In the last decade or so, more and more tourists have been travelling to the Middle East to discover a little more about the region’s fascinating history and unique culture.
Despite certain countries experiencing conflict and volatility, other states are welcoming record numbers of tourists thanks to the diverse types of holidays on offer.
However, it is still important to respect local traditions and exercise caution, as life in the Middle East still differs greatly to what we are used to in the western world. So here is some practical planning advice, guides about the most intriguing destinations and handy tips for when you get there.
Before you go
Check travel warnings – Due to civil unrest and regional disputes, some countries in the Middle East are frequently off limits. Therefore, check travel warnings issued by your country’s foreign office before leaving. However, the cautiousness of other national governments will differ somewhat to yours, so be sure to check a few before making your final decision.
Pack conservatively – When it comes to clothes, your normal attire back home might be considered a little too revealing in the Middle East, as Islamic countries tend to dress rather conservatively. Both men and women should wear loose-fitting clothing that covers their shoulders and knees to avoid problems.
Have plenty of money options – Several Arab states have considerable wealth and are now centres for international trade, which means visiting can end up being fairly expensive. Therefore, having a credit card for Qatar, UAE and even Israel alongside local currency is highly recommended.
Where to go
Qatar – Formerly the poorest of the Gulf States, Qatar is now the richest (per capita) country in the world thanks to extensive natural gas and oil reserves. Tourists can either stay at five-star hotels and buy designer labels in giant shopping malls or discover more about traditional Qatari pastimes such as falconry and camel racing.
Israel – Whether you are on a religious pilgrimage to the Holy Land or simply want to appreciate numerous historic relics, Israel gives every type of holidaymaker an enchanting and fascinating experience. Tourists really are spoilt for choice when it comes to destinations, ranging from the traditional old cities of Nazareth and Akko to the modern and cosmopolitan Tel Aviv.
United Arab Emirates – The trappings of enormous wealth are evident on almost every corner in downtown Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as this modest-sized state has also taken advantage of vast natural resources. Famous for man-made islands, towering skyscrapers and luxurious hotels, the UAE remains a favourite for western holidaymakers. But don’t spend all your time in the city, as the country’s desert landscape is perfect for adrenaline-fueled outdoor adventures, whether it’s a dune buggy ride or a Bedouin camping excursion.
When you get there
Public displays of affection – Even holding hands with your partner is frowned upon, so avoid the temptation. However, people of the same gender holding hands while walking is a display of friendship and does not have romantic connotations.
Shoes and feet – It is considered impolite to show the soles of your feet, which even includes your sitting position. In certain instances, shoes should be removed before entering a building or room.
Drinking alcohol – Finding somewhere to enjoy a drink may be fairly difficult, as it is forbidden for Muslims to consume alcohol. Hotels in places like Doha and Dubai do serve alcohol, but try to avoid being intoxicated in public.
From Jordan’s sandstone relics to Bahrain’s idyllic coast, there are many more options open to the adventurous traveller in the Middle East. So don’t be put off, be prepared, and you will find the memories you return with are more than worth it.