With the rise of ISIS in the Middle East
and the threat of terrorism seemingly looming, more than a few travelers are rethinking their plans to visit the the entire region. “The Middle East,” is not a catch phrase for all things Muslim and potentially dangerous, as some would have you believe. In fact, it’s an enormous area, with a very diverse group of countries stretching from the border of Pakistan, across the Arabian Peninsula, to the eastern countries of North Africa.
Some of these oil-rich nations are the most technologically and economically advanced on the planet, having carved a wonderland out of the fringe of the desert. Others are a reflection of some of the oldest civilizations on earth with a rich history and deep cultural roots.
“…there are others that you’ve likely never heard of because they are peaceful, and welcoming to travelers…”
While countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria have been in the news due to war, political differences with the west, and civil unrest, there are others that you’ve likely never heard of because they are peaceful, and welcoming to travelers from all over.
If you’re itching to add the Middle East to your travel itinerary this year, here are five countries that are not on the US State Department watch list for travel advisories or warnings and that would make excellent additions to your RTW adventure.
Qatar is the stuff the stories of the Arabian Nights are made of. Doha, the capital, is fast becoming a world class city and is full of cosmopolitan shopping and restaurants to rival the big cities on any continent.
The Museum of Islamic Art is one of a kind and full of priceless treasures telling the history of the Islamic world. With a collection spanning 1400 years of masterpieces, hands on exhibitions and workshops, it’s a jewel of the Middle East.
“Ride camels, explore cave and rock formations, visit Khor al Adaid, an inland sea at the edge of the dessert.”
The Pearl of Qatar is a man-made island off the coast that is filled with yachts, and is called, by some, the Arabian Riviera. This is the place to go if you want the luxe experience. The desert surrounds the city and the natural history of the region begs to be explored as well. Ride camels, explore cave and rock formations, visit Khor al Adaid, an inland sea at the edge of the dessert.
Read: Top 10 Middle Eastern Experiences.
Kuwait was in the news regularly a decade and a half ago when Iraq invaded sparking the Gulf War. The country has, largely, recovered since then. It’s now a safe place to travel and one of the more “off the beaten track” destinations in the Middle East.
Kuwait City is the main attraction, with very little of the rest of the country developed. It’s a place filled with history and cultural diversity, as only about a third of the population is Kuwaiti. The best time to visit is in the spring, February to April, when the weather is cooler and the winter rain has passed. It’s a great place to have clothing tailor made if you can’t find what you want in the diverse shopping available in souqs as well as western style stores.
“Alcohol, pork and pornography are illegal in the entire country, so be sure not to import anything questionable.”
Women travelers my have some trouble traveling alone, staying in hotels alone or with harassment. It is an unfortunate reality. Dressing modestly and avoiding drawing undue attention helps. Alcohol, pork and pornography are illegal in the entire country, so be sure not to import anything questionable.
Read: The Female Guide to Traveling Solo in Muslim Countries.
There is more to Jordan than Petra, which is, perhaps, it’s most famous historical site and tourist attraction. The mosaics of Madaba, the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth, and slew of Judeo-Christian historic locations make Jordan a fascinating walk through the past, as well as the present.
The political situation in Jordan has remained stable, even while many of the surrounding countries have suffered instability. Jordan’s King Hussein carries on his father’s commitment to the modernization of the country and peace across the Middle East, making Jordan a country that has been consistently welcoming to travelers from around the world.
“Jordan’s King Hussein carries on his father’s commitment to the modernization of the country and peace across the Middle East”
Visit Wadi Rum, tour the early Islamic desert castles, SCUBA dive Aqaba, or check out the World War 1 era steam trains that remain. Explore the world’s lowest altitude nature reserve at Mujib Biosphere reserve, or explore the capital city of Amman.
Jordan is billing itself as the ultimate family tourism destination. It’s one of the safest places to take your kids in the Middle East.
The UAE is a bridge between east and west and they’ve used their position strategically. Dubai is an ultra modern city, home to the tallest building in the world and shopping unlike anything you’ve ever seen. They’ve dumped millions into improving the infrastructure for business and tourism alike, including transportation, technology networks and first class accommodation. Twice, the UAE has been named the safest place in the world to visit.
Did you know seven star hotels existed? The Emirates Palace Hotel, in Abu Dhabi is worth walking through to see how the other half lives. The Ferrari World Theme Park will keep the kids screaming, in a good way. The old forts and historical sites are a treasure trove of ancient secrets.
“Twice, the UAE has been named the safest place in the world to visit.”
If you’re in Dubai, the metro is the way to get around, Especially if you are there to shop. It will stop at all the major malls. Don’t miss the Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. It’s in the center of the Dubai Mall and you can even dive with the sharks and the stingrays. Dubai gets the award for the craziest malls!
Read: From Abu Dhabi to Dubai & Back.
Oman is the little country that juts out into the Sea of Oman, the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. With only 600,000 official residents and a about three million people altogether, it’s a tiny country with a big influence. It’s safe for travel, friendly and welcoming to westerners. That said, it’s a Muslim country and a Sultanate so consideration should be made for the religious bent of the country.
If you’re into SCUBA diving, Oman is awesome. It’s a great place to get your certification, if you haven’t done that yet. Take a 4WD adventure into the mountains, go climbing, or desert adventuring. Follow the real life paths of Sinbad and the Queen of Sheba. Explore history, culture and legend in the modern day.
“Oman was named the 9th safest tourism destination by the World Economic Forum in 2015.”
Is it safe? Oman was named the 9th safest tourism destination by the World Economic Forum in 2015. Oman welcomes solo women travelers and makes a point of that on their toursim website. Head coverings are not required except inside religious sites and a little bit of sensible modesty and cultural respect will go a long way to ensuring you have a hassle free visit.
I have dreams of one day walking, alone, across Iran. In the meantime, there are more than a few very safe, culturally rich, gorgeously diverse countries that are welcoming to western visitors in the Middle East.
Have you been to any of these places? Do you have others you’d like to add to the list?
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