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Saudi Arabia... The Forbidden Kingdom

February 08 to 22, 2020

As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia has been shielding itself from the eyes of the west for a long time but time has come now that the Kingdom is moving in huge steps towards modernization and openness. But this is also a land with a vibrant cultural pedigree, aside from its glitzy oil-rich modern cities. Amongst the rock-hewn splendors of Madain Saleh and Madain Shoeb, you will explore Nabatean heritage equal to what Petra offers. Most of the great empires of the ancient world traded with the Arabian Kingdoms that commanded the important spice trade routes in the peninsula. Colorful markets, desert landscapes, coral reefs, rock engravings, ancient monuments, traditional mud-brick cities,  and imposing fortresses are abundant in a country that has so much to offer to those who choose to venture in it & explore its enigmatic and intriguing side.

This trip can be combined with Sudan (January 28 to February 08, 2020)


Tour cost (land only): $7,995.00 per person sharing in double occupancy

Single Supplement: $995.00    

Escorted by Courtney Stewart, Islamic art historian

Price based on a group size minimum of 6 and maximum of 14 participants


Your tour does not include

  • International air from New York-JFK/Jeddah and Riyadh/New York-JFK, Roundtrip coach class. (Approx. $1000)

  • Saudi Arabia Visa - $249.00 at time of printing plus handling fees. Passport should not include any Israeli stamps.

  • Beverages with meals and meals not noted.

  • Trip surcharge to operate below required minimum participants.

  • Items of a personal nature, i.e. souvenirs, laundry, phone calls, emails, etc.

  • Dayroom or extra hotel nights necessitated by airline flight schedule changes.

  • Transfers if arriving or departing on flights that are at different times than the group.

  • Travel protection insurance.

Your tour includes

  • All transfers with assistance and luggage porterage.

  • Transportation within country using A/C motor coach.

  • All mentioned accommodations in 5* hotels (or best available in smaller towns 3-4* in some places).

  • All meals as listed (B: breakfast, L: lunch and D: dinner).

  • All entrance fees to visited sites (mentioned in the itinerary).

  • Service of professional English speaking tour guide along some local guides at various cities and sites.

  • Bottled water on bus during touring days.

  • Assistance in obtaining visa approval letter.

  • All gratuities to guide, porters, drivers, hotel and restaurant staff etc.

Trip Grade:

II Active – Some hikes, slightly more demanding walks at or to sites, few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some long rides.

Lodging Level:

*** -****Superior: In large cities 5 stars' hotels and in some smaller town, lodges and hotels with limited amenities, average service and comfort level acceptable to western standard. (3 or 4 stars)

Fine Print: Saudi Arabia is a dry country. Alcohol is absolutely forbidden (as are narcotics and pornographic materials). Dress is modest and women do not need to cover their heads. They should wear abayas at all times (which will be provided by the agency in Saudi Arabia the next day after arrival). Be advised that you will be fingerprinted and undergo a retinal scan upon arrival in the country. Also be aware that most places in the Kingdom shut down between noon and 3 pm every day as well as several other times during prayers and often the group will be returned to the hotel for some free time during these periods. Women do NOT have to cover their hair. In addition, sometimes sites can be closed for no foreseen reasons or authorities can also deny visit of certain places without prior notice and we (STS) are not responsible for any such events/acts.

About your Guide, Courtney Stewart… Courtney is a Senior Research Assistant, Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, NY since 2010. She has contributed to the re installation of the new galleries of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia (2011), as well as the exhibitions and publications Treasures from India: Jewels from the Al-Thani Collection (2014) and Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700: Opulence and Fantasy (2015). Courtney has taught courses on Islamic art history at the University of Toronto, and continues to lecture in the School of Continuing Studies at New York University. She holds graduate degrees from the University of Toronto and the Bard Graduate Center, and is currently pursuing research on the history of Islamic jewelry.

Photographs by Kaylee Dall, www.kayleejay.com


View Tour Itinerary

Sat-Sun, Feb 08-09
Arrive Jeddah

Depart the US for Jeddah, arriving on the second day. On arrival in Jeddah, you'll be met and assisted with the transfer to your hotel for check-in and overnight. Dinner will be provided only if you arrive in Jeddah prior to 8:00 pm. (D)

Monday, Feb 10
Jeddah

In the morning, visit some of the old Ottoman houses, which are mostly constructed from coral and reinforced with wooden beams that crisscross the interior walls. The most beautiful and well known is Nasif House (from outside) , built in the 1850's by the well-known Nasif Family, one of the most influential trading families in the history of Jeddah. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the house was one of the most important buildings in Jeddah. It was here that King Abdul Aziz spent his first night in Jeddah as the guest of Mohammed Nasif after he led his victorious army into the capital of the Western Province. Lunch will be at a local restaurant, then continue on to the Corniche of Jeddah (sea-side promenade), a major attraction that acts as an open-air museum displaying an array of modern sculptures as well as a gathering social place for the locals. Afterwards, visit Altaybat Int’l City for Sciences and Knowledge, also known as the Abdul Rauf Khalil Art Museum, a very beautiful museum that houses an endless collection of arts, ethnography and archaeology artifacts. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Feb 11
Jeddah – Abha

Check out from the hotel and visit the colorful Fish Market followed by a transfer to the airport for your flight to Abha, capital city of Asir. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel for check-in, then visit the traditional baskets’ market and the Muftaha Village Art Gallery. This evening, visit a typical Saudi home for some personal interaction with the local people. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Feb 12
Khamis Mushayt (Abha)

Asir is a highland province that encompasses the entire southwest Saudi Arabia all the way to the Yemen border. A full day excursion takes you to Mount Souda, Khamis Mushayt, and Hamsan Village. The first stop will be to the top of Mount Souda, located in the Hejaz Mountains. Continue on to Khamis Mushayt, an industrial city about 25 km east of Abha. The city's antique silver market is its biggest tourist draw. The last stop will be to Bin Hamsan Traditional Village, located on the outskirts of town. This village is an imaginative development that consists of a stone tower, a museum that is a replica of an Asir home from two decades ago, an auditorium, a traditional restaurant and a gift shop. Lunch will be at a local restaurant in Bin Himsan Al Habala, the location of the first cable car in Asir. It is named after an old village located on a steep 400-meter (1,312 ft) cliff made famous by the people of Al Habala. The inhabitants here lived in stone dwellings that clung to the cliff-face for the security and safety found in the rock walls. The cliff side is so sheer that the villagers - both men and women - lowered themselves down into the ravine on ropes. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Feb 13
Abha - Al Ula

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to Al Ula, connecting in Jeddah or Riyadh. On arrival, transfer to your luxury camp for check-in and lunch. Al Ula is known for its fine example of ancient Arabic architecture and this afternoon, you will visit the old mud houses, and the Lion Tombs from outside the magnificent iconic Elephant Rock. This whole region witnessed history in the making during the time of Lawrence of Arabia. Return for dinner and overnight at the camp. (B, L,D)

Friday, Feb 14
Al Ula

Start the day with an excursion to the archaeological site of Madain Saleh, known as "Al Hijr" during ancient times and once a stopover on a very prosperous trade route. The cities flourished over a vast area that is now quite isolated, encompassing 2000 sq. meters of relics and tombs. You'll visit the Nabatean Well, Qasr Al Bint, Diwan Tomb, and Al Farid Palace. Continue on to Wadi Al Ula, the gateway to Madain Saleh and known for its Lion Tombs of the Lihyanites - predecessors of the Natateans (100 to 500 BC). Return to the camp for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Feb 15
Al Ula - Al Jouf

This morning, drive to Al Jouf via Tema, where you will see the Haddaj Water Well, Al Hamra Palace, and Radham Fort. Continue on with the drive to Dowmat Al Jandal, an ancient stone fortress also known as Marid Castle. At 610 meters (2,000 ft) high, this ancient structure was built with stones on a hill that majestically overlooks the old city. In the city, visit Omar’s Mosque, named after the second Moslem Caliph - Omar Ibn Al Khatab. Arrive in Al Jouf and transfer to your hotel for check-in, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Feb 16
Al Jouf – Hail

The day begins with a visit to Sakaka Fort, situated on high ground overlooking the town of Sakaka from the northwest. It is the center of many legends, but it's widely believed that this fortress was built in the seventh century B.C. Known as Zaa'bal Fortress or Zaa'bal Palace, mud construction was added to it during the third century AD. Next, visit Al-Rajajil - the site of a group of standing stone pillars that date back to the Chalcolithic period. Continue on to Ha'il via the Nafud Desert, stopping en-route at Jubbah to see the magnificent rock carvings and petroglyphs showing camels, lions, and other wildlife that existed in this region millennia ago. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel for check-in, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Monday, Feb 17
Hail – Riyadh

In the morning, view the Oraif and Qishla Forts “from the outside” (as some of the historical forts might be under renovation), then drive to the airport for your flight to Riyadh. On arrival, transfer to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

STuesday, Feb 18
Shagra- Ushaiger- Riyadh

Today you'll make the drive to Ushaiger, a small village located about 200 km northwest of Riyadh. This village is one of the oldest towns in the Saudi region of Najd and was a major stopping point for pilgrims coming from Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran to perform Hajj. Ushaiger historical village was restored to preserve its heritage and contains a museum that displays various relics and pieces from the village. After lunch at a local restaurant, continue on to Shagra where you'll visit the old walls, which were used to protect the city from attacks. Built in the early 18th century, the walls were still in use up until the mid-20th century. Return to Riyadh for dinner and overnight at your hotel. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Feb 19
Riyadh

Start your day by visiting Diriyyah, one of the most important sites where the history of Al Saud Dynasty began. You'll take a walk through the old town to see its ruins including the palace, houses and market place. Continue on to Musmak Fort, which was built during the reign of Abdullah bin Rashid in the year 1895 A.D. Afterwards, explore the Dira Souq, then stop for lunch at a local restaurant. Next, visit the National Museum, meant to kindle pride in the Arab heritage and reverence for Islam. This national landmark is composed of eight galleries that tell the complete story of Arabian history - from the creation of the universe to our modern era. Continue on to visit Murabba Palace, one of the most important palaces built by King Abdulaziz in the year 1937 A.D. Built to accommodate his family, it was composed of a number of a smaller palaces, service buildings, and the Royal Divan. The palace was also built on the local traditional Najid style by only using local building materials. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Feb 20
Riyadh - Al Hafuf

Early this morning depart for Al Ahsa / Al Hafuf, considered the largest oasis in the world. Visit the Al Qara Caves, which consist of calcareous sandstone and sedimentary rock of clay and lime. The Jabal Al-Qarah Hills rise about 225 meters (738 ft) above sea level and include a complex set of passageways. The site has iron railings and smooth walkways to allow visitors to safely navigate small portions of the intricate caves. Continue on to the 17th century AD Ottoman Turkish Fort and the mosque it houses within its walls built in 1571 A.D. Also, visit Al Qausaryyah Souq and the oldest Souq of Hafouf, before transferring to your hotel for check in and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, Feb 21
Al Hafuf - Dammam

Morning, drive to Dammam, to visit the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture “Ethraa”. Afterwards, transfer to your hotel for check in and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Feb 22
Dammam – USA

Very early morning transfer to the airport for your flight back home, arriving USA the same day. (B)

We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed