Getting there & away
Car and passenger ferries operate between Saudi Arabia and Egypt: Al-Blagha (02-648 0334 ext 253; www.alblagha.com) is the largest shipping company in the Red Sea and operates boats from Jeddah to Suez (1st/2nd/3rd class SR845/695/395, car from SR850; 42 hours, once weekly both ways), and from Duba to Port Safaga (1st/2nd/3rd class SR300/265/225, car from SR469, eight hours, daily both ways).
Boats also travel from Jeddah to Suwaqih, Sudan (1st/2nd/3rd SR470/370/300, cars from SR460, 10 hours, three weekly both ways). In the future, boats should also sail sporadically from Jeddah to Al-Hudayda (Yemen); check the website. Boats do not go to Massawa (Eritrea).
Ferries are modern, well-kept and professionally run. Cabins (either two- or four- bed) are simple, clean and comfortable and all have air-conditioning. First-class cabins have private bathrooms; 2nd class common bathrooms; and 3rd (also known as ‘Pullman’ are just seats). Bookings can be made by email or telephone and you can travel on the same day. In the high season (summer, haj and Ramadan), book one week in advance for Duba to Port Safaga and one month in advance Jeddah to Suez, and vice versa. All ferries have restaurants. Check in three hours before departure.
At the time of research, all of Saudi’s land crossings were trouble free and relatively efficient (except during the haj and Ramadan when you can queue up to 12 hours at some crossings, such as Halat Ammar).
Make sure you have visas for the countries you wish to enter. And never agree to carry either passengers or baggage through borders.
Saptco(800 124 9999; www.saptco.com.sa) offers the best international bus services, although other companies from surrounding countries also cover the same routes for similar prices. Departures are primarily from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
From Riyadh’s Al-Aziziyah bus station, departures include: Amman (SR175, 22 hours, one daily), Kuwait (SR180, eight hours, three weekly), Aden (SR200, 42 hours, one daily), Sana’a (SR200, 36 hours, daily), Bahrain (SR100, six hours, three daily), Qatar (SR125, eight hours via Al-Hofuf, one daily), Dubai (SR125, 12 hours via Abu Dhabi, one daily), Cairo (SR335, 32 hours, one daily), Khartoum (SR593, 36 hours, three weekly) and Damascus (SR175, 24 hours, three weekly). There are currently no buses to Oman, Turkey, Iran or Iraq.
From Jeddah’s bus station, buses depart to Amman (SR175, 18 hours, daily), Cairo (SR348, duration varies according to route taken, daily), Beirut (SR180, 26 hours, daily), Damascus (SR175, about 23 hours, daily), Dubai (SR210, 30 hours, daily), Abu Dhabi (SR210, 30 hours, daily), Khartoum (SR425, 31 hours, daily), Sana’a (SR150, 24 hours, daily) among other destinations in Yemen. For Bahrain and Qatar, change at Dammam.
From the Dammam bus station, there are regular daily departures to Bahrain (SR50, about two hours, six daily), and to Doha (SR190, five hours, one daily), Kuwait (SR100, five hours, one daily), Abu Dhabi (SR110, 8 hours, one daily), Dubai (SR110, 10 hours, one daily), and Sharjah (SR110, 11 hours, one daily) and to Yemen. The same bus travels to Al-Hudayda (SR250, 24 hours), Sana’a (SR300, 30 hours) and Aden (SR300, 36 hours). There are no buses for Oman. Take the Dubai bus and take a shared taxi (SR50) from there.
There are also buses from Dammam to Damascus (SR175, 24 hours, one daily); Amman (SR175, 24 hours, one daily), Aqaba (SR235, 24 hours, two to three weekly); Cairo (1st/2nd/3rd class SR378/408/458, at least two daily). There are no buses currently running to Turkey, Iran or Iraq.
To avoid queues at busy times (such as during holidays), go early or late (all borders are open 24 hours). If you’re driving someone else’s car, make sure you carry a letter granting permission from the owner.
Immigration is much quicker than it used to be (except during the haj and Ramadan when you can expect long queues). All bags (including hand luggage) are now X-rayed and only opened when warranting further investigation. Don’t forget to fill in immigration cards.
Note that upon departure, security is vigorous and is time-consuming; you’re advised to arrive early, 1½ hours before departures for domestic flights, three hours before international flights. If you’re travelling with Saudia, a tip to save time is to obtain your boarding pass up to 24 hours in advance.
If you’re arriving by land, procedures are similar, although expect long delays if you’re bringing your own car into the Kingdom.
Note that Jews are not permitted entry to the Kingdom (nor anyone showing evidence of having visited Israel).
There are four airports handling international traffic in Saudi Arabia:
King Abdul Aziz International Airport (JED; 02-684 2227) Located in Jeddah.
King Fahd International Airport (DMM; 03-883 5151) In Dammam.
King Khaled International Airport (RUH; 01-221 1000) In Riyadh.
Medina International Airport (MED; 04-842 0052) Opens only during the haj and occasionally during the umrah season to assist haj traffic in and out of Jeddah.
The national carrier is Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia; 01-488 4444; www.saudiairlines.com), which flies to dozens of destinations across the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the USA. It has a respectable safety record and is usually on time. In the future, it will be privatised.
Saudia also offers special fares for groups, as well as offering special advantages when travelling on its domestic network.