzling desert experience like camping under the stars or flying over the sand dunes on a motorbike? Well, nothing says the trip of a lifetime like the chance to tick off your top bucket list items. Discover incredible desert adventures beyond your wildest dreams; enjoy world-class hiking through enchanting landscapes like the Alhada Mountains; and go scuba diving in turquoise waters filled with coral reefs and mesmerising marine life.
Hurry, so you can be one of the first to explore everything that Saudi Arabia has to offer!