Umrah: The Most Rewarding Do-It-Yourself Trip
The concept of planning holidays and itineraries solo has increased vastly over the past decade with the rise of the internet, making all the information we need so easily accessible. With everything at our fingertips, the package holiday is no longer as coveted as it was before, as we have the very ability to tailor our vacations to what suits us - especially when it comes to halal-friendly holidays. Many of us may already have some experience with the ‘Do It Yourself’ element to holidays or trips we have planned in recent years, whether that’s handpicking curated hotels, choosing flexible dates and itineraries, saving money compared to booking through an agent or even just for the sheer pleasure of researching, learning and taking care of all the finer details of our holiday.
So how about a DIY approach to one of the most blessed holidays you could ever take: Umrah. Can we actually take on the task of doing all the meticulous planning and more importantly, get everything right for what is a stepping stone to the ultimate spiritual and sacred trip we will embark on as a Muslim? In short, the answer is YES!
So Why Umrah DYI?
There is nothing better to enlighten your trip and give you an insight on our beautiful religion and the birthplace of Islam than immersing in the history by watching some videos and familiarising yourself with the practicalities and importance of Umrah. The satisfaction from planning the trip is immense and knowing that you will be rewarded for every step you take towards this Holy journey will pay off greatly. Let's begin by listing the benefits of a DIY Umrah:
- It Saves money
- Plan according to your needs
- Flexible dates and times
The Finer Details: How, What, When?
Before Booking - When and How to Book
Give yourself ample time to plan your Umrah. Although there is no time limit to how far in advance to book your Umrah trip, we recommend giving yourself no less than 2-3 weeks of preparation time. Decide your dates and plan a budget well in advance.
Decide on when you would like to go
The best time to perform Umrah is around 3 weeks after the Hajj season when it is less crowded. The weather is best around November through to February, as the temperature is cooler making the pilgrimage easier. Once that decision is made, You can spend some time researching where to go. If you are flexible with which airport to fly from, there are potential savings on flights. Play around with dates and airports and see what works for you. For those of us that are travelling with children, we would be looking at school holidays - bear in mind that tickets are more sought after and therefore more expensive during these periods.
Entry requirements for Saudi Arabia
- Ladies will need to travel with a ‘mahram’, a male relative e.g, spouse, son, father, brother or uncle who will need to be travelling on the same flight. If travelling to Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa, ladies can travel alone to the country.
- Entry into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia requires a visa - of which you can get one for Hajj, Umrah, Working, or Tourist. For Umrah, it is best to apply for an Umrah or tourist visa - this can be done online as an e-visa with the link above.
- Proof must currently also be shown of being double vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter the country. The vaccines being recognised so far are Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
- A person with a non-Muslim name must provide a certificate from a local mosque or Islamic centre to certify the applicant is Muslim.
- A woman travelling with her Mahram may need her birth certificate or marriage certificate if her last name is different to that of her Mahram.
- A valid passport is required with at least 2 clean pages of their passport and at least 6 months left before expiry from the date of Umrah.
- 2 passport photos are also required.
- Once the visa is accepted, the applicant must travel within 30 days so make sure to time the application well. A visa costs $117 and takes 4 days to process.
- A Meningitis vaccination certificate is required.
- It is also important to check whether other vaccinations, or e.g. Covid, or PCR tests are required.
- Before travelling, it is useful to make sure you have travel insurance, so you are prepared in any circumstance.
- The Ihram, the mandatory dress for males planning to do Hajj and Umrah, can be bought at Islamic shops, or online. If you are struggling to find one, contact your mosque or Islamic community centre for help.
For more information, check the Saudi website.
Covid apps for Umrah
The Saudi government regulates the number of pilgrims through an app, “Eatmarna”. Through the app you can make an appointment for certain prayer times and for the Umrah.
The Saudi version of the NHS Track & Trace app is “Tawaqqalna”, which as a prerequisite requires uploading of the Covid vaccinations etc. and also contains the permits for the prayer and the Umrah. Permits are being checked by security personnel prior to entering Masjid Al Haram.
How to budget Umrah, and how to make the trip more comfortable or luxurious
It is likely that most of your money will be spent on the hotel and flights. Here are some relevant points that will affect your budget and is well worth researching before you go:
- The closer your hotel is to the main mosques, the more expensive it will be. Consider if this is within your budget.
- Whether you are visiting Madinah, and if so, it may be cheaper to fly to Madinah directly.
- Transportation to and from the airports - public transport is the cheaper, but lengthier, option.
- How long you are going for - if you go for longer, it will be more relaxed, but pricier.
- If you are arriving and departing from the same airport - flying to different airports will vary in cost.
The Logistics - FAQs on arrival to Umrah
Where to fly to for Umrah
The most common airports to fly to are either Medina or Jeddah. During peak times, it is easier to fly to Medina as Jeddah tends to be quite busy, leaving Medina less congested, thus taking less time through customs. There are Umrah-friendly coaches that will take you to Makkah and stop at the Meeqat so you can do the Ihram. We recommend spending time in Medina first and then travelling to Makkah and leaving from Jeddah Airport. Taxis and coaches are available to and from both airports. If you are taking a taxi, make sure to agree on the price beforehand or you can also conveniently use the Uber app. An Uber ride between Makkah and Jeddah airport will cost approx 150-200 SAR. Trains are also an efficient transport from Medina and Makkah. Whichever airport you fly to, there are usually SIM cards available upon landing, which can be useful to contact family or the rest of the group during your stay.
Things to do in Makkah and Medina
There are both spiritual and leisure things to do in both Makkah and Medina. Make the most of your time in the holy cities.
- Al Haram Masjid
The largest mosque in the world, “the mosque that never sleeps”, is home to Islam’s holiest and most beloved site, the Kaaba. Although this is one that we definitely did not need to name, as it is a given, the list would not be complete without naming the blessed place we all face when praying.
- Cave of Hira
Take a hike up to the cave of Hira, where the Prophet Muhammad PBUH first received revelations from Allah SWT. Not only is it a spiritual journey to the top, but the views of the city are amazing and it is a stunning place to watch the sunrise.
- Al Kiswa Factory
See the amazing process of the manufacturing of the Kiswa - the brocade cloth that drapes the Holy Kaaba in the finest silk, gold and silver threads.
- Fakieh Aquarium
Families with kids will enjoy seeing over 200 species of fish and other sea life in this exciting aquarium.
- Makkah Mall
The Makkah Mall is host to many local and international brands, including luxury retail stores. It is one of the most famous places in Makkah to take home stunning abayas and thobes.
- Mount Arafat
Another very spiritual site that has to be visited when in Makkah is Mount Arafat. The place where the Prophet Muhammad PBUH gave his last sermon, is known as the hill of mercy. Make sure to reap the rewards and ask for forgiveness on this blessed site.
The second most holiest site in Islam was built by the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. If this is not reason enough to visit, the stunning courtyard and green dome, gives the serene and spiritual atmosphere your soul desires.
- Medina Media Museum
The small museum is full of models and multimedia to showcase the history of both Islam and Medina. For history fans, it will be interesting to see how much Medina developed during the peak of Islam, as well as the establishment of the Masjid-Al-Nabawi.
- Quba Mosque
Tirmidhi: The Prophet Muhammad PBUH is reported to have said: ‘Whoever goes out to offer prayers in this mosque i.e. Quba, will have a reward equal to that of Umrah’. This blessed mosque is where the Prophet PBUH would offer prayers on a Saturday and is the first mosque in the history of Islam.
- Mount Uhud
Mount Uhud surrounds the plain on which Medina was founded. It is 8 km long and 110 m in height. It is located 5km from Masjid an-Nabawi.
- Jannatul Baqi
Translated as the Garden of Heaven, Jannat al-Baqīʿ is the oldest and the first Islamic cemetery of Medina in the Hejazi region of present-day Saudi Arabia.
- Medina Station
Medina and Istanbul were once connected by the Hejaz Railway, the construction of which began in 1900 and reached Medina in 1908. After the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire from the region at the end of the First World War, the Hejaz Railway became inactive. The station building in Medina, the last stop of the Hejaz Railway, still stands today.
Travel between Makkah and Madina
The Haramain High Speed Railway enables you to easily travel between Makkah and Medina within 2.5hrs. With a length of 450km and speeds going as fast as 300km per hour, it’s one of the fastest trains in the world. Tickets for a trip between both cities cost around 150 SAR for an economy class ticket and 250 SAR for a seat in business class.
When booking hotels, you will need to factor a few things that may affect where you stay; budget, amenities, proximity to the main Islamic sites, and how long you stay for. Staying in Makkah is more expensive, so it may be useful if you are on a budget to spend only a few nights in Makkah and the rest in Medina. The closer you stay to the main sites, the more expensive the hotels are. Remember to keep in mind that if you are travelling with elderly and/or children, it may be of benefit to stay in the closer hotels.
You will find a hotel with whatever you need at HalalBooking. Find peaceful accommodation within the blessed valleys of Madinah-al-Munawwarah (Madina the Enlightened), or overlooking the beloved mountains of Makkah-al-Mukarramah (Makkah the Honoured). At HalalBooking, you can narrow your search down by the panel on the side which is titled ‘Filters’. Make your spiritual stay perfect by using filters: Halal Food, No-alcohol, Ladies Privacy, Location, Review Score, Stars, Meal Plan, Property Type and Airport Transfer. Cater to your budget and make your holiday as luxury or as budget as you would like.
Halal food in Saudi Arabia
Your taste buds will be tempted with many different cuisines - an array of dishes to allure you for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Specialities from around the globe are available to try outside the holy mosques, paying an ode to the diverse community of Muslims settled in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Making your home away from home, your dietary requirements are taken care of and there are a range of Western food chains, local delicacies, coffee shops and catering companies that can deliver to your hotel. In a nutshell, depending on your budget, food can be as simple or as extravagant as you like. Pay a special visit to the date farms of Saudi Arabia and get your dose of fresh goodness.
Shopping in Saudi Arabia
Shopping in all of Saudi Arabia is a definite plus: make the most of spending your riyals and contributing to the economy. Remember to show a token of your love to your family back home by bringing back clothes, oud, dates and souvenirs. There are also large supermarkets such as Bin Dawood, Panda, Noori and Carrefour for any essential items, or even to buy things such as dates.
Makkah has several areas dedicated to shopping: the Abraj Al Bait complex is home to a five-story mall. Commonly called the Clock Tower, the high-rise complex is next to the Masjid Al-Haram and a convenient place for visitors to find almost anything they need. Also, many large and small shops around the mosque sell gifts, souvenirs, prayer mats and refreshments. The neighbourhood of Aziziyah has luxury boutiques, shopping complexes and outlets offering international brands along Al Masjid Al Haram Road. Other shopping districts are Al Ghaza and Ajiad, with an assortment of gift shops and perfume stores. The large Makkah Mall is located southeast of Al-Haram, near the Mina train station. Al Diyafa Mall is another modern complex to the northwest.
Combining Umrah with other holidays
The best thing about Umrah is that it takes place in such a beautiful country, which has so many other amazing cities and sites to offer. Many people opt to visit the other fantastic cities prior or on completion of Umrah. Make it an Umrah as well as a historical holiday in Al Ula, the largest living museum in the world and one of the oldest cities in the Arabian Peninsula. Visit the UNESCO Heritage Sites and the archaeological wonders that stand in the city such as the Hejaz railway, which was built by the Ottomans on the orders of Sultan Abdulhamid II between 1900-1908. You can also visit the newly refurbished Al Zawiya and Hamad Bin Yunis mosques, and view the incredible scenery of the Hijaz Mountain range. Other must visit sites are Jabal al Fil (Elephant Rock), the rock-hewn tombs of Hegra, the mountain Jabal al Ahmar, and the Al Ula old town.
Combine your Umrah with Jeddah for a cultural city break, the second-oldest city in the country with historical alleyways, ancient souks and fresh bakeries. Visit the ultramodern capital Riyadh for a leisure break, and see the contemporary modern amenities, in stark contrast to the holy cities and visit sites and historical places like the Al Masmak Fortress, the festival Riyadh Season, the town Ad Diriyah and the National Museum of Saudi Arabia. You can also go snorkelling in the nearby Red Sea in less than 24 hours from these cities as well, if you’re after more of a beach break.
Get the spiritual glow
Prepare for your trip in the best way possible, by thinking of activities that will have you counting down the days to your Umrah in a positive way. Start by reciting Duas and Durood Shareef to have a calming and uplifting effect on your spiritual journey ahead and remember to begin with the purest of intentions. We hope you’ve been inspired to confidently book your DIY Umrah and you come back with the many blessings that follow from a holy pilgrimage. Make your duas in the Holy land everlasting ones.