A MAKKAH PRIMER
Saudi Arabia is not a typical travel destination. Here, a few things to keep in mind as you navigate the Kingdom.
Weekends: Friday and Saturday.
Prayer Times: All restaurants and businesses must close during the five daily prayers—typically 15 minutes before they begin and up to an hour after they conclude. Keep this in mind as you plan your shopping and dining excursions (if you’re seated in a restaurant before it shutters, you’ll typically be allowed to stay and continue eating).
“Single” vs. “Family” Seating: All restaurants and coffee shops have separate seating areas and ordering counters: Those marked “families” apply to any mixed groups, while “singles” sections are limited to males or groups of men. Don’t go wandering into the wrong section, or you’re very likely to be scolded.
Access to the Great Mosque: The Conrad Makkah has an entrance that leads directly toward the gates of the mosque—but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can roll in just as the call to prayer begins. Security guards regulating pedestrian traffic in and out of the mosque can close down entrances based on congestion, so at busy times you may have to walk further to find an open gate. If you’re running late, you can always pray in the hotel’s private prayer room, located at the garage level, with large windows overlooking the mosque and speakers broadcasting the services.
Calendar: Saudi Arabia uses the lunar-based Hijri calendar (it’s currently the year 1438). Given the difference, it’s useful to determine which date is being used, though this can get a bit confusing at museums when trying to gauge the age of an item.
THE UMRAH PILGRIMAGE
Outside the five days of the hajj, visitors come to Makkah throughout the year to perform the shorter umrah pilgrimage, which can be completed in a few hours. Begin by bathing and donning the ihram garments, the prescribed attire, before flying into the country; perform tawaf by circling the Kaaba seven times; cross between the hills of Mount Safa and Mount Marwah seven times; and end your umrah by cutting off a lock of hair. We suggest seeking out a comprehensive umrah guide like this one to ensure all required steps and prayers are carried out properly; alternatively, ask your travel specialist if they have a book or pamphlet available.