In America, we’re sort of subtly nudged toward the impression that the United States is really the only place worth checking out. If you are interested in traveling abroad, the media does its level best to paint the rest of the world like its one, big war zone. It seems like simply saying the words “Middle East” out loud would draw apprehensive stares from passerby. If you listen to CNN tell it, you might wonder why on Earth anyone would ever want to travel to Jordan or Egypt or the United Arab Emirates. Well, the truth is simple. Not only is the danger of traveling to the Middle East overblown, but it’s home to millennia of world history and culture, plus incredible swaths of nature and some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful architecture to be found from any period in human development. If you’ve never considered a little trip to the Middle East, you’ve been keeping yourself closed off from one of the planet’s most gorgeous locations.
1. The Dead Sea Has Been Beloved Since Antiquity
Don’t let the name fool you, the Dead Sea is a stunning stretch of land. The salt lake borders Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. It’s banks are 423 feet below sea level, which makes it the lowest (non-submerged) point of land on Earth. The Dead Sea is so beautiful that it’s captured the hearts of several important historical figures. In fact, Cleopatra ordered several resorts built along the Dead Sea’s shores.
2. The Great Pyramid of Giza Was Called a ‘Wonder’ For Good Reason
Built for a pharaoh named Khufu, the Great Pyramid reigned as the tallest structure in the world for nearly 4,000 years. Beyond that, the Great Pyramid is a mathematician’s dream. Did you know that the interior temperature of the Great Pyramid are constant, and equal to the average temperature of the Earth?
3. Khor al-Udaid is the Perfect Outdoor Attraction
Located in Qatar, close to the border of Saudi Arabia, Khor al-Udaid is a gorgeous creek that’s surrounded by crescents of delicate sand. It’s a gorgeous place to visit, and it’s got an incredibly wide array of activities. If you want to lounge on a world class beach, they’ve got that. You want to take a four wheel drive vehicle for a quick trip? You can do it. If safety is a concern, there are several comfortable tours that will get you their and back with nary a problem.
4. Petra Has Drawn Curious Onlookers For Centuries
Perhaps most famous as the location of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Petra is an ancient city in Jordan that’s been carved right into the mountainside. Not only is the city of Petra simply stunning, it’s also a great place to shop for some souvenirs once you’ve finished with the historical gawking.
5. Jeita Grotto Will Change Your Mind About Caves
If you’re not claustrophobic, Jeita Grotto in Lebanon just might change your life. The limestone caverns are actually two distinct but inter-connected series of caves that span nearly 9 kilometers. The natural limestone construction of the caverns make it shimmer as you walk through.
6. Sheikh Zayed Mosque Was a Decade-Long Labor of Love
Built between 1996 and 2006, Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi took 3000 workers to complete the incredibly intricate work. The main prayer hall contains 96 marble pillars that are inlaid with mother of pearl. The mosque also has seven chandeliers that are crafted from millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest of the chandeliers actually ranks as the second largest in the world.
7. Musandam is a Gateway to a New World of Biodiversity
Fjords aren’t only for Scandinavian countries. Oman’s Musandam coastline is home to some of the planet’s most gorgeous undulating landscapes. For the animal lover, Musandam is also home to an incredibly diverse array of marine and animal life. Several rare species of bird, dolphin, and turtles call Musandam home.
8. The White Desert is More Than a Parched Landscape
Located just North of Farafra may not have a lot of wildlife, but it does have some of the most unique and beloved rock formations in the world. Locals have given these monoliths names that reflect their varied shapes and size. From “mushrooms” to “ice cream cones” the White Desert is a world unlike anything you’ve seen outside science fiction.
9. Dubai is the Glittering City of Tomorrow
For a study in state-of-the-art opulence, Dubai is the place to go. Because of the influx of tourists and immigrants, it’s a bit more relaxed than some of the other destinations on the list. Not only that, but a series of inspired architects have turned Dubai into a constant competition of architectural oneupmanship. The city is home to the world’s tallest building, the 164-floor Burj Khalifa, a 42-stop metro, and a golf course that requires 4 million gallons of water a day. And that’s just for starters.
10. Erbil Citadel is a Towering Bit of History
Located in modern day Iraq, the Citadel Town of Erbil is an elevated town that’s been actively inhabited over the course of around 6000 years. It’s a beautiful testament to the stubbornness that humanity can achieve when it puts its mind to it. As each successive group of people swooped in and took over, they built it up and up to its present height of 30 meters.
11. Nasir al-Mulk Mosque
Also known as the Pink Mosque or the Kaleidoscope Mosque, Nasir al-Mulk mosque in Iran is a masterpiece of tile work. Inside, the mosque has been crafted to make the most of the light afforded by the desert sun. Inspired use of stained glass and architectural craftsmanship conspire to make the multi-colored light flit through the temple in every direction. Even an atheist can find religion in Nasir al-Mulk.
12. The Dome of the Rock
According to Muslim tradition, the Dome of the Rock marks the exact location at which the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. According to Jewish tradition, the Dome of the Rock is also the point at which Abraham offered his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God (God turned him down, by the way). Though only Muslims are currently able to visit the Dome — for … political reasons — the lustrous gold dome and the luxurious marble and tile adorning the inside are a stirring symbol to two of the world’s major religions.
13. The Western Wall
Located in western Jerusalem, the Western Wall is a point of pilgrimage for Jewish people across the world. A remnant of the Second Temple created by Herod the Great, the Western Wall may not look like much from the pictures of crowds swarming to worship in front of it, but to stand in its presence is to feel the raw power of an ancient building that has withstood the test of time.