Saudi Arabia is one of those countries that cannot elude your attention for too long. Known officially as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), it is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad and the cradle of Islam. Its scintillating port-city, Jeddah, though not a sacred city on its own, is the main gateway into Mecca and Medina (the two major cities attributed to the life and work of the Prophet). With a population of over 4.2 million, it is the second largest city in Saudi Arabia after the capital, Riyadh. En economic, social and entertainment centre in the region, Jeddah has a thriving expat community that can serve tourists if they lose their way. Designated a Gamma World City by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network, Jeddah was historically home to renowned money changers, the greatest of which, Sheikh Salem Bin Mahfouz, founded the National Commercial Bank.
Jeddah is located within the bounds of the tropical arid climate zone and this grants it little or no temperature fluctuations. Castigated (or blessed – depending on the person and the situation) by heat all year long, it is not for the ones who don’t react well with the sweat-inducing extremity of the heat spectrum. There is a “winter” but it only means slightly less heat. To bring this into perspective, let us just say that the highest temperature ever recorded there was in 2010 and it reached 52 degrees Celsius (in June) while the lowest was in February reaching 9.8 (in 1993). Daily means never fall below 24 degrees and this means that you should pack those swimsuits no matter what. Things to keep an eye on are dust storms, which can occur as strong winds transport it from the Arabian Peninsula, and thunderstorms that only happen during wintertime.
Jeddah is served by the King Abdulaziz International Airport located 19 kilometres north of the city centre. Serving more than a staggering 30 million passengers each year, it is the busiest airport in Saudi Arabia (remember its gateway status when it comes to visiting Mecca). To up this up a bit, the airport even has a separate terminal for those who are on their Hajj (the sacred pilgrimage of Islam). This has grown it into a juggernaut that can handle more than 80,000 passengers simultaneously. Serving as a hub for the Sadia and the Flynas airlines, the airport operates with three runways: two asphalted ones and one made of concrete. What’s important to know here is that the only formal means to move between the two terminals is by taxi.
And we have thus arrived at the most commonly-used means to get around in Jeddah: cabs. There are three types of taxis in the city and one should be aware of all three of them. The ones that we recommend that you use are the white ones called Limousines. These cabs cannot be older than 5 years by law and this makes them safer, classier, and, above all, air conditioned. This is the most expensive choice but what this means in Saudi Arabia is that you will pay only 2-3 USD more (nothing when compared to some western countries). The second taxi type that you will encounter there is the yellow kind. These are going to be a little bit cheaper but they will rarely be air conditioned and they are rarer too. And then there are the pirate cabs that operate throughout Jeddah. These can be anywhere and they can promise you attractive prices – they are unreliable, however, and will often pretend that they are lost so that you will pay them a little extra (note that pirate cabs are illegal and they are hunted by the local law enforcement – it is best to stay clear of them). Also, always agree upon a price before you take the ride (use your haggling skills well and if no reasonable price is offered, feel free to walk away) and do not let yourself be fooled – this goes for all taxi types.
SIGHTS AND ACTIVITIES:
If you are visiting Jeddah, you are most probably going there for the Al-Balad old town area of the city. Historically surrounded by a wall of which only memories remain, the old town still has its gates reminding us of how secure and grandiose it used to be in its prime days. Dotted with ancient buildings and multi-storey coral houses, it is probably most famous for its souqs (markets). What’s great about this place is that it has turned into a tourist hotspot with countless souvenir and robe shops. If you are looking to wrap yourself into traditional Arabic attire, this would be the best place for you. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 under the official name “Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah”, it is home also to the famous Nasseef House (a museum and cultural centre with 106 rooms that we highly recommend that you explore). Oh, and let us not forget about the Souq al-Alawi, a large market in the heart of the old town area. Definitely a must-experience!
Next up, you should head over and bask in the magnificence of the King Fahd’s Fountain, one of the highest fountains of the world. Shooting water to a height of 260 or 312 metres (debatable), it has over 500 spotlights to illuminate it at night. Sitting proudly upon the Red Sea, the fountain can shoot over 16 tons of water into the air with a maximum speed of 375 km/h. If this isn’t a spectacle in itself, then we have no idea what is.
If you are up for some fun, pay a visit to the Al-Shallal Theme Park owned by Sheikh Abdul Rahman Fakieh. Stretching upon 60,000 square metres, the theme park has a total of 11 rides (with a water ride and a roller coaster as well). What’s interesting about this place is that it has thematic areas pertaining to the Amazon, Europe and even the Far East. These places will be surprisingly authentic and even classy. Take your time and do bring your children with you if you happen to be travelling with them!
Jeddah is a place that cannot be overlooked when it comes to entertainment, splendour and climate. For those who do not mind the heat, it will appear as though Jeddah were the perfect place. We do, however, recommend that you read our other articles pertaining to Muslim countries such as “Visit Dubai – The Oasis of Luxury” and “11 Things to Know Before Travelling to Muslim Countries” for a better understanding of Islamic customs, dos and don’ts. Safe travels!