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Saudi Arabia... The Forbidden Kingdom

November 28 to December 12, 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 The Arabian Gulf (Nov 15 - 29, 2020)

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

Single Supplement: $995.00    

Escorted by professional tour lecturer Michel Behar

Price based on a group size minimum of 6 and maximum of 16 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 some ancient sites; few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some long rides and extensive drives.

Lodging Level:

*** -****Superior: In large cities 5 stars’ hotels and in some smaller towns, lodges and hotels with limited amenities, average service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (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. Also note that some days entail very long drives along barren terrain.

About your lecturer... Michel Behar boasts an impressive list of credentials and just reading through it makes you want to meet this person and share the road with him. A Dutch citizen, after his studies of Russian and Arabic in the Netherlands he took a course of advanced Arabic at the University of Khartoum in Sudan. Fluent in 12 languages including Farsi, English, Turkish, and Hebrew, he has an understanding of 7 others. He has been a tour manager since 1987 leading groups for US, Dutch, Swiss, German, and British companies. He has accompanied custom tours as a leader/photographer for many prestigious institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History, Harvard Museum of Natural History, the American Institute of Archaeology, and the universities of Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, Northwestern, Princeton and Wellesley. He has traveled extensively throughout the world and visited all 21 Arab countries and for the last 20 years has turned his passion for photography into a second career. Touring has afforded him the opportunity to capture stirring images from out of the way places in Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia just to name a few. His work has been exhibited in museums in the Netherlands and New York. He currently lectures on current affairs related to the Near East and the ethnic groups inhabiting this region. During this same period he has dabbled in journalism writing for several European newspapers on topics as varied as technology and economics. He maintains a travel blog has done freelance work for travel guides and likes of course what else World Music.

Photographs by Kaylee Dall, www.kayleejay.com

View Tour Itinerary

Sat-Sun, Nov 28-29
Arrive Jeddah

Depart USA to Jeddah arriving the second day. Upon arrival, meet, assist and transfer to your hotel for check in and overnight. Dinner provided only if you arrive to Jeddah prior to 8 PM (D)

Monday, Nov 30

A morning visit to some of 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 (from outside), 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. Lunch at local restaurant, continue to visit the corniche of Jeddah (sea-side promenade), a major attraction that acts as an open air museum displaying an array of modern sculptures and gathering social place for locals. Then visit Altaybat Int’l City for Sciences and Knowledge also known as Abdul Rauf Khalil Art Museum. Which is a very beautiful museum that houses endless collections of arts, ethnography and archaeology artifacts. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, Dec 01
Jeddah – Abha

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

Wednesday, Dec 02
Khamis Mushayt (Abha)

Asir, with its capital at Abha, is mainly a highland province and includes the entire area of southwest Saudi Arabia till the Yemen border. Full day excursion with a visit to Mount Souda, Khamis Mushayt, and Hamsan Village. We first stop at the top of Mount Souda, located in the Hejaz Mountains. We continue to Khamis Mushayt, an industrial city about 25 km east of Abha. The city's antique silver market is its chief tourist draw. Afterwards stop at Bin Hamsan Traditional Village on the outskirts of town, an imaginative development consisting of a stone tower and buildings; including a museum that is 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 Al Habala, the location of the first cable car in Asir, is named after an old village located on a steep 400 meter cliff made famous by the people of Al Habala. The inhabitants lived in stone dwelling clinging to the cliff-face for the security and safety found in the rock walls. So sheer was the Cliffside that the villagers --men and women-- lowered themselves down into ravine on ropes. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Dec 03
Abha - Al Ula

Breakfast then transfer to the airport for your flight to Al Ula via Jeddah or Riyadh; arrive and connect to your next flight to Al Ula. Transfer to our luxury camp for check-in and lunch. This afternoon visit the old houses, and the Lion Tombs from outside the magnificent iconic Elephant Rock. Dinner and overnight at your camp (B, L,D)

Friday, Dec 04
Al Ula - Madain Saleh

Start the day with visiting the archaeological site of Madain Saleh, visiting the Nabatean Well, Qasr Al Bint, Diwan and Al Farid Palace. Continue to Wadi Al Ula, gateway to Madain Saleh, which known for its Lion of the Lihyanites - predecessors of the Nabateans (100 to 500 BC). Madain Saleh known as “Al Hijr” in the ancient times, and which served as a stopover on a very prosperous trade route. The cities flourished over a vast area that is now quite isolated and it encompasses 2000 sq meters of relics and tombs. Return to our camp for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Saturday, Dec 05
Al Ula - Al Jouf

This morning drive to Al Jouf via Tima, were you will see the Haddaj Water Well, Al Hamra Palace and Radham Fort. Continue on the drive to visit Dowmat Al Jandal. This ancient stone fortress is also known as Marid Castle, and is 2,000 Ft high and 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 to Al Jouf and transfer to your hotel for check in, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Sunday, Dec 06
Al Jouf – Hail

We begin our day 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 7th century B.C. Mud construction was added to it in the 3rd century AD. It is known as Zaa'bal Fortress or Zaa'bal Palace. Then continue to Al-Rajajil - the site of a group of standing stone pillars that date back to the Chalcolithic period. Continue to Hail via Nafud Desert, visiting en-route Jubbah to see the magnificent rock carvings and petroglyphs showing camels, lions, and other wildlife that existed in these region millennia ago. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel for check in, dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Monday, Dec 07
Hail – Riyadh

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

Tuesday, Dec 08
Shagra- Ushaiger- Riyadh

Start your day by Driving to 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 is restored to preserve its heritage and has a museum which displays various relics and pieces from the village. We will have lunch at the local restaurant. 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. Return to Riyadh for dinner and overnight at your hotel. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, Dec 09

Start your day by visiting Diriyyah, one of the most important sites, from where the history of Al Saud Dynasty began. It is the old town where you will walk through its ruins seeing the palace, the houses and the market place. Continue to Musmak Fort which was built during the reign of Abdullah bin Rashid in the year 1895 A.D. Afterwards, see Dira Souq then stop for lunch at a local restaurant. Then visit the National Museum, 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. Next is a visit to Murabba Palace is among the most important palace built by King Abdulaziz in the year 1937 A.D. built to accommodate his family and was composed of a number of a smaller palaces, service buildings and the Royal Divan. This palace was built on the local traditional Najid style by using local building material only. Return to your hotel for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)

Thursday, Dec 10
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, Dec 11
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, Dec 12
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