Jeddah is the main starting point for diving adventures into the Red Sea from the Saudi Arabian coast. Here you can find the highest concentration of dive shops, a Nitrox filling station, beach resorts, a recompression chamber and much more...
If you are a visitor to Jeddah don't miss a trip to the "Balad" (old city) and it's souks.
TRAVEL TO SAUDI ARABIA
Tourist visas are issued on a extremely strictly base, only if (expensive) tours are booked through the very few authorized travel agents or SAUDIA, the national airline. Women have to be accompanied by a male relative unless they are older than 40. Exact visa procedures you have to request from your nearest Saudi embassy, because these vary widely from country to country and from officer to officer.
If you have relatives living in Saudi Arabia - they are allowed (most of the time) to invite close relatives, such as their parents, kinds, sometimes brothers, rarely sisters,..
If you have a friend in Saudi Arabia he/she could try to get you a business visa. If their sponsor cooperates the company your friend works for invites you as a "technical manager", "sales manager" or similar for 2 weeks of meetings ;-)
TRAVEL IN & AROUND JEDDAH
Public transport is basically not available, apart from very cheap, absolutely run-down buses, with no possibility to get information in advance about the route the travel; only for people with good Arabic and location knowledge, who don't mind to squeeze in with dozens of people with no A/C.
Taxis within the city limits shouldn't cost much more than SR 25,--; if you don't know the way, insist on the taximeter; be aware that taxi drivers in many cases don't know the way around Jeddah although they will assure you they know your destination - "no problem" - before you get into the car; if you are new or a visitor use a city map (from "Farsi", available at most bookshops and some larger supermarkets)
Car rental is readily available (Herz, Budget, Hanco and many smaller ones), cheapest cars starting from SR 80,-. International driving license required!
Transport to the beach (30-40km) is only offered by the bigger hotels or hotels with a private beach. Taxis cost a minimum of SAR 70,- and it is very difficult to find a taxi to go back to the city. Therefore it is better to rent a car.
RESTAURANTS / FOOD
European style restaurants in the bigger hotels, main courses starting from 10 US$.
Thai, Philipino, Indonesian, Indian, Arab Food is inexpensive and can be found in many little restaurants all over the city. "Shawormas" (beef or chicken cut from a big spit and rolled up in Arabic pita bread with parsley, french fries, tomatoes, hummous and hot sauce, if desired) or "Foul" (a fava bean dish eaten with Arab bread fresh from the oven) can be picked up for less than a Dollar.
American Fast Food chains are widely spread and charge more or less the same as they would back home.
Palm Garden (Al Nakheel Restaurant for taxi drivers) - traditional Arabic open-air restaurant with cushions, "hubbly-bubbly" (water pipe); nice atmosphere, prices middle to expensive; on Corniche near corner Sari Street on opposite site of the sea
Taj Mahal (Student Café) - excellent Indian & Pakistani Food for very competitive prices; Tahlia Steet heading East (away from the sea), U-turn at Al Amir Majed Street, than after 6-700 m on the right hand side
Yildizar - Lebanese Food, good but not cheap; off Andalus Street behind Citroen car showroom
Asia Restaurant - Thai, Chinese & Philipino Food; located on the right hand side of Sari Street, near Medina Road traveling towards the sea, before 1st traffic light, next to a petrol station with car rental
HOSPITALS / DOCTORS
Dr. Ghassan N. Pharaon General Hospital (GNP)
Used to run the only recompression chamber available to the public but it has been closed down (there is at least one more in one of the military hospitals but if you are not a VIP there is little chance you are accepted there). Otherwise specialized in the dental field.
Dr. Soliman Fakeeh Hospital
King Faisal Specialist Hospital (former Al Salamah Hospital)
North Jeddah Polyclinic
GNP - details see above
In Ramadan life stands still during daylight hours and turns crazy during dark. Diving is not affected very much, actually it is even far less crowded on the hotel beaches. All restaurants are closed during the day, the ones on the beach all Ramadan. But it is OK to bring own food & drinks to the beach to consume them discretely. But DO NOT eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight since it is strictly forbidden - this counts for Non-Muslims too!!
WEATHER / WATER TEMPERATURE
Very hot from mid April to October: 35-40º C,
July till September it can be very humid.
It doesn't rain more than 2-3 days a year, some years no rainfall at all; if it rains it usually is very heavy and produces lots of chaos on the road.
During the cooler months it can be windy and therefore higher surf is more likely
From Mai to December warm to very warm: 27-31º C,
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
Due to the high temperatures in summer for most people it is better to avoid this time of the year, but dive operations will offer full service throughout the year, because they do not depend on tourists rather than on the expats and local divers. A particular good time is November till December, when outside temperatures drop to pleasant 25-27º C, while water temperatures are still high.
Lonely Planet - Arab Gulf States, ISBN 0-86442-390-X; travel guide
Take this direct link to books about the Red Sea!
1 Saudi Riyal (SAR, SR) = 100 Hallalah
1 US$ is fixed to SAR 3,75
DOES & DON'TS
Alcohol is strictly forbidden - do not try to smuggle a bottle or so in - it is not worth the risk! In the best case you'll be sent back on the next plane.
Drug trafficking is punished by death penalty (beheading)!!
Furthermore the following products are forbidden: pork, girlie magazines, Non-Muslim symbols in public (such as a cross on your necklace).
Women are not allowed to drive a car!
During prayer times every shop, restaurant etc. closes. In restaurants guests stay inside without service for the time the prayer takes. In some larger supermarkets it is possible to stay inside and continue your shopping under dimmed light and without staff, in most shops customers have to leave and are asked to return after prayer.
To take photographs of people is generally forbidden - especially of women. Men agree sometimes after being asked. It is not allowed to take pictures of military, police, palaces and whatever else could be sensitive. Most beaches do not allow cameras, except underwater cameras for divers/snorklers.
Dress code for women is to cover up with the infamous "abaya", the black cloth. Sometimes the "Mutawas" (religious police) ask to cover the hair. Inside compounds and at the western hotel beaches it is OK to wear regular western clothes respectively bikinis and Speedos. Do not change bikini tops without the cover of a towel or outside the changing room - unless you enjoy being starred at by 20 guys hovering 5 m away from you!
Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter mosques.
During the holy month of Ramadan do not eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours. At the hotel beaches the restaurants will be closed, but it is OK to bring your own food & drinks and to consume them discretely.
Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken.
Both - 110V and 220V / 60Hz is available, but not always clearly marked! Double-check before plugging in 110V appliances.
Vary - most shops are open 9am - 1.30pm and 5 pm - 10 pm Saturdays to Thursdays and Fridays from 5 - 10 pm. Most dive shops open 9/10am and close 10pm without break (except for prayers), on weekends (Thu/Fri) they open at 8am till 11pm. During prayer times every shops has to close and customers will be asked to leave.