Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country that occupies most of the Arabian peninsula and has both Persian Gulf and Red Sea coast lines. Its surrounding countries are Jordan to the northwest, Iraq to the northeast, Kuwait and Qatar to the east, United Arab Emirates to the south east, Oman and Yemen to the south.
Saudi Arabia contains the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina, to which all physically and financially able Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage at least once if possible.
|Corniche, Saudi Arabia|
People tend to think of Saudi Arabia as an expanse of scorchingly hot desert punctuated with oil wells, and for most of the time in most of the country, they would be absolutely right. From May to September, the central areas of the country (basically everything except the coasts) bake in temperatures that average 42°C and regularly exceed 50°C in the shade. In July and August, in particular, all who can flee the country and work slows down to a crawl. The coasts, on the other hand, are moderated by the sea, which usually keeps temperatures below 38°C — but at the price of extreme humidity (85-100%), which may even be more uncomfortable than the dry heat of the interior, especially at night. Only the elevated mountainous regions stay cool(er), with the unofficial summer capital of Taif rarely topping 35°C and the mountaineous Asir region cooler yet.
In winter, though, it's a surprisingly different story. Daytime highs in Riyadh in December average only 7°C, and temperatures can easily fall below zero at night, occasionally even resulting in a sprinkling of snow in the southern mountains. The winter is also the only season when it rains at all in most of the country, although in many years this is limited to one or two torrential outbursts. In the south, though, this pattern is reversed, with most rain falling during the Indian Ocean's monsoon season between May and October.
Entertainment in Saudi Arabia is very family-oriented. There are few activities for just couples or singles. Single men are not allowed in family areas. Family beaches are partitioned from the bachelor beaches, for example. Women are expected to be accompanied by a male relative in public.
Desert excursions are particularly popular with the native Arabs. There are few desert dune bashing tour operators, if any, but ATV rentals are often found along the roadside on the outskirts of major cities and expats often arrange convoy trips into the desert. The Empty Quarter has the most awesome scenery — and requires the most preparation.
Scuba diving is popular on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast. Jeddah has a number of dive operators.
Amusement parks (many of them indoor) are often found near malls or beaches. Many large cities have public parks and small zoos. Horseback riding, camel riding, etc. are also available at horse-racing tracks and some popular beaches. Many upscale hotels provide light activities (especially hotels located along the beaches).
Movie theatres are banned in the Kingdom, but DVD shops abound, although the selections are often tame and/or censored. Satellite TV and downloading entertainment from the Internet is thus very popular.
The FCO advises that terrorist activity, particularly targeting Westerners, is a continuing concern in Saudi Arabia: it’s prudent to look up the latest advice on its website before planning travel.
Women should cover up while in public, see the Iran Dress section for more details. Men, too, should be modestly dressed at all times.
Islamic law is strictly enforced in Saudi Arabia. Homosexuality, adultery and importing drugs all carry the death penalty. Be sure to have copies of the prescriptions with you for any medications you are bringing into the country. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed, by law, to drive a car.
Segregation of men and women is strict. Women can only sit in the family area in restaurants, and museums have special women-only hours.
Eating & drinking
It’s not permitted to import alcohol or pork products into the country, nor will you be able to drink alcohol while there.