Are you are looking for a Middle Eastern adventure? Want to explore the Cradle of Civilisation? Planning a trip to where religions were born and legends created? Then check out 10 of the best Middle East overland adventures below.
Not only is the Middle East an epicentre of early culture and tradition. But also a hub of rampant modernity where skyscrapers rise from the desert and ruins resonate with sound of holy prayer.
In the Middle East, the smell of spices mix with perfume and leather in the bazaar, whilst a story-teller spins an ancient yarn under a starry sky. It’s this kind of romantic vision that today forms the guidebook backdrop to Middle East overland adventures.
But you can’t just turn up in any old town and expect an adventure straight out of the Arabian Nights. When it comes to the Holy Lands and the Cradle of Civilization, it helps to know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
For any overland trip it is best to plan the destinations you visit, even if the plan goes out of the window on day one. So, if you do fancy heading that way in the near future, here’s 10 of the best Middle East overland adventures to get your plans started.
Where better to start than the holiest of holy cities. A place of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Even if you only visit Jerusalem on a weekend break, you’ll be stunned by how much this ancient citadel has to offer.
From the Wailing Wall to the Dome of the Rock, there’s a sacred structure up every street. And, whether you’re the spiritual sort or not, you can’t help but be impressed by it all. Jerusalem has borne witness to over 3,000 years of human history, and it’s still standing strong today. Whatever happens, you won’t forget it.
We now go from the very old to the very new. Abu Dhabi – a cosmopolis in the desert, and, quite simply, a testament to the market value of oil. The skyscrapers have been springing up here for over a decade, and unlike Dubai, the development shows no sign of abating.
If you’re looking for luxury – with plenty of sun, sea and sand to go with it (loads of it, in fact) – then this is the place for you. There are more 7-star hotels here than you could possibly shake your hard-earned wad of cash at.
But it’s not all about the high life. Those who can tear themselves away from the arms of a pool-side masseuse can opt for luxury adventures and go camel-trekking in the desert or scuba diving in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. Perfect!
One of the best Middle East overland adventures can be found in the southern Jordanian desert, where the ancient city of Petra lay hidden to man for over a thousand years. And it seems the fabled ‘rose-red city’ has benefited from man’s absence, since few world wonders are so remarkably well-preserved.
But the sands of time are catching up on Petra, and tourism is rife. That said, it’s nothing on the scale of the Great Pyramids or Machu Picchu, so you can still feel the immensity of human endeavour – especially if your mode of transport is of the humped variety…
A camel-trek to Petra in the company of a Bedouin caravan is an eye-opening yet soul-soothing experience. Most tours will also take you through the astonishing Wadi Rum Valley, where Lawrence of Arabia based his operations during the Arab Revolt of 1917.
They say Mount Damavand occupies a special place in the heart of every Iranian. No doubt it’ll have found a spot in yours too by the time you’ve conquered it trekking in Iran.
The tip of this snow-shrouded cone sits pretty at 5,610m, making it the tallest mountain in Iran and the highest volcano in all of Asia. Needless to say, getting to the top of this beauty makes it one of the best Middle East overland adventures and if conditions are right you can even ski back down.
Nothing says adventure like the dirt-encrusted wheels of a jeep. And there are few better places in the Middle East for off-road adventures than Oman. So put two and two together and find yourself a 4×4!
Travel through the Hajar Mountains to Wadi Bani Khalid, a dried-out (but not completely so) river bed famous for is luscious oases, water pools and canyons. The scenery is incredible and the ride awesome. From there head to the Wahiba Desert for a rip-roaring dune drive across the sand dunes to the Arabian Sea.
Although this is in Africa, historically and culturally Egypt is part of the Middle East. Plus, with so many adventures to be had in the land of the Pharaohs, it just couldn’t be missed out. For the best Egyptian adventures, head to the Nile – Egypt’s lifeblood for over 4000 years.
Cruising down the world’s longest river is an enchanting experience, with many wonders of the ancient world – including the Great Pyramids of Giza – to explore. You can even sail the river, going at your own pace you can see exactly what you want to see, and have plenty of fun doing it – even if you’re no Sinbad!
If you’re heading to the Lebanon, cast all your prejudices aside. Though underlying tensions surface every now and again, the dark days of civil war are long gone, and Beirut – its cosmopolitan capital – is regaining momentum.
One dubbed the “Paris of the Middle East”, Beirut’s streets are a mishmash of buildings which attest to each and every historical epoch – from Phoenician ruins to French colonial townhouses.
And amid all the open-air museums you’ll find designer boutiques, jewellery stores bursting at the seams, and a wealth of cafes, bars and restaurants – each one serving up something different from the next (though you’ll find falafel and kebabs on just about every menu).
If you’re inclined to think variety is the spice of life, Beirut might just be your kinda’ town.
We return now to wonderful Jordan, this time to Aqaba – the gateway to the Red Sea. Diving opportunities here are amongst the best in the region, and the marine life simply staggering.
Throw in some 5-star hotels, brand-spanking-new shopping centres and one or two killer beaches, and it’s a must visit on the best Middle East overland adventures. So, if you’re looking to get away from the typical Egyptian diving hotspots, Aqaba’s where you ought to be heading.
If cruising on the crest of a wave at 30mph sounds like your idea of fun, head to Tel-Aviv, where kitesurfing, windsurfing, and, well… surf-surfing are booming. Stand Up Paddle boarding has also taken off if you prefer something a little more relaxing.
The best swells occur in wintertime, but the wind is up pretty much all year round, and when it’s at its strongest you’ll see scores of boards on the water and kites in the air.
But Tel-Aviv’s not all about the water sports holidays. Israel’s foremost coastal resort is famed for its parties which tend to last deep into the night and continue on for the rest of the week!
Istanbul is where east meets west, Europe meets Asia and the Black Sea meets the Mediterranean. If you are on an overland trip from Europe it is your gateway to the Middle East.
But Istanbul is so much more than a stepping stone. This cultural melting pot has many fantastic sites to visit such as Aya Sofya (aka Hagia Sophia), the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar. Not to mention a boat trip up the Bosphorus, literally sailing between Europe and Asia.
Turkey is a great country to travel through as part of Middle East overland adventures. With everything from world class paragliding in Olu Deniz to rafting the class 5 rapids of the Çoruh River. There are amazing water sports all along the coast, great hiking and biking plus much more.
There’s no two ways about it, the best Middle East overland adventures come in epic proportions (didn’t you see Ben Hur?). From Sinbad to Saladin, Lawrence to Aladdin, there’s just something about the Holy Lands that calls travellers seeking both culture and adventure.
All of the above destinations would make a great holiday or short break in their own right. But imagine combining some (or even better all!) of them into your own overland adventure in the Middle East – what a trip that would be.
If 10 of the best Middle East overland adventures has you planning a trip of your own then check out our overlanding discounts. You might save yourself a fortune!