Visiting Saudi Arabia from Jordan

by Sarah Eaton

If you are traveling long distances to visit Jordan, it often makes sense to combine your trip here with a visit to a nearby country. We have been planning multi-destination trips for years so that our clients can also visit bucket-list sites such as the pyramids or Jerusalem. Now we have a new and exiting option for you: visiting Saudi Arabia from Jordan!

Since December 2018, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to travelers of many nationalities, after years of being relatively closed to international tourism. If you had never considered visiting Saudi Arabia before, think again! The Kingdom is filled with natural beauty and cultural treasures. Our team visited Saudi not long ago to scope out the possibilities of the Tabuk region, which is easily accessed without even taking a flight. Here are some of our suggestions on visiting Saudi Arabia from Jordan, and cool things to see and do there.

Zeita desert, Tabuk Province

The Saudi e-Visa

First things, first: getting in. Of course, at the time of this writing, restrictions exist due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, The easiest thing to do is to visit the new Saudi e-Visa portal.  Not every country is yet allowed to obtain an e-Visa, so you need to check your eligibility first.  Nationals of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, 7 Asian countries and 38 European countries can apply via the online portal. If your country is not on the list, you would have to check with the nearest Saudi embassy.

The process is very quick.  When we applied as US and European passport holders the approval came in approximately 20 minutes. The e-visa itself is a one year, multiple entry visa and each time you enter you are allowed to stay a maximum of 90 days at a time. It is best to print out this visa to present when crossing the border. We didn’t do that, but they allowed us in anyway just by showing them the visa image on our cell phones.

How to enter Saudi Arabia from Jordan

If you prefer to cross into Saudi Arabia via land you do have two choices along the southern border which are open 24/7 throughout the year: (1) Mudawara Border Crossing: 322km away from Amman and (2) Durra Border Crossing: located just south of Aqaba. The third crossing, Umari, is on the eastern border and unlikely that most tourists would want to cross there. The crossings do take a bit of time.  The authorities search all bags and cars meticulously for contraband items such as drugs and alcohol. Finally, you also will undergo retinal scan and fingerprinting.

The best way to cross is with a driver who holds both Saudi and Jordanian passports as they will smooth the way for you and deal with officials in Arabic easily if you are not able to speak Arabic.

We suggest a visit to the “golden triangle” of Jordan: Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba.  End your Jordan trip in the seaside town of Aqaba (you can see more things to do in Aqaba in our post).  Then cross via the Durra border and from there you can head to one of the coastal towns like Haql or Sharma. Or, turn directly inland to reach Tabuk city.

Another option for visiting Saudi Arabia from Jordan, of course, is to fly. Royal Jordanian, Saudia, Emirates and other airlines fly from Amman to Jeddah, Medina and Riyadh. There is also the option to fly from Amman to Tabuk city, the capital of the Tabuk region.

 

I love Tabuk sign

I Love Tabuk!

What to see in Tabuk Province

The Tabuk region is itself larger than the entire country of Jordan. There is plenty to see and experience here without venturing into the larger cities further south. Especially during the summer months, this region’s temperate climate will be more like that of Jordan and not as hot than the southern areas of the kingdom.

The city of Tabuk now has a population of around 650,000. The  largest and last military expedition of the Prophet Muhammad was to Tabuk in the year 630.  You can visit the museum of Qalʿat Tabuk, an ancient castle of the “Companions of the Wood” who are mentioned in the Quran.  It is located in Tabuk’s historical city center near the Prophet Muhammad Mosque. The neighboring springs have also been rehabilitated.

In the 20th century the city grew from being a stop on the Hejaz railway. In 2019 a Hejaz railway museum was opened on the grounds of Tabuk Museum.

Railway museum in Tabuk

Hejaz Railway Museum in Tabuk

The modern Tabuk museum has high tech exhibits, and is also a must see while in the city. There are stone age artifacts, inscriptions in Kufic and Nabatean, as well as a room dedicated to the founding of the Saudi Kingdom.

While staying in the city there are some upscale hotels available, such as the Holiday Inn, and the  Hilton Garden Inn, with a fresh, modern look. The Swiss Inn has opulent interiors. For those traveling on a budget, Relax Inn is a good option.

Next, head to the unspoiled deserts!  The landscapes of Tabuk are impressive, varied and vast.  Around Tabuk you can see deserts with very different characteristics.  Some, like Bajdah, look like something you would see in a prehistoric fantasy film. Go with a local guide and hunt for petroglyphs in the deserts here!  Abdulrahman Al Balawi has a passion for petroglyphs and knows exactly where to take you.

The unusual rocks of Bajdah.

 

Wadi Al-Disah

Approximately 3 hours by car from Tabuk is a long canyon and beautiful oasis known as Wadi Qaraqir or Wadi Al-Diseh.  Water here flows continuously and the valley is filled with palm trees, bushes and grasses.  The mountains rise high, some as much as 500 meters, making an impressive scene.

The oasis of Diseh

The Oasis of Diseh.

Prepare to be Hosted!

The people of Saudi Arabia are incredibly welcoming and hospitable to guests.  Once you start to meet locals you never know where you may be invited — to a family campsite in the desert or a palatial estate.  When you arrive to Saudi Arabia it is a great idea to purchase a nice outfit of local garb.  The experience of dressing in your own Saudi keffiyeh and crisp white thobe is not to be missed.  Foreign women are not expected to cover themselves in Abaya or Hijab. But a lovely modest dress in the local style is fun to wear, especially if the men in your party are wearing the thobe.   Having a hijab to cover yourself if it makes the host more comfortable is a way to show respect. Now you will not hesitate to accept an invitation to a conservative home.

For more specific information about etiquette for dress as well as regulations while visiting the kingdom visit this site.

At the residence of the Al Talaq family in Tayma.

It was an honor to receive an invitation to the home of a prominent local family for a lovely meal and tour of the reception area of the residence.  Our host, Abdulatif al Talaq, showed us books from the family library and discussed the history of his city.  Next, we enjoyed a delicious meal!

Local guides are likely to take you from home to home to meet new people and enjoy coffee after coffee.  One of our hosts showed off his amazing collection of coffee pots. Expect unique experiences of local culture!

Coffee with a local man in Taima

 

The oasis city of Tayma

The last King of Babylon, Nabonidus, conquered several oases in this region in the 6th century BCE, including Tayma where he is supposed to have lived for 10 years.  This was a major stop for caravans for centuries. Visit the Haddah Well, Bir Hadddaj, which is one of the biggest wells in the Arabian Peninsula. It dates back to the pre-islamic era, and has been restored. This area is the richest in antiquities, some of which are on display at the Tayma museum.  The many date palm farms in this area are fun to visit.

dates

Dates in a farm in Taima.

 

Next, see The “Governor’s palace.”  This is a mud-brick construction currently under restoration, but we were able to visit.

The Governor’s Palace, Tayma

Al-Ulah : Madain Salah

Arguably the crown jewel of Saudi Tourism sites is the ancient city of Madain Salah, built circa 400BC. When visiting Saudi Arabia from Jordan, you will enjoy seeing both UNESCO world heritage sites of Petra and Madain Saleh, the Nabateans’ second largest city.  It is an otherworldly landscape with tombs and carved facades.

The Kingdom is now building up the tourism infrastructure here. Expect reopening in October 2020.

Qasr Al-Farid in Mada’in Salah. Photo from VisitSaudi

While here you can visit the Thamudic neolithic site featuring the well of the she-camel.  Also see the partially excavated dwellings of the nation of Thamud (narrated numerously in the Quran).

The Red Sea coast

There are 660 kilometers of coastline along the Red Sea in the Tabuk region. You will find Haql, nearest to Aqaba, a city developed for tourism. Many water activities are available.

You can enjoy a full day sea trip by boat where you can swim, snorkel and fish.  We recommend staying at Sharma,  with its virgin beaches, reefs, and an incredible diversity of marine life.  The Golden Tulip Resort offers upscale accommodation.

Golden Tulip Resort

The Golden Tulip Resort

 

In January 2019, Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) operated the first chartered flight to Neom Airport in coastal Sharma.  This huge area is part of a $500 billion megaproject to create a high-tech, sustainable megacity called Neom, which may someday rival Dubai.   In the future, you may be flying direct to Sharma for your Arabian vacation.

Beach view from the Golden Tulip resort.

Biblical sites in Tabuk Region

For Christian travelers, the Biblical site where Moses dwelled under the protection of Jethro is a must see. There are ancient local traditions concerning Moses around this area.

The site also includes Nabatean Tombs known as Maghair Al-Bidaah and Maghair Shuaib in Al-Bidaah Oasis.  And you can see the Al Bidaah Wells, Bir Al’Sa’eedni, in Wadi Afal, facing the Nabataean tombs.  In the winter, locals grow vegetables and fruits here.

Al Bidaah, or ancient Midian, where Moses dwelled with Jethro

According to the Exodus account, the people crossed the Red Sea and then gathered at Mount Sinai where the ten commandments were given.  Apostle Paul refers in Galatians to “Mount Sinai in Arabia.”  You will pass through an area called Seena as you head west from Tabuk city. Darker shrubs called retam and lighter ones called remth are growing in the desert.

Many areas in Saudi Arabia are associated with the prophet Moses. And local tour guides are increasingly aware of the Biblical significance attached to this site.  Tourism of Jabal Al Lawz, the Golden Calf Altar point, the land of Midian, Rephidam, and the exodus route is picking up here with visits from believers from all over the world.

Jabal Al Lawz

Jabal Al Lawz, “Almond Mountain”

In the evening, enjoy a local meal at a bedouin tent erected to receive visitors.

Dinner at a bedouin tent nearby.

If you are interested in visiting Saudi Arabia from Jordan, get in touch with us.  We can help you arrange your trip to both countries!

 

 

 

 

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