These are the hidden gems of the Middle East

SHAFAQNA – Forget about the world of fast food chains and mass tourism, we have carefully selected the places you can enjoy without the fuzz.

Libya: Leptis Magna

Given the size of the Roman Empire at its height, there are myriad places you can travel to if you are looking for ruins of ancient Roman cities. Leptis Magna, on the Libyan coast, about 120 km to the east of the capital Tripoli, is today one of the least known Roman city sites — but also one of the most striking. Spanning a large area – and remarkably well-preserved in parts – one of Leptis Magna’s greatest assets is its anonymity. You’ll rarely find throngs of tourists here, making it possible to explore the magnificent ruins relatively undisturbed.

Egypt: Nuweiba

If you fancy a trip to the beach, Egypt’s Sinai peninsula has other options than the touristy beaches of Sharm al Sheikh. One example is the town of Nuweiba, on the eastern part of the peninsula, on the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. Tiny Nuweiba offers only basic services and while most tourists might head for the bigger resort towns, Nuweiba is beloved by those in the know. “I’ve never felt so relaxed, so close to nature in my life,” says one visitor writing for the website Art of Backpacking. Also check out the Art of Backpacking for more beautiful Middle Eastern beaches off the beaten track.

Yemen: Socotra

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to take a vacation on other planets in our lifetime. But not to worry – the next best thing might be the island of Socotra about 380 kilometres east of the coast of Yemen. The island’s isolation in the Indian Ocean means that it has developed unique nature and plant life, almost unlike anything else on Earth. Like the majestic Dragon Blood Trees pictured below, found only on Socotra.


Morocco: Chefchaouen

Everyone knows Marrakesh, Casablanca, and Fez — Morocco’s famous cities. But venture outside the big city life and Morocco also boasts a number of fascinating smaller towns that are definitely worth visiting. One such town is Chefchaouen in the northwestern Rif Mountains. In Chefchaouen’s old town, almost every other house is coloured a shade of bright blue, creating an astonishing effect, a sea of blue — in addition to the charms of wandering the narrow streets and twisting alleys of any old Moroccan town.


Jordan: Wadi Mujib

Jordan’s most famous wadi is Wadi Rum with its red desert sands, but no less worth experiencing is the huge Wadi Mujib. Its gorge cuts through the surrounding desert landscapes before entering the Dead Sea at 410 meters below sea level. A river flows through the gorge, so to trek there you have to be ready to get wet, and climb up the occasional waterfall. The area around the gorge is also a natural reserve, which boasts of incredible nature and wildlife.

Iran: Mashhad

If you are planning a visit to Iran, make sure to explore the country beyond Tehran and Esfahan. Take for example Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, located in the northeast. See the gigantic shrine of the Twelver Shi’ite Imam Reza, one of the world’s biggest mosques which attracts millions of pilgrims annually — and the incredible architecture of the small villages in the mountains outside the city. Don’t forget to stop by in one of Mashhad’s parks and have a hearty plate of dizi, Iran’s traditional mutton stew.

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