The hub of Islam's spiritual center, Makkah (or Mecca) is the holiest city belonging to this faith. Non-Muslims are strictly prohibited from entering the divine abode and any trespassers will be immediately deported from Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the sayings from the five pillars of Islam, it is compulsory for the financially-sound and physically-fit Muslims to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, called Hajj, at least once in their lifetime. Thus, the birthplace of Prophet Muhammed has become the melting pot for Muslims from all over the world, with over 3 million devotees taking a trip during the month of Dhu'l-Hijjah annually.
Makkah is home to Masjid al-Haram which is the largest mosque in the world. This holy site can house up to 2 million people at once. For those undertaking the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, this mosque becomes the prime focus. The heart of the sacred mosque features Kaaba, a cuboid building, that needs to be circled seven times by Muslim pilgrims. The Black Stone, residing in the Kaaba's eastern corner, is a renowned Islamic relic. Adjacent to the Kabba lies Maqam-e-Ibrahim, a crystal dome encompasses a rock that is perceived to possess an imprint of Abraham's foot.Be sure to take a walk around Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, two small hills that have now been converted into air-conditioned galleries.
Muslim travellers can visit the Cave of Hira (Ghaar-e-Hira), located in the mountain Jabal Al Noor (Mountain of Light), that is popularly believed to be the site where Allah first revealed the Quran to Muhammed through the angel Jibril. Go back in time with Cave Thawr,(Ghaar-e-Thawr), residing in the mountain Jabal Thawr (Mount Bull), fathomed to have been the place where prophet Muhammed took shelter in as he left for Medina. Pilgrims can climb up to 1,405m to view the cave. Pay your respects to the departed by visiting the Jannat al-Mu'alla cemetery where the relatives and companions of Prophet Muhammed are buried.
Those who believe in the possibility of magic can stop by at the well of Zamzam that resides within the Masjid al-Haram. As per Islamic belief, the water has been produced miraculously from god. Several thousand pilgrims visit the well to sip the holy water. Many pilgrims bring the water back to their home for free as a souvenir. Other well-known hajj sites are Mina (Tent City), famous for providing temporary accommodation to travellers. The site houses the Jamaraat Bridge where the customary ritual of the stoning of the Devil is undertaken. Take a trip to the hill of Arafat ( Jabal Rahma) where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have given his Farewell Sermon to the devotees.
If museums are your forte, then a take a trip to the Al-Haramain Museum that houses an array of historical artifacts belonging to diverse eras. Symbolizing modern Makkah, Abraj Al Bait is the royal tower clock hotel that stands at 601 meters and is said to be the third tallest building in the world and integrates the planet's biggest clock face. This monumental structure is home to a 5-star hotel, a huge prayer hall that can hold up to 10,000 people, an upscale 5-story opulent shopping mall and a wide variety of eating joints.
Traditional items to purchase in the pilgrim city are prayer mats and hats, prayer beads and perfume. At the same time, folks wanting to shop in high-end boutiques can also do so with the shopping malls housing local and global brands. Travellers can purchase the famous perfume oils called Attars. When in Makkah, do not forget to try their quintessential cuisine. While modern fast-food chains such as KFC and Dunkin Donuts are available, the local delicacies are the ones that get the travellers craving for more. Be sure to gorge on Kabsa, a spicy dish prepared with rice and meat or dig into Kofta (meatballs), kebabs and shawarma (flat-bread meat sandwich).
Makkah has abundant stay options that caters to both - the wealthy pilgrims seeking the best luxury hotels or middle-class travellers looking for modest and cheap budget apartments.
Since Makkah experiences arid climate and is scorching hot, the best time to visit the sacred city would be from November to February when the weather is more pleasant and conducive.