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When people think of Saudi Arabia, some will think of oil and others will linger on the country’s questionable human rights record.
However, Saudi Arabia is not usually on the radar as a vacation destination for American travelers. The country did not even allow foreign tourists to enter until 2019. But all that has changed.
According to the World Tourism Organization, Saudi Arabia is the country in the world second fastest growing tourist destination. Tourism in the Kingdom surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023.
In 2022, 16.6 million tourists visited Saudi Arabia. So, what are the main attractions of this vacation destination?
Here are 5 reasons why Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world:
A rich cultural heritage
Saudi Arabia has a rich cultural heritage and has been shaped by many influences, including but not limited to its Islamic heritage and Bedouin traditions.
There are six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Saudi Arabia. These sites are ideal places for visitors to learn about the region’s ancient civilizations before and after the organization of Islam.
The most significant are historic Jeddah, an ancient port city just 10 km from Jeddah city center, and Madain Saleh. This is sometimes also known as Al-Hirj and is the site of 111 intricately carved ancient tomb facades.
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Whether you are interested in ancient sites or modern architecture, Saudi Arabia offers the best of both worlds. Saudi Arabia is a modern and innovative country.
The cultural attractions available here range from modern skyscrapers with spectacular views to centuries-old street markets.
world class diving
Saudi Arabia has a huge coastline that backs onto the Red Sea, making it an incredibly popular destination for scuba divers.
The diving available here is world class, with opportunities for both beginners and experienced divers to get up close and personal with the diverse marine life.
Here you will find shipwrecks, lesser-known coral reefs, and artificial reefs created just for divers.
The smaller islands of Jazan are a great diving spot for divers of all levels, while experienced divers looking for a challenge should head to Jeddah and its mix of natural and artificial reefs.
Saudi Arabia is widely considered to be a land of endless deserts. And it’s true that you’ll find vast stretches of endless sand here dotted with the occasional camel.
But Saudi Arabia also boasts a wide range of other environmental challenges, from beautiful beaches to its own spectacular mountain range.
You will be amazed at how lush and green much of Saudi Arabia can be.
The Asir Mountains are rarely visited by tourists, which means they remain untouched. Besides enjoying the amazing views, visitors can also see rare animals here such as baboons, blue lizards, and eagles.
To make a pilgrimage
The holiest Islamic cities, Mecca and Medina, are located in Saudi Arabia.
Non-Muslims cannot access these cities, but if you are of the faith, then the spirituality and unity offered in these two places is considered unparalleled.
One of the most popular reasons tourists travel to Saudi Arabia is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. During Hajj, up to 3 million people gather in cities to pray.
It is important to note that non-Muslim tourists are welcome in Saudi Arabia. In fact, it is one of the most diverse Arab cities, with around a third of the population immigrants from around the world.
This cultural diversity only adds to the otherworldly immersion and allure of a vacation in Saudi Arabia.
Arabic food is considered some of the best and tastiest in the world, and you’ll find incredible examples of this in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is often considered a foodie’s paradise. From fine dining restaurants to delicious and sensible street food, there is always something to enjoy.
The people of Saudi Arabia are known for their hospitality and enjoy preparing and sharing food with visitors.
Simple traditional Arabic dishes like couscous, hummus, and falafel are plentiful. But the unique blend of spices used in their preparation elevates them to new levels.
Meat lovers can enjoy hearty chicken and lamb. Beef is available but less popular. You will never find pork here, as Islamic laws prohibit it.
No matter the dish, you’re sure to be pleased with the care and flavor profile used to create it.
traveler alert: Don’t forget travel insurance for your next trip!
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com