What to Know Before Visiting Mecca

What to Know Before Visiting Mecca

The most important city in Muslim culture, Mecca is a unique place in the world. Here’s what you need to know if you’re going for the Hajj.

The central spot in the world for all Muslims, Mecca is a city that’s always closed for non-believers. In fact, traveling there as a Christian is punishable by law, and transgressors are promptly fined and deported. 

However, there are certain details even Muslim visitors should know before coming to the holiest site of Islam.

1. When to Come

Mecca When to Come

For Muslims worldwide, visiting Mecca is obligatory if they are physically and financially able to make the journey. However, not all months of the year are equal when it comes to the Hajj. 

The pilgrimage is most valid if performed during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah, which can be translated as the month of pilgrimage. 

Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, the year is about 12 days shorter than the regular solar year. This means that the months shift around and need to be calculated for each year. For example, the month of pilgrimage in 2021 starts on July 11, but it begins on June 30 the following year.

Luckily, visiting Mecca outside the designated period isn’t forbidden. But it doesn’t score as high and is only considered a minor pilgrimage.

2. How to Get There

Mecca How to Get

There are special visas issued by Saudi Arabia for those who want to make the pilgrimage. The paperwork involved is quite daunting, which is why many Muslims resort to hiring travel agencies to take care of all the necessities. 

As expected for Saudi Arabia, women can’t travel alone but must be escorted by a man. The exceptions to this are women over 45 who are traveling as part of a group. But they must have consent signed by a man even then.

Once you get the paperwork in order, you can fly to Jeddah where there’s a dedicated airport terminal for those coming for the Hajj. From the city, you can take a bus, train, or travel by car to Mecca. 

If you’re driving there, non-Muslims can get to the Christian bypass that’s located several miles outside Mecca and they’ll get stopped at the checkpoint. Meanwhile, Muslims can pass the police checkpoint where they’ll likely be allowed to enter the city.

3. The Essential Sites 

Mecca Kaaba

Moving around Mecca is rather straightforward, as there are buses, taxis, and a metro. The crucial sites to visit in the city mainly revolve around the Hajj, with the priorities being the Kaaba and the Sacred Mosque that surrounds it.

Besides the two main sites, the Hajj often involves going to the plain of Muzdalifah where you can gather the stones to throw at the Devil. Once that’s done, you can then proceed to Mina, or the “tent city,” to spend the night and participate in the symbolic ritual of stoning the Devil.

Arafat hill is where Muhammad had his last sermon, while Jabal Al Thur is the cave where he hid from the Meccans trying to kill him. And visiting the mosque of Masjid e Taneem is an essential step in the pilgrimage.

Although not directly tied to the Hajj, the Mountain of Light or Jabal Al Noor is an essential site in Islam since, according to legend, that’s the place where Archangel Gabriel first revealed the Quran to Muhammad.

Another site that doesn’t directly relate to the pilgrimage is Abraj Al Bait or the Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower. This towering hotel complex looms over the Sacred Mosque and offers various amenities to pilgrims, including an Islamic Museum, a Lunar Observation Center, and more. 

4. What to Do

Mecca Stone the Devil at Mina

Many activities are available in Mecca and mostly revolve around religious matters. Visitors will have the chance to read the Quran, pray at the Sacred Mosque, stone the Devil at Mina, and visit the sacred sites, among others.

Besides these, you can visit some of the schools in Mecca including the Umm Al-Qura University, which is the only one of its kind in the city. There are also mountains around the city that are ideal for hiking. 

5. Shopping and Dining

Mecca Arabian Perfume Shop

Shopping in Mecca is widespread and you can check out local shops and malls that house various international brands. You can find an abundance of souvenirs to bring back home, as well as different religious items like prayer mats and Islamic hats.

Among the most precious trading commodities that you definitely shouldn’t miss are the Arabian perfume oils. These perfumes are made of natural ingredients and are less likely to irritate the skin. And their beautiful fragrance will last long even with the smallest quantity applied. 

When it comes to eateries, Mecca has a broad offer of restaurants that serve Middle Eastern, Indian, Southeast Asian, and international dishes. And if you’re in the mood for some classical American fast food, you can find everything from KFC and Pizza Hut to Dunkin Donuts. 

The food produced in the city is compliant with Islamic Law, which means there is no forbidden food like pork or ham.

Similarly, alcoholic beverages are forbidden both in Mecca and the whole country. But you can enjoy different juices, tea, and free Zamzam holy water.

6. Where to Stay

Mecca Hotels in Mecca

The range of hotels in Mecca is excellent. Pilgrims who can afford it can stay at the Hilton or the Inter-Continental, while others might choose accommodation in a lesser-known place. As expected, the prices of accommodations decrease as you move away from the Sacred Mosque.

Since Mecca can get quite crowded throughout the year, your best bet would be to book as early as possible to ensure a nice place to stay in some of the finer hotels in Mecca.

7. Safety Concerns

Mecca Safety Concerns

It’s not unusual for dozens of people to die under the stampedes of pilgrims that can be expected. Lately, some precautions have been taken to prevent the unnecessary loss of life. But the risk is still present. 

It would also be best to remain cautious of the pickpockets that lurk among the crowd. The best advice here is to leave your valuable possessions in a safe place before going out. 

Navigating Through the Holy City of Islam

As is the case with Middle Eastern locations, especially those as overcrowded as Mecca, there are many considerations and preparations to take before visiting. But for true believers, the experience is precious and will present a long-lasting memory.

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What to Know Before Visiting Mecca