Today I start a series of posts about Saudi Arabia, a country we’ve been traveling through for the past nine days and that has taught us a lot! First, I’d like to share how we got here – after all, it’s a country closed to tourism – and detail our travel itinerary. Why? Because Saudi plans to open the door for tourism in the coming months, one of many progressive ideias proposed by the prince and future king Mohammed bin Salman. I can’t wait to see that happening!
*Esse post foi escrito originalmente em português.
Our programme: Gateway KSA
It all started with an unexpected invitation from Gateway KSA . The project, funded by Iyadine Agency and King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS), aims to bring students and influencers from around the world to Saudi Arabia to better understand the challenges and changes that have been taking place in the country and broaden the world’s understanding of a complex and ever-changing place. They fund all the costs of the trip, including the visa. An incredible initiative!
These transformations have to do mainly with the creation of national laws that will separate the current rules from the Wahhabism, the sect of the Islam that dictates the laws of the country. That is why we are talking about “flexibilization” – the rules created 30 years ago, when this regime came into force, are extremely conservative. To give you an idea, only from this year will women be allowed to drive in the country! Read more about women in Saudi in this post.
The cities in our itinerary through Saudi Arabia
Our itinerary was meant to blend educational activities with touristic ones, so that we expanded our knowledge while creating beautiful content to promote the country. We were based on four important cities: Rhyiad, Al-‘Ula, Jeddah and Dammam.
Rhyiad, the capital
Our first stop was Riyadh, from where flights from Dubai or Abu Dhabi arrive. It is Saudi’s capital and largest city, with 6.5 million inhabitants. It looks like a city under construction, with many construction sights on the way between the airport and downtown. There are two amazing buildings that are becoming symbols of the country and the new time of transformation: the Kingdom Center (with its crazy architecture, which looks like a bottle opener) and the Faisaliah Tower – from where you have the coolest view of the skyline (first photo of this post).
The Faisaliah Tower is close to the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, a modern study center that also has a museum with historical artifacts. I found it very interesting for students!
In the city we also saw some historical sights such as the Masmak Fortress and King Abdul Aziz Palace, which belonged to the king that unified Saudi Arabia in 1932. The palace sits next to the National Museum, which has a large collection of manuscripts, historical objects and documents. It is great to better understand the history of the country and Islam.
Riyadh is also one of the most conservative cities in Saudi. The Abaya (long cloack that women are required to wear) are almost always black, and often accompanied by hijabs (the veil that covers the hair and is not required by the laws of the country). I’ll detail more about the dress and behavior standards throughout this blog series.
Al-`Ula, the gateway to the desert
The second stop of our trip was also the most interesting for tourism. I was amazed by the beauty of the desert in Saudi Arabia, with giant rocks, ancient tombs, dunes and many archaeological discoveries. So much so that the region, called Madain Saleh, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are over 100 carved tombs from the Nabatean civilization, the same one that built Petra in Jordan. Can you imagine?
Our hotel there was made of tents in the middle of the desert, Bedouin style. A luxury version, of course, with clean bathrooms and everything. The experience was so special that I had to write a post just about it! Check out my post about the desert in Saudi Arabia.
Jeddah, the modern city on the shores of the Red Sea
If Al-`Ula won the prize for best city for tourism, Jeddah lost for just a little bit. And it’s definitely the best city to live in Saudi Arabia! In addition to the lighter seaside climate, Jeddah is also less conservative. Over there, it is more common to see women wearing open or colored Abayas, for example. And there is also a large community of foreigners thanks to KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), a leading university created in 2008 to attract brilliant students and foster research in the country. I visited the campus and, honestly, it looks like a futuristic movie!
But my favorite part of visiting Jeddah was the boat trip we did through the Red Sea – which I had no idea was so beautiful, with crystal clear water and untouched reefs! I also wrote a special post about our experience in Jeddah (which they say there in a very cute way, it’s like “tché-dah” hahaha).
We also had the opportunity to meet with a group of women from Effat University (the first to offer courses in various areas for women) and to talk about their experiences in Saudi Arabia.
Dammam, the oil capital
The last visit of our trip had a more educational character. We went to Dammam, where is located Saudi Aramco, the giant oil company that enriched Saudi Arabia. The state-owned company is considered the most valuable company in the world, valued at up to $ 10 trillion dollars! It was very interesting to know more about the extraction of oil and the company that had so much impact on the economy and development of Saudi Arabia.
Today, they plan to sell a small part of the state-owned company to finance other economic projects in the country. It is an important measure to diversify the economy, since it is 100% based on a source that is becoming cheaper over the years. It was also curious to see the huge amount of foreigners in the city.
Well, in summary, this was our itinerary in Saudi Arabia! Gradually I will update this post with links to more in depth texts on touristic sites, customs, women’s rights and religion. If you have specific questions or curiosities, comment below and I will make sure to answer them!
Ps. The incredible photos of this post are from Paulo del Valle. Check out his beautiful content on Instagram !