The world's newest and most intruiging travel destination - one not to miss
A stunning kingdom of deserts, ancient religous sites, modern cities, forests and breathtaking coastlines
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most mysterious and beguiling travel destinations. Long closed to tourists and indeed almost all overseas visitors, it started its tourist visa programme in September 2019, opening up this vast land of history, dramatic landscapes, fascinating culture and surprising modernity to visitors from all over the world. The change was driven by the desire to remove its reliance on oil revenue as the principal source of GDP, taking leave from neighbouring Arab states such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi to promote tourism, sport and leisure as being at the heart of change in the country. Significant efforts have been made to change the way the country is perceived, especially in regard to women’s’ rights, with the international perception a long way from the reality that visitors will encounter once they arrive.
Of course, Saudi Arabia is most famous for the holy city of Mecca in the west where millions of Muslims head to every year on their Hadji and Umrah Pilgrimages. Regarded as the very epicentre of the Islamic world, it remains closed to members of other faiths but remains the most important place to visit for Muslims from across the planet. Equally important and perhaps more interesting to many Pilgrims is the smaller city of Medina, where the Prophet Muhammed was buried having built his own Mosque and the city remains a popular spot to spend some time for Muslim visitors.
Whilst religion is a significant part of life in Saudi Arabia, it is certainly not the only intriguing part of the country, with amazing landscapes and historical sites to be found almost everywhere you go. The north eastern region of Al Ahsa is home to vast oases and fields of palm trees and also boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the caves of the Ol Qarah Mountains where some of the earliest signs of human habitation can be found. The rugged mountains of Al Baha are home to valleys were deserted towns and villages can be found and Al Ula is home to the ancient monolith of Hegra which is the twin of the better known rock-hewn monuments at Petra in Jordan.
The modernity of Saudi Arabia is also very striking, not least in the biggest cities of Jeddah and Riyadh, the latter of which is the Kingdom’s capital. These strikingly modern cities really encapsulate what modern day Saudi Arabia is all about – a country rocketing in to the 21st century but one that stays true to its rich cultural heritage and history. Elegant skyscrapers sit next to traditional accommodation quarters and expensive boutiques aside bustling souqs. The blend of ancient and modern is one of the great allures of visiting these cities which are of course home to world class hotels. With outstanding diving to be enjoyed along the coastline of the Red Sea, it offers a huge range of holiday experiences to delight even the most seasoned of traveller.
No doubt Saudi Arabia may not be the most immediately appealing of travel destinations, but scratch beneath the service and leave incorrect misconceptions behind and you will find a truly remarkable travel destination, as yet untouched by mass tourism and a destination to genuinely savour.
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