Why It's Time to Give the Middle East a Chance

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (Photo: David Rodrigo,  Unsplash )

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (Photo: David Rodrigo, Unsplash)

This may just be a hunch, but I’ve got a feeling that lots of people looking to get out there and explore still don’t think of the Middle East as a legitimate option. If all you ever read are negative headlines about Syria and Iran, it isn’t difficult to see why people would draw that conclusion. But let me let you in on a little secret: the Middle East is made up of more than just two countries.

There are 17 countries (including the partially-recognized state of Palestine) that are typically categorized as part of the Middle East, and while some areas are dangerous for travelers, there are also many, many places that would be worthy of any travel bucket list. From vast deserts and picturesque mountain ranges to intricate bazaars and ancient cities, the region has a lot to offer, whether you make your way to the likes of Bahrain, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, or elsewhere.

Of course, it’s a good idea to avoid places like Syria and Yemen that are literally war zones right now, as well as Iran, Iraq, and Palestine (AKA Gaza and the West Bank) due to violence and unrest, but for the most part the rest of the Middle East is open for business. If you were ever thinking of making your way to the region, here are a few spots you may want to consider:

Luxor, Egypt

Yes, Egypt is technically in northern Africa, but it’s also generally considered part of the Middle East, and one prime destination in this land of pyramids and pharaohs is Luxor. The city, about 300 miles south of Cairo along the Nile River, is often considered the world’s greatest open-air museum, as it is home to tombs, temples, and statues galore. The ruins of the temples of Karnak and Luxor are located right within the city’s borders, and, across the Nile, visitors will find the West Bank Necropolis, site of both the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.

Find more information and plenty of things to see and do in Luxor with this travel guide from A Couple Ventures.

Petra, Jordan

An ancient city built into the sides of mountains in south-central Jordan, Petra dates back as far as 9,000 B.C. and is one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World. Once home to a group of nomadic Arabs called the Nabataeans, some of Petra’s most well-known sites include Al Khazneh (The Treasury) and The Monastery, structures built into the red rocks that sport palace-like facades. There are plenty of other lesser known structures, too, however, making the ancient city an explorer’s wet dream.

For a complete travel guide, including information on getting there, what to wear, the cost of visiting, and much more, check out Wanderlust Chloe.

Inside the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt (Photo: Ali Hegazy,  Unsplash )

Inside the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt (Photo: Ali Hegazy, Unsplash)

Salalah, Oman

I wasn’t sure which city, town, or village it would be, but I wanted to be sure to include one stop in Oman on this list. After reading about its lush green meadows and bountiful gardens, I knew Salalah was the right choice. Found in southern Oman, the city is home to about 340,000 residents. During the monsoon/khareef season (July to September), that number swells temporarily thanks to the many visitors from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as other parts of Oman.

Fodor’s Travel has the lowdown on things to see and do in this city on the Arabian Sea.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The largest city in the UAE, Dubai, like London or New York, is considered a global city and a major business hub in the Middle East. It also happens to be home to the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa, which stands 2,722 feet high. Checking out the view for miles around from the skyscraper’s 148th floor is an obvious draw for visitors (if you’re not afraid of heights, that is). There are plenty of other reasons to visit this forward-thinking mecca, as well, not the least of which includes the two gargantuan shopping festivals it hosts each year and the cultural offerings you’re sure to find.

Über-popular travel blogger Nomadic Matt, who has been here, there, and just about everywhere else, can help you see why this creative city is worthy of your bucket list.

Jerusalem, Israel

The center of the religious world (as far as the Abrahamic faiths are concerned), Jerusalem, the disputed capital of Israel, is a history lover’s dream. Even if you aren’t exactly a practicing Christian, Jew, or Muslim, it’s hard not to feel a certain sense of spirituality when walking through the Garden of Gethsemane, visiting the Dome of the Rock, or placing a hand on the famous Western Wall. Wandering through the streets of the Old City or perusing the wares for sale in the Shuk, a partially-covered outdoor marketplace, make for an interesting time, as well.

Dive in to all that Jerusalem has to offer by visiting iTravelJerusalem.com.

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Of course, these are only a handful of the attractive options waiting for you in the Middle East. Wherever you might decide to go, just remember to use common sense safety precautions — as you would traveling to any foreign country. And when a certain destination comes with cultural rules, such as covering your head or whatever else it may be, remember to be respectful. You are the visitor, after all.

-LTH