SAUDI Arabia is to allow tourists to visit the strict Islamic country for the first time.
The kingdom is issuing tourist visas from today — part of ambitious plans to tempt more than 100 million visitors there by 2030.
Holidaymakers will be able to explore the beaches of the Red Sea, the snow-covered mountains of Tabuk, the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter and the stunning archaeological site at Mada’in Saleh.
Until now, only Muslims on the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca were allowed into Saudi Arabia unless on business.
But the new visa will allow anyone to explore a country shrouded in mystery for many Brits. The multiple-entry, year-long document will allow visitors to stay for up to 90 days.
It is likely to cost around £95 and includes medical insurance.
Visitors to the country will be required to wear modest, loose-fitting clothing and avoid any garments with foul language or gestures printed on them.
Men cannot wear shorts or vest tops and women must cover their shoulders and wear knee-length skirts.
And do not expect to be able to enjoy a cocktail there — the sale, purchase or consumption of alcohol is illegal, as is bringing any alcohol or drugs into the country.
The decision to let in tourists comes as Saudi Arabia tries to reduce its reliance on oil as its major economic driver.
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The ambitious plans aim to increase arrivals at Saudi Arabia’s airport by 150 million passengers per year, as well as the construction of half a million new hotel rooms.
A spokesman for travel association Abta said: “Saudi Arabia may appear an unusual holiday destination but 30 years ago you would have said the same about other destinations in the Middle East, some of which now attract hundreds of thousands of UK holidaymakers.
“Saudi Arabia has the Red Sea, miles of sandy beaches and can definitely be relied upon for guaranteed sun.”
Best places to visit
NOW that tourists are welcome in Saudi Arabia, we take a look at the country’s top five destinations.
MADA’IN SALEH: An astonishing archaeological site of 111 monumental tombs dating from the 1st Century BC to the 1st Century AD.
JEDDAH: The port city is a Unesco World Heritage site known as the gateway to Mecca. A captivating mix of ancient and modern, filled with bustling souks, and long stretches of sandy beaches.
AL-AHSA OASIS: The world’s largest oasis, with more than 2.5 million date palms plus gardens, canals, springs, wells and lakes.
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD: Towering cliffs near the capital Riyadh offering uninterrupted views over arid plains.
THE RED SEA PROJECT: An ambitious project developing thousands of square miles of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, featuring deserts, volcanoes and canyons.
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