Tips for planning a DIY Umrah trip
If you are familiar with the rites of Umrah and the general area of Mecca, you might want to consider organising your own DIY Umrah for your next pilgrimage.
The Umrah is a religious journey that Muslims make to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia to strengthen their faith, seek forgiveness from and become closer to God, and ask for blessings and the grace of God. It is related to the Hajj, and many Muslims consider or liken it to a lesser Hajj. However, there are differences between the Hajj and Umrah, and while the Hajj is compulsory, the Umrah is not. It is, however, a recommended practice. At the same time, as many of the steps performed are similar, Umrah is also regarded as practice for the Hajj - a much bigger event spanning Mecca and Madinah and must be done in a certain period of time of the year. Thus, many Muslims will perform the Umrah as much as possible, usually annually with Umrah travel agencies. However, for those familiar enough with the rites of Umrah and with getting around Mecca and its outskirts, going on a DIY Umrah trip is very possible.
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This could prove beneficial as a DIY Umrah trip could be potentially cost-saving and time-saving - the latter an advantage for office workers who might not be able to take two weeks off from work to join an Umrah trip under a travel agency. Planning to do your own Umrah will also be good for those in transit for a few days in Saudi when flying Saudi Airlines to Europe or the Americas.
If you’re thinking of a DIY Umrah, which could last as short as one day to as long as you want, here are some tips to help you plan.
Applying For An Umrah Visa
Visitors to Saudi Arabia will need to apply for a visa to enter and, thankfully, this can be done online. The eVisa is eligible for almost all tourism activities, which includes Umrah (but excludes Hajj). To be eligible to apply for an eVisa, the traveller must be either 18 years old, or travelling with a parent, grandparent or sibling aged above 18. You will also need to have a passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the date you’ll be entering Saudi. The exception, though, is for citizens of the US, who may enter as long as their passport is valid during entry, regardless of expiry date. The price of the vis is SAR535 (around USD142) and this includes the price of the application fee as well as medical insurance fee. Valid for a year from the date of issue, multiple entries are allowed, and visitors may stay for up to 90 days upon each entry.
Booking a hotel in Mecca
Lately, there have been news of hotels in Mecca that do not honour bookings made by travellers - due to overbooking or other matters. It is a valid concern, especially if you’re organising a DIY Umrah trip, as even Umrah travel agencies have been known to have to look for alternatives even though they have booked months in advance.
So what’s a DIY traveller to do, then? We recommend booking hotels from a reputable international chain via its membership programs such as Marriot Bonvoy, with hotels such as Jabal Omar Marriott, Sheraton Makkah and Le Meridien Towers Makkah.
Check room prices at Jabal Omar Marriott Hotel Makkah Check room prices at Sheraton Makkah Jabal Al Kaaba Hotel Check room prices at Le Meridien Towers Makkah
Another popular chain is the Hilton group of hotels. Hilton Honors members can choose to book at hotels such as Hilton Makkah Convention, Conrad Makkah Jabal Omar or Doubletree By Hilton Makkah Jabal Omar, which is within walking distance to the Masjidil Haram.
This is not to say that local hotels are untrustworthy, but it’s worth researching before booking at an unfamiliar hotel. We would also recommend booking similar international chains via booking websites or trusted discount websites for extra assurance, as these sites would have more favourable systems for customers.
Getting Around Mecca and Nearby Areas
Doing Umrah with a travel agency usually means getting around in a chartered tour bus with the rest of the tour group. However, it’s quite easy to get around Mecca and surrounding areas on your own by booking taxis or using Mecca’s version of Uber or Grab, which is Careem (careem.com).
If you’d like to plan your travels and transportation way in advance, a taxi service recommended by DIY Umrah travellers is Umrah Tax Service. Their website, which is available in English, lists flat rates for trips to and from popular destinations, and according to the type of car requested, so that you’ll know how to budget your trip. The list is also a good guideline should you need or choose to book transportation from other companies.
With more relaxed conditions set by the Saudi government regarding tourism and Umrah in the country, it’s definitely easier now to organise your own Umrah trip without having to go through a travel agency. It’s great for when you have only a few days to spare, are familiar enough with the rites of Umrah, are familiar enough with the city of Mecca, and want to concentrate on the religious aspects of Umrah more than the tourism activities.
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