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Saudi Arabia

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Author elsslots
#1 | Posted: 17 Jul 2016 02:24 | Edited by: elsslots 
I just received this advertisement of a Saudi Group Tour 2017:

Author GaryArndt
#2 | Posted: 18 Jul 2016 01:09 
Hmmmmm. I had an opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia a few years ago, but I couldn't because I had an Israeli stamp in my passport. I have a new passport now and I can finally go.

Author nfmungard
#3 | Posted: 18 Jul 2016 04:06 
5000€ to get into a closed down country ...

To me the more general question here would be if a country like Saudi Arabia should be allowed to submit sites for the list. I do think that a world heritage site should be open to humanity and Saudi Arabia is very much not so.

Obviously, there may be preservation reasons to restrict or prohibit access. And things may change, e.g. Syria used to be accessible. But if at the time of submission the sites are not accessible because you are not allowed entry to the country (5000€ trips don't count) I would argue they shouldn't be inscribed.

Author echwel
#4 | Posted: 18 Jul 2016 13:53 
I would go even further than that. I'd like to see some humanity in the country as a whole before I'll start making travel plans. Just because they are head of some UN human rights panel (scandalous) doesn't mean they care about them. In fact, they probably have the worst record when it comes down to freedoms of minorities. I know that it won't make much of a difference me visiting SA but I guess it's all about principles.

Jee, sometimes I consider myself so lucky that I have only visited 119 sites. There is just so many more sites to tick off before I'll have to worry about getting to the nasty ones...

Author Solivagant
#5 | Posted: 19 Jul 2016 07:07 | Edited by: Solivagant 
I do think that a world heritage site should be open to humanity and Saudi Arabia is very much not so.

I'd like to see some humanity in the country as a whole before I'll start making travel plans.

It was actually much easier for us to get a visa for Saudi Arabia than it now would be to get one for USA following our visit to Iran!!!
How many countries in the world are really morally "pure"? If we limited our travels to such countries we would be hard pushed to travel anywhere!

Author elsslots
#6 | Posted: 19 Jul 2016 07:18 
It was actually much easier for us to get a visa for Saudi Arabia than it now would be to get one for USA following our visit to Iran

It has been easier in the past, but from what I gather since 2010 a tourist visa has been almost impossible to get.

See section 'Get In' at this link:

I do agree with your statement that 'morally pure' would be a hard criterion to follow if you're a serious traveller. I personally do have problems with people who visit North Korea just because of its quirkiness, and I would not visit a country or part of it that is in some kind of hardship (f.e. shortage of food) or in active warfare. For the remaining countries, I believe that interaction with people from abroad at least relieves some of the isolation.

Author Solivagant
#7 | Posted: 19 Jul 2016 07:53 | Edited by: Solivagant 
a tourist visa has been almost impossible to get.

There were no "Tourist visas" when we visited - we got something called a "Non Employment visa"! Our understanding was (and is) that, if your inviting company has the "OK" (and you are not going to fail on one of the other factors) you will get in. Otherwise - start studying the Quran and plan for the Haj! As we had a look at "Chopping Square" in Riyadh with its gutters and grills for the blood to run down into I did ask myself whether I would watch an amputation or execution! And, if not why not. Sqeamishness?? Because my presence would, in some way, validate the act?? Indeed a case could be made out that the act of NOT watching could be regarded as a sort of "cop out" -if one is prepared to go to the country should one not see it in all its gory awfulness? Luckily - I wasn't faced with the situation. Of course China isn't exactly "clean" in such matters yet we all go there! And some US states have to try several times before they manage to kill a prisoner!

Looking at countries you have visited recently - possibly Sudan is the most "questionable"?? Plenty of its people in "hardship" or "war". Let alone its general record on human rights. I am not criticising by the way - I visited it too! Did you carry out an "audit" before deciding to go??

Author elsslots
#8 | Posted: 19 Jul 2016 10:18 
Did you carry out an "audit" before deciding to go??

No I did not..

It is a weird process that goes on in my mind:
1. am I attracted to the things to be seen and done in the country, and how strong is this attraction?
2. can I go there as an individual traveller?
2b. if not, is there a tour available with a company that I believe fits my interests (individual freedom, as less shared meals and outings as possible, ample time to visit historic sites)?
3. let's go!

In general I don't care much about safety concerns for myself & the impact tourism has on the country or its regime.

To 'outsiders' that may read this Forum: this does not mean that I am completely unaware about what's going on in the world, I do read up quite a lot before I leave. But I am more interested in the historical & natural features and a country's continuity than a temporary political regime. To equal a country (and its people) with a political system is not doing it justice.

So would I go to Saudi Arabia? Yes. To North Korea? Yes, though with a serious company and it's not high on my attractiveness list.

Author winterkjm
#9 | Posted: 19 Jul 2016 10:50 
North Korea is far less dangerous for Europeans than Americans, which would probably rule out any visit from me. The Kim regime has a tendency to kidnap the "adventurous" American when relations become particularly bad in order for bargaining chips later. I do NOT want to be a bargaining chip, who in captivity would be forced to do hard labor for my treasonous acts! I will live to see North Korea end (I believe), so I will wait until then.

China is not really comparable to Saudi Arabia in my view. The freedom the average Chinese citizen (male or female) enjoys is significantly different than Saudi Arabia. 95% percent of the Chinese population support the death penalty, and executions actually go through a criminal justice system (not the best example, but far more thorough than SA), in which executions are almost universally violent, nonpolitical crimes which would be considered serious in other countries. That being said I find the death penalty abhorrent.

I would certainly have reservations about Sudan and Pakistan! Though in the right political climate and with extensive research/planning I would visit Sudan's Kushite WHS, in particular Meroe.

Author elsslots
#10 | Posted: 19 Jul 2016 11:34 
To quote myself:

I just received this advertisement of a Saudi Group Tour 2017: iew

Here's a report of a similar trip (2012):

Author barabanov
#11 | Posted: 27 Nov 2018 14:32 | Edited by: barabanov 
Good news for those willing to visit this superclosed country. On 15 December in Riyad there will be Formula E Gran Prix (and funily enough the race will take place in the UNESCO listed Ad Diriyah district!). And for the first time in the history of Saudi Arabia they finally introduced some kind of electronic tourist e-visas in order to visit various sport and cultural events in Saudia. This visa system is called Sharek and allows everybody to arrange Saudi visa online. It will be a kind of Fan ID. Restrictions: you need to buy ticket for the event (the cheapest is 395 SAR; you will get single visa; the entry has to be done within 1-15 December; visa validity is 30 days). In the end of quite quick registration process you will get confirmation pdf with the number of visa and your foto on it. More details could be found on the official site

In fact, I applied for this visa, its overall cost was 1,035 SAR or around 250 USD (visa itself 520 SAR + insurance 100 SAR + race ticket 395 SAR + some fee 20 SAR). It could be paid with Visa card. This is still high, but I heard that business visas to Saudia cost up to astonishing 900-1,000 USD.

Now I'm thinking about planning, I could not attend on the weekend of 15 December, and currently my only workable option is to come on 8-9 December (so I will pay for the race, which I wouldn't be able to attend due to other booked travel plans). It seems that hotels and rental cars are quite straightforward to book and the only difficult point was always just to get there.

Author Zoe
#12 | Posted: 28 Nov 2018 12:27 
I'm doing this too and I arrive the day before the race. You may want to have a hotel booking to show them in Riyad during race period just in case, can always cancel it later but Saudi immigration can be a pain in the ass and if your return flight is before the 15th then errr good luck ;)

Author GaryArndt
#13 | Posted: 29 Nov 2018 12:59 
I'm going to the Formula E race and I hopefully will be visiting at least 1 site.

Author Zoe
#14 | Posted: 20 Dec 2018 08:54 
Just a quick summary of my trip:
* Visa was no problem but I did arrive with a whole group a day before the race. There was a fast track lane for eVisa holders but it still took 30min to get through.
* Car rentals only allow 200km a day so you won't get far without extra mileage. For a whole round trip through the KSA I paid 2,000 riyal extra but that's still cheaper than a tour.
* You need a guide for almost all places to really enjoy it plus they call it a "permit", basically just a person with a key to the gate. They are not around waiting for you to come so you need contacts. Usually a guide from one area can set you up for others. Usually they request 100 riyal but it depends how far they come from.
* The road system is excellent. Only twice was the road failing me, once due to construction and no clear indication where the detour is and the second the road stopped 20km before my goal and became desert...maybe it said so 50km ahead but with all the road networks what stopped them from completing a short track of road...
* Night driving is usually safe
* Driving is generally safe but a few speed freaks and because nobody indicates you need to watch the cars. Didn't stop me from constantly hitting 120km/h. Trucks move to the right all the time.
* Overall this was disappointing. Only 1 tourist attraction was even catering for tourists and a lot of places are being renovated for Vision 2030 or are just closed. I didn't want to wait for 2030 and who knows what will happen in the next 10 years, I'm still glad I went but it was frustrating.

* Al-Ahsa Oasis: my review already says this place blows, don't waste your time. At least Schokland had a museum.
* Al-Hijr: CLOSED until 2020. There was a sign pointing to the nearby elephant rock and said it was UNESCO but I'm certain that is wrong. You can still see the site from the desert coming from this way until the fence stops you.
* Historic Jeddah: a LOT of the houses are getting the balconies torn off, which was maybe not their main selling point but it seems like the most iconic part.
* Rock Art in the Hail Region: I only went to Jubbah and the site is great. Talk to the tourism office and they will let you in with a guide if you seem honest about your visit. Will review it soon.
* Turaif Quarter: was blocked off by the Formula E for the start of my trip and later I went back to the museum, one of the few places with set opening hours but I suppose one can walk around the quarter outside for free.

* Al-Faw: so sad, couldn't arrange a guide in time. Apparently a gem. The guide from another place said it's strictly locked off for the "gold" inside, he maybe meant treasure because a fence doesn't stop treasure hunters if they really want it, right, would come back to the KSA for this.
* Darb Zubayda: the fort in Fayd is shitty but free, open from 08:00-14:30 and on the way from Hail so check it out
* Dûmat Al-Jandal Historical Oasis in Al-Jawf Region: didn't go but was targeting a museum there
* Egyptian Hajj Road: I suppose the sites shouldn't be really visited because this is more about the Hajj path, as I saw only run down towers and broken walls. Old Town of Badr also didn't have friendly locals so imagine walking around with a camera.
* Hejaz Railway: many old rail stations on the way, fenced in, not taken care of. Al Ula station was one of my stops, Madain Saleh has another but it's not accessible until 2020. The tracks are gone so I don't see much potential for this, or maybe it's better further north? Instead I recommend the Hejaz Railway Museum in Medina.
* Hima rock art site: there are two sites near the Hima Wells, with a brown road sign pointing the way for the archeological site but I think they are for the wells. One site 200m from he wells has a fence with a big gap at he rocks so you can see the art inside. It's not really good rock art. The other fenced off area is near a busier road with houses so I didn't dare to find a way in.
* Rijal Almaa Heritage Village: obviously gearing up for an inscription with heavy cleanup and fancy sign, some sort of visitor center just off the main road being used as an entry maybe. The village style is interested if nothing fabulous, the rooms have exhibitions like weapons and cooking wares. I can see this getting inscribed due to political influence.
* Syrian Hajj Road; same as the Egyptian tentative list just different route really. With Madain Saleh closed the best place to visit is Al Ula which would be your gateway to the area anyway.
* Zee Ain Heritage Village: I liked this but have seen a lot similar stuff, forget where but probably Croatia or somewhere in the Balkans. Not to sound s silly, yes, the style is not THE same but a village built as a fort is nothing new. I actually really liked it and explored it all. There were a couple local tourists but they disliked climbing and left quickly. The village is in good condition which makes me wonder if it has been rebuilt, seeing so many broken rubble of nearby villages that once occupied the hills in the area. Entrance was free and they are doing a lot of work on the entrance area with parking lot, visitor center, shops. I feel this is next after Rijal.

Author Zoe
#15 | Posted: 20 Dec 2018 08:57 

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