Saudi Arabia may have opened its doors to tourists several years ago, but despite its readiness to welcome the outside world, it remains shrouded in mystery. The country recently ramped up its tourism campaign, hoping to demystify the mystique that has evolved throughout its history. But, with such a young tourism industry, curious family travelers may benefit from some pro tips to prepare for their visit.
To experience Saudi Arabia’s stunning landscape, cultural identity and incredible history, start with obtaining visas for you and your family. These are valid for a one-year period and allow you to stay in the country for up to 90 days. In order for a child under the age of 18 to get one, their parent must be approved first. While you can apply for your visa upon arrival, it is best to do the legwork ahead of time and apply online through eVisa.
Take note of Saudi Arabia’s strict religious customs, such as avoiding public displays of affection and dressing with modesty. While tourists are not required to follow a specific dress code (meaning women don’t have to wear an abaya or cover their hair), they should dress modestly and cover as much as possible, if for no other reason than to respect the local culture.
These customs also impact other areas of daily life. Depending on where you go, you may find public buildings with separate entrances for women or separate times when women can enter. There are also parts of the country where, despite having a visa, tourists are strictly forbidden from entering. The holy city of Mecca, for example, is only accessible to Muslim tourists.
Familiarize yourself with local laws before your visit as they are strict and punishment can be swift and severe, depending on the offense. Drugs and alcohol, along with pork, are prohibited without exception, and any type of non-Muslim preaching or anti-government activity is not tolerated.
Armed with a little knowledge, you can enjoy a trip of a lifetime as you explore the country’s beauty and culture, with adventures like discovering the Empty Quarter or visiting an ancient UNESCO World Heritage site. Don’t forget to plan some time for shopping in the gold souks and swimming in the Red Sea!
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