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Saudi Arabia
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Facts at a Glance
 Full country name: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Area: 2 million sq km (1.2 million sq mi)

Population: 21.5 million

Capital city: Riyadh (pop 3 million)

People: Arabs, Bedouins, Najdis and expats from all over the world

Language: Arabic, English

Religion: Islam

Government: Monarchy

Head of State: King Fahd


About 2.2 million sq km (0.85 million sq mi) in size, Saudi Arabia is mostly desert. It's bordered to the south-east by Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, to the north by Iraq and Kuwait, and to the west by Jordan. Western Saudi Arabia is dominated by a mountain chain which runs the entire length of the country, getting higher and wider to the south. About half the country (an area the size of France) is taken up by the Rub' al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world. A second great sand desert, the Nafud, stretches its way across the north-west of the country, while the centre and north of Saudi Arabia is mostly gravelly plains. The east is flat and low-lying, an area of

Unsurprisingly, considering all that desert, there's not much in the way of flora and fauna in Saudi Arabia. There are a number of scrub species, as well as tamarinds growing in some deserts and evergreens in the forested regions of Asir. If it's fauna you're after, you'd better like camels. They're Saudi Arabia's most visible wildlife, although there are also nocturnal hedgehogs and sand cats in some areas, and Hamadryas baboons in Asir.

Saudi Arabia's deserts have extreme climates. From mid-April to mid-October, expect daytime temperatures of 45°C (113°F) or higher throughout the country. In the dead of winter (December to January) things cool down in the cities: it's only around 15°C (59°F) during the day, and can be colder in the central deserts overnight. In the coastal areas it rains regularly, with high humidity in the summer, but there's very little rainfall in the capital Riyadh.

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$186 billion

GDP per head: US$9000

Annual growth: -9%

Inflation: 0%

Major industries: Oil, steel, cement, wheat

Major trading partners: Japan, United States, EU, India

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: There is no such thing as a tourist visa for Saudi Arabia. You can enter the country with a visitor's transit or (if you're Muslim) hajj or umrah visa. To get a visitor's visa you will have to be sponsored by a Saudi individual or company. Another option is a 24 or 48-hour transit visa - to get one you have to prove that you had no choice other than to stop-over in Saudi Arabia en route to your final destination. You can now also visit the country as a non-Muslim if you join an approved (and expensive - US$5000 plus) organised tour.

Health risks: No particular risks, but you should consider vaccinations for hepatitis A

Time: GMT/UTC plus 3 hours

Electricity: 110V, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs
 Currency:Saudi Arabian riyal
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$4-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-20
  • Top-end: US$20 and upwards

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$5-20
  • Mid-range: US$20-60
  • Top-end: US$60 and upwards
  • Saudi Arabia is not a cheap place, but it's possible to travel relatively inexpensively if you put your mind to it. If you're on a rock-bottom budget, expect to spend around US$25 a day. If you'd prefer a little comfort, double that amount. If you want luxury, double it again.

    Changing travellers' cheques can be a real pain. Many banks and moneychangers either won't take them, will only change brands they sell or will only cash them for account holders. Always carry your original purchase receipt with you, as the few places that change cheques will require it. If you're changing cash, moneychangers will give you a slightly better rate than banks. Saudi Cairo Bank ATMs are linked to the Cirrus and Plus networks.

    Tips are not generally expected in Saudi restaurants. There is a service charge, but the money does not go to the (poorly-paid) waiters, so you might want to consider adding a few riyal to your bill. The price of almost anything is negotiable (to a point). In Bedouin markets you can haggle incessantly, but elsewhere it's a two-step process: you ask for a discount, you get given it. You can either take it or leave it.

    When to Go

    The best time to visit is between November and February when the climate is mild. The Asir mountains are at their best a bit earlier and a bit later than the rest of the country - during winter they are often locked in fog.

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