Al-Masjid Al-Haram, literally 'the Forbidden Mosque', is one of the three most sacred mosques in Islam, along with An-Nabawi in Medina and Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, and also the largest in the world. Every year millions of worshippers visit the mosque on their Hajj pilgrimage to perform the Salah, 'act of worship', and the Tawaf, which consists of seven circular walks around the Kaaba, the sacred building that contains the Black Stone.
The Kaaba is located inside Al-Haram Mosque and is the holiest site in Islam. It was built by Prophet Abraham and his son, Prophet Ishmael, to house the Black Stone, given to them by the Archangel Gabriel. The Black Stone was placed in the eastern corner of the Kaaba by Prophet Muhammad and it has the appearance of a fragmented black rock.
Literally 'The Mountain of Light', it is the place where Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation and it is thus a place of worship and devotion visited by many pilgrims. On this mountain the Cave of Hira is to be found, where the Prophet spent much time in meditation and received the first verses of the Quran.
Mina, also called Tent City, lies on the place where Prophet Abraham stoned the Devil in the form of three pillars that allegorically represent temptation. The city serves as a shelter for pilgrims and can host up to 3 million people in more than 100,000 air-conditioned tents, covering an area of approximately 20 km².
Mecca is the holiest city in Islam and Saudi law strictly forbids non-Muslims from entering it. Documents will be checked upon entry at dedicated checkpoints, and non-Muslims will be redirected to a motorway that bypasses the city. Pilgrims must show proof of being Muslim (a certificate is needed for those converted to Islam) and women must be accompanied by a Mahram (male guardian). The Saudi Arabian government issues special Hajj or Umrah visas to simplify the process but the sheer amount of paperwork makes many pilgrims rely on specialised travel agencies to handle that.
When strolling and exploring the city, please make sure you wear the appropriate attire. Women should be covered from neck to ankle and in certain areas scarves are used to cover the face and head. Shorts and tank tops should not be worn outside of your accommodation by women. For men, loose clothing is recommended and shorts are prohibited. When visiting, please make sure you respect and abide by the laws and culture of the country.
To enter Saudi Arabia, foreign citizens will need a passport valid for at least six months from the time of the visa application. An entry visa is required, and is only granted to those with sponsorship in the country, with the exception of transit passengers that stay less than 18 hours. Tourist visas do exist, but are granted only to selected groups of travellers on a limited basis, and certain geographical restrictions apply in most cases. Special visas for Hajj or Umrah are issued by the government for those who want to perform their pilgrimage. To apply for a Hajj or Umrah visa, visit the nearest Saudi consulate or embassy or contact an approved Hajj travel agent, who will get the the necessary papers for you.
The weather in Mecca is hot and dry year round, but there is some variation between summer and winter. Most tourists and pilgrims visit Mecca during the somewhat cooler winter months and avoid the city during the hottest period (June-August). Mecca sees almost no precipitation and winds are usually very calm which, coupled with the extreme temperatures, can make the city scorching hot, so be sure to stay hydrated and avoid too much sun exposure. As the holiest city in Islam, Mecca is always crowded with pilgrims and unfortunately tragic incidents like stampedes are not uncommon. Thus, visitors are advised to be careful and always pay attention to their surroundings.
King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) is located in Jeddah and is the largest airport in Saudi Arabia. Often called 'the gateway to Mecca', it has a dedicated terminal for Hajj, which is active during Hajj season (during the last month of the Islamic calendar,) to help accommodate the vast number of pilgrims. Buses and taxis are available at the airport and offer an easy mode of transport to Mecca.
The best way to get to Mecca is by car or bus from Jeddah. Saptco is the company that runs intercity transportation in Saudi Arabia and they provide regular bus lines from Jeddah to Mecca: www.saptco.com.sa There is also a metro line in Mecca (planned to be expanded to four), but it only operates during Hajj season to provide safe transportation for pilgrims and reduce traffic congestion.
Taxis are readily available at the Jeddah Airport and in Mecca, but for moving around in the city, especially during Hajj season, it is more advisable to just walk, as traffic is congested. A taxi ride from Jeddah to Mecca takes one hour and can cost between 150 and 200 SAR, depending on the taxi company and local traffic. Umrah Taxi: