From the Red Sea shore to the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia is sparsely populated but covers the vast majority of the peninsula; a young country but with inherited history; retaining the traditions and tribal roots of its past, while adding the wealth of its oil economy.
There is nowhere else on earth quite like Saudi Arabia. The cradle of Arabic culture and language, and of Islam, it is home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina; and known for Bedouin falconry, Arabian horses, camels, countless mosques and palaces, and the desert haunts of T.E Lawrence. With the world’s largest sand desert and largest oasis, it also takes the title as the world’s largest totally river-less country.
The kingdom’s capital, Riyadh combines the chaos of a cosmopolitan city with the cultural landmarks of bygone times. Soaring skyscrapers share the stage with the mudbrick Masmak Fort, modern malls contrast with souk spice stalls, and on the city’s outskirts, the walled citadel of Diriyah was the 18th-century capital and is now a UNESCO listed, living museum.
Medina is the second most sacred city in the Islamic world, only recently opened to Westerners, who still cannot enter mosques but can view the structures of places of pilgrimage, and see the huge Masjid an-Nawabi, which holds the tomb of the prophet. Visits to the Jabal Uhud battlefield, the International Exhibition and Museum, and the old Ottoman Railway Station add an insight of the city’s culture, creed, and milestones in history.
As an ancient trade route city, and a long-time Ottoman enclave, Jeddah absorbed outside influences in its culture, cuisine, and architectural styles. With the arrival of Islam, it became the main port for pilgrims enroute to Mecca. Today it is an interwoven tapestry of past and present personas, its Red Sea corniche punctuated with parks, mosques, and an open-air ‘museum’ of sculptures, which complement the city’s contemporary art studios.
Less visited landmarks and hidden gems include a window on the old world in Ushaigar Heritage village and Unaizah’s souq of traditional crafts; the caravanserai town of Fayd and Buraidah’s huge and raucous camel market; the labyrinthine lanes of Al Ula’s old town, and Ha’il, the crossroads of camel routes and home of ‘Arabian Nights’ legends.
In the spread of the Great Nefud Desert, Jubbah boasts glorious galleries of ancient rock art, telling thousands of years of tales in panels of finely etched petroglyphs; Elephant Rock was shaped by the wind and the centuries; the Lion Tombs of Dadan are hewn into the rockface; and at UNESCO listed Hegra, ornately carved tombs rise from encroaching waves of sand.
With slight variations between north and south, and at varying altitudes, in general Saudi Arabia’s desert climate is forbiddingly hot in summer, regularly reaching 40° from June to September; warm in February/March and late October/November, with daytime temperatures hovering between 20 and 24°; and mild in winter, with cool to cold nights. Jules Verne’s journeys are timed for the seasons most comfortable for touring.
Saudi Arabia is shrouded in mystery, steeped in history, tethered to ancient traditions, and committed to the most conservative interpretation of Islam. A ‘dry’ country in every sense, alcohol is prohibited, desert terrain is as inhospitable as it is inspiring, and while a cultural shift is underway, tourism is still in its infancy, so routes, site visits and service levels may vary throughout the tour.
Taking its visitors well off the beaten track, this is a destination for the intrepid traveller, with a spirit of adventure and a go-with-the-flow nature.
With 45 years’ experience and a passion for creating extraordinary adventures, Jules Verne takes you to iconic landmarks and lesser-known sites, with expert tour guides who share their local knowledge, and show you secret treasures. Our journeys in Saudi Arabia include dinner at a desert camp, date tasting at Buraidah, and a hike into Hutamayah Crater.
Our guided tours to Saudi Arabia are ABTA and ATOL protected, and we offer a 100% price guarantee, so you can book with complete confidence.