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 isn’t often on the radar as a vacation destination for American travelers. The country didn’t even allow foreign tourists to enter until 2019. But that has all changed.
According to the World Tourism Organization, Saudi Arabia Is the world’s second-fastest-growing tourism destination. Tourism in the Kingdom exceeded 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 spots for visitors to learn about the ancient civilizations in the region both before and after the organization of Islam.
The most significant of these are Historic Jeddah, an ancient port town just 10km 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.
Whether you’re 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 Scuba Diving
Saudi Arabia has a huge coastline that faces the Red Sea, making it an incredibly popular destination for scuba divers.
The scuba 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.
You’ll find shipwrecks, lesser-known coral reefs, and artificial reefs created just for divers here.
The smaller islands of Jazan are a great scuba location for divers of all abilities, 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 is true that you will find vast expanses of endless sand punctuated with occasional camels here.
But Saudi Arabia also boasts a diverse range of other environmental challenges, from beautiful beaches to its own spectacular mountain range.
You’ll be surprised by how lush and green much of Saudi Arabia can be.
The Mountains of Asir are rarely visited by tourists, meaning they remain unspoiled. As well as enjoying the incredible views, visitors can also spot rare animals here, such as baboons, blue lizards, and eagles.
To Make a Pilgrimage
The holiest Islamic cities, Mecca and Medina, are in Saudi Arabia.
These cities cannot be accessed by non-Muslims, but if you are of the faith, then the spirituality and unity offered in these two locations is considered unparalleled.
One of the most popular reasons that tourists travel to Saudi Arabia is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. During Hajj, as many as 3 million people gather in the cities to pray.
It’s important to note that non-Muslim tourists are very welcome in Saudi Arabia. In fact, it is one of the most diverse Arabic cities, with around one-third of the population being immigrants from around the world.
This cultural diversity only adds to the immersive other-worldliness and charm of a vacation in Saudi Arabia.
Arabic food is regarded as some of the best and most flavorsome in the world, and you will find incredible examples of this in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is often regarded as a paradise for foodies. From fine dining restaurants to delicious, no-nonsense street food, there’s 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 such as couscous, hummus, and falafel are abundant. But the unique blend of spices used in their preparation elevates them to new levels.
Meat lovers can enjoy abundant 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 are sure to be satisfied with the care and flavor profile used to create it.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com