13 days ,
Kind of travel:
10days in Nov'11 and 3 days in Sept'14
Do I need a visa:
Oh my god!
really forget getting a tourist visa, so business is your option
(unless you opt for pilgrimage one).
Don't expect a straightforward process, both times I applied
for it by consulate in Milan it turned out a pain in the ass
and I got rejected twice for silly bugs in the documentation.
Overall it took 2 months
How I moved:
From Riyadh to Jeddah by plane, from Jeddah to Taif by bus and
around the cities by taxi.
Freezing or baking:
In September it's still very hot and humid in Jeddah, while
mid Nov it's ideal since you won't need even a sweater.
Where I slept:
I was there for business so I experienced the high KSA hotel
standards (Hilton ), whose ratio quality (medium-high)/price
(150€ for a single) according to me it's not worth.
What I liked:
it's really another world whose charm, you agree or not, is
his uniqueness: segregation between male and female, the Islamic
laws, the religious police (Muttawa)... Then the complete lack
of tourists will make you feel an explorator and the country
is likely the safest in the world where people (men) are very
relaxed interacting woth you. As highlight Jeddah old town (Al-Balad)
at sunset during prayer time has a special vibe.
What I disliked:
Getting the visa has been a nightmare. No major ighlights.
You might find not at ease all the time you'll do whatever involving
the presence of females.
Why the hell am I not allowed in Mecca?
How much daily:
hard to say when travelling for business, in general don't expect
a cheap place this is mainly do to the fact you hardly manage
to backpack there.
What you do need:
Be aware of the Islamic rules in particular avoid any interaction
with women (even sitting near them on the bus)
First of all I'm wondering how you could get
into Saudi unless for business or if you are a muslim pilgrim.
In the latter case you won't be reading this report, while
in the former it won't be your choise to go or not: so it's
a nonsense to discuss about being worth to travel there.
For sure it's hard you will be really enthusiastic of a travel
in Saudi: the reason might be the few highlights of the country,
the hassle to get the visa or such strict rules that even
to the most opened minded western seem just a meanigless lack
I am not saying that there's nothing interesting in Saudi
(the fourth empty desert, the mosques, the islamic architecture,
the welcoming inhabitants....), but you can experience the
same in neighbouring countries like Oman without all such
TRAVEL IN KSA
Once landed in Jeddah, as it hadn't been enough
pain to get the visa in Italy, also to have it stamped turned
out a sore. In fact due to the introduction of the bio metric
recognition (eye reading, fingerprints...), I had to queue hours
to pass tje immigration. And finally I could touch the KSA soil!!
(no I didn't kiss it, religious police might have not appreciated!).
Hilton Hotel (30min by taxi) is high end hotel (150$ single
room per night), but far from the city center (30min by taxi).
On the other hand it's conveniently positioned on the promenade
where it's a pleasure to have a walk. Right the boulevards along
the promenade are curiosly dotted with several contemporary
art big installations, the last thing I expected to see in Saudi
honestly, but it's worth to have a look if you are around.
Since you shouldn't forget I was in Saudi for business, I spent
my days travelling by taxi and meeting people. Anyhow I didn't
miss the opportunity to have some sight-seen in the week end.
As concern moving around, if on one hand it's tough to enter
the country, on the other, once inside, it's possible to travel
without any issue; you will be 100% safe, despite feeling, in
particular on the public means of transport, an alien.
Since Lonely Planet was claiming it to be an highlight I visited
the town of Taif , 3h by bus from Jeddah , I was supposed to
see a rose-perfume factory. Not only I didn't find anything,
but also the town itself is quite unremarkable and the trip
to get there undescriptive. While up side it has been to meet
and chat with some Sasdis on the way: I remember my seatmate
on the bus writing on his cellphone he was not a good Muslim,
but he was scared to say because he was sure the guys behind
us could sue him to the Muttawa (religious police).
Definitely more interesting than Tiaf turned Jeddah old town
(Al-Balad). First of all it's quite unique in KSA since there's
nothing similar to that in Riyad. Expect a very run down place
(at the end it's his beauty) with narrow streets characterized
by the typical closed wooden balcones, from which women can
see outside without being seen.
The place is very lively in particular when the Suq (market)
is taking place, but when it's prayer times (30min, 4 times
per day) everything stops and the atmosphere get unreal. You'll
be the only non-Muslim walking there, so pay attention to your
outfit (no shorts!).
There aren't real highlights (beside a small old house), anyway
his charm is to poke around, in particular in the prayer time
If you are looking for an highlight you can reach 20min from
taxi from Al Balad the King Fahd's Foutain: it's a fountain
jet watering to 300m height, ranking as the highest in the world.
Go there in the evening, since lit it's more scenic and in the
morning it might be off.
If world record stuffs is your thing, don't miss the Saudi Flagpole
in Jeddah: it is the tallest flagpole in the world since 2014
and its 570kg heavy and 50m long flag is huge. Amazingly I had
the chance to be there exactly the day the flag was unfurled:
the National day in Saudi Arabia, the 23rd Sept 2014.
Second leg of the trip was Riyadh, reached by in 1h flight.
The capital it's very different from Jeddah, since while the
latter is characterized by old houses with wooden balconies,
the former by high-tech skyscrapers. In particular I got impressed
by two of them: the 'necklace like one' (The Kingdome center)
and the one with the ball on top (Al Faisaliyah Center). Both
of them you can climb up and enjoy the view eating on at the
restaurant (if your wallet affords).
The center of Riyadh definitely is worth a visit given few interesting
highlights: fist of all the well preserved Masmak fortress (a
mud citadel symbol of the city). Then in the very nearby there's
the Deera Square , a public space, in which public executions
(usually by beheading) take place. It is sometimes known as
Justice Square or Chop Chop Square. After Friday prayers, police
and other officials clear the area to make way for the execution
to take place. After the beheading of the condemned, the head
is stitched to the body and the body is wrapped up for the final
rites and taken away. I didn't attend and I don't think you'll
be allowed, but you can always try.
After have a look from outside to the superpolished Imam Turki
Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque, anyway according to me the unmissable
highlight is the National Museum of Saudi Arabia. You will get
an unique insight on the KSA history (depiste a biased point
of view), in a well organised set up.
Finally the last evening I struggled for the dinner since being
with a female colleague of mine: we got rejected by the normal
restaurants till we found one with the family section: here
we enjoyed a delicious camel baby, a typical Saudi dish.