Mecca, Saudi Arabia travel tips

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If you plan to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, you must apply for a travel visa to Saudi Arabia, and indicate "religious visit" on the application. You may also need to have a Saudi sponsor for your trip, but you need to check beforehand as this requirements changes from time to time. Also find out before leaving whether you'll need an exit permit to return home.

Tags: Safety
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Be sure to book visits through a tour company. This can help you avoid legal hassles, as some sights require government permission to visit.

Tags: Safety, Etiquette
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If you plan on taking photographs, do so very carefully. It's not welcomed in Saudi Arabia. A permit is needed to take photos, and in some cases, people have been arrested for simply carrying a camera.

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Saudi Arabia has deliberately made travel into the country difficult, to discourage all but the most devout Muslims entering. So be prepared for a rather laborious process to be able to enter the country.

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Be prepared for hotels in the mid- to expensive range. There aren't many accommodations for a budget traveler.

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If you leave the city to visit the countryside, it would be wise to travel in a group. The desert can be forbidding, and accidents on the country's roads are frighteningly common.

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Find maps ahead of time and study them before you arrive. The tourist industry in Saudi Arabia is poorly developed, and signage is nearly non-existent.

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If the flight to Mecca depletes your wallet, you can feel a bit better knowing that your meals should be very affordable. Food in Saudi Arabia is generally very cheap.

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An unaccompanied woman in a restaurant may not be served, as women are expected to be accompanied by a male who is a close family relation.

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Be careful on the roads. Saudi Arabia ranks as one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to drive.

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Don't be surprised if many businesses and offices in Mecca close for an extended lunch. This is a holdover from pre-air conditioned days, when the mid-day heat made business impossible.

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Learn the expectations of behavior in Saudi Arabia. It's not a place to get out of line.

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Although foreign women are not expected to be completely covered as Saudi women are, if you don't mind being covered from head to toe, it might actually make your trip easier. With only your eyes and hands visible, you won't be immediately recognizable as a foreigner, and can therefore wander about freely. Since women are not expected to interact with strangers, the language barrier won't be as ...

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If you need birth control, you won't be able to get it in Saudi Arabia, where it's illegal.

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If you happen to be in Mecca during Ramadan, keep in mind that the strictures of Ramadan do not apply to non-Muslims. That said, whatever pleasures you indulge in must be done discreetly. Drinking or eating in public during Ramadan can get you arrested.

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Saudis are serious about the prohibition of alcohol. Even a book about making wine, or wine-making supplies can get you a few days in jail if they're found in the airport. Many food items, such a bottle of vanilla extract, are also forbidden.

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Be prepared for a lengthy wait at immigration. It could take an hour to reach the immigration desk, only to be told you were in the wrong line. It's just part of the process, and you'll eventually make it out.

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When entering Saudi Arabia, you will be given an immigration card which asks for your religion. You would be wise not to put "atheist" or "Judaism." Sorry, but it's the truth. And if you're a Christian, there's no need to be too specific...don't get into denominations, just put "Christian."

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Visit the Al-Kiswah Factory. This is where the black cloth that covers the Kaaba is made. It's made from black silk and embroidered with Qur'anic calligraphy; the embroidery is done by specially chosen men. This is a tour that must be arranged through a tour company and requires government permission.

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If you plan to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, learn as much as you can about the rituals before you leave, as they can become quite involved.

Tags: Etiquette
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