People

Saudi Arabia is a nation of about 28 million people. While the population was mostly made up of nomadic tribal clans for centuries, the population has become much more settled due to the growth of the country's major cities and the oil industry. Most of the nation's Saudis are predominately ethnic Arabs and Muslims, although a small minority are ethnically mixed descendants from other groups such as Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, Indians, Africans, and others who mostly immigrated as religious pilgrims and reside in the Hijaz region along the Red Sea coast. There are also a number of foreign expatriates from other countries who work in the Saudi oil fields. Because the people are Muslims, they are culturally bound to certain ethical rules that demand strict obedience to Islamic Law and provide for a social segregation of men and women outside the home.

Geography

Saudi Arabia occupies the vast majority of the Arabian Peninsula. Although Saudi Arabia is home to the largest desert, the Rub Al-Khali, otherwise known as "The Empty Quarter," it also has extensive coastlines in the west with the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, and in the east with the Persian Gulf. Neighboring countries include Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, and Bahrain, which are connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway.

Famous Attraction

Saudi Arabia has many famous, breath-taking sites to behold:

Although closed to non-Muslims, and seen by but a minority of outsiders, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are among the most famous cities in the world. Millions of Islamic faithful travel to Saudi Arabia each year to make their pilgrimage to these sacred cities.

Asir National Park located southwest of Abha is Saudi Arabia's first national park and contains the country's most awesome and beautiful scenery. The park stretches from the coastline of the Red Sea, across scenic forests and mountains, and east into the vast desert landscape.

The Empty Quarter, that vast span of desert larger in size than the great state of Texas or any combination of European nations, typically conjures visions of Peter O'Toole charging forth on an Arabian horse in Lawrence of Arabia. It is the stuff of danger and romance. Shifting dunes and sandstorms make travel through it difficult under the best of conditions. Yet, none can deny its inherent beauty.

Riyadh is the country's capital and financial center as well as one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Once a third-world backwater, it is today a bustling city where modern skyscrapers and shops exist among the more ornate palaces and mosques.

Jeddah, the most libertine city in Saudi Arabia, is probably the most comfortably western in its spirit and values.

Similarly, the Hijaz is a region known for its independence and cultural diversity. Like Jeddah, it has long been a famous stop-off point for traders, merchants and religious pilgrims.

Known for its stone-carved temples, Madain Saleh is a must-see for tourists.

Culture

Saudi Arabia might well be described as a strange dichotomy of worlds. Arabs were long renowned for their ornate craftsmanship, and for their contributions to math and architecture, trade and poetry. But, they are also known for their religious piety. While Saudis adhere to the Wahhabist Islamic tradition and it's not unusual to see religious police out in force making sure citizens attend daily prayer services, Saudi Arabia is also a country that has grown very modern due to its business dealings with the Western world. ATM machines and fast food joints have become ubiquitous in this nation known for its religious obedience. Still, Saudi Arabia, as the birthplace of Islam and Saudis who are Muslims, is bound by Islamic law. A major part of a Muslim's duty is to pray five times a day. Friday is the Muslim holy day and everything is closed. Some businesses will also close on Thursday. Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk and are only permitted to work six hours per day during the Holy Month of Ramadan. In Saudi society, men and women are not permitted to socialize together in public. It is not permitted for members of the opposite sex who are not family to even greet each other in public.

Cuisine

Saudis can be a very hospitable people and love to entertain. It's considered a great honor to be invited to a Saudi's home for a meal. Serving Bedouin coffee is traditional. The cuisine in Saudi Arabia is heavily influenced by Bedouin tradition as much as by the Islamic dietary practice of Halal. Pork is not allowed, but Saudis do love their meat! Chicken, lamb and, occasionally, beef are staples of the Saudi diet. In fact most recipes call for meat. A typical lunchtime meal in Saudi Arabia is meat kebab served with soup and vegetables. Rice, chickpeas, lentils and wheat are also popular ingredients of Saudi meals. Saudi food tends to be very strong and spicy owing to its Bedouin influence. Some Saudi dishes include:

Al-kabsa, a rice dish that is cooked with red or white meat or chicken.
Ais bel- lahm, a meal of bread with meat.
Salek, a dish made of rice with milk and lamb.
Al-mathbi, grilled lamb or chicken.
Al-mandi, a meal made with rice, barbequed lamb or chicken and water.
Jarish, made by cooking wheat with sour milk or milk and spices.
Qursan, a loaf of wheat prepared with gravy
Mathulutha, a combination of Jarish and rice.
Aysh abu laham, a recipe that resembles pizza.