What To Do In Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country that occupies most of the Arabian peninsula and has both the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea coastlines. Its surrounding countries are Jordan to the northwest, Iraq to the northeast, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar to the east, the United Arab Emirates to the south-east, Oman and Yemen to the south.
Saudi Arabia contains the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina, to which all physically and financially able Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage at least once if possible (see Hajj).
People tend to think of Saudi Arabia as an expanse of scorchingly hot desert punctuated with oil wells, and for most of the time in most of the country, they would be absolutely right. From May to September, the central areas of the country (basically everything except the coasts) bake in temperatures that average 42°C and regularly exceed 50°C in the shade. In July and August, in particular, all who can flee the country and work slows down to a crawl. The coasts, on the other hand, are moderated by the sea, which usually keeps temperatures below 38°C — but at the price of extreme humidity (85-100%), which may even be more uncomfortable than the dry heat of the interior, especially at night. Only the elevated mountainous regions stay cool(er), with the unofficial summer capital of Taif rarely topping 35°C and the mountainous Asir region cooler yet.
In winter, though, it's a surprisingly different story. Daytime highs in Riyadh in December average only 7°C, and temperatures can easily fall below zero at night, occasionally even resulting in a sprinkling of snow in the southern mountains. The winter is also the only season when it rains at all in most of the country, although in many years this is limited to one or two torrential outbursts. In the south, though, this pattern is reversed, with most rain falling during the Indian Ocean's monsoon season between May and October.
Everything in Saudi is regulated by the five daily prayers. All shops and offices close during each prayer for a period of 20-30 minutes, and the religious police patrol the streets and pack loiterers off to the mosque. However, shopping malls do stay open (but with all shops inside closed) and taxis and other public transport continue to run normally.