The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia receives hundreds of thousands of
visitors each year, but few enter as tourists. This conservative
country connecting Africa and mainland Asia contains the spiritual
centre of the Islamic world, Mecca, and the sacred city of Medina,
so most of the visitors are pilgrims, permitted on special
Others come to this oil-rich nation on sponsored business trips,
generally finding little time or facility for leisure and pleasure.
Saudi Arabia is intent on keeping its traditions, culture and
religious heritage away from prying western eyes. Its cities,
however, are not backwaters but modern, bustling commercial
centres, like the Royal capital, Riyadh, offering excellent hotels
and some breathtaking sights such as the Al Faisaliah golden
geodesic dome, one of the tallest buildings in the region.
Amongst it all, the magic of Arabia shines through in the souks
(markets) where vendors tout everything from carpets to camel milk.
Rules and regulations make sightseeing difficult for foreigners
except on a few approved and expensive tours, but sites like the
ruins of 15th-century Dir'aiyah (the nation's first capital) and
trips to the world's largest camel market make for interesting
excursions. The preserved ancient city of Jeddah is also listed as
a 'tourist site', as is that city's seafront corniche, a popular
spot with the air of a British seaside resort that draws the
country's own domestic holidaymakers.
Occupying most of the Arabian Peninsula, and bordered by no
fewer than eight Middle-Eastern states, Saudi Arabia manages its
highly-controlled religious society alongside the onslaught of its
progressive oil-boom industry. The kingdom's strategic position
both geographically and culturally at the centre of the Arab world
has made it an unsafe place for westerners, and those who do visit
are advised to plan thoroughly and be fully informed.