Kaaba in Makkah Mataf

Hajj Series: How to choose a Hajj Group

The most common question that you usually get once you’ve shared that you will be going to Hajj is generally who you are going with. Going to Hajj requires you to travel with a group. You cannot go on your own and everything from your flights, accommodation, food, and transportation is a part of the package. This is a big decision – it determines where you will stay, what you will eat, your itinerary, the length of your stay and the language the lectures will be in and the ‘star-rating’ of your entire experience.

At the start, you will find lots of groups with lots of amenities and package offers. Generally, you can choose between an ‘express-type’ 2-weekish stay up-to a full one-month stay. This again varies from group to group. It’s best to sit down with whoever you are going with, create a chart to compare the different options. This will also easily help you determine right up front what your ‘must-haves’ are and what your budget is.

There are many Canadian Hajj groups that take pilgrims to perform and complete their Hajj. If you do a quick google search, you’ll be able to pull up the different companies and see what options they are offering in terms of the items listed above as well as the cost.

Kaaba in Masjid-al-haram_Grand mosque of Makkah
Kaaba in Masjid-al-haram_Grand mosque of Makkah

Our Experience
We chose to go with Toronto-based Al-Falah Hajj & Umrah Services. We determined this by looking at all of the points above as well as reviews from many of our friends. We had a great experience with Al-Falah and certainly recommend it to others if they are looking for an affordable 5-star (note that there are 7-star rated groups out there as well as well as 3-star groups) experience.

Traveling with Al-Falah meant being a part of a group that is invested in your Hajj experience with a dedicated leader who has been in the business for over 25 years. One note to take in for this group is that the leader of this group tends to communicate in Urdu and English – not just in english simply due to the general makeup of the group. The group leader does speaks English and does have a translator at the sessions he leads but it’s just something to take note of if you don’t speak/understand this language. Our group consisted of many people from all over the country of all ages and backgrounds and on the last day we were all extremely satisfied and happy with our experience. Alhamdulillah, our hajj was complete!

We chose to go with this group because it met all of our requirements in terms of budget, offering a 5-star package and the number of days we were able to travel for. If you take a look on their website, you will see that their package offers a split stay in Makkah between a very convenient 5-star hotel and a few days in the Hajj buildings. Not all groups do this but it is something that allows pilgrims to have a 5-star experience for the whole trip – Madina, Makkah and the days of Hajj for a reasonable cost.

Kaaba in Masjid-al-Haram in Makkah's Grand mosque
Kaaba in Masjid-al-Haram in Makkah’s Grand mosque

With this split accommodation, based on the 19-day package we were in a 5-star hotel (Al-Safwa), two mins to the Haram for 3 nights and then moved to the Hajj building (about a 10-15 min. away). Other group members who were there for longer were in the hotel for a few more days than we were and moved to the apartment buildings with us, once we arrived.

With other groups, you may have a hotel room for the entire stay leading up to the Hajj days for an higher cost. In order for this to be slightly more affordable the hotels may be a bit further away but as I will explain further down, based on my experience, I would still prefer being 2-minutes away for three days vs. a 10-15 minute walk away for 6-9 days.

With A-Falah, we were very lucky to be bussed everywhere we needed to be, including getting a bus from Mina back to our accommodations. We spoke to a few friends who went with other groups that did not get this and had to walk from Mina back to their hotels in Makkah. Though this does not seem like a big deal, the heat is unbearable and getting a bus is very difficult in a time when almost everything is booked and unavailable as they are secured for the higher (7-star) rated groups or citizens of middle-eastern countries. As unfair as that sounds – it is just the reality. It is also why you won’t get to take the train and others will. In this sense, our group leader did go out of his way to ensure we were taken care of and accommodated for. We really saw how experienced the group was at times like this.

While we were not in the Makkah city-centre every single day (3 nights/4 days total out of the 10 days before and after the days of Hajj), the time that we were, we were directly in front of the haram, in a hotel connected to the clock tower with a full-view of the haram right from our room! Staying at Al Safwa hotel allowed us to get to the haram quickly in comparison to those staying in the clock tower.

The view from our hotel room Al Safwa Hotel located in the Haram. Makkah, Saudi Arabia
The view from our hotel room Al Safwa Hotel located in the Haram. Makkah, Saudi Arabia

The split between the hotel and the Hajj building made it a little challenging to get to the haram every day, but it also allowed us to prepare ourselves for what was to come during the days of Hajj. We were no longer in a 5-star hotel but in a decent (3-starish) shared hostel-like space. My expectation for this building was VERY low and though I was satisfied when I got there, I would still say to continue having a low expectation (and this applied across the board for everything!) in case anything changes or we don’t have the same views of what ‘decent’ may be.

Something that was stressed by the group leader and easily seen once we got there was the benefit of being there. Being at the Hajj building made it easy for us to meet new people and make friends – ones we would need for the days of Hajj and ones we would spend time with in a tent in Mina, during Hajj. I want to stress the significance of building relationships with your fellow female pilgrims. There are many things that you’ll be required to do without your male family members (including your spouse) and so our time at the apartment really helps in making friends. It helps you identify who you can relate to, connect to and get along with amongst the females in your group. This really allowed us to prepare for what was to come.

One thing I really recall is the feeling of wanting to ‘go-back-home’ or ‘being alone’ after the days of Hajj days. That’s not to say I did not also want to stay and not want to leave but I am just being honest here on the feelings you go through! It would have been really nice to go back to the hotel to get that squeaky-clean feeling but you continue to remind yourself of your purpose and that you still have it better than others. In comparison though, after the days in the Mina tents, the apartment really felt luxurious!

Jeddah at night_Al Balad
Walking the streets of Jeddah at night

We had about 3 days before our departure and actually took the opportunity to go to Jeddah and see the city instead of staying at the hajj building. Though we paid for this out-of-pocket, we got to get some time alone, get our own private hotel room and do a little sightseeing. I don’t think we would have done this if we were back at a hotel after the days of Hajj, in the haram. This decision would have been difficult if we were within the haram and in a hotel, since we would have paid for that hotel room and were right in front of the Kaaba – I don’t think I need to explain why! That’s not to say that you can’t continue to go to the haram and do nafl Tawaf or do another Umrah (if you have the energy!). Many people from our group did go to the haram every morning and returned In the evening.

This all may seem like a big deal but the days of Hajj are no joke, they aren’t easy and I can tell you that you are exhausted beyond belief at the end BUT once you complete your Hajj, the feeling is inexplicable.

In the end, whichever group you go with, your intentions are to complete your Hajj. Remember, every act you do is rewarded and every difficulty you go through does not go by unnoticed.

Kaaba in Masdi-al-haram in saudi arabia_hajj
Kaaba in Masjid-al-Haram in Saudi Arabia

I can’t compare this experience with other groups as I did not go with them, but here are a few things to note:

The Clock Tower has many hotels and simply getting from your room out to the haram can take longer than you may think. There are multiple elevators and/or escalators that you’ll need to take as well as going through the shopping mall in order to actually get out to the haram. Keep this in mind as it will help in planning ahead. I wouldn’t say this is a ‘2-min walk’

As mentioned before, some groups do offer hotels for the entire stay BUT your hotel will be a 5-10 min walk away from the haram. Although the distance may not seem far, once you’re there and you factor in both the extreme heat and large crowds, the distance can feel like an eternity and take much longer as well. That being said, these groups typically have their pilgrims stay solely at these hotels and they are not moved to any of the Hajj buildings which are away further away from the haram. Taking a taxi from the Hajj buildings to the haram vs. walking may equate to the same thing but the few days where you are literally 2-mins away from the haram makes all the difference to how much time you actually spend in Masjid-al-Haram, the Grand Mosque of Makkah.

How to choose a HAJJ GROUP

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