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Saudi Arabia... The Forbidden Kingdom

November 03 to 17, 2018

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.

Trip remark: The Madain Saleh is going through detailed restoration at the moment and it is very hard to predict when it is going to be open so if it will be closed at the time of your visit we will offer another Nabataean site known as Madain Shuaib and keep the right to change the order of the sightseeing activities as below.

Per person sharing in double occupancy (Air and land from NYC): $8,495.00
Single Supplement: $995.00   

Credit for not using our included airfare $750.00

Escorted by Professor Denise Schmandt-Besserat, Archaeologist, the University of Texas at Austin

Price based on a group size minimum of 6 and maximum of 12 participants

Your tour does not include

  • Airfare to/from JFK to/from home airport.
  • Airport taxes/fuel surcharges and security fees (approx. $500.00).
  • Saudi Arabia Visa - $224.00 at time of printing including processing and 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

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

About your lecturer...Professor Denise Schmandt-Besserat is professor emerita of Art History and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. A graduate of L’Ecole du Louvre in Paris, she is a renowned Near Eastern archaeologist. She has worked on archaeological collections in all the major museums of the Middle East, Europe and the USA. She is the author of When Writing Met Art (2007), Before Writing (1992) and When Writing Came About…, which was selected by American Scientist magazine as “one of the 100 books that shaped science in the 20th century”. Her work on the origins of writing and mathematics has been covered by Scientific American, Time, Life, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. She has appeared on television programs such as Out of the Past (Discovery Channel), the Nature of Things (CBC), Search for Solutions (PBS) and Tell the Truth (NBC). For many years Denise has led our tours to the Near East and Central Asia and her lectures and handouts will add to the enjoyment of your tour. You can already get acquainted with her and her scholarly work on Wikipedia and by browsing her web site: http://sites.utexas.edu/dsb

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.

Photographs by Kaylee Dall, www.kayleejay.com

View Tour Itinerary

Saturday, Nov 03
Depart the US

Depart the US for Jeddah arriving the second day.

Sunday, Nov 04
Arrive Jeddah

Arrive in Jeddah, meet, assist and transfer to your hotel for check in and overnight.

Monday, Nov 05

Start your morning by visiting the old Ottoman houses, mostly constructed from coral and reinforced with wood so that beams crisscross the interior walls. The most beautiful & well known is Nasif House, which was built during the 1850s 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. Then visit Altaybat Int’l City for Sciences and Knowledge which is a very beautiful museum that houses endless collections of art, ethnography and archaeology artifacts. After a lunch at a local restaurant, we will make a stop at the corniche of Jeddah (seaside promenade), a major attraction that acts as an open-air museum displaying an array of modern sculptures and gathering social place for locals. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Nov 06
Jeddah to Abha

Check out from the hotel and visit the colorful Fish Market. After, enjoy a walking tour along the corniche (Promenade) on the Red Sea to admire the different parks and the displays of sculptures before lunch. Followed by transfer to the airport for your flight to Abha. Upon arrival, check-in at the hotel and dinner. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Nov 07

A full day excursion with a visit to Mount Souda, Khamis Mushayt, and Hamsan Village. First stop at the top of Mount Souda Mountains of Saudi Arabia, located in the Hejaz Mountains. Continue to visit Khamis Mushayt, an industrial city about 25 km east of Abha. Afterward stop at the Al Hamsan Traditional Village on the outskirts of town consists of a stone tower and buildings; including a museum that is a replica of an Asir home two decades ago, an auditorium, a traditional restaurant and a gift shop. Lunch at a local restaurant in Bin Himsan, Visit of the traditional baskets’ market and Muftaha Village Art Gallery. That evening, visit a typical Saudi home and get to have a personal interaction with some wonderful local people. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Nov 08
Abha to Al Ula

Start your day with an early breakfast at your hotel then transfer to the airport for your flight to Jeddah, arrive and connect your flight to Al Ula, arrive Al Ula and transfer to your luxury camp for check-in and lunch. In the Afternoon visiting the old houses, the museum in Al Ula, the Hijaz Railway Station and the magnificent iconic Elephant Rock. (B,L,D)

Friday, Nov 09
Al Ula

Start your full day excursion to the archaeological site of Madain Saleh, the Nabatean Well, Qasr Al Bint, Diwan and Al Farid Palace. Wadi Al Ula, gateway to Madain Saleh is known for its Lion of the Lihyanites - predecessors of the Nabateans (100 to 500 BC). Madain Saleh was known as “Al Hijr” in the ancient times & served as a stopover on a very prosperous trade route. Return to your camp for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Nov 10
Al Ula to Al Jouf

In the morning drive to Al Jouf. Once you land transfer to your hotel for check-in and then continue to Al-Rajajil - the site of a group of standing stone pillars that date back to the Chalcolithic period. Afterward, return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Friday, Nov 09
Al Ula to Tabuk

In the morning, drive to Khuraiba Lion tombs for a visit from outside then continue to Al Wajh to visit the old city. After lunch, visit Madain Shuaib, the 2nd most important Nabatean site in the Kingdom with its rock-carved tombs dating from the era of 4th century BC to 1st Century AD. Afterward head to Tabuk for dinner and overnight at your hotel. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Nov 10
Tabuk to Al Jouf

After breakfast depart Tabuk visiting the Hijaz railway station (from outside); then continue to visit one of the forts followed by the mosque of Domat Al Jandal. After continue to the ancient stone fortress, also known as Marid Castle, is 2,000Ft high. Built with stones on a hill, it majestically overlooks the old city. Afterward make a stop to visit Omar’s mosque, named after the second Moslem Caliph: Omar Ibn Al Khatab before arriving at Al Jouf for dinner and overnight. (B, L, D)

Sunday, Nov 11
Al Jouf to Hail

Begin your day with a visit to Sakaka Fort, overlooking Sakaka from the northwest, it is the center of many legends, but it's widely believed that this fortress was built in the 7th century B.C. It is known as Zaa'bal Fortress and Zaa'bal Palace. Visit Al-Rajajil - the site of standing stone pillars that date back to the Chalcolithic period. Continue to Hail via the Nafud Desert, visiting in route Jubbah to see the magnificent rock carvings. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Monday, Nov 12
Hail to Al Qassim

In the morning view, the Oraif and Qishla Forts (from outside) then drive to Al Qassim which is about a 2-hour drive. Arrive and visit Al Musaugef Museum, then Shenana tower from the 11th century Jedieah Museum and King Fahad mosque, dinner and overnight at your hotel. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Nov 13
Shagra - Ushaiger - Riyadh

Start your day driving to Riyadh. In route visit Ushaiger, a small village 200 km NW of Riyadh. The village is one of the oldest towns in the Saudi region of Najd and it was a major stopping point for pilgrims coming from Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran to perform Hajj. Ushaiger historical village has been restored to preserve its heritage and has a museum which displays various relics and pieces from the village. Continue to Shagra to visit the old walls that used to protect the city from attacks. It was built in the early 18th century and was in use until the mid-20th century. Arrive in Riyadh for dinner and overnight at your hotel. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Nov 14

Have a Morning of leisure. After lunch visit Diriyyah, where the history of Al Saud Dynasty began. Continue to Musmak Fort built during the reign of Abdullah bin Rashid in the year 1895 A.D. as a military garrison for his army. Afterward have Lunch then visit the National Museum, a place of learning and discovery, meant to kindle pride in the Arab heritage and reverence for Islam. This national Landmark is composed of eight galleries telling the complete story of Arabian History from the creation of the universe to our modern era. Then continue to Murabba Palace which was built by King Abdulaziz in the year 1937 A.D. and was composed of a number of presidential palaces, service buildings, and King Abdulaziz Divan. This palace was built in the traditional Najid style by using local building material only. Afterward, see Dira Souq. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B, L, D)

Thursday, Nov 15
Riyadh - Dammam

Start your morning by driving 96 km northwest of Riyadh the magnificent sight the ‘Edge of the world’. Here the cliffs of Tuwaiq Escarpment drop away giving splendid views over the plain below. On a foggy day, the whole plain below is an endless sea of haze. Then continue to Dammam for dinner and overnight. (B, L, D)

Friday, Nov 16
Dammam -Al Hafuf – Dammam

Early departure to Al Ahsa/Al Hafuf, considered the largest oasis in the world. Visit the Al Qara caves, consisting of calcareous sandstone, and sedimentary rock of clay and lime. Jabal Al-Qarah rises about 738 feet above sea level and has a complex set of passageways. The site has iron railings and smooth walkways to allow novice explorers to safely navigate small portions of the intricate caves. Continue to the Ottoman Turkish Fort from the 17th Century AD (from outside). Afterward head back to Dammam to visit the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture. Then back to hotel for either overnight OR to rest for a few hours before your very early morning flight out. (B,L)

Saturday, Nov 17
Dammam to USA or Bahrain

Transfer to the airport for your flight back home. OR to Bahrain, through the Causeway to cross the gulf to the Island of Bahrain (B).

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