Enigmatic, mysterious and captivating, the Middle East has held the attention and captured the imagination of travellers for thousands of years. Wildly held as the cradle of modern civilisation the Middle East has seen countless empires rise and fall, from ancient Mesopotamia to the mighty Persian empire. It has seen the birth of three of the largest religions in the world that are still around today, and many others that are not, and had a profound effect on world history and culture.
Such is the lure of the Middle East that historians, biblical scholars and archaeologists devote entire careers to the study of this enigmatic region. The Middle East is a fascinating, intoxicating and rewarding destination that shatters misconceptions and stereotypes for those intrepid adventurers that take the time to visit.
Today the Middle East is a modern tale of two cities, or more realistically two states, with the United Arab Emirates a vastly different experience to the rest of the region. The same is true for tourism in the region, with the UAE, mainly Dubai, a mecca for luxury tourists from all over the world and Jordan – mainly thanks to its proximity to Egypt and famed world wonder of Petra – popular with travellers, whilst the rest of the middle east is largely overlooked thanks in large to decades of war in small pockets of the region.
The big problem with the perception of the Middle East is the bad press that it has had in recent years. If you listen to the media you would think the entire Middle East is a warzone, rife with political instability and riots, a place where war and poverty are the norm and terrorist atrocities occur daily. It is certainly true that certain countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan for example have descended into war and caution must be exercised in these instances, but that does not hold true for the entire region. Despite its modern reputation, in many ways the Middle East is ideal for independent travel, a place where it is easy to get away from the tourist hordes and tap into the spirit of true travel and adventure. Yes there are many tourist hotspots, but they are far outnumbered by places you can get ‘off the beaten path’ and discover a unique, charismatic and enchanting part of the world.
Know Before You Go.
The Middle East is made up of 17 countries. Technically it is 18 by some definitions that also include Egypt, but historically and geographically Egypt has always been African so is not part of that definition here. These also include the United Arab Emirates which is almost a region within a region.
The Middle East.
This larger region includes Bahrain, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait. Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey and Yemen.
The United Arab Emirates.
There is generally a lot of misconceptions about the UAE, to the extent some people consider it a seperate region in and of itself, and many even consider Dubai to be its own country. In truth the UAE is a country within the region of the Middle East. It is an elective Kingdom that are broken up into several seperate Emirates, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Shaarjah, Ajman, Fujirah, Ras al Khamah and Umm al Qaiwan.
The Arab States of the Persian Gulf.
Just to confuse the idea of the Middle East even more, a few countries within the region are also referred to as the Gulf States (not to be confused with the US version), or the Arab States of the Persian Gulf to give it its full title. These include Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Iraq, Iran, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
When To Go.
The shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn are widely regarded as the best time to visit the Middle East by those who apply the Goldilocks principle of not too hot, not too cold. It is true that the summers can get insanely hot, and the winter nights can be bitter, especially in more rural or desert areas, but in truth any time is a good time to visit provided that you take common sense precautions for the weather’s extremeties.
Budgeting in the Middle East needs two different approaches depending on where you go. The United Arab Emirates, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are among the most expensive countries in the world and will need to be budgeted very carefully for. The rest of the region is relatively cheap by comparison and – with the exception of Jordan and Israel which are slightly more expensive – can be travelled around on a basic backpacker budget quite easily.
The Middle East is a very conservative region in general, with a large Muslim majority across most countries. That means that travellers will for the most part have to conform to stricter rules on dress and behaviour and will need to research the specific rules and customs of each country before they go to avoid any offence or trouble.