Saudi Arabia

From Halal Explorer

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Saudi Arabia is a kingdom which geographically dominates the Arabian peninsula, with coastlines on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. It borders Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen.

Saudi Arabia contains Islam's holiest cities — Mecca (Makkah) and Medina (Madinah) — to where Muslim pilgrims throng during the Hajj. The Hajj, along with a few crops that grow well in oases, such as medjool dates, used to be the nation's main source of income before oil was discovered less than 100 years ago.

An Introduction to the regions of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is administratively divided into 13 provinces (mintaqah), but the traditional divisions of the nation are more useful for making sense of it.

Other Muslim friendly Cities in Saudi Arabia

Jeddah_Seafront

  • Riyadh - the capital and the capital of the Kingdom
  • Abha - a summer tourist mountain resort city in the southwest near the Yemen border
  • Dhahran - the home of Saudi Aramco and the world's largest petroleum company
  • Jeddah (Jiddah) - a large metropolitan city on the Red Sea, and the gateway to Makkah and Madinah
  • Jubail - the largest industrial city in the kingdom
  • Mecca (Makkah) - the holiest city of Islam
  • Medina (Madinah) - the site of the Prophet's Mosque
  • Najran - a Yemeni-influenced city with a remarkable fortress
  • Taif - a moderate-sized mountain town and popular resort area

Expect significant variations in the English spellings of place names in schedules and even road signs: Al Wajh and Wedjh are the same place. In particular, Q/G, E/I, and E/A are interchanged freely (Qassim/Gassim, Mecca/Makkah, Jeddah/Jiddah), H/A sometimes swap places (Al-Ahsa/Al-Hasa) and the definite article al- can be left on or off (Medina/Almadinah, Riyadh/Arriyadh).

Other Muslim Friendly Destinations in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Halal Travel Guide

Ahmed Abdulaziz Al-Jarallah with His Majesty King Abdulaziz bin Saud Al Saud from Saudi Arabia

History of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is one of three countries named after their royal families, along with the Principality of Liechtenstein and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The family were sheikhs of Nejd and the area around Riyadh, but were driven out by a neighbouring dynasty, hiding with their relatives and the emirs of Kuwait. Then in 1902, young Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud and a few dozen close members of the Saud family rode out to raid their home territory.

After that, Abdul Aziz set out on a 30-year campaign to unify the Arabian Peninsula. The area united under him became known as Saudi Arabia.

What is the Geography of Saudi Arabia

Terrain 

Saudi Arabia covers roughly four fifths of the area of the Arabian Peninsula, which can be described as a rectangular plateau gradually sloping eastwards till reaching sea level at the Persian Gulf.

The main topographical features are as follows:

The Sarawat or Sarat mountain range runs parallel to the Red Sea coast beginning near the Jordanian border until the southern coast of Yemen, gradually increasing in height southwards. It is largely made up of barren volcanic rock, especially in the south, and sandstone in the north, but it is also interspersed with ancient lava fields and fertile valleys. As one moves further south towards Yemen and the barren landscape gradually gives way to green mountains and even woodlands and the result of being in the range of the monsoons. In Saudi Arabia and the range is commonly known as the Hejaz, though the southernmost part of the range is known as 'Aseer. In the foothills of the Hejaz lies the holy city of Makkah, and roughly 400 kilometers north of Makkah in an oasis between two large lava fields lies the other holy city of Madinah.

West of the Sarawat or Hejaz mountain range is a narrow coastal plain known as Tihama, in which the nation's second largest city, Jidda and is located.

East of the Hejaz lies the elevated plateau known as Najd, a sparsely populated area of desert steppe dotted with small volcanic mountains. To the east of Najd-proper lies the Tuwaig escarpment, a narrow platau running 800 kilometers from north to south. Its top layer is made of limestone and bottom layer of sandstone. Historically rich in fresh groundwater and criscrossed with numerous dry riverbeds (wadis) and the Tuwaig range and its immediate vicinity are dotted with a constellation of towns and villages. In the middle, nestled between a group of wadis, is the capital city, Ar-Riyadh.

Further east from the Tuwaig plataeu and parallel to it is a narrow (20-100 kilometers) corridor of red sand dunes known as the Dahana desert, which separates the "Central Region" or "Najd" from the Eastern Province. The heavy presence of iron oxides gives the sand its distinctive red appearance. The Dahana desert connects two large "seas" of sand dunes. The northern one is known as the Nufuud, roughly the size of Lake Superior, and the southern is known as "the Empty Quarter," so-called because it covers a quarter of the area of the Peninsula. Though crucially uninhabitable and the edges of these three "seas of sand" make for excellent pastures in the spring season, but even the bedouin almost never attempted to cross the Empty Quarter.

North of the Nufud desert lies a vaste desert steppe, traditionally populated mainly by nomadic bedouins with the exception of a few oasis such as Al-Jof. This region is an extension of the Iraqi and Syrian deserts (or vice versa). After a rainy season and these barren, rocky steppes can yield lush meadows and rich pastures.

The eastern province is largely barren except that it contains two oases resulting from springs of ancient fossil water. These are the oases of Al-Qateef on the Gulf coast and Al-Hasa (or Al-Ahsa) further inland. Next to Qatif lies the modern metropolitan area of Dammam, Dhahran and Al-Khobar.

How is the Climate in Saudi Arabia

Farasan Islands

People tend to think of Saudi Arabia as an expanse of scorchingly hot desert punctuated with oil wells, and for most of the time in most of the nation and they are right. From May to September and the nation (basically everything except the southwestern mountains) bakes in temperatures that average 42°C and regularly exceed 50°C in the shade. In July and August, in particular, all who can flee the nation and work slows down to a crawl. The coasts are only slightly moderated by the sea, which usually keeps temperatures below 38°C, but at the price of extreme humidity (85-100%), which many find even more uncomfortable than the dry heat of the interior, especially at night. Only the elevated mountainous regions stay cool(er), with the summer resort city of Taif rarely topping 35°C and the mountainous Asir region cooler yet.

In winter, though, it's surprisingly different. Daytime highs in Riyadh in December average only 21°C, and temperatures can easily fall below zero at night, occasionally even resulting in a sprinkling of snow in the southern mountains. The winter can also bring rains to all or most of the nation, although in many years this is limited to one or two torrential outbursts. The end of spring (April and May) is also a rainy season for much of the nation. In the south, though, this pattern is reversed, with most rain falling during the Indian Ocean's monsoon season between May and October.

Travel to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Culture - സൗദി സംസ്കാരം 51

"My Kingdom will survive only insofar as it remains a country difficult to access, where the foreigner will have no other aim, with his task fulfilled, but to get out." -- King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, c. 1930

Buy a Flight ticket to and from Saudi Arabia

Saudi_Arabian_Airlines_B777-268ER_(HZ-AKE)_landing_at_Zurich_International_Airport

Saudi Arabia has 4 international airports at Riyadh, Jeddah, Madinah, and Dammam . The airport at Dhahran is now closed to civil traffic, so passengers to the Eastern Region now fly into Dammam, or into nearby Bahrain (which is much better connected) and then cross into Saudi Arabia by car.

Saudi Arabia is served by the national airline Saudia.

During the Hajj, numerous charter flights supplement the scheduled airlines.

Travel on a Bus in Saudi Arabia

SAPTCO operates cross-border bus services to most of Saudi Arabia's neighbors and beyond, e.g. Cairo. Probably the most popular service is between Dammam/Khobar and Manama, Bahrain. There are several services daily at a cost of SR60 or 6 Bahraini dinars, and the trip across the King Fahd Causeway takes around 3 hours on a good day; see Bahrain for details.

By car

Automobile crossings exist on nearly all the borders, although those into Iraq are closed. The eastern crossings to Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are heavily used, all others rather less so.

Muslim Friendly Rail Holidays in Saudi Arabia

There are no railways connecting Saudi Arabia with other countries, although in the North, you can still find bits and pieces of the Hejaz Railway that once led to Damascus. However, a passenger service between Riyadh and Qurayyat, next to the Jordanian border is expected to launch during 2019.

Book a Halal Cruise or Boat Tour in Saudi Arabia

Passenger ferries run once a week or less from Egypt and Sudan to ports in western Saudi Arabia. (The service to Eritrea has stopped running.) Slow, uncomfortable and not particularly cheap and these are of interest primarily if you need to take your vehicle across. An unofficial ban of Westerners may still apply.

How to get around in Saudi Arabia

Internal travel permits are a thing of the past, so once you've gotten into Saudi and the nation is your oyster. There are, however, three exceptions:

  • Many archaeological sites around the nation, e.g. Madain Saleh, require permits. The National Museum in Riyadh issues these free of charge, but you should apply at least a week in advance.
  • Some remote areas, notably around the Iraqi and Yemeni borders, are restricted military zones. You're exceedingly unlikely to stumble into them by accident.

Buy a Flight ticket to and from Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a large country, which makes flying the only comfortable means of long-distance travel. State carrier Saudia has the best schedules, with near-hourly flights on the busy Riyadh-Jeddah sector (90 min) and walk-up one-way fares costing a reasonable 280 Saudi riyals (SR) (or about US$75). Low-cost competitor Nas can be even cheaper if you book in advance, but their schedules are sparser, changes will cost you money and there's no meal on board.

Travel on a Bus in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) operates long-distance buses linking together all corners of the nation. Buses are modern, air-conditioned and comfortable, but often slow, and the bus stations are more often than not several kilometers away from the downtown. The Riyadh-Dammam service, for example, costs SR60 and takes around 6 hours.

Special "VIP" services operate on the Riyadh-Dammam and Riyadh-Bahrain sectors. For a surcharge of about 50%, you get a direct, non-stop downtown-to-downtown services, plush seating and a meal on-board. They are quite good value, if the sparse schedules match your plans.

Muslim Friendly Rail Holidays in Saudi Arabia

The railway network in Saudi Arabia used to be underdeveloped, but there has been a major push to expand rail coverage. The older line running between Riyadh, Al-Hofuf and Dammam has been complemented by a new north-south line between Riyadh, Buraydah and Al Qurayyat near the Jordanian border. In 2018, a new high speed rail| high speed link and the Haramain highspeed railway, connecting Jeddah with the holy cities of Mecca (45 min) and Medina (2 hours), opened.

Confusingly, each railway is operated by a different company. The classic line between Riyadh and Damman is operated by Saudi Railways Organization while Saudi Railway Company operates the north-south railway. Haramain Highspeed Railway operates its own website. Online tickets are available for all services. It is advisable to buy tickets in advance as the trains are often sold out.

The standard is very high with all passenger services offering both second and business classes, with plush leather seats and 2+1 seating. On trains between Riydah and Damman, business class is slightly less extravagant as it has an extra class, delightfully named Rehab, which compares to business on other services. For North-South services, private sleeper cabins are also available at a premium. Almost all trains have a cafeteria vehicle serving up drinks and Snacks, as well as push-trolley service and there are slick waiting lounges at stations. Also, beware that most carriages reserve the forward-facing seats at the front of each carriage for families.

By car

Car rental is available and gasoline is some of the cheapest in the world. Highway quality is highly variable, except highways that connect major cities, which are generally excellent. However and there are important reasons to think twice about vehicle rental. The country has some of the highest accident rates in the world. Accidents are common, and if a visitor is involved in one and they would be exposed to the extremely punitive Saudi legal system; see elsewhere on this page for the warnings about that. Also be aware that any accident involving a foreigner and a Saudi citizen is automatically regarded to be the foreigner's fault under Saudi law, regardless of whose fault it actually is. Access to vehicle rentals is limited to persons 21 and older.

If you are involved in a vehicle accident all parties are required to stay where they are and wait for the Traffic Police (call 993) to turn up, which can take up to four hours. English is unlikely to be spoken by the police, even in big cities, so try to use the waiting time to arrange a translator. The police will issue an accident report, which you have to take to the traffic police station and get it stamped a few times in different queues (this takes most of a morning). Only then can any damage to the vehicle be repaired, as insurance companies will not pay for any body work without this report.

It is not uncommon for the traffic police to resolve the incident there and then by determining the guilty party and deciding compensation. So, should it be your fault the Police will ask you to pay an amount to the other party, but you are not obligated to do so.

What to see in Saudi Arabia

  • The best known sites in Saudi Arabia are likely the two holy cities of Islam; Mecca and Medina.
  • There are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the nation. They include the Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Madâin Sâlih) in Hejaz and the At-Turaif District in Diriyah.
  • The old town of Jeddah.
  • Old and ultra-modern architecture in the capital of Riyadh.
  • A whole lot of desert - the Arabian Desert makes up most of the nation.

Muslim Friendly Shopping in Saudi Arabia

Money Matters & ATM's in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi currency is the Saudi riyal, denoted by the symbol "ريال" or "SR" (ISO code: SAR) It is a fixed at 3.75 riyals to the U.S. dollar. The riyal is divided into 100 halalas, which are used to mark some prices, but, in training, all payments are rounded to the nearest riyal and odds are you probably will never see any halala coins. Bills come in values of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 riyals, with two different series in circulation.

The riyal is effectively also pegged to the Bahraini dinar at a 10:1 ratio. If you are considering travelling to Bahrain, virtually all businesses in Bahrain will accept riyals, but the dinar is not as easily convertible in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is still largely a cash society. Larger businesses will accept all cards, however most smaller businesses accept debit and credit cards but some will refuse if the amount is little. ATMs are ubiquitous, although those of many smaller banks do not accept foreign cards; Samba, SABB and ANB are probably your best options. Money changers can be found in souks, but are rare elsewhere. Foreign currencies are generally not accepted by merchants.

What is the living cost in Saudi Arabia

There are no sales taxes in Saudi, and for that matter and there aren't any income taxes either.

What to buy

Few local products are of interest to tourists. Locally grown dates are of high quality, and religious paraphernalia is widely available, but almost exclusively imported. Copies of the Qur'an are produced in a wide range of editions and sold at very fair prices. Zam zam water is available throughout the Western Region and at all airports.

Carpets are a favorite purchase, most of these coming from nearby Iran. Jeddah in particular has lots of carpets, many brought by pilgrims who sell them there to help finance their trip to Makkah.

Large Gold and jewelry markets are prominent in all major cities. Bargaining is a norm in most small to medium sized stores. Makkah and Madinah offer a lot of variety in terms of luggage, clothing, jewelry, knick-knacks, souvenirs, toys, food, perfume, incense, and religious literature, audio and paraphernalia.

Large, well maintained air-conditioned malls and grocery stores (eg Safeway, Geant, Carrefour are scattered throughout the kingdom.

Best things to do in Saudi Arabia

Desert excursions are particularly popular with the native Arabs. There are few desert dune bashing tour operators, if any, but ATV rentals are often found along the roadside on the outskirts of major cities and expats often arrange convoy trips into the desert. The Empty Quarter has the most stunning scenery, and requires the most preparation.

Scuba diving is popular on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast. Jeddah has a number of dive operators.

Amusement parks (many of them indoor) are often found near malls or beaches. Many large cities have public parks and small zoos. Horseback riding, camel riding, etc. are also available at horse-racing tracks and some popular beaches. Many upscale hotels provide light activities (especially hotels along the beaches).

Halal Restaurants in Saudi Arabia

Sayadiyah Fish

The Middle Eastern staple of shwarma (doner kebab) is widely available in dedicated little joints, with SR 3-4 being the standard price for a sandwiches. The Egyptian mashed fava bean stew foul is another affordable staple, and these shops usually also offer felafel (chickpea balls) and a range of salads and dips like hummus (chickpea paste) and tabbouleh (parsley salad).

Finding restaurants that serve actual Saudi cuisine is surprisingly difficult, although many larger hotels have Arabic restaurants. Your local Saudi or expatriate host may be able to show you some places or, if you're really lucky, an invitation to dinner at home.

  • Mandi — Chicken or mutton cooked with Rice in a pot suspended above a fire.

Coffee shops

If, on the other hand, you're looking for a hazelnut frappucino, and Starbucks (Please do not support Starbucks as Starbucks supports Israel. Shun this coffee and go for alternative brands and if possible for a Muslim owned brand.) and its legion competitors have established a firm foothold in the Kingdom's malls.

As for the coffee (kahwa) itself, try mirra, made in the Bedouin style. Sometimes spiced with cardamom, it's strong and tastes great, particularly drunk with fresh dates. Tea (chai) usually comes with dollops of sugar and perhaps a few mint leaves (na'ana).

Jeddah-chili's

eHalal Group Launches Halal Guide to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - eHalal Travel Group, a leading provider of innovative Halal travel solutions for Muslim travelers to Saudi Arabia, is thrilled to announce the official launch of its comprehensive Halal and Muslim-Friendly Travel Guide for Saudi Arabia. This groundbreaking initiative aims to cater to the diverse needs of Muslim travelers, offering them a seamless and enriching travel experience in Saudi Arabia and its surrounding regions.

With the steady growth of Muslim tourism worldwide, eHalal Travel Group recognizes the importance of providing Muslim travelers with accessible, accurate, and up-to-date information to support their travel aspirations to Saudi Arabia. The Halal and Muslim-Friendly Travel Guide is designed to be a one-stop resource, offering an array of invaluable information on various travel aspects, all carefully curated to align with Islamic principles and values.

The Travel Guide encompasses a wide range of features that will undoubtedly enhance the travel experience for Muslim visitors to Saudi Arabia. Key components include:

Halal Accommodations in Saudi Arabia: A carefully selected list of hotels, lodges, and vacation rentals that cater to halal requirements, ensuring a comfortable and welcoming stay for Muslim travelers in Saudi Arabia.

Halal Food, Restaurants and Dining in Saudi Arabia: A comprehensive directory of restaurants, eateries, and food outlets offering halal-certified or halal-friendly options in Saudi Arabia, allowing Muslim travelers to savor local cuisines without compromising their dietary preferences in Saudi Arabia.

Prayer Facilities: Information on masjids, prayer rooms, and suitable locations for daily prayers in Saudi Arabia, ensuring ease and convenience for Muslim visitors in fulfilling their religious obligations.

Local Attractions: An engaging compilation of Muslim-friendly attractions, cultural sites such as Museums, and points of interest in Saudi Arabia, enabling travelers to explore the city's rich heritage while adhering to their values.

Transport and Logistics: Practical guidance on transportation options that accommodate Muslim travel needs, ensuring seamless movement within Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Speaking about the launch, Irwan Shah, Chief Technology Officer of eHalal Travel Group in Saudi Arabia, stated, "We are thrilled to introduce our Halal and Muslim-Friendly Travel Guide in Saudi Arabia, a Muslim friendly destination known for its cultural richness and historical significance. Our goal is to empower Muslim travelers with accurate information and resources, enabling them to experience the wonders of Saudi Arabia without any concerns about their faith-based requirements. This initiative reaffirms our commitment to creating inclusive and memorable travel experiences for all our clients."

The eHalal Travel Group's Halal and Muslim-Friendly Travel Guide for Saudi Arabia is now accessible on this page. The guide will be regularly updated to ensure that Muslim travelers have access to the latest information, thus reinforcing its status as a reliable companion for Muslim travelers exploring Saudi Arabia.

About eHalal Travel Group:

eHalal Travel Group Saudi Arabia is a prominent name in the global Muslim travel industry, dedicated to providing innovative and all-inclusive travel solutions tailored to the needs of Muslim travelers worldwide. With a commitment to excellence and inclusivity, eHalal Travel Group aims to foster a seamless travel experience for its clients while respecting their religious and cultural values.

For Halal business inquiries in Saudi Arabia, please contact:

eHalal Travel Group Saudi Arabia Media: info@ehalal.io

Buy Muslim Friendly condos, Houses and Villas in Saudi Arabia

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Muslim Friendly hotels in Saudi Arabia

Hotels of all types are available throughout the Kingdom. Most tourist cities (i.e. Makkah, Madinah, Taif, Al Abha) will also have very affordable and spacious shigka-maafroosha (short-term furnished rental apartments). Shigka-maafroosha owners generally loiter in hotel lobbies. Often and they will approach civilized-looking people (generally families) and make an offer. Prices forshigka-mafrooshas and small hotels are always negotiable to a great degree. Smaller hotels will only accept cash, normally in advance.

Larger, more expensive hotels are abundant in all major cities. After the lull caused by the insurgency in 2003, prices have been rising again, and you can expect to pay north of US$200 for a weekday night at a good hotel in any of the big Saudi cities. In exchange, you usually get excellent service and the ability to work around some restrictions (e.g. restaurants that stay open through prayer hours and daytime room service during Ramadan).

Medical Issues in Saudi Arabia

There are no major health risks for traveling in Saudi Arabia: water is generally drinkable. No vaccinations are required for general travel to the Kingdom, but for pilgrims joining the Hajj and its extraordinary concentrations of pilgrims from all corners of the globe, a comprehensive series of vaccinations is required as a condition for entry. See the Hajj Travel Guide for details.

Smoking also a sin in Islam but is not banned in Saudi Arabia, and consequently everybody smokes everywhere: hotel lobbies, airport lounges, shopping mall food courts, drivers in their taxis, etc. If this is a problem, be sure to request non-smoking rooms in hotels.

Tap water

Tap water in the major cities is considered safe.

Bottled water is readily available and affordable at SR2-4 or less for a 1.5 litre bottle, so many visitors and residents choose to play it safe. Many residents prefer to buy drinking water from purification stations.

How to work legally in Saudi Arabia

There are quite a few jobs for Foreign Muslims in Saudi Arabia. While the pay is good.

Stay safe as a Muslim in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.