When considering a Saudi Arabia adventure holiday the travel vs ethics debate often crops up. Should I visit a country whose way of life I don’t agree with, just because there are things I want to see and do there?
Saudi Arabia makes up the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, which is mostly desert. Tucked between the Red Sea and Africa to the east and the Persian Gulf and Asia to the west it is hot, dry and full of culture, adventure and fun activities.
In 2012 Saudi Arabia welcomed over 14 million visitors making it the 19th most popular country to visit. However, almost all of these were Muslims on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
In 2018 Saudi Arabia opened it’s doors for the first time to non-religious tourists. You can now get a Saudi travel visa, although it is not as simple as many other destinations, as currently it is only to attend sport, entertainment or business events.
But by the end of 2019, Saudi Arabia intends to introduce a visa free, or visa on entry system for many nationalities including UK, Europe and the US. With a huge variety of activities on offer and much to do should I go on a Saudi Arabia adventure holiday?
It is already easy to reach the country via Saudi Airlines. There are direct flights from London and Manchester in the UK and from many other European cities, the US (east and west coasts), Asia, Africa and the Middle East. There are also frequent internal flights with Saudi Airlines.
As a newcomer to the international travel scene a trip to Saudi Arabia will always be an adventure. In fact travelling anywhere that many people will never visit adds a level of excitement. But Saudi Arabia is much more than a novelty.
From a cultural perspective Saudi Arabia is hugely important. As the birthplace of Islam there are many holy sites. Although you will need to be Muslim to visit some of them, including Mecca.
There are five UNESCO heritage sites in Saudi Arabia. These include archeological sites, rock art, the historic cities of Jeddah and Ad-Diriyah and the Al-Ahsa Oasis.
In the desert Hot air ballooning is popular. A skydive centre is in the process of being set up north of Riyadh. And with four recognised paragliding launch sites in the country taking to the air is very possible.
Looking at Saudi Arabia adventure holiday options wouldn’t be complete without discussing water sports. Its western Red Sea coastline has exceptional, and relatively untouched, scuba diving to be enjoyed. The Arabian Sea is also not without diving options.
With a long coastline and fairly consistent thermal winds kitesurfing and windsurfing are possible in many places in Saudi Arabia. Half Moon Bay (Kite Beach) on the east coast and Shoeiba (South Corniche) near Jeddah on the west coast are the most popular spots.
Saudi Arabia is not all flat desert. The highest point is Jabal Sawda with an elevation of around 3,000 metres, so there is plenty of interesting trekking.
There is also a famous hike to the ‘Edge of the World’ about an hour from Riyadh. There are a few rock climbing spots around the country with crags near Al Shafa and Tanomah having over 30 documented routes each.
Camel trekking and quad biking are popular in the Red Sand Dunes – again near Riyadh. Plus there are 4×4 tours that take in famous sites such as Al Ulaa, Madain Saleh, Qassim and Hail. Plus cycling tours can be enjoyed and there are thriving road cycling clubs.
Its safe to say a Saudi Arabia adventure holiday could be a lot of fun, but the country gets a lot of bad press. Their recent involvement in the Yemen Civil war, oppression of women, poor human rights and links with al Qaeda are just a few things that could put visitors off.
Many western countries – my home of the UK included – get involved in other countries civil wars. We do it to help, but our ‘help’ usually involves choosing sides. No one suggests not visiting the UK, which is hypocritical considering we have sold £4.7 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia since the start of the war in Yemen.
In my Western option it’s wrong that Saudi Arabian women have unequal rights. But Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country that strictly follows Wahhabi Law, so most of the women believe they are following the word of God. In recent years women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have improved. Hopefully by exposure to more visitors they will improve further.
Saudi Arabia regularly appears in the bottom 30 countries for human rights. While I disagree with it’s corporal punishment we travel to learn about the culture and meet normal people, not to question other countries policies. Travel brings money to local communities and helps long term change.
Osama bin Laden came from Saudi Arabia and there are many articles linking Al Qaeda to the country. However he was disowned by his family in 1991 who severed all links. Furthermore, there are just as many articles linking the CIA with his early funding and training. But that does not stop us visiting the US.
When looking at travel vs ethics it is a personal decision whether to visit a country or not. But having travelled extensively, visiting destinations with different beliefs, values and ethics it has made me a more understanding and accepting person.
Travel broadens the mind and opens up new opportunities for both you and the country you visit. Get to know the locals, eat where they do and you’ll soon realise that despite the differences we are all just people who want to laugh, love and live our lives.
So when it comes to travel vs ethics, travel wins every time for me. It is easy to shout online about how terrible countries or certain nationalities are. It is much tougher to challenge your beliefs and preconceptions by visiting. Buta to travel there is much more rewarding and can be enlightening.
If you are heading to this part of the world then check out our article about the best Middle East overland adventures.