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My Middle East Bucket List

My Middle East Bucket List

When I first started traveling full-time, the Middle East was one of the regions I wanted to visit most. And so, after a few months backpacking around Southeast Asia, I boarded a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beirut.

Over the next several years, I would return to the region (in which I also include North Africa) at least once annual. By the time a decade had passed, I’d been to more than a dozen Middle Eastern countries, from Morocco in the west to Iran in the east, and so many places in-between.

The bad news? I haven’t yet managed to visit many of the most underrated places in the Middle East. The good news? I’m still, as of this writing, only 39 years old.

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How I’ve Gotten to Know the Middle East (So Far)

Before I delve into some of the underrated countries in the Middle East I want to visit, we should talk more about how I came to know the region in the first place. As I mentioned, it started with a flight that touched down in Lebanon. On that trip, which was in 2010, I also visited Jordan and Israel—and unwittingly got a real-life view into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I also mentioned, I returned many more times over the subsequent years.

In 2011, I visited Egypt and Morocco, and returned to Israel. 2013 and 2015 saw me return to Israel (and, yes, Palestine) yet again. In 2017, I made my first visits to Iran and the UAE; in 2018, Oman finally came off my bucket list. I’ve visited Turkey (if you consider it part of the Middle East) in 2010, 2015 and 2020. While I still haven’t boarded any Dammam to Jeddah flights, trust me when I say that Saudi Arabia is very much on my list.

Places in the Middle East I Still Need to Visit

Saudi Arabia

For a long time, I didn’t think I’d be able to visit Saudi Arabia. Before 2019, after all, tourist visas for non-Muslims didn’t exist. While I’d be lying if I said I was eager to get to Saudi, I will say that if an opportunity soon presents itself, I will probably be on the first plane. (Side note: I’d love to see Saudia’s new livery in person!)


While I’ve never heard Yemen referred to as the best country in the Middle East, there are places I’d like to go, in spite of the questionable security situation. The first among these is obviously Socotra island, with its otherworldly “dragon blood trees,” though the capital of Sana’a has always enchanted me as well.


Remember my first trip to the Middle East, in 2010? Well, I planned to go to Syria back then. Had my experience crossing the “easy” border between Jordan and Israel not been such a nightmare, I would’ve gone. Syria remains high on my list, though I’ll probably wait until the wounds of the civil war have healed more.


Some of you might laugh at this entry—the tiny island nation of Bahrain, after all, doesn’t often make round-ups of where to go in the Middle East. However, a classmate of mine from college hails from there. While we haven’t spoken in almost 20 years, her stories of the unique country leave me intrigued to this day.


I consider North Africa and the Middle East as a single entity, and when it comes to the former, Sudan is a must-visit for me. While I fully recognize the ongoing conflict presents an existential security risk, I refuse to die without first seeing the pyramids of Meroë, which to me are even more otherworldly than those in Egypt.


Is it Safe to Travel in the Middle East?

Let’s address the elephant in the room: The media depicts the Middle East as being a hazardous hellscape, even in places where there isn’t active war going on. By contrast, my experience in the Middle East has been mostly peaceful. I’m not blind to the fact that there are nefarious organizations with diabolical aims. However, the vast majority of Middle Easterners are kind, hospitable people who want no part in conflict.

Now obviously, once you determine the best places in the Middle East for your own travel aims, you’ll want to consult the websites of local authorities in your country (the State Department in the US, for example) and, combining this with your independent research, make a risk assessment. In most cases, however, I believe the real “risk” is in letting fear win out over curiosity!


Other FAQ About Traveling in the Middle East

What is the least-visited country in the Middle East?

It shocked me to learn this, but tiny Kuwait is actually the least-visited country in the Middle East. Scratch that—it didn’t shock me. In fact, until I discovered this fact, I had actually forgotten that Kuwait existed at all. Sorry Kuwait!

Is Oman an underrated country?

Oman, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of my content about it, is a highly underrated country. From the whitewashed capital of Muscat, to forlorn beaches in Sur, to the frankincense-perfumed “Empty Quarter,” to oases near Salalah that become almost tropical during the annual monsoon, 

What is the safest Arab country?

As was the case RE: Kuwait being the least-visited country in the Middle East, I was surprised to learn that Qatar is the region’s safest country. Once again, I probably shouldn’t have been. With only one land border and a tiny footprint, it must be relatively easy to police.

The Bottom Line

I hope you’ve found my list of underrated places in the Middle East to be illuminating, even if it doesn’t line up with yours. Some of you have never been to this region—you need to go to first-tier destinations like Jordan, Israel and Egypt, before even contemplating the proverbial beaten path. In other cases, you’ll have a different concept of where to go next—Algeria instead of Sudan; Pakistan or Afghanistan instead of Saudi Arabia. One thing I can say for sure is that if you need personalized help, you should consider enlisting me. My Travel Coaching service saves you from having to sweat the details, which is good—the Middle East is very hot!


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