Explore the history of Islam in Saudi Arabia, a country where modern comforts and conveniences meet ancient cultures and traditions. Visitors to Saudi Arabia should take this into account and remember to remain respectful of the country's customs, especially with regard to clothing and interacting with local Saudis in public. The country's magnificent historical sites are some of the best kept tourist secrets. Mada'in Saleh, a Nabataean archaeological site is a stop that should not be missed. The Standing Stones at Rajajil are also worth a visit, along with the Empty Quarter, which lies in the middle of the Arabian Peninsula. With sand dunes measuring up to 250 metres high and hundreds of kilometres across, this is one of the most spectacular natural sights in the world and even the hardy Bedouin tribes don't often dare to cross it.
Mecca's Kaaba is Islam's most holy shrine and is off-limits for non-Muslims but there are plenty of other beautiful mosques all across the country which are open to visitors. Medina is another important ancient city for Muslims and there is no place better to learn the history of the Prophet Muhammad. Riyadh may be the political capital, but for a spot of shopping at world-class malls or a jet-ski ride on the Red Sea, head over to Jeddah — the country's most liberal city and also its commercial capital. The coral reefs here are great for scuba diving or snorkelling, and there are excellent facilities available for both.
The local breads of fatir or kimaje usually accompany a meal of chicken broth or slow-cooked lamb, ending with a serving of dates. Alcohol is forbidden throughout the country but Arabic coffee or fruit juices are good alternatives.
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Depending on which part of the country you're headed to, book a flight to Jeddah (JED), Riyadh (RUH), Medina (MED), or Dammam (DMM). The airport at Medina is operational only during the Haj season. Inbound flight fares will be expensive during the pilgrimage period, but outbound fares are extremely cheap. To get the best deals, schedule an inbound flight before Haj begins and a return ticket for when it is still in progress. Bahrain (BAH) is a popular stop-over destination for flights via the Middle East, so it may be cheaper to fly to Bahrain and then drive over into Saudi Arabia.
There are very few direct flights from Canada to Saudi Arabia and most airlines such as Air Canada, Lufthansa, American, Delta, and Cathay Pacific fly via stops in the US or Europe.
With the exception of the south-western province of Asir, Saudi Arabia has a typical desert climate — hot during the day, cold at night, and humid on the coast. The hottest period is from June to August when temperatures can go as high as 50°C in the interior regions, and humidity on the coast frequently reaches 100%. In the wintertime, temperatures in the northern and central areas drop to single digits, while in the coastal areas it can go as low as 19°C. The desert areas are cold at night even during the summer months. Rainfall is scattered and often does not occur for extended periods of time.