The Middle East – the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ – where religions are born and legends created. Not only an epicentre of early culture and tradition, but also a hub of rampant modernity where skyscrapers rise from the desert and ruins resonate with sound of holy prayer.
Where the smell of spices mixes with perfume and leather in the bazaar, whilst a story-teller spins an ancient yarn under a starry sky.
It’s this kind of romantic vision that today forms the guidebook backdrop to Middle East adventures.
But you can’t just turn up in any old town and expect an adventure straight out of the Arabian Nights.
When it comes to the Holy Lands, it helps to know where you’re going and what you’re doing. So, if you do fancy heading that way in the near future, here’s a few places to get you started.
Where better to start than the Holy City, a place of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Even if you’re just here on a weekend break, you’ll be stunned by how much this ancient citadel has to offer.
From the Wailing Wall to the Dome of the Rock, there’s a sacred structure up every street. And, whether you’re the spiritual sort or not, you can’t help but be impressed by it all. Jerusalem has borne witness to over 3000 years of human history, and it’s still standing strong today. Whatever happens, you won’t forget it.
Abu Dhabi, UAE
We now go from the very old to the very new. Abu Dhabi – a cosmopolis in the desert, and, quite simply, a testament to the market value of oil.
The skyscrapers have been springing up here for over a decade, and unlike Dubai, the development shows no sign of abating.
If you’re looking for luxury – with plenty of sun, sea and sand to go with it (loads of it, in fact) – then this is the place for you. There are more 7-star hotels here than you could possibly shake your hard-earned wad of cash at.
But it’s not all about the high life. Those who can tear themselves away from the arms of a pool-side masseuse can opt for luxury adventures and go camel-trekking in the desert or scuba diving in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. Perfect!
Petra & Wadi Rum, Jordan
There’s no better adventure to be had in the Middle East than in the southern Jordanian desert, where the ancient city of Petra lay hidden to man for over a thousand years. And it seems the fabled ‘rose-red city’ has benefited from man’s absence, since few world wonders are so remarkably well-preserved.
But the sands of time are catching up on Petra, and tourism is rife. That said, it’s nothing on the scale of the Great Pyramids or Machu Picchu, so you can still have one hell of a holiday adventure here – especially if your mode of transport is of the humped variety…
A camel-trek to Petra in the company of a Bedouin caravan is an eye-opening yet soul-soothing experience that will live long in the memory. Most tours will also take you through the astonishing Wadi Rum Valley, where Lawrence of Arabia based his operations during the Arab Revolt of 1917.
Mount Damavand, Iran
They say Mount Damavand occupies a special place in the heart of every Iranian. No doubt it’ll have found a spot in yours too by the time you’ve conquered it.
The tip of this snow-shrouded cone sits pretty at 5,610m, making it the tallest mountain in Iran and the highest volcano in all of Asia. Needless to say, getting to the top of this beauty makes for a truly breathtaking (quite literally) Middle-Eastern adventure.
Wahiba and Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman
Nothing says adventure like the dirt-encrusted wheels of a 4×4. And there are few better places in the Middle East for off-road adventures than Oman. So put two and two together and find yourself a jeep!
Travel through the Hajar Mountains to Wadi Bani Khalid, a dried-out (but not completely so) river bed famous for is luscious oases, water pools and canyons: the scenery is incredible and the ride awesome. From there head to the Wahiba Desert for a rip-roaring dune drive – that ought to get the adrenaline going!
The River Nile, Egypt
Okay, so this is technically Africa, but historically and culturally speaking, Egypt is very much the Middle East. Plus, with so many adventures to be had in the land of the Pharaohs, it just couldn’t be missed out. For the best Egyptian adventures, head to the Nile – Egypt’s lifeblood for over 4000 years.
Cruising down the world’s longest river is an enchanting experience, but sailing it yourself is even better. You can go at your own pace, see what you want to see, and have plenty of fun doing it – even if you’re no Sinbad!
If you’re heading to the Lebanon, cast all your prejudices aside. Though underlying tensions surface every now and again, the dark days of civil war are long gone, and Beirut – its cosmopolitan capital – is regaining momentum.
One dubbed the “Paris of the Middle East”, Beirut’s streets are a mishmash of buildings which attest to each and every historical epoch – from Phoenician ruins to French colonial townhouses.
And amid all the open-air museums you’ll find designer boutiques, jewellery stores bursting at the seams, and a wealth of cafes, bars and restaurants – each one serving up something different from the next (though you’ll find falafel and kebabs on just about every menu).
If you’re inclined to think variety is the spice of life, Beirut might just be your kinda’ town.
We return now to wonderful Jordan, this time to Aqaba – the gateway to the Red Sea. Diving opportunities here are amongst the best in the region, and the marine life simply staggering.
Throw in some 5-star hotels, brand-spanking-new shopping centres and one or two killer beaches, and you get a Middle Eastern holiday to remember. So, if you’re looking to get away from the typical Egyptian diving hotspots, Aqaba’s where you ought to be heading.
If cruising on the crest of a wave at 30mph sounds like your idea of fun, head to Tel-Aviv, where kite-surfing, wind-surfing, and, well…surfing-surfing are booming.
The best swells occur in wintertime, but the wind is up pretty much all year round, and when it’s at its strongest you’ll see scores of boards on water and kites in the air.
But Tel-Aviv’s not all about the water sports holidays. Israel’s foremost coastal resort is famed for its parties which tend to last deep into the night and continue on for the rest of the week!
The Middle East, from Cairo to Istanbul
There’s no two ways about it. The Middle East is the land of the epic adventure (didn’t you see Ben Hur?). From Sinbad to Saladin, Lawrence to Aladdin, there’s just something about the Holy Lands that seem to call for a wander into the wilderness.
So, if you want to truly appreciate the tide of human history, and if you want to experience something truly unique and unforgettable, why not follow in the footsteps of those great legends of the Levant by embarking on an epic adventure of your own? How about an overland expedition from Cairo to Istanbul, where you’ll encounter ancient cities, timeless deserts and coral-rich seas – sound like a plan?
For more adventure travel info and guides, check out: Adventure Sports Gear: Penknife or Multitool?/ Top 10 travel apps for iPhone, iPad and smartphones / The Ultimate List of Extreme Sports / Airline weight restrictions: what every traveller needs to know/ The Rise of Gastro Adventuring
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