Country: Saudi Arabia
Currency: Riyal (SAR)
Peak Season: Dhu al-Hijjah (last month of Islamic calendar)
Shoulder Season: November, February
Median Temperature: 25.30 C / 77.54 F
Main Languages: Arabic, English
Primary Modes of Transportation: Bus, taxi, private car
Recommended Duration of Stay: 5 days
Recommended Pocket Money: $60.00/day
Tourist Passes: n/a
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Note: Mecca is inaccessible to non-Muslims

Mecca is the capital of the Makkah Province in Saudi Arabia. The city is unanimously considered by Muslim adherents to be the holiest place on earth. Islamic scholars and Qur’an records attest that the city dates back to the time of Ibrahim, where he and elder son Ishmael built the Kaaba – the cube-shaped edifice Muslims surround during their visit and pilgrimage. It is inaccessible to non-Muslims, and relatively few people outside the faith have firsthand accounts on what the city looks like.

The Mecca is the birthplace of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, which is why it holds so dear to many Muslims. As mentioned above, the Kaaba is a sacred edifice acting as a cornerstone of Islamic faith and prayer. Qibla is the direction Muslims face during prayer. It is believed that all prayers to Allah should be directed to the Kaaba. At the south-east corner of the edifice lays the Black Stone, believed to be sent by an angel to Ibrahim. Due to large clusters of people visiting the Mecca regularly, not everyone can kiss the stone, though looking at it, for some, is enough to relish the experience of witnessing the Kaaba.

During the Muslim of month of Dhu’l-Hijja, millions of Muslims from all over the world congregate to culminate a fundamental constituent of the Five Pillars of Islam, which is to perform pilgrimage or Hajj, a mandatory obligation for all physically-capable Muslim men and women. By far, the Hajj is one of the largest annual congregations. In 2010, an estimated three million Muslims partook in the pilgrimage. Pilgrims exchange their civilian clothing for white garments and sandals at the boundary before Mecca. As soon as the pilgrims don the garments, they enter a state of ihram, or purity. The white garments signify both purity and equality, purposely diminishing any trace of social class and status.

Packing List

  • An authentication letter from your local mosque that validates your being Islam; women under 45 need be accompanied by a mahram (head of the family)—above 45 need a letter of permission
  • Proof that you are physically able to partake in pilgrimages, such as the Umrah and Hajj; also needed is a medical report stating that you have no transmissible disease (meningitis, HIV, STD)
  • Some added layers of clothing (and possibly a tent), if you intend to not book a hotel room; do note that city hotels do not sacrifice comfort, amenities and toiletries just because it is a holy place
  • White, simple garments that conform to ihram (sacred state): men should wear two white cloths: one for the top and one for the waist down; and women should wear a white dress and a headscarf
  • Essential medication, toiletries, and first aid kits—there are convenience stores, don’t worry; walking shoes (with socks) and thick sandals are highly advisable due to the scorching heat

Things to Do

  • Observing Hajj, the largest pilgrimage of Muslims from all over the world; the week-long Hajj is to be performed at least once in an able-bodied Muslim’s life in order to consummate his/her faith
  • Performing Umrah (voluntary, lesser pilgrimage) at any time of the year; despite the venue still being Mecca, Umrah should not to be mistaken with Hajj, as the latter is much more important
  • Taking a climb up Jabal-al-noor, or the “Mountain of Light,” believed to be the place where Muhammad received his first revelation from Allah, mediated by the angel Jibraaiyl (Gabriel)
  • Visiting Mount Arafat which, according to Islamic belief, is the place where Adam and Eve were reunited by Allah after being abdicated from Paradise; it is a key vigil location during Hajj
  • Proceeding to Thour Mountain, south of the city; it is believed to be the refuge of Muhammad and Siddiq after they had promised to their sworn disciples to go to Medina to preach Islam

DON'T

  • In the first place, don’t enter Mecca if you are a non-Muslim—it’s a disgraceful act and may get you apprehended by the Saudi Arabia Police; there are separate visas for Mecca and Saudi Arabia
  • Expect Hajj or any lesser pilgrimage to be a walk in the park; it is one that requires fasting, caring for the poor and a lot of sacrifice to prove the intactness of your faith to Allah—be prepared
  • Perform any acts of debauchery (fighting, flirting, stealing, trespassing) or anything “evil” in the Islamic context; still, this is a matter of one’s own moral compass—tactfulness is advised
  • Brandish your material wealth, nor bring up the subject of “success” in a conversation; in Mecca, all people are considered equal and wealthy and well-to-do must be considerate of the poor
  • Take any photographs of anything inside the Holy City, let alone bring a camera— it will be confiscated at the border; other prohibited items include liquor, pork and pornography