The fabled land of Arabia is full of delightful surprises, startling contrasts and memorable experiences. Whether it’s the mystery of the Great Pyramids, the magical Blue Mosque or the jaw-dropping city of Petra, these storied sands hold some of the most significant treasures on the planet. Odyssey Travels handpicks a few of the unique experiences which should be in your bucket list the next time you tour the enchanting Middle East. From the ancient ruins of Persepolis to the modern city of Amman, the Middle East is a truly unique destination that will enchant your mind and invigorate your senses.
Combining breathtaking natural beauty with a well-preserved cultural heritage, the sultanate of Oman is one of the least known, yet most exciting tourist destinations in the Middle East. From quiet mountain villages where time has stood still, to magnificent UNESCO forts, swaying date-palm plantations, tempestuous blow holes and beautiful beaches, these are the kinds of images afforded by the fascinating country of Oman.
Deep in Oman’s countryside are many villages that still retain their traditional charm and sense of rural solitude. Perhaps the most appealing of these is Bilad Sayt, a tranquil mountain hamlet tucked away in the protective embrace of Al Rostaq’s rugged hills. A cluster of stone-and-mud dwellings laid out like steps along the slope of a rocky hill, along with the lush rows of date palms and patch worked terraced fields make up the old-world appeal of Bilad Sayt. Every year scores of local and foreign tourists make the bumpy journey by 4WD and on foot for a glimpse of this remote village and its picturesque settings. The unspoilt beauty and traditional character of Bilad Sayt is a world away from the bustle and stress that generally characterizes life in urban areas.
One of the most magical and memorable wildlife experiences in Oman you can have is to witness a giant green turtle walk slowly up the shore from the warm sea searching for a spot to build a nest and lay her huge white eggs. Out of seven recognized species of marine turtle, five are found in Oman’s waters, and some of the world’s most significant nesting sites can be found here on Oman’s beautiful beaches, which in turn are now some of the top attractions in Oman. The Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve was established to cordon the surrounding beach as a turtle sanctuary, conduct research to promote turtle conservation efforts, as well as the primary agency to educate the public and visitors about turtles. The biggest attraction however would be the rare opportunity to witness in person one of nature’s most incredible sight – turtles toiling over a long night just to lay eggs on the beach that they once hatched from.
The Wahiba Sands, now also called the Sharqiyah Sands, of the Sultanate of Oman are a geological and ecological wonder that burst onto the international scene in 1986 after the Royal Geographical Society led an expedition to the region. There they found a 12,500-square-kilometre carpet of rolling and shifting dunes, home to an astonishing 16,000 species of invertebrates, flora and fauna, and a rich mix of nomadic people, all of which had adapted to living in this seemingly inhospitable place. These beautiful dunes stretch as far as the eye can see and it is a spectacular sight especially in the evening and the morning, when the warm colors of the desert become much richer and the long shadows accentuate the splendor of these giant forms. You can try your hand at Dune Bashing, the practice of exploring the desert sands in a 4WD which remains a thriving tourist draw in Middle Eastern countries where the desert is more expansive and less threatened.
Officially known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, you will be amazed at the great diversity of sights from desert castles, Wadis, forgotten cities, ancient Greco-Roman ruins to azure Red Sea coast resorts that Jordan offers. Jordan is a unique country, steeped in history and culture. Walk in the footsteps of the Nabataeans along the Kings’ Highway, follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia from his headquarters fort at Azraq, through to the deserts of Wadi Rum, soak up the therapeutic benefits of a visit to the Dead Sea, trek along routes that were mentioned in the Old Testament, take in the view of the Promised Land that was revealed to Moses, and gaze out over a landscape that has changed little in the last 2,000 years.
Mosaics of Madaba
Just 30km from Amman, along the 5,000-year-old Kings?? Highway, is one of the most memorable places in the Holy Land. After passing through a string of ancient sites, the first city you reach is Madaba, known as the “City of Mosaics.” Best known for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics, Madaba is home to the famous 6th century Mosaic Map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. With two million pieces of vividly coloured local stone, it depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns as far as the Nile Delta. Designed as an atlas for pilgrims, as well as to glorify God’s work in a house of worship, the map displays amazing precision: biblical towns such as Bethlehem and Jericho stand in their correct locations, neatly labeled in Greek characters, while gazelle are shown roaming the countryside and fish even swim in the waters of the River Jordan. Even more mosaics survive just outside Madaba. The World Heritage Site of Umm Ar-Rasas hosts another dazzling atlas-like sequence of towns portrayed on the floor of an 8th-century church.
The Dead Sea
Lying 400m below sea level and spanning the border between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea is a natural wonder. It contains more minerals and salt than any other stretch of water in the world, and thus it really is possible to float on top of the water. Its natural properties make it a prime centre for spa treatments and relaxation therapies.
Wadi Rum Reserve
The moonlike landscape of Wadi Rum is unique in the world. The desert of Rum is dotted with massive mountains, coloured in shades of red, yellow, and orange. Their hues spill over to colour the sand dunes around the desert and the horizon of its breathtaking panorama. The eco-system of Wadi Rum holds many rare and endemic plants. This is a place where you can become one with nature, where visitors are humbled by the towering mountains and overwhelmed by the serenity and quiet ambiance of this magnificent place.
Petra – a rose red city half as old as time, is poetry in stone that has withstood the test of time and today stands as a mute reminder of the glorious days it has seen under its various rulers. Half built and half carved, Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is without a doubt Jordan’s most prized treasure and an equally popular tourist attraction. Its immense facades were lost for almost 1000 years until they were rediscovered by the Swiss traveler Johan Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. At present, it’s one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, where ancient Eastern traditions blend with Hellenistic architecture. Entrance to the city is through the Siq, a narrow gorge, over 1km in length, which is flanked on either side by soaring, 80m high cliffs. Today, there are still many sites to see including the el Khazneh (The Treasury) monument, which is a giant tomb carved out of rock, the Temple of the Winged Lions, the al-Deir (Monastery) and the small Archaeological Museum, which displays artifacts found at Petra during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Dubai’s Desert Dreams
Long before the city grew to be a metropolis of glitzy commercial buildings, amazing housing developments, green parks and a modern commercial hub, Dubai was a sleepy desert village with a huge expanse of the timeless and tranquil desert all around it, stretching from its coast to its hinterland. The trip into the open vast areas of the barren desert lands of Dubai is such a unique experience that you need to really experience it to believe it. Here take a ride on ‘the ship of the desert’ and experience how the Bedouins travelled in ancient times. While atop the camel, watch the evening sun cast its orange glow on the picturesque rippling sands, which indeed is an unforgettable sight. Or opt for Dune Bashing – a ride that’s sure to provide the thrills and the action that you were longing for in a trip. Few of the best hotels in the splendid deserts of Dubai are:
Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa
Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa is admittedly quite secluded, standing alone in the silent desert. In sharp contrast to most luxury resorts crowded near the coast and around Dubai, this resort offers tranquility and a uniquely self-sufficient vacation stay. With its literal translation from Arabic meaning ‘gateway to the sun’, Bab Al Shams is built in an Arabic fort setting in and around an oasis. Inside the walls, shaded courtyards, walkways and water features provide cool shelter and maintain the unique ambience and atmosphere. With five restaurants and bars, an extensive water sports center (with lap pool, fountain, rainforest area, waterfall, and even a man-made beach area), stables, and camel riding, it’s likely time will fly past before you even think about leaving the property. Bab Al Shams has been awarded First Place in the “Best Decorated Hotel” category at the 40th UAE National Day Celebration competition presented by the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).
Al Maha Desert Resort
With the fast pace urbanization of Dubai, the local government recognized its need to conserve Dubai’s original habitat and hence created the Dubai Desert Reserve. The Al Maha Resort and Spa is the only resort in the reserve. Every effort is taken to guard that the flora and fauna as well as the culture and heritage of the Arabian Desert. Surrounded by some of the region’s most spectacular landscapes, rich with protected wildlife and filled with experience of traditional Bedouin pastimes, Al Maha offers a sophisticated yet simple and serene experience to its guests. Al Maha means Arabian oryx and truly encapsulates the spirit of the resort because guests can see herds of these fine creatures at close distance as they come to the watering holes. This getaway sojourn is unrivalled for the unique experience it offers, be it the luxurious suites, the peace and tranquility, the fine dining or the opportunity to mingle with the desert’s most beautiful animals. Al Maha has been acknowledged by The World Legacy award by National Geographic, the Arabian Cities Awards for Architecture and the best environmental design.
Desert Palm Resort and Spa
Set amidst 150 acres of verdant greenery, Desert Palm is an exclusive enclave, contrasting with both the vast sandscapes of Arabia and the customary opulence of Dubai. Desert Palm is intended as an oasis of chic, Dubai’s alternative for stylish simplicity, uniquely located for convenient access to the allure of the Dubai metropolis, whilst offering guests a welcome escape from the city. The 28 suites are complemented by private pool villas, each with a unique view of the outlying stark desert that collides with fantastic lush fields. The estate showcases four championship polo fields, a riding school, stables, rare bird watching opportunities, endless sunshine and beautifully groomed gardens with water features. The luxury hotel offers glamorous daytime excursions such as 4×4 desert safaris, hot air balloon rides, and camel racing. Or take in cosmopolitan Dubai with shopping or cultural city tours.
Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon. Beirut has an accretion of riches when it comes to bars, clubs and pubs, and plenty of would-be patrons ready to enjoy them – whatever day of the week it is. After the destructive Lebanese Civil War, Beirut underwent major reconstruction, and the redesigned historic city centre, marina, pubs and nightlife districts have once again made it a tourist attraction. Its night life combines the atmosphere of the intrigue bars of Munich’s Schwabing and the discotheques of Saint-Germain with the extravagances of Monte Carlo and the Oriental sensuousness of Egypt’s belly-dance emporiums. Nights out Beirut-style means all night out, with party-goers getting home well after the sun comes up. The city is also the focal point of the region’s cultural life, renowned for its press, theatres and cultural activities. Beirut’s theatres offer a pretty uninspiring repertoire of political debates and poetry readings as well as plays presented by local talent. Beirut was named the top place to visit by The New York Times in 2009, and as one of the ten liveliest cities in the world by Lonely Planet in the same year.
Israel boasts landscapes and city-scapes that are not found anywhere else in the world – from the ancient stones and deep rooted faith of Jerusalem to the beaches and bustling energy of Tel Aviv, from the stark desert beauty of the south to the lush forested landscapes of the north – you’ll experience it all on your tour to Israel.
Tel Aviv Beaches
The Tel Aviv beach stretches for miles along the whole western edge of the city, making it one long Mediterranean beach. Each of Tel Aviv’s beaches has a different character, popular with different people looking each for a different beach experience. Few of them are:
A great beach to meet interesting people, this beach is fun no matter who you are. The beach has bathrooms, beach chairs, and volleyball nets, and can be accessed via a service road from Metzizim Beach. This beach is also very popular with surfers as a natural offshore reef creates a swell.
The northernmost of Tel Aviv’s city beaches is probably its most urban feeling one. Tucked away near the old city port, and overlooking the Reading chimneys and Sede Dov airfield, Metzitzim has no pretensions of being a nature beach. It’s one of the coolest beaches in Tel Aviv, the queen of the north. Metzitzim beach was immortalized in an early seventies cult movie of the same name, and something of that wild bohemian feeling has stuck with the beach.
Best for a drink, Banana Beach is popular with Tel Avivians and tourists alike. Low tables are set out on the beach, and people come here for a drink, to relax, to play matkot (an Israeli sport with paddles and a small ball) and to watch the always beautiful Tel Aviv sunset.
The Dolphin beach is named after the old dolphin tank that used to be there (now a club). There is a water sports club here where you can rent surfing, windsurfing and Para-surfing equipment as well as get lessons. This is an excellent place to sit out jutting into the surf and feel the sea around you.
Few cities inspire as much passion as Jerusalem, rooted deep in the past and revered by three major religions. For centuries, Jerusalem has stood as the most worshipped, fought over and loved city in the world, its different inhabitants having given it a cultural and religious make-up like no other place. In Jerusalem, experience the cultural and religious mixture of people. Visit the Chagall Windows at Hadassah Hospital, which were created and donated by Marc Chagall in 1960. Or tour the Israel Museum, with its model of Jerusalem during the period of the Second Temple and the Shrine of the Book. Drive through the desert to the ruins of Qumran to learn about the Dead Sea scrolls. Float in the Dead Sea and explore the ruins of Masada. Visit a village and meet Judaean Bedouin people, enjoy incredible views and walk amongst olive trees that date back 2000 years. Visit the Church of the Ascension and the Garden of Gethsemane. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum and its surroundings are also well worth a visit.
Israel is a mosaic of cultures. Wherever you turn, there are people who originated from different countries, with manifestations of cultures from all over of the world. There is an abundance of holy sites of the three monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and their offshoots, Samaritans, Druze and Bahai. Learn about their fascinating history, unique religion, and ancient tradition. Experience the delightful hospitality customs with a great lunch. Typical cuisines from many countries exist side by side and also mix together in fascinating fusions. A visit to Israel cannot be considered complete until you have hummus! Make the most of your Israel tour and bargain with local merchants in the Arab Souk of the Muslim Quarter, where you can find a large variety of souvenirs for cheap prices, and local delicatessen such as Kenafeh, Falafel and Hummus.
About Odyssey Travels
Odyssey Travels is a leading IATA accredited Travel Company, established in 1992. We specialize in planning customized holidays in India and abroad for our clients which includes air ticketing, worldwide hotel reservations, inclusive tours, sightseeing activities, visa assistance & travel insurance services. For further information or to make a booking contact 020-66442929 or visit