There’s something very rugged about the Middle East. It’s not the most graceful of regions. It’s far from immaculate. And it’s certainly no place for introverted minds. The Middle East is loud, brash, bold and brazen, and has been the centre of good, bad and ugly world affairs for many centuries. From the manic, congested streets of Cairo to the dazzling skyscrapers of Dubai, a trip to the Middle East can be somewhat overwhelming. But look a little closer, walk a little further, and travel a little deeper and you’ll see some truly beautiful things that can move you to tears. Because beyond the bustling cities and crazy capitals, there’s an untouched world of natural wonders. Here are 19 places in the amazing Middle East that will simply take your breath away…
1| The White Desert, Egypt
Whilst the Great Pyramids, Valley of the Kings, and Giza Necropolis attract thousands of tourists, the desert can feel somewhat bleak; without cars, noise or people. And that’s the beauty of heading out to see The White Desert; if not for the sights, for the refreshing silence. This national park is set within the Farafra depression in Egypt and is home to some of the most amazing wind-carved rock formations in the world. To experience the full beauty of the dessert, we would recommend an overnight tour with camping.
2| Musandam Fjords, Oman
Often named the ‘Norway of Arabia’, the Musandam peninsula of Oman has a competing elegance and is a place of outstanding natural beauty. The incredible carved valleys have an arresting impact as soon as you arrive and the famous fjords – known as khwar – stand tall out of the deep turquoise waters, creating a tranquil inlet to sail through. Take the ‘dhow cruise’, which will take up a whole day and see the fjord of Khwar Ash-Sham, where you will be able to swim and snorkel in the calm, clear sea.
3| Jeita Grotto, Lebanon
The site of the mysteriously beautiful Jeita Grotto was destroyed during the civil war in Lebanon. Today, the natural site has been restored in partnership with the Mapas Co. and the Ministry of Tourism, and the stunning grotto is reopened to the public once more. Visitors can see the upper grotto by walking tour and the lower grotto by small cruise boat or rowing boat.
4| Mount Sinai, Egypt
Mount Sinai, also known as Jebel Musa or Mount Moses, is one of the most sacred destinations in the world; it has a huge biblical significance and is said to be the place where Moses received the 10 Commandments from God. To explore the beautifully significant mountain range, you can take a camel ride or hike up the Steps of Penitence (a steep stone pathway that has been carved into 3750 steps by monks). The uphill hike will take you between 1-3 hours and your path will lead to Elijah’s Hollow and The Seven Elders of Israel, where there is a teahouse to stop and enjoy the views. The best times to hike are either very early morning so you can catch sight of the sun rising over the mountains or early evening for sunset; the sun’s glow makes Mount Sinai all the more beautiful.
5| The Kaluts, Iran
For something completely out of this world, you have to visit The Kaluts of Iran. The eerie, alien-like landscape of the Dasht-e Lut Desert is something out of a sci-fi movie. Or you may feel like you’ve gone through a time warp and stumbled across a lost world in this unique corner of the arid desert. But the moment you spot an Iranian family enjoying a picnic amongst these peculiar formations, you’ll be slowly brought back to earth. The reality is that these strange carved shapes sticking out of the desert are the result of centuries of extreme soil and water erosion. Thus causing them to appear like they’ve been sculpted by the hands of a giant. Do as the Iranians do and plan a half-day hike with a picnic break. Just be sure to have your SLR and tripod at the ready for sunset.
6| The Dead Sea, Jordan
The Dead Sea (also known as The Salt Sea) is one of our planet’s most incredible natural phenomena. It is the most hypersaline lake in the world; made up of over 34% salt, it is our planet’s saltiest body of water. The high amount of salt in the sea creates a unique colour in the water and incredible solidified salt formations can be seen around the shores of the lake. In addition to the stunning sights of the lake, the dead sea mud is rich in magnesium and silicon compounds, making it ideal for spas and treatment centres in the surrounding area. Visit one of the dead sea spas surrounding the lake to benefit from the natural mud’s amazing healing powers, which are great for the skin and good for joint disorders.
7| Socotra Island, Yemen
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to Yemen at present. But one of the most incredible natural wonders of the world can be found on Yemen’s Socotra Island. Unreachable through tourism, this stunning natural miracle can only be marvelled from afar for now. Because the island of Socotra is so isolated, a third of its entire plant life cannot be found anywhere else on our planet. The rare Dragon Trees and Bottles Trees are completely alien to the rest of the world and most of us will never get the chance to explore this unfamiliar world.
8| Bu Tinah Island, Abu Dhabi (UAE)
Another island that has to be admired from afar is the protected nature reserve of Bu Tinah Island in Abu Dhabi. This thriving natural gem in the United Arab Emirates is one of the most ecologically significant wonders of the Middle East and houses endangered rare species and wildlife that would otherwise be killed off by human habitation (such as the Hawksbill turtle). Closed off to the public and with a strict ban on fishing, preservation is the most important strategy. The closest you can get is Sir Bani Ya Island where you will be able to find a few luxury beachfront resorts.
9| Chebika Mountain Oasis, Tunisia
Like something out of an adventure movie, the Mountain Oasis in Tunisia offers a picturesque paradise with all the movie-like features you would expect; palm trees, waterfalls, tranquil streams and rugged red rock, all in the middle of a vast arid land. You can also explore some of the abandoned cities which were built back in the 1960s, making your trip all the more enchanting. A hike or camel ride to the Chebika Oasis at the foot of the Djebel el Negueb Mountains will be like taking a step back in time or into another world.
10| The Rub ‘al Khali, Oman
As the world’s largest sandy desert, the Rub ‘al Khali stretches 250,000 square miles across Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Known for its outstanding red dunes that are as high at 800 feet, the desert is completely uninhabited by wildlife. Explore the Rub ‘al Khali from Oman on a self-driving tour or go camping for an overnight experience.
11| Valley of The Moon (Wadi Rum), Jordan
Wadi Rum (also called Valley of the Moon) is Jordan’s natural gem of sandstone and granite rock. It’s the largest valley in Jordan and it has been the home to many ancient civilisations in prehistoric times. Today, the Valley of the Moon is home to the Zalabia Bedouins people, a small and humble population who make a living through eco-tourism. If you are looking to visit these incredible valleys, the Zalabia Bedouins will be your trekking guides.
12| Mount Damavand, Iran
Spring is the ultimate time to visit the Middle East’s highest mountain peak. Mount Damavand in Iran is a volcano over 18,000 feet above sea level and it forms the Iranian backdrop with its tall, snowy summit. Any time of year makes for a scenic trip but if you visit in spring or summer when the rolling fields are covered with bright red poppies, you will be able to witness the striking contrast of the snowy mountains and the floral blooms. It’s a great place for trekking, cycling or just a lazy afternoon picnic. The volcanic land has also created a number of natural hot springs nearby, which are known for their therapeutic benefits.
13| Northern Tehran Mountains, Iran
The Northern Tehran Mountains give you the best of both worlds; a stunning natural wonder with the sights of a city skyline. This incredible mountain overlooking Tehran City is truly majestic in all its nature. But it’s also one of the most accessible mountain ranges in the Middle East too, and is suitable for all levels of walkers. The Darband Trail starting from Sarband Square takes you through the Pase Ghale village and follows a quaint tree-lined stream and will lead you all the way to the summit. There are a number of stopping points to take in the mind-blowing views so you don’t have to go all the way to the top; to capture the best images of the city, time your ascent for sunset or the short moments of twilight.
14| Pamukkale in Denizli, Turkey
Pamukkale translates into “cotton castle” and you will understand why as soon as the glassy white terraces greet you on arrival in this beautiful area of Turkey. A visit to the Pamukkale pools in Denizli and you will feel like you’re walking amongst clouds. The therapeutic pools are spread across different levels of the landscape, mimicking the stairs to heaven; this natural site will seem completely unreal. Get the full magical experience and spend a day here in the hot mineral springs, kick back in the pools and soak up the beautiful mountainscapes.
15| Siwa Oasis, Egypt
Another fantastic site in Egypt is the Siwa Oasis, which is an oasis between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea. Within the Libyan Desert, historical ruins of Ammonium sit amongst the natural beauty of date palms, gardens and a source of natural spring water. Today, the area is occupied by an isolated population of around 23,000 people, many of whom speak the Berber language. It’s well worth a visit if you have the time to explore.
16| Qadisha Valley, Lebanon
The views here are simply out of this world and we recommend starting your journey in the incredible town of Bsharri. Qadisha Valley (also known as Kadisha Valley) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Northern Lebanon at the foot of Mount Mekmel; this holy place is a deep gorge carved up by the Qadisha River (Nahr Abu Ali) and looks unbelievable to the first time visitor. Stay at the town of Bsharri, which is perched on the rim of the valley, giving you the most dramatic views.
17| Jabal Qara Caves, Saudi Arabia
The towering limestone of the Jabal Qara Caves in Saudi Arabia are definitely worth a visit if you don’t get claustrophobic in tight spaces. Take a walk through the amazing carved limestone caves, valleys and narrow gullets. It’s hard to believe that these strange looking formations have been created by Mother Nature herself; at a glance, it could appear to be a manmade design. But they are completely natural and they are completely unique in the Al-Hasa region of Saudi Arabia. Oddly enough, the caves tend to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter – making them ideal for touring any time of year.
18| Kaçkar Mountains, Turkey
If you’re looking for an incredible camping destination, one which can really take your breath away, you simply must visit the Kaçkar Mountains in Turkey. The Kaçkar mountain range makes for a great hiking location, with sublime views that are accompanied by the raw beauty of wildflowers dotted across the landscape and cold ice as seen on the mountain tops. The glaciated Kaçkar Mountain is almost 13,000 ft. tall and there are steep rocky peaks with a number of pretty mountain lakes to rest by. It’s a truly stunning part of the world.
19| Nile River, Egypt
It may be one of the most well-known tourist attractions of the Middle East, but you simply can’t miss the beauty of the Nile River. And despite its fame amongst tourists and travellers, the elegance of this vast 4,258 mile long river doesn’t fail to take your breath away. Take a luxury boat cruise or take a sailboat and try your hand at seafaring with the many other river sailors. There are also many riverside hotels in Egypt overlooking the beautiful waters; some of the world’s most glamorous resorts can be found here so you can enjoy the finest luxuries whilst exploring the planet’s longest river.
For holidays to Oman, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, Dubai or Abu Dhabi, please contact our team here at Corinthian Travel. Call +44 (0) 20 3583 6089 and speak to one of our experts about a tailor-made luxury holiday to your dream destination.