Change is afoot in Saudi Arabia. And not just for the kingdom’s own citizens: this year, the country is set to properly open its doors to tourism. One of the world’s biggest economies, Saudi Arabia is also one of its least explored lands due to strict rules on entry, unless you’re visiting for business or religious purposes. But that’s about to change. Or so it’s hoped, anyway. According to the state tourism board, this year will see the kingdom grant tourist visas for the first time ever (though Emiratis don’t need one).
Right on cue, tour operators are wasting no time in planning itineraries. Leading the charge, Steppes Travel was given special permission to run a tour in 2017 to Mad’ain Saleh, a relic of the ancient Nabatean Kingdom. With other sites like the ancient ruins of Timna, the coastal Asir mountains and the East Coast Tarout Island on the wish-list, the plan is to start tours properly in 2018. “Right now, we’re just registering interest and only confirming bookings once the government officially opens applications for visas,” says managing director Justin Wateridge. Any day now, it’s thought.