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Saudi Arabia Overview
Historically-rich, steeped in culture, and bursting with majestic, ancient landscapes – it’s easy to see why Saudi Arabia is now the second largest tourist destination in the Middle East. Geographically, it’s also the second largest state in the Arab world, sectioned off into 13 provinces that each boast their own enigmatic charm.
Although most of Saudi Arabia’s land mass consists of barren mountains and arid deserts, glitzy cities have developed throughout the nation. This is largely due to Saudi Arabia being the largest oil producer in the world, which heavily contributes to the country’s economy. From the buzzing energy of Riyadh, the royal capital of the nation, to the cosmopolitan city of Jeddah, which sits on the coast of the Red Sea, these dynamic cities are bursting with glamor and luxury. You’ll find some of the finest restaurants in the Middle East here, contrasting with the traditional cafes loved by locals. Shopping is also a popular pastime in these areas, with everything from bustling, historic souks to towering, gleaming malls packed with international brand names.
Step away from the cities and you’ll be entranced by the country’s culturally-rich offerings. Saudi Arabia is home to two of the holiest places in the Islamic religion, with its spiritual heritage bringing in millions of tourists each year. Many of the social conventions in the nation are based on Islam, and new tourists are always advised to read up on cultural etiquette before their first visit.
While Saudi Arabia is known for being one of the driest countries in the world, there are still many oases scattered through the desert landscapes. These areas have permanent water sources beneath the ground, enabling lush vegetation to thrive. The palm trees and lava fields of Khaybar are one example, while the Al Ahsa Oasis, which is the largest and most fertile in the country, has developed into a lively city, and is also the only city in the Gulf to enjoy UNESCO World Heritage status.
There are several other World Heritage Sites dotted throughout the country, from the Al-Hijr Archaeological Site, which can be traced back to the 1st century BC, to the rock art in the Hail region, which depicts more than 10,000 years of history. The ancient salt mines in Abqaiq are worth seeing too – dating back over 5000 years, these mines are still in use today. Fascinating historical settlements can also be seen on Tarut Island, home to traditional weavers and fishermen, as well as the oldest town on the peninsula.
Adrenaline-seekers will appreciate the sheer variety of unique activities available in Saudi Arabia. Try your hand at camel riding, enjoy a range of watersports at the Obhir Creek, or drive one of the thrilling, off-road trails around the sand dunes. For wildlife encounters, the Asir region is the place to go – if you’re lucky, you’ll spot gazelles, baboons, and even elusive leopards. Saudi Arabia is truly packed with so many incredible treasures – you will soon realize this for yourself after your first visit, and this will be enough to draw you back time and time again.