Saudi Arabia: The Emerging Tourist Destination
Saudi Arabia has long been known for its oil reserves and questionable human rights record, but rarely as a vacation destination for American travelers. However, all that is changing. According to the World Tourism Organization, Saudi Arabia is the world’s second-fastest-growing tourism destination, having exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023. In 2022, 16.6 million tourists visited Saudi Arabia. What is driving this newfound interest in Saudi Arabia? Here are 5 reasons why it is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world:
A Rich Cultural Heritage
Saudi Arabia’s distinct cultural heritage has been shaped by many influences, including its Islamic heritage and Bedouin traditions. There are six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Saudi Arabia, making it ideal for visitors to learn about the historical and cultural aspects of the country’s past. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the ancient city of Al-Ula, which boasts ruined structures, rock formations, and pre-Islamic tombs, among other sights.
Islam’s two holiest sites — Mecca and Medina — are located in Saudi Arabia. Every year, around two million Muslims make the Hajj, a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca. For non-Muslims, visiting the holy sites can also be an eye-opening and spiritual experience. Before visiting, make sure to study the local customs and dress code.
Saudi Arabia’s skyline is a mix of modern and traditional architecture, with the former being a dominant force in the country’s development plan. The Kingdom has invested heavily in modern infrastructure such as airports, roads, and luxury hotels. Many of these buildings are feats of engineering, such as the Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, set to be the tallest building in the world when it is completed.
If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, Saudi Arabia has plenty to offer. Hiking enthusiasts can explore the terrain of Mount Athlab, located to the north of Mecca. Meanwhile, diving enthusiasts can dive into the Red Sea, home to some of the most diverse marine life on the planet. Also, don’t miss Wadi Rum, a desert valley in the south of the country where visitors have the chance to go on a 4×4 desert safari, ride camels, and even camp under the stars.
Entertainment and sports venues have taken root all over Saudi Arabia, making it a hub for cultural events, concerts, and festivals. In Riyadh, Winter Wonderland, the world’s largest traveling amusement park, has halted in recent years, while in the coastal city of Jeddah, the Jeddah Season has brought a series of world-class performances and festivals to the Red Sea coast.
In conclusion, although Saudi Arabia is not without its challenges, the opening up of the country’s tourist industry has given visitors a chance to experience its rich historical and cultural heritage, along with a range of modern amenities and entertainment options. This emerging tourist destination in the Middle East is worth a trip.
1) Can women travel to Saudi Arabia?
Yes, women can travel to Saudi Arabia, but there are specific guidelines that women must follow, such as wearing abayas when in public. Non-Muslim women are not required to observe the hijab, but it is still recommended.
2) What is the best time to visit Saudi Arabia?
The best time to visit Saudi Arabia is between November and early March when temperatures are mild, making outdoor activities and sightseeing more comfortable.
3) Do tourists need a visa to visit Saudi Arabia?
Yes, tourists need to get a tourist visa before entering Saudi Arabia. This can be done online or at a Saudi embassy or consulate.
4) Is it safe to travel to Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is generally safe for tourists, but it is always important to take precautions, especially when visiting religious sites, as the country is a conservative Muslim nation.
5) What currency is used in Saudi Arabia?
The currency used in Saudi Arabia is the Saudi riyal (SAR).