As more and more travelers recognize the beauty of Saudi Arabia, the interest in visiting the country is growing. Here, culture and religion are the most important things, which means that it is essential to understand them prior to arriving so that you can thoroughly enjoy your trip.
If you are heading over to that part of the world soon, here are four ways to make the most of your visit to Saudi Arabia.
One of the best ways to prepare for a trip to Saudi Arabia is to spend some time reading the authors who have captured elements of the country through their words.
First on your reading list should be “Cities of Salt” by Abdul Rahman Munif which describes the radical transformation that the discovery of oil has created on the lives of the locals.
For a contemporary issue, read “Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening” by Manal al-Sharif which is an autobiographical account detailing the battles that the women of Saudi Arabia have tackled in order to be able to drive. It has only been a few months since the ban on women driving was lifted, so this book is as timely as it gets.
Presumably, one of the reasons you have opted to travel to Saudi Arabia is because you are interested in learning about another culture and experiencing a different way of life. For this reason, before you arrive in Saudi Arabia, you should take the time to learn about local customs thoroughly. This will help to ensure that you remain safe and respectful while traveling.
Keep in mind that women are not allowed to travel alone, and women aren’t allowed to enter particular establishments. Furthermore, there may be locations with separate entrances for men and women. If you opt to stay in a hotel in Makkah near the Haram, you are have the opportunity to witness the special beauty and abundant culture of the place.
As a woman, when in public, you should wear an abaya which is a full-length garment that covers your outfit. You aren’t required to wear a headscarf, but it is a sign of respect.
As a man, when in public, you should wear full-length trousers and shirts with sleeves (short sleeves are okay).
Other local customs include shaking hands when both greeting and saying goodbye to someone. Unlike Europeans, citizens of Saudi Arabia do not kiss while greeting each other. However, Saudis do tend to stand very close when talking, so be aware of this and don’t move away — that will be taken as an insult!
Generally, the traveling types are also the photograph-taking types, but in Saudi Arabia, this may prove slightly challenging. While the country is opening up more and more to tourists and visitors, they still aren’t comfortable with things inside their border being photographed.
You are not allowed to take photographs of government buildings or high-traffic locations (such as mosques and markets). Additionally, if you are caught snapping pictures of locals, this can also get you in a significant amount of trouble.
Saudi Arabia has a long history of excellent cuisine and trying as much of it as possible should be a priority during your time in the country. No matter where in the country you are going, you will be able to find incredible food as Saudis pride themselves on their cultural dishes.
So that you can hit the ground running (or tasting) as soon as you arrive, you should do some research before your trip to discern what dishes you don’t want to miss.
Whether you are looking for places to eat in Makkah, Madinah or Jeddah, you are going to be in for a treat. Opt to order dishes such as Fatir (flatbread), Kapsa (chicken and rice) and a Laban Drink (yogurt drink). Usually, all Saudis drink a lot of coffee and refusing a cup of it is presumed to insult.
Additionally, tipping is practiced in Saudi Arabia. Locals tend to recommend tipping around 10 percent for waiters, drivers, and other service professionals.
Are you considering a trip to Saudi Arabia? What intrigues you about the country? Let us start a conversation thread in the comments below!
Ali Ozbay is the Director of Marketing for Shaza Hotels. The 5-star Shaza Hotel in Al Madina combines sophistication and location in effortless style, with each suite being, by intention, an emphatic expression of generous warmth and Eastern hospitality.