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Saudi Arabia

"We travel to change, not places, but ideas."

Hippolyte Taine

I chose this quote because very often, we Europeans have prejudices about other countries, other cultures. These prejudices come from what we read in the media and from the prejudices of our fellow citizens. When we travel to these countries, we very quickly realize that these images are fake or that they only show a tiny part of the whole. You have to confront these cultures to understand the reality of things, you have to travel to get your own idea. The more we discover it, the more the Muslim culture surprises. By traveling to KSA, we have the chance to discover a country that has only opened up to tourism since 2018 and we are wonderfully welcomed by the local population.

FEBRUARY 2023

VISA - multi-entry for 165 CHF per person valid for one year (max 90 days of stay per year)

visa.visitsaudi.com

EXCHANGE - 4.47 SAR = 1 CHF

VEHICLE - Customs clearance book (CPD) or register provisionally in the country. Please note, American brand vehicles prohibited.

SIM - Unlimited STC for 414 SAR or 15 GB for 98 SAR

DIESEL - 0.75 SAR per liter

INSURANCE - 2 weeks for 55 CHF or 3 months for 110 CHF

DOG -  Import permit to be requested onsso.mewa.gov.sa 

- Chip required, vaccination (rabies between 30 days and 1 year), health certificate <10 days required

- Anti-rabies titration test required

- Permit for multiple entries/exits of the country can be obtained at the Ministry of Agriculture in Riyadh

THINGS TO KNOW

Edge of the World

This place called Edge of the world, or the end of the world in French, is a must-see site in the country. Nevertheless, due to the large influx of visitors and a few accidents that have occurred on site, the local government has decided to make access to the site more complicated while it properly develops the premises and puts in place protections.

 

We nevertheless try to get there, but indeed have to take long 4x4 tracks before being blocked because of a huge pile of earth blocking our progress. We then continue on foot and we discover a breathtaking landscape made up of enormous cliffs which throw themselves on a large desert plain.

Ryhad and Dariya

The capital of the country, Ryhad, surprises us with the scale of the projects that are constantly being developed there. The business district, with its dozens of skyscrapers designed by renowned architects, is not yet complete and yet dozens of other projects, each more grandiose than the next, continue to emerge from the ground.  ;

 

In the districts of Dariya, which was the former capital of the country, we discover much more traditional constructions that the Saudis have just restored. In the surrounding districts, often still under construction, we notice a real desire to maintain a certain unity between historic buildings and those that are emerging from the ground, in particular by using similar materials or colors.

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Judah's Thumb

In the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, there are not many attractions to visit and tourism is not yet developed there. We nevertheless discover a few points along our route, in particular the Judah's Thumb, or thumb of god in French. It is a monolith planted alone in the middle of the desert. The landscape there is truly magnificent.

The two seas

Saudi Arabia has two seas. The Red Sea to the West  of the country and the Persian Gulf to the east. It is always with a certain wonder that we discover these clear waters in which we want to throw ourselves.

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Empty Quarter

In the Empty quarter, as its name suggests, there is nothing but sand for miles and miles. From the border with Oman, we have about 600 km of desert to cross before finding the first traces of civilization.

 

We discover huge sand dunes, the largest we have seen so far. They are orange in color and form patterns under the effect of the wind. This crossing of the desert has a very poetic and fascinating side.

Baboons

We had been warned that we might see monkeys in Saudi Arabia and indeed, on our way to Mecca, we saw a large number of them by the side of the road, in the middle of the rubbish. Yes, it's a bit sad, people throw anything and everything out of their car windows and baboons rush on these "treasures" to pick them up. One of them jumped right on the van to pick up something we had put on the windshield.

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Diving in the red sea

The Red Sea is known for its exceptional seabed and for its abundant underwater fauna. It is for this reason that we go to the dive center, Haddad scuba located on the outskirts of the city of Jeddah.

 

We go to sea with their dive boat. It will take us 30-45 minutes of navigation to arrive at the reef where we will jump into the water. We don't need to put our heads under water to understand that it will be a great dive. Indeed, the water is clear as the water of a swimming pool and teeming with fish. We are lucky enough to see 3 white tip sharks pass by and a few seconds later, two dolphins who come to greet us. A beautiful and large turtle also descends from the surface to come to meet us.

Medina

Medina is the second most religious city in the country and recently opened to tourists. Before arriving in town, I dress in such a way that I can blend in with the crowd. We suddenly find ourselves in the middle of thousands of people walking in the same direction. Men often wear long beards. Sometimes the latter are of a red hue that turns orange. The women are sometimes covered from head to toe by their abaya or dressed "normally" and just wear a scarf in their hair called hijab. 

 

We understand very quickly that it is prayer time and that people are heading for the mosque. Believers settle down by the hundreds on the ground on their prayer mats. 

 

Since in the mosque women and men are separated, the boys (Vincent and Sevan) go in their direction and I follow the women. All of a sudden, everything stops, there is no more noise, just these hundreds of people on the ground praying. The energy that emanates from these thousands of people praying (more than a million on busy days) is so powerful that we feel shivers.

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Black and white volcanoes

Lunar and supernatural, these two adjectives perfectly describe the landscapes we are about to discover. After taking chaotic tracks and driving several kilometers on lava flows, we finally arrive at our destination. A spot surrounded by dozens of volcanoes, some black and some white.

 

We do not meet many people, with the exception of a few Bedouins who follow their herds of dromedaries or a few locals who have come to pick up white truffles.

 

The white volcano, Jabal abyad, is the highest volcano in the Kingdom. On satellite images, it can almost be mistaken for a snow-capped peak.

 

According to the locals, it would not be surprising to relive the eruption of one of these volcanoes soon...

Hegra (Al'ula)

Al'ula is also one of the must-see places in Saudi Arabia. This region of the country has a lot of sites of interest. We stayed there for three days without being able to go around it. We were particularly seduced by the site of Hegra, this ancient Nabataean city which has just been restored. How lucky we were to be able to be, so to speak, alone on the spot, to be able to benefit from the explanations of the guides and painfully enjoy the place.

 

The Nabataeans believed more in life after death than in the one they were living. This is the reason why they built huge tombs in anticipation of their death. Nowadays, these are the monuments that can be observed. The city is buried under thick layers of sand.

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Maraya (Al’ula)

This building called Maraya (mirror in Arabic) holds our attention with its facades covered with mirror designed so that the volume blends into the landscape. Located in the middle of the desert in the Ashar Valley, this opera houses a hall with 500 seats.

Wadi al-Disah

Wadi al Disah and the rest of the sites we visited in the northwest of Saudi Arabia are the places we liked the most in the country. They are also part of the most beautiful landscapes that we have been given to discover during our journey.

 

In a mountainous region of the province of Tabuk, in the middle of the ocher cliffs several hundred meters high, we discover the Wadi Al Disah (which means: valley of palm trees). In the middle of this valley, flows a small river which, as its name suggests, is surrounded by hundreds of palm trees.

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Hisma Desert

About a hundred kilometers northwest of Tabuk is the Bajdah Desert, also called the Hisma Desert. The latter is characterized by its magnificent rock formations, which could be mistaken for grandiose pancake cakes, and for its sands of various colors ranging from gray to red through ochres.

 

Crossing this desert is a new opportunity to test the limits of our vw crafter. Over the past few months, we've learned that by deflating the tires early enough and picking up a bit of speed, we can push the limits of our house on wheels a lot and take on routes in the sand.

Climb in the desert

It is in the middle of the Hisma desert, in a narrow canyon, that the Saudi government, through the Neom project, has decided to develop a whole climbing sector offering more than 100 different routes. The morphology of the stone as well as the beauty of the place already makes our mouths water.

 

When we go there, the site is not yet officially open and no topo has yet been published. Luckily, a film crew came on site to do a report on two very good local climbers. We chat with one of the climbers in question, Abdul Rahman, who gives us a tour of the spot, advising us of a few routes to climb before giving us the topo of the site which has not yet been released, what luck!

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