EliteVoyage travel designer Matty Grund reports from one of the world’s newest and most talked about luxury travel destinations – Saudi Arabia.
What’s it like in Saudi? How is the accommodation? Is it safe? What can you do? Matty just spent a week exploring and this report may really surprise you.
Saudi Arabia aims to be the big new destination of the 2020s, a bit like Dubai a decade ago. We had so many questions and were one of the first global agencies to check it out.
What’s it like to Travel in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia evokes so many stereotypes. Are they true?
I was really surprised and I definitely want to go again, says Matty. I met a lot of single female travellers from different countries and it’s super safe for them. The stereotypes are gone.
There were four ladies in our group and nobody cared that they didn’t wear a headscarf. People were really interested in my tattoos, I don’t think they’d seen them before. I was wearing shorts, I watched couples holding hands. This is acceptable now and the speed of change is really nice.
Saudi Arabia is a modern country. There’s Western music and DJs, even a music festival for 700,000 people. You can see the massive development in everything, from the cities to all the tourist attractions.
Alula – The Best Destination in Saudi Arabia
Where do you holiday in Saudi Arabia? Matty is very clear – Alula is the best destination at the moment.
Alula is a destination for exploring nature and culture. There is a lot to do. It’s so beautiful and the level of service is amazing.
I stayed two nights at Habitas AlUla. It’s in a valley surrounded by rocks. They have an excellent spa and wellness, plus swimming pools that men and women can use together (in Jeddah they have separate men’s and women’s pools, or separate hours).
Habitas is great for young guests and kids. They have trampolines and e-bikes. You can stay in a caravan tent as well. The food was amazing and very healthy, a Western style with an Arabian touch.
I went to a sunset party on Elephant Rock, explored the historic sights like old Alula city, and found a mirror building in the desert.
I recommend five nights in Alula as this allows time for exploring and relaxation. I suggest four nights at Habitas and one night in their caravan camp, which is a very unique experience.
Habitas has three categories of villas but they’re all very similar. The first two categories are identical, it just depends on the location. The family villas are bigger with sofas.
I also inspected the Banyan Tree. If you want more upscale luxury then Banyan Tree will be a good choice, as they have bigger villas with private pools. But the location isn’t as cool as it’s not fully finished yet. So I don’t recommend it until at least the end of 2023.
Can you drink alcohol in Saudi Arabia? And how is the service?
Two really important questions. Here’s Matty to tell us all.
You can’t drink alcohol. You can’t buy it anywhere, it’s not like Dubai where you can drink in the hotels. But the atmosphere is amazing and the people are super friendly.
Nobody can drink so everybody is used to it. I didn’t find it boring. I think it’s better actually, everyone is on the same vibe and I didn’t miss not having a drink.
The Saudi population is young, the average age is 30 years old. They are ready for tourists and they speak English, French and Arabic. Both ladies and guys are friendly and really interested in visitors like me. Tourism is new here and I could feel the excitement.
The Saudi service is amazing. They drive you in new luxurious cars and the people are really well trained, including many international staff who have come from Dubai.
Restaurants were very high quality as well, both international and local restaurants. I went to a sunset point in a brand new Land Rover, where I smoked shisha and drank non-alcoholic beer. It was really cool.
Want to Know the Newest Destinations?
What other destinations can you explore in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia will spend over USD 500 billion to develop tourism over the next ten years. Many parts of their master plan are not yet ready. Where can you go in Saudi Arabia now?
In Riyadh there is the Edge of the World, spectacular scenery with the rocky mountains, the Skywalk and National Museum. Two days is enough though.
Flights from Dubai and Istanbul are landing in Riyadh. Note that it’s a big metropolis with 8.5 million people. They have huge fountains like Dubai and you can see the investment, especially in the architecture. It’s an interesting city, but don’t stay too long.
Jeddah is a city of 3 million people on the coast, where they have new hotels like the Shangri-la.
I don’t think Jeddah is ready for tourism in the same way. It’s more of a destination for Arabic people visiting Mecca and it’s stricter. Jeddah is on the Red Sea and there are some private beach clubs, but they are separate for men and women.
You can rent a yacht and do a half day swimming and snorkelling trip. The fish and coral were amazing – it was so quiet out there. However, I don’t recommend Jeddah for tourists just yet.
Saudi Arabia is building a new resort area on the Red Sea, so Saudi Arabia will become a beach destination in the coming years. They will also be hosting the Asian Winter Games in 2029. I bet that surprises you!
Will you Explore Saudi Arabia?
At the moment, Saudi Arabia is an adventure holiday destination. Alula is an incredible place and I want to keep returning to the country to see their new destinations, as they develop.
I’ve arranged a one-week holiday for an EliteVoyage client, centred around Alula.
It was incredible to be one of the first people experiencing this changing country. Will you give Saudi Arabia a try as well? Get in touch and I’ll answer all your questions.