This extraordinary region lying both geographically and politically between the Far East and the West, is fascinating for its ethnic diversity, colourful bazaars and its incredible blend of modern and ancient worlds. From the famed cities of history such as Ephesus and Petra, to the great pyramids of Egypt and the incredible mosques of Turkey, much speaks of the civilizations past.
While in modern terms the capitals of Baghdad, Cairo and Istanbul frequently take the world stage, there’s the engineering feat of the Suez Canal and the bustling business centre of Dubai.
The largest ethnic groups are Arabs, Jews, Persians and Turks but there are many minorities with their own languages and customs. The common ground between many of these races seems to be the food. Those travelling across the region find similar dishes such as flat breads and kebabs everywhere prepared by people with the same genuine, open hearted hospitality.
UAE tours and sightseeing
While it does have an arid and hot climate, to picture the Middle East solely as desert and shifting sands does it an injustice as there are features such as the Red Sea’s dazzling underwater world, Turkey’s snow-capped mountain peaks and the fertile plains along the River Nile.
Generally the best time to visit is in autumn (September-November) and spring (March-May). Winters can be very cold and the summers blindingly hot. Ramadan (November) is a period of fasting for Muslims and best avoided as food options for tourists are rather slim picking, prices increase and transport services booked out or limited.
Travellers should keep up to date on problematic regions and be aware that some areas enforce strict Islamic Law in regard behaviour and dress. Some countries do not allow entry to people with an Israeli stamp in their passport or a visa issued from Israel.
There are plenty of transport options to the Middle East from ferries to buses, planes, trains and various overland routes. Air travel is the easiest way of getting to principal cities from major European and Asian centres. The cheapest flights are to Cairo, Istanbul and Tel Aviv while other places can be horrifically expensive. From Africa and Australasia it maybe cheaper to get a flight to London with a Middle East stopover and travel to other places overland. Israel, Turkey and Egypt are well connected to southern Europe by regular ferries and cruise liners.
Trains are limited and run from some Eastern and Western European countries into Istanbul. For the more adventurous, there are land crossings and overland routes such as Istanbul to Cairo. These routes can be slow and more dangerous and you should ensure you have the necessary documentation.