Maybe you’ve heard that Saudi Arabia will be offering tourist visas starting in 2018 (CNN Money link). Are you interested in going? For those country counters (and I consider myself one to some degree, currently at 56), this is an opportunity to visit a country that was previous difficult at best to visit as a tourist. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Kingdom twice this year on business trips. Obviously my trips are somewhat different from a tourist would experience. Plus Riyadh isn’t exactly an exotic tourist destination, rather just a big city with countless western chain restaurants.
More info: Visiting Saudi Arabia, Better than Expected
Is Saudi Arabia Worth Visiting?
I’m of the opinion that any place is worth seeing once, and especially a country this large with so much history and a lot of diversity of terrain. Saudi Arabia is a modern country, at least in cities, but culturally it is obviously quite unique. For me, some of the most intriguing places (Mecca/Makkah and Medina) are off-limits to me as a non-Muslim. Please see Omar’s excellent review of his visit to Mecca to perform Hajj from earlier this year.
Food wise, I really enjoy Middle Eastern food, and despite a ton of fast food and junk food options, there are also lots of tasty options. Unlike western cultures where alcohol is often a part of hospitality, in a dry country, food plays an even larger part of warm culture of hospitality. Like many places in the Gulf, there are lots of expats, bringing their food with them from home. Falafel, Shawarma, plus some great Persian and Indian food all come to mind as my more memorable meals. Now I’m hungry.
I’ve only visited Riyadh, but still, I don’t have much desire to return as a tourist. Part of that is just the desire to visit a new place. Then again, I am somewhat tempted by Jeddah, and I’d love to Scuba dive in the Red Sea from the Saudi side, which is relatively pristine. Since there isn’t much tourism in country, there isn’t much infrastructure, but that should change as the country opens up. There are new hotels being built all the time, including the nice Hyatt Regency Riyadh where I stayed. Then again apparently I was at risk of losing my credit card data.
What about Female Tavelers?
I’m certainly not an expert on female travel, but still, I would not recommend Saudi to non-Muslim women travelers. It seems like driving privileges are coming, along with many other reforms. As things stand now, solo travel for females isn’t an option, since women must travel with a male relative/chaperone. All women must wear an Abaya in public, at least in mixed gender locations. Generally muslim women must cover their heads, usually with a hijab. More information on Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia available here.
Nothing opens people’s eyes like travel to explore new cultures and new people, so more opportunities to explore Saudi Arabia is a good thing. I think for people on both sides. It is a unique place, and with some caveats mentioned above, I’d certainly recommend it for those looking for a new place to visit. I suggest you come hungry.