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Saudi Arabia guide
|Car hire Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia, the only country named after its ruling family, the Al-Sauds, dominates the Arabian Peninsula. The eastern coast borders the Persian Gulf and United Arab Emirates; to the south are Oman and Yemen; Jordan, Kuwait, and Iraq lie to the north; and the western coast borders the Red Sea. Saudi Arabia is roughly the size of Western Europe, or about a third of the size of the United States.
Population and Language
Saudi Arabia’s population is approximately 26.5 million, which includes five and a half million non-nationals, mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines, most of whom immigrated as religious pilgrims. There are fewer than 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia.
The vast majority of Saudis are ethnically Arab, with an estimated 10 percent of the natives Afro-Asian. Seventy-five percent of the Saudi Arabian population is younger than 35 years old.
Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia but English is also widely spoken in business and is a mandatory second language taught in schools.
Major Cities and tourist destinations
The largest cities are Riyadh (4.7 million pop.); Jeddah (3.2 million); Mecca (1.48 million); Medina (1.1 million); and Dammam (902,000).
Mecca is the birthplace of Mohammed, who founded Islam, the world’s second largest religion behind Christianity. According to Islamic law, Muslims must make a pilgrimage to Mecca, called the Hajj, at least once in their life, unless prevented by financial hardship or physical incapacitation. Al Masjid al-Haram, the Holy Mosque, which can accommodate more than 800,000 people, is considered the holiest mosque in the world by Muslims.
Saudi Arabia culture is restrictive by western standards. Movie theatres, alcohol, nightclubs, and bars are all prohibited in Saudi. But sports are very popular and Riyadh has several stadiums. One of the favorite national pastimes in Riyadh is shopping, with many Western-style malls available.
In southern Saudi Arabia is Rub Al-Khali, which means Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world, with some dunes reaching 300 feet high. The swirling winds shape the sand into strange patterns that have prompted some people to call the desert Mars on Earth.
Saudi Arabia is hot and dry, with an average rainfall of just four inches a year and an average overall temperature of 77°F (25°C). Saudi Arabia is so dry there are no permanent rivers or lakes.
The warmest months are July and August, with an average temperature of 113°F (45°C). The highest temperature ever recorded in Saudi Arabia was 125 degrees F in 2010. In some northern areas of the country, the temperature can get near freezing in December and January but the average overall temperature is 25.3 °C (77 °F).
Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading exporter of oil, which accounts for an estimated 80 percent of the country’s wealth. The country also has mineral deposits that include gold, iron ore, copper, phosphates and bauxite. The Saudi Arabian government is also working to shore up other industries such as steel, dates, pharmaceuticals, and plastics. The country’s main imports include machinery, food items, chemicals, cars, and textiles.
The estimated Saudi gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012 was $568 billion.
There are four international airports in Saudi Arabia: King Abdulaziz International Airport (Jeddah); King Fahd International Airport (Dammam); King Khaled Intl Airport (Riyadh); and Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport (Madinah). Advance visas are required for all foreigners desiring to enter.
While the buses are modern and comfortable, general travel is slow and bus stations tend to be on the outskirts of cities. However, VIP service offers non-stop passage with drop offs at the city center.
The only train route currently available runs between Riyadh and Dammam and is run by Saudi Railways. Seating is first come, first served. The trains have a food car and a push-trolley service.
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest accident rates in the world so if you rent a car, be careful. And if you are at fault, you are subject to the country’s harsh legal system. The one upside: some of the cheapest gas prices in the world.
Within cities, taxis are the recommended mode of transportation.
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