Madain Saleh - Permit and Travel tips
Replies: 11 - Last Post: May 17, 2013 8:42 PM Last Post By: hauteboy0
Aug 7, 2012 8:02 AM
Madain Saleh - Permit and Travel tipsI visited Madain Saleh on Thursday August 2 2012, a hot summer day in the month of Ramadan. Hoping the following can help other independent travelers visit this incredible sight.
Foreigners need a permit to visit the sight. Madain Saleh is surrounded by a fence and the police at the entrance check your permit when entering. Or at least they do if they are awake. Probably because it was Ramadan, when I arrived on Thursday morning, the gate was wide open and the police fast asleep, When my Saudi travel partner insisted we wake them up, the policemen shushed us away and said we could go in and to just let them sleep. Conclusion: Yes, permit is generally required but a solo traveler can perhaps get around the permit if visiting during the summer, especially if Ramadan.
Getting a permit is very easy. Hotels near Madain Saleh apparently can do so for 100 riyal if you fax them your passport and visiting schedule a week ahead of time. If you are in Riyadh, however, it is much easier to drop in at the Antiquities Commission building behind the National Museum (between the museum and the big water tower), and obtain the permit from the office down the left-side hallway, fourth door on the right. The office readied the permit for me in 20 minutes for free.
Note - most foreigners go to Madain Saleh via tours. This is for those that want to go without tours.
b. How to get there
FLY - al-Wedjh and al-Ula are the closest towns with airports (al-Ula is 20 minutes from Madain Saleh and as M-saleh is only a ruin,
al-Ula essentially is where you are while in M-saleh). Both airports are really small and rarely have flights. If you can fly in and out of al-Ula for a good price, awesome. If not, main airports are in Hail and Medina, both popular flight routes that are 3 hrs or less from al-Ula.
Saudia and NAS--the two domestic airlines--have cheap tickets to both from the main cities but these tickets sell out quickly. If you can get a ticket in time, best plan is fly to Hail and take the infrequent bus to al-Ula. I've been told the only bus leaves around 8am so may be necessary to fly in the night before and stay in hotel in Hail. No idea about bus back to Hail from al-Ula.
BUS - Buses leave from Hail, Jeddah and maybe Medina and Riyadh to al-Ula. But very infrequently (Hail-->al-Ulah is supposedly around 8am). The Jeddah bus, which stops in Medina, does not take non-Muslims. The bus also means a long drive is even longer, since private cars drive really fast and buses do not.
Private CAR - you need a car to see Madain saleh itself--to get there from al-Ula (15 min drive) and to drive around inside the vast park. So even if you fly to Hail and take a bus to al-Ula, you will have to shell out loads of ca$h in al-Ulah for a car or taxi for the day.
Hence, far and away the best way to visit Madain Saleh is to come over in your own car, with buddies from Hail/Medina/Jeddah/Riyadh. Rent a car or come in one you own. The drive over is part of the fun, 6-8 hours from Jeddah or Riyadh.
TAXI - Hail/Riyadh/Jeddah all have shared-taxi zones near the bus stations full of drivers happy to take you to al-Ulah...for a fee.
I traveled via taxi from Jeddah so I will limit my comments to Jeddah/Ulah taxi travel. I was quoted 80 riyal for a shared taxi to Medina, and the driver promised he'd find me another taxi at the shared taxi area in Medina to take me on to al-Ula for no more than 50 riyal. Unfortunately the shared taxi area in Medina is within the no-go zone for non-Muslims so I couldnt go when i told him I am not Muslim. Other drivers quoted 800 riyal for a private taxi to al-Ulah. I bargained one driver down to 600 riyal and off we went. We left Jeddah at 7.30 and arrived in al-Ulah at 3 am. The driver was a young guy that, like most Saudis, have never heard or been to Madain Saleh. He thought our drive would take 5 hrs. When he realized how late we would arrive in al-Ulah (drive took extra long because it was nighttime and the driver wasnt sure where he was going near Ulah), he asked if he could join me for the day and drive me back. I was counting on this happening and readily agreed. So in total, I paid him 1,200 (600 each way) riyal for two 8 hour trips plus driving me around Ulah and Madain Saleh all day Thursday. Expensive but for a last second trip by private taxi, quite reasonable.
LPlanet suggests there are only 2 hotels in al-Ulaj. False, I split a room with my driver in a modest Saudi hostel with wifi for 120 riyal (we each paid 60 riyal). the Hostel was on the left side shortly after entering al-Ulah from the south. I believe I saw at least one more hostel in town. Pretty much any three story building with a certain look is probably a hostel or at least has a place to stay for a traveler disinterested in the pricey hotels recommended by LPlanet.
I had found a few numbers of local guides off the internet and L-Planet but none returned my calls--perhaps because it was Ramadan--and so I explored the sights on my own.
Madain Saleh was well worth the visit. It has the mystery and amazement of Petra without the crowds. I was the ONLY visitor to this huge sight the day I visited. I recommend you explore the various hilltops and find a shady corner and reflect on the vast structures. As long as you make sure your car doesnt drive into a sandpit, expect to have a wonderful and truly memorable visit.
The site posts opening hours 9 AM to 5 PM. I arrived 11 am and left 3 pm. Also spent an hour exploring the marvelous abandoned old town of al-Ula.
I was back in Jeddah by midnight.
Point is Madain Saleh can easily make a brief trip and is well worth the visit.
Aug 7, 2012 8:17 AM
Aug 7, 2012 1:50 PM
2Great info. This has been on my list for a long time. Thinking of driving there from Amman.
Aug 7, 2012 11:22 PM
3Great info! Wow, 1200 riyals is a lot of money. I visited the other UNESCO site in KSA end of last year (Ad-Diriyah) and have been thinking of popping by some day to check out Madain Saleh, but would then likely rent my own car. Did you consider that? That must work out a lot cheaper. Would you expect any issues taking a rental car into Madain Saleh? Was there any kind of overview or maps available at the site or elsewhere, or do you need to bring your own? (or is it easy enough to get an overview without)? Thanks.
Aug 8, 2012 8:17 AM
4i dont know rent a car prices but i didnt have a valid license on me so i couldnt rent a car. 1,200 is a lot, but consider that unless you get an early/cheaper price, the airfare for flights from Jeddah-->Hail is 650 riyal. Madain Saleh Hotel charges up to 1,000 riyal for pickup from the Hail airport. And then you'd have to add the 300-900 guides charge a day for a car+guide in Madain Saleh. In short, transport/car issues can make Madain Saleh very pricey--if you have a car, of course, all these costs can be dodged!
I cant foresee any issues with taking a rent-a-car into Madain Saleh--as long as rent a car has insurance, which normally comes with rent-a-cars--you should be fine (again, when i visited, there was absolutely no officials.
The official at the gate told us he was out of maps (when we woke him up!) but it was hardly necessary. I had the Lonely Planet map but even without it, the area--while very large--is pretty easy to navigate.
My approach sans-guide, is to spend an hour online, print out some info on the site, and then read that on the drive or while on site. Usually, you'll get the same or more than what the overpriced local guide can tell ya.
Aug 8, 2012 12:07 PM
When we visited Madain Saleh I was driving a rental. It's no problem at all.
We found having a local guide useful on the Mada'in Saleh site itself, but even more useful in exploring the Hejaz railway, the remains of old town Al-Ula, and visiting various desert sights in the vicinity. Not essential, of course, but he definitely added to our experience.
Aug 8, 2012 12:22 PM
Aug 8, 2012 1:00 PM
7We drove all the way from Eastern Province. When we were there, Al Ula's airport still hadn't opened, but it's open now, and I just checked the Saudia site: there are several flights a week from Riyadh.
Guide was arranged by the hotel in Al Ula. No exact recollection of how much it cost, but have the idea that it was something on the order of 250 or 300 SAR for the day, which we divided two ways. Obviously, the bigger your group, the more reasonable it becomes.
Aug 8, 2012 9:14 PM
8JVT92 commented to a previous Q of mine on a related thread re: Madain Saleh as follows:
How to get from Hail to Ula by bus?
Check SAPTCO website:
03/08/2012 08:44:00 from hail
03/08/2012 14:23:00 at al ola
the problem with the site is that u have to enter the city name in arabic
so there u go:
Nov 4, 2012 9:26 AM
9Please, I am planning to go to Mada in Saleh next week. I have a working visa and I am theoricaly in Jeddah.
Can I get the "entry permit" from the hostels you mentioned? It doesn't look to me as a good idea to ask for the permit to the hotel without being a guest. Do you think I could get it somewhere in Jeddah? I would like to go there next weekend and I am afraid of the "week anticipation"....
Thank you very much.
Nov 4, 2012 9:45 AM
10#9, Those who are in Saudi Arabia on a work visa are not restricted from traveling. You should be able to go anywhere in the Kingdom (other than Mekkah and Medinah, if you aren't a Muslim).
If you're not staying at one of the hotels in Al-Ula where do you intend to stay? Mada'in Saleh is too far from anywhere else to be done as a day trip. In any event, permits are only available in Riyadh or Al-Ula, as far as I know.
May 17, 2013 8:42 PM
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