Mecca, or Makkah, located in western Saudi Arabia, is the holiest city in Islam. This is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and a destination of the Hajj, the mandatory pilgrimage of one of Islam's Five Pillars. More than three million Muslims visit this city during the month of Dhul-Hijjah every year for the Hajj, and many others also make minor pilgrimages or Umrah during other times of the year.
Traveling to Mecca as a Tourist
if you're wondering if you can visit Mecca as a tourist, the simple answer is no, unless you're a Muslim. Saudi Arabia's government restricts entry to Mecca to Muslims only. Documentation will be checked upon entry, and anyone not showing proof of being a Muslim will be denied access. The penalty for non-Muslims attempting to enter is deportation from the country and a possible fine. This rule applies whether you're trying to enter the city by plane, car, bus, or train.
During their pilgrimage, Muslims visit several sacred sites in Mecca, including the Sacred Mosque (al-Masjid al-Harami) and the Kaaba, the most holy place in Mecca and Islam. Other locations include Mina, Muzdalifah, the Hill of Arafat, Jabal Al Noor, and Jabal Al Thur, each with religious significance.
There are facilities to assist people with disabilities in performing the Hajj, including specially designed wheelchairs that can handle the terrain and accommodate the ritual practices of the pilgrimage. Therefore, even those who cannot walk or have other disabilities can complete the Hajj.
Do You Need a Visa to enter Saudi Arabia and Visit Mecca?
Even for Muslims, visiting Mecca requires a special visa. The Saudi government issues these visas for those making the pilgrimage. Most pilgrims opt to use a specialist travel agency, which will handle their considerable paperwork. Women must travel with a male guardian (Mahram) unless they are over 45, traveling with a group, and have their guardian's signed consent. The visas are assigned to countries on a quota basis according to the number of Muslims they have. In recent years, additional restrictions have been placed on those who have previously been to Mecca to discourage overcrowding.
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How to Get to Mecca
You can reach Mecca by plane, car, bus, or train. Jeddah is the gateway to Mecca, with the Hajj Terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport mainly serving charter flights.
There is also a modern multi-lane highway from Jeddah to Mecca. Buses run services to Mecca from throughout the country, and there is also the Haramain High-Speed Railway, which links Mecca with Jeddah and Medina.
Once in Mecca, local buses, taxis, and micro-buses are widely available and inexpensive.
What is the Best Time to Visit Mecca
The Hajj, the major pilgrimage to Mecca, occurs during the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Dhu'l-Hijjah. The Umrah, a minor pilgrimage, can be performed at any time of the year but is most rewarding if performed during Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
If you are already visiting Mecca and have a few days free to visit the country, we recommend visiting Jeddah. This commercial port on the Red Sea was the country’s capital until 1982 when it moved to Riyadh. Jeddah today is a fascinating and culturally rich place.
You can enjoy the breezes of the Red Sea in Jeddah's open port and have a great time in this UNESCO-designated historic center. The rest of Jeddah is thoroughly modern, energized by a global mix of pilgrims passing through on their way to nearby Mecca.
Jeddah is a normally warm, open-air city where citizens sit at cafe tables, smoking water pipes and playing backgammon under street lights. These activities are part of the tradition of the locals. If you are lucky, you will enjoy these activities with the locals.
Jeddah can be considered a starting point for traveling within the country, or it can be the endpoint of your journey, as this city is the gateway to Mecca and Medina for the more than two million Muslims who make the Hajj pilgrimage each year.