Tourism in Saudi Arabia: would YOU want to visit?

Some countries in the world do lead themselves to mass tourism. Even experienced travellers do not usually mention Saudi Arabia as a viable place to spend a week, despite Jeddah on the west coast being a place of natural beauty by the sea. So what exactly are the issues that put people off from visiting this strict Muslim country?

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Up until the middle of 2016, it was extremely unlikely you could get a tourist visa to enter Saudi Arabia, yet since then there has been more an effort made to entice foreign visitors. I haven’t been to Saudi Arabia myself, but I know friends who have been recently. These friends were not too impressed with the tourist infrastructure, and aside from some beach relaxation in Jeddah (remember to cover up, girls!), there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of interesting spots to visit.

riyadh

riyadh3

One thing people love to do in Saudi Arabia is go shopping. You can find many international brands in the glitzy shopping malls here, and obviously the locals have a lot of money to spend. Saudi Arabia is a very oil-rich country, and the residents (nor expats) do not pay income tax, so they keep whatever they earn. As such, you may be surprised by the quality of life some Saudis have – and the amount of shopping (bargaining) the men will do to get what they want in the marketplace!

A busy lunchtime in Riyadh
A busy lunchtime in Riyadh

I love to travel for food, and while overall I am not too impressed with Saudi cuisine (I prefer Moroccan, Turkish, and Egyptian cuisines from this part of the world) there are still some local dishes that tourists should try, even if it’s only in their hotel rather than a restaurant on the street. You won’t find any pork in Saudi Arabia, but chicken, lamb, and mutton can be found on every street corner. Chicken Kabsa is the national dish of Saudi Arabia, although it is also eaten in other Arabic countries. Kabsa is a mixed rice dish, also containing vegetables, spices, and of course the meat of your hosts’ choice. As far as fast food in concerned, you can still see many famous international brands in Saudi Arabia (especially in Riyadh), although it may take time to adjust to the queuing customs…

A Saudi worker cleaning up the bloody mess after another public execution in Chop Chop Square
A worker cleaning up the bloody mess after another public execution in Riyadh’s “Chop Chop Square”

Considering Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record, there may some moral issues that stop you from visiting this significant country of the Middle-East. Women are routinely stoned to death here for such minor “crimes” as having sex outside of marriage. There are also reports that women unfortunate enough to be raped are also “punished” by death by stoning. In the capital, Riyadh, there is an infamous spot called Deera Square (colloquially known as “Chop Chop Square”), where public executions take place, usually with an executioner beheading the condemned in front of a rapturous crowd egging him on. This is not vigilante stuff, but actually sanctioned by the Saudi Government, and as a tourist it is not uncommon to stumble upon such proceedings. Morbidly, some people even film the event and stick it on YouTube.

riyadh2

Overall, I am told the people of Saudi Arabia are extremely friendly, and their wealth (of some people, not all) allows them a certain lax attitude that you don’t normally see in this region. However, international tourists – especially women – need to educate themselves of the rules and regulations here, as even by Muslim standards, Saudi Arabia is a very strict country, where even if you are indeed issued a tourist visa, it could only be the very first step to survival…

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8 thoughts on “Tourism in Saudi Arabia: would YOU want to visit?

  1. Hi Lee;

    For four years I was in Saudi working.

    If you are concern about human rights, this is not the place !!!

    It is hard to see a friendly Saudis … because they have a mentality of superiority !!!

    I don’t think they have much to offer for tourism, as they don’t care or preserved any historic places (or they don’t have cultures??)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lee!

    Well, except for religious tourism [umrah and hajj], I do not think Saudi Arabia is really a place for leisurely travel.

    As mentioned by the commenter above, many heritage buildings were torn down by the authorities including some pre-Islamic and even Islamic heritage. Reason being, they adopted a strict interpretation of Islam called as Wahabi.

    According to Wahabis, whatever things or practices which existed after Prophet Mohammad had passed away are blasphemous and should be eliminated. The same applies to heritage sites where they believed that religious sites might be misused for blasphemous acts.

    Apart from that, women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia which could be a hassle if a woman traveler wanted to travel there.

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  3. Taking pictures can really be difficult in Saudi. It would be very disappointing to come here and leave without pictures. 🙂 Plus, ladies will have a hard time to roam around. They need a male relative escort to drive them or taxi which is very risky. 🙂

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