Oman

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Oman

Oman

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Oman has so much to offer travellers. After all, for many years Oman was the epicentre of a travel network: as far back as 5,000 BC frankincense merchants traced a spider’s web of trails across Arabia and as far away as India, while over the past few centuries Omani trading dhows plied the coasts of Africa and the subcontinent.

Oman’s current renaissance owes much to the measured modernisation of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. When he came to the throne in 1970, the country boasted just 10km of tarmac roads. Oman now has a comfortable travel network and a range of activities to tempt any adventurous traveller – while keeping sight of its traditions and heritage.

When you add the natural advantages endowed on Oman – the golden dunes of Wahiba Sands, the solitude of the Empty Quarter, the fjord of the Musandam Peninsula, the heights of the Hajar Mountains, the many unspoilt beaches (let’s hope they keep them that way), and the wealth of marine life – it is no wonder this is such an up and coming destination for travellers.

You can’t miss

Oman’s capital has never looked better – or had stronger ambition. Yet this bustling capital combines modernisation with the romance of old Arabia…
Read article

Latest Oman articles

Capital
Muscat
Languages
Arabic and English is widely spoken
Population
3.3 million
Int. dial code
+968
Visa
Available on arrival for most nationalities, including British, for OR7
Time zone
GMT+3
Voltage
220/240 AC 50 Hz
Currency
Omani Rial OMR
Oman travel advice
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Wanderlust recommends

In Muscat visit the Grand Mosque (with the second-largest carpet in the world), take a stroll along Mutrah harbour, visit the early morning fish market and haggle at Mutrah souk. The Bait al-Zubair museum is worth a visit too

On the coast, drop in at Sur to see traditional dhows still being built by hand. The town makes a good base for exploring the region, including the turtle-nesting beaches of Ras al-Jinz and Ras al-Hadd

The Wahiba Sands (also known as Sharqiya Sands) are stunning. It is worth staying in one of the tented camps, especially if you’re not visiting the Empty Quarter from Salalah

The Musandam Peninsula is a beautiful enclave separated from the rest of Oman by the UAE. Dhow cruises along its coast are popular; it’s a renowned diving spot too

Salalah and the surrounding area have a very different feel to the rest of the country – sub-tropical and more laid-back. Explore the deserted beaches and buy some frankincense in the souk. Although there is little to see, it is fascinating to visit Ubar, the reputed ‘Atlantis of the Sands’, rediscovered through the satellite imagery

Wanderlust tips

Although Oman is a tolerant Muslim country, visitors should dress conservatively – keep beachwear for the beach. If visiting the Grand Mosque (or any other mosque), legs and arms should be covered; women should cover their hair too.

Ramadan is 11 August to 9 September in 2010. While visitors are not expected to fast, do refrain from eating or drinking in public during daylight hours. Many restaurants will be closed during the day.

When to go to Oman

November to March is winter and so most comfortable for activities and sightseeing. However, it is also the high season in the north. Summer is hot and humid. The khareef in the south is usually between mid-June to late-August. September to November is the best time to see the turtles laying and hatching at Ras al-Jinz.

International airports

Muscat (MCT), 40 km from Muscat. Salalah (SLL) receives some charters from the UAE and Scandinavia. It is being expanded.

Getting around in Oman

Hiring a car is straightforward and petrol is incredibly cheap. The biggest hazards are camels in the road (and you’ll have to compensate the owner if you hit one) and overtaking drivers coming towards you on your side of the road.

If venturing offroad, for example into wadis, make sure you hire a 4WD. If you only have a 2WD, check whether your insurance covers you for off-road. You would be foolish to venture into the desert alone.

Intercity buses run between the largest towns. They are comfortable and reliable. Shared long-distance are good value, but city taxis are generally very expensive. Internal flights run between main centres such as Muscat to Salalah.

Oman accommodation

Sadly, there is currently a lack of character and boutique accommodation. Muscat has a large number of beach hotels, including the magnificent Al-Bustan Palace Hotel.  Salalah has a couple of international resort hotels. Wahiba Sands has a number of tented camps.

Oman food & drink

Oman has its own regional dishes but you are unlikely to find these outside of private homes. Indian dishes are very common, with lots of options for vegetarians. sArabic dishes, such as moutabel (aubergine dip) and hummus are also found. Fish and seafood tend to be very good – hamour (grouper) is very common on menus, and kingfish, tuna, large prawns and ‘lobster’ (actually crayfish) feature. Limes are used a lot.

Wash your meal down with tea or cardamom-flavoured coffee. Alcohol is available in international hotels but is expensive.

Health & safety in Oman

No specific vaccinations are required for travel to Oman. Tap water is safe to drink. Be prepared for the heat with sunscreen and a hat. Do not drive in the desert unless you are experienced in offroad driving. The crime rate is low.

Qatar

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Qatar

Qatar
National Museum of Qatar in Doha, Qatar (Shutterstock)

With its sky’s-the-limit ambition and oil boom wealth, Qatar is a country looking to the future. But that only paints half the picture – it’s both super-modern and fiercely traditional at the same time.

This is a country where you can see highly prized falcons for sale in Doha’s ancient souk, Souq Waqif, while rising above it are some of the ambitious architecture you’ll ever set eyes on. Doha is a metropolis that wears these two faces proudly, where ancient dhows bob peacefully in the harbour, while state of the art museums and luxury glass-fronted shopping malls twinkle in the warm sunshine.

Away from the capital, nature still rules supreme in Qatar. In this peninsula jutting out into the Arabian Gulf, you’ll find clear calm water, mangrove forests and the world’s second largest population of dugongs (secretive marine mammals). On shore, rippling sand dunes disappear into a phenomenon known as the Inland Sea and oryx munch on shrubs that speckle the country’s desert interior. Perhaps the greatest draw is that, thanks to Qatar’s smaller size, especially in comparison with neighbours like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of this is at your fingertips.

You can’t miss

With jaw-dropping architecture and fascinating traditions, Qatar is one of the Gulf region’s most exciting destinations…
Read article
Capital
Doha
Languages
Arabic
Population
800,000
Int. dial code
+974
Visa
Not required by UK nationals
Time zone
UTC+3
Plug type
Type G
Currency
Qatari Riyal QAR

When to go to Qatar

Summer in Qatar (April-September) can get incredibly hot, with temperatures nudging towards 50°C at their peak. Visit in winter (October-March) for far more comfortable temperatures, which makes it ideal for outdoor adventures and exploring the cities by day. It can get cold at night, so wrap up warm for those stargazing evenings.

International airports

Doha’s Hamad International Airport (DOH) is 14km southeast of the city center.

Getting around in Qatar

Qatar’s capital, Doha, is well serviced by a state-of-the-art metro rail system, while buses, trams and metrolink services add to the accessible public transport options here. Taxis and Uber are also popular ways of getting around the city. For wider Qatar, the best way to explore the country is with a hire car.

Health & safety

Qatar is very safe for travellers, male or female, and as a country it has a very low crime rate. However, men and women should dress modestly, especially when walking around outside. During Ramadan, eating and drinking in public is seen as offensive.

For the most up-to-date information, check out gov.uk.

Palestine

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Palestine

Palestine

Now recognised as a non-member state by the United Nations (UN), Palestine is a compelling place. While the Gaza Strip is strictly off-limits, the West Bank is relatively peaceful and safe to travel. Although certain areas can be difficult to navigate, the locals’ friendly attitude more than makes up for the hassles.

The West Bank is basically two countries laid on top of one another. Israeli ‘settlers’ have their own walled towns, with roads that only Israeli-plated cars can drive down, their own police and a separate infrastructure. Israeli checkpoints at the entrance to every Palestinian town and across major routes are a feature travellers will soon become familiar with.

However, Palestine is well worth the inconvenience. Thronged with history, there are numerous important Christian pilgrimage sites – such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem – as well as other places of interest such as Sebastia, an ancient ruin in the north of the West Bank.

The cuisine of Palestine is infused with the region’s rich history. The kebabs are fantastic, though Palestinians do not use this as a staple and nor do they rely heavily on large chunks of lamb or pieces of chicken on a stick. Fresh and exciting, Palestinian food is heralded by many as the best in the Middle East.

Travel writer Matthew Teller sums up the experience: “Visiting Palestine isn’t about ticking off places and – perhaps contrary to expectation – it isn’t really about politics either. It’s about the cast of characters. My week in Palestine was full of people, of talking, exchanging stories, overturning preconceptions. Everybody had a tale to tell.”

You can’t miss

Despite the headlines, Palestine is safe to visit – and its ancient cities and proud people make for fascinating travel, says Matthew Teller
Read article
Capital
Jerusalem (proclaimed); Gaza (administrative)
Languages
Arabic, and English widely spoken
Population
4 million (West Bank and Gaza). Around 200,000 in East Jerusalem. Figures exclude 500,000 Israeli settlers.
Int. dial code
+970 (Israel code +972)
Visa
Entry is via Israel
Time zone
GMT+2 (Apr-Sept GMT+3)
Voltage
230 V 50 Hz
Currency
Israeli Shekel (ILS or NIS)
Palestine tourism board
Palestine tourism

Wanderlust recommends

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem – Ethereally beautiful seventh-century shrine, its golden dome soars above the Old City

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem – Supposedly built on the site of Christ’s birth, this ancient building draws huge crowds for Mass on Christmas Eve

Souk, Nablus – Vivid, absorbing souk that rambles through the centre of this ancient city

Sebastia – Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine ruins on a northern West Bank hilltop

Cave of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, Hebron – Roman-era shrine built over Abraham’s tomb, now partitioned into a mosque and a synagogue, with separate, guarded entrances

Wanderlust tips

Travellers should dress conservatively while in Palestine and specifically when visiting areas of religious interest. Shorts or t-shirts should be avoided and women should cover their hair with a scarf when visiting mosques.

When to go to Palestine

The best time to visit is from March to May and from September to November, when the weather is warm, sunny and mostly dry. The summer months of June to August are notoriously hot; avoid strenuous activity during the day.

December to February is generally wet and cold. Although you can get some reasonable bargains, Christmas is very busy with thousands heading to Bethlehem for Christmas Mass.

International airports

Palestine has no airport. It is possible to enter either via Jordan, or from Tel Aviv in Israel, which is around a one-hour drive from Jerusalem.

Getting around in Palestine

Palestinian buses and shared taxis run frequently, but information is scarce and direct routes are often cut by Israeli checkpoints.

Self-drive is possible but tricky. If you hire a car with Palestinian plates, the Israeli army will prevent you from entering Jerusalem or from using Israeli-only West Bank roads. If you hire a car with Israeli plates, Palestinians may mistake you for a settler and throw stones. Most Israeli firms expressly forbid entering the West Bank.

Palestine accommodation

There’s a host of accommodation choices. Hotels, homestays, hostels and guesthouses are all available.

Palestine food & drink

The best way to eat is to order a tableful of mezze – small dishes of dips, salads and savoury pastries. Main-course favourites include maqloubeh (meat with rice and veg) and musakhan (chicken with bread and pine-nuts). Street-food – falafel sandwiches and shawarma (donner kebab) – is delicious.

Health & safety in Palestine

No vaccinations are required to visit Palestine but it is wise to be up to date with hepatitis A and typhoid jabs. Medical care is good.

Although relatively safe, the West Bank is still under great political strain. Exercise caution and be aware of any potential demonstrations or events that could cause potential problems. Clashes with Israeli forces are usually predictable, so avoidable.

Iraq

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Iraq

Iraq

Iraq should be one of the planet’s most alluring travel destinations. It boasts fascinating ancient sites of Mesopotamia, Sumer and Assyria, including Babylon and the great Ziggurat of Ur; the ‘Venice of the East’, Basra; diverse ethnic groups including Kurds and Marsh Arabs; and of course the city that forms the focus of tales from the 1,001 Nights: Baghdad.

Tragically, the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s long reign and the subsequent war means that most of Iraq is not a safe destination. Fortunately, the region of Kurdistan is considered safe, even by the British Foreign Office, and so travellers are beginning to visit.

At some point, it may be safe for travellers to visit the rest of Iraq, to admire its ancient ruins, join Shia pilgrims on their spiritual journey to Kerbala, or wander through the bazaars of Baghdad and Basra. For now, Iraq remains largely off the travel map.

You can’t miss

A hidden Iraq lies behind the headlines: a land of vibrant souls, snowy peaks and the warmest of welcomes
Read article

Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan is safe, friendly and open for business.

1. Erbil, known locally as Hewler, is believed to be one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. Not that you’d know that from its new shopping malls, skyscrapers and luxury car dealerships. For an insight into its past, browse the alleyways of the old bazaar, snacking on tasty street food such as bakla (stewed broad beans), and stroll up Erbil’s citadel at dusk for people watching and to hear the call to prayer.

2. The small town of Halabja achieved wordwide notoriety in 1988 when Saddam Hussein’s cousin, ‘Chemical Ali’, ordered a horrific poison gas attack on its inhabitants, killing over 5,000 people. Visit the memorial for a sobering record of the atrocity.

3. On a Friday do as the Kurds do, and celebrate the start of the weekend with a picnic in the countryside. You may even get invited to join a family in some traditional dancing.

4. While the majority of the region’s Kurds are Muslim, other religious groups are present too. Visit the abandoned mountain monastery at Alquosh and learn about the mysterious Yezedi sect at their temple in Lalish.

5. Meet the locals over a cup of tea in a traditional chaikhana (tea-house). Kurds typically welcome an opportunity to talk to visitors and answer any questions about the country’s recent history.

Capital
Baghdad
Languages
Arabic & Kurdish
Population
41 million
Int. dial code
+964
Visa
Iraqi law requires that you must get a visa before you travel. You can apply for a visa at the Iraqi Embassy in London or the Iraqi Consulate in Manchester.
Time zone
GMT+3
Voltage
230V
Currency
Iraqi Dinar IQD

When the rest of Iraq becomes safe

Sadly, museums and archives were ransacked during the 2003 invasion, and many historic monuments have been severely damaged. The extent of the destruction is yet to be determined, so these recommendations can only be broad suggestions.

1. Visit the Great Ziggurat of Ur, first built more than 4,000 years ago.

2. Discover the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hatra, the best-preserved example of a Parthian city and one of the few stone monuments in Iraq.

3. Gape at the incredible Arch of Ctesiphon on the east bank of the Tigris south of Baghdad. This enormous monument is the largest single-span brick arch in the world, built in the 3rd century AD.

4. Watch locals haggle over brightly coloured birds at the Souk al-Ghazal before relaxing at one of the roadside cafés.

5. Explore the Shatt El-Arab marshes, marvelling at the locals’ man-made islands and woven reed huts.

When to go

Much of Iraq is desert; summers are very hot and dry, with temperatures reaching 48°C. The mountains in the north and east, ie. in Iraqi Kurdistan, are cooler. The best months to visit Iraq are the cooler months of April, May, September, October and November.

International airports

Erbil International Airport (EBL) is the access point for Kurdistan, with flights from a number of European and Middle Eastern destinations.It has one the longest runways in the world, and a large,modern terminal.

Baghdad International Airport (BGW) is about 16km west of the city centre.

Getting around

Infrastructure in Kurdistan is slowly being developed; however, as a whole, transport in Iraq is dangerous and difficult to organise. A very few tour operators offer trips, especially in Kurdistan.

Accommodation

Kurdistan has a range of hotels, particularly in Erbil and Suleimaniyah. The rest of Iraq, however, remains an unknown quantity.

Food & drink

Most dishes are served with rice or breads. Local specialities are lamb dishes: shawarma, grilled meat in a sandwich wrap (a kind of kebab), or Bamia, lamb, okra and tomato stew. If there is a national dish, it is possibly magouf; fish (typically carp), marinated in a mix of seasonings and coooked over a fire.

Although the Kurds are big meat eaters, and don’t understand vegetarianism, vegetarians (incl vegans) can eat well here, with plentiful fresh and tasty produce. Expect roasted/grilled vegetables, bean dishes (eg bakla), falafels, nuts, cheeses and yoghurt.

Tea is ubiquitous. Fruits juices are very good, and widely available. Alcohol is available in some hotels and restaurants.

Iran

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Iran

Iran

But it’s the Iranian people who are the real surprise to the unsuspecting visitor; most Iranians are friendly and approachable, with many curious about the outside world. Add to this, Iran’s fascinating history, its rich culture, its many contradictions, and you have a heady mix. Iran has suffered from an image problem; be prepared to have any preconceptions overturned.

But it’s the Iranian people who are the real surprise to the unsuspecting visitor; most Iranians are friendly and approachable, with many curious about the outside world. Add to this, Iran’s fascinating history, its rich culture, its many contradictions, and you have a heady mix. Iran has suffered from an image problem; be prepared to have any preconceptions overturned.

You can’t miss

Incredible architecture, beguiling culture, Silk Road splendour – and quite possibly the warmest welcome you’ll ever experience. Welcome to Iran…
Read article

Iran is probably the safest country in the world for women. But you do need to observe the hejab dress code. Cover your head at all times – a headscarf is fine. You can show a fringe but nothing more. You are expected to have no flesh showing except hands and face. The ideal is baggy clothing; loose trousers with a modest long-sleeved tunic or baggy shirt is fine. Or top it with a thin cotton coat (a roupush) as many of the locals do.

Capital
Tehran
Languages
Persian
Population
85 million
Int. dial code
+98
Visa
British nationals need a visa to travel to Iran. You should make your visa application well in advance of your date of travel
Time zone
GMT+3.5
Voltage
220V
Currency
Iranian Rial IRR

Even if you’re not into football, gen up on Manchester United and some of the world’s top footballers! Iranians are passionate about football, and it makes a great ice-breaker if you can name a dozen or so footballers.

When to go

Spring and autumn are the ideal times to go, with temperatures at their best for sightseeing and activities. Summer is blazingly hot, winters are searingly cold except in the south.

International airports

Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA), 30 kilometres southwest of Tehran.

Getting around

This is a big country so distances are large (eg Tehran to Shiraz is 900km) but it has a good transport network. Domestic flights run between the major centres. Public transport, such as buses and mini-buses, is cheap and frequent. Note that women have to sit at the back on buses. Car rental is almost non-existent. However, you can hire cars with driver easily. Note that the standard of driving is atrocious!

Accommodation

There is a wide range of hotels but the budget ones often don’t take foreigners. Hotels are graded but don’t expect the equivalent to a European rating. Most hotels expect payment in dollars.

Food & drink

Persian food is one of the most ancient cuisines of the world, and is rich in spices, herbs and fruit. Sadly, you won’t find much sign of it outside private homes. In restaurants the most common meal is lamb kebabs with rice, or chicken. The rice is superb, and may be cooked with saffron, or with dill, berries or orange peel. Nuts, fruits and cakes are found everywhere. The yoghurt and ice cream are delicious.

Vegetarians will survive on rice, yoghurt and salad but may struggle to get much else. Falafels are widely available from snack bars.

Alcohol is banned. A very malty non-alcoholic “beer” is available. Tea (chai) is the most common drink and is served without milk. Doogh is a rather sour but refreshing drink of yoghurt, water, salt and mint that is widely served. Soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available.

Health & safety

There are no particular health risks. Violence towards tourists is rare. Muggings and pick-pocketing incidents have increased over the past few years so do take the usual common-sense precautions.

Men should not wear shorts or reveal too much flesh. Don’t take magazines that include photographs of scantily clad women. Remove shoes if entering a house or mosque.

Saudi Arabia

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is definitely a destination for someone with wanderlust in their DNA. From ancient and little-visited Nabataean tombs to its traditional coffee culture, Saudi is awash with millennia-old traditions that the wider world is now able to experience.

Saudi’s cities are the starting point for any trip to the country, offering a vibrant insight into daily life, encounters with locals, great shopping opportunities and a rich dose of the Kingdom’s arts, crafts and heritage. And then there are the festivals and events which pack its calendar, crowned by the annual Riyadh Season.

For lovers of the outdoors, Saudi’s desertscapes, mountains and epic wildernesses provide a rich backdrop for incredible adventures, whether on hikes, hot air balloon trips or cycle rides. Elsewhere, the Red Sea coast offers some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world among its protected waters. Saudi Arabia is a destination for everyone, whether you’re a globe trekker, world traveller or culturally curious.

You can’t miss

Scroll down to explore further
Read article
Capital
Riyadh
Languages
Arabic
Population
32 million
Int. dial code
+ 966
Visa
UK visitors need a visa to visit
Time zone
GMT+3
Plug type
Type G
Currency
Riyal

International airports

Saudi Arabia has several international airports, with two currently being served with direct flights from the UK: the King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Riyadh and the King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) in Jeddah. Saudi has several other international airports accessible from other countries, like King Fahd International Airport (DMM) in Dammam, Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport (MED) in Madinah and Taif International Airport (TIF) in Taif.

When to go in Saudi Arabia

You might think it’s hot all year round in Saudi but it’s not as clear cut as that. Saudi summers are sweltering but in winter (October to March) temperatures are balmy and much more mild, giving you the chance to explore Saudi’s cities during the day. In the winter, it can get chilly in the evenings, too.

Getting around Saudi Arabia

Getting around Saudi Arabia is easier than you might think. One of the most popular ways to navigate major cities like Riyadh and Jeddah is ride-sharing apps like Uber and Careem. Key cities are also connected by an ever-expanding rail network but, as a general rule of thumb, hiring a car is the best way to get around Saudi.

Where to stay in Saudi Arabia

High-standard accommodation is easy to find across Saudi, with luxury hotels aplenty in its major cities. Impressive resorts can also be found in new visitors destinations like The Red Sea and AlUla.

What to eat in Saudi Arabia

Saudi cuisine is a key part of the country’s social and family culture, with traditional Arabic hospitality playing an integral part in welcoming visitors and guests with plates of food. Ensuring they leave will full and happy stomachs is a source of great pride for locals. Key ingredients of Saudi dishes include rice, breads, grains and fresh meat, all of which are used to prepare some of the country’s most beloved dishes like kabsa, saleeq and jareesh.

Health and safety in Saudi Arabia

Crime in Saudi Arabia is very low but, like with any trip, it always pays to be vigilant and cautious. Make sure you’re aware of the local customs before you visit Saudi Arabia, as locals value their privacy so ensure you ask for permission before taking photographs where they might feature. Photographing government buildings is prohibited. For the most up-to-date information, check the government’s travel advice for Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Lebanon

Lebanon

Mention Lebanon and images of war-torn cities still come to mind – the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War the most recent outbreak of long-running tensions in the area. But for now, Lebanon is at peace, and its traditional charms are one again welcoming travellers.

In a country where ancient meets ultramodern you can find some of the best skiing in the area, stunning Mediterranean beaches and metropolitan cities. With cities such as Beirut becoming party capitals beloved of the style crowd, Lebanon is once again becoming the ‘Paris of the Middle East’.

You can’t miss

Kavita Favelle discovers a new foodie enterprise blossoming out of the ruins of war in Lebanon.
Read article

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Stroll through the colourful souks of Tripoli and shop for sticky sweets, spices and silver.
  2. Sample some of Lebanon’s finest wines at Chateau Ksara in the Bekaa Valley.
  3. Hike to Arab Christian monasteries and hermitages exploring the jaw dropping, spectacular Qadisha Valley.
  4. Take a leisurely evening stroll along the Corniche, Beirut’s sea front, and watch the backgammon playing old men and bustling café life of Beirut
  5. Lose yourself in Byblos, the lovely old fishing port that was a haunt of the 1960s jetset

Travellers should be aware that the country is divided between a Christian and Muslim population and should take care to observe religious customs. If diving, do not touch or damage the coral. Do not give to beggars.

Capital
Beirut
Languages
Arabic (official); French and English are widely spoken
Population
4.1 million
Int. dial code
+961
Visa
Time zone
GMT+2 (Apr-Sep GMT+3)
Voltage
110/220 V
Currency
Lebanese Pound (LP). US dollars are widely accepted but traveller’s cheques are not.
Lebanon travel advice
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Lebanon tourism board
Lebanon tourism

When to go

Winter (November-February) can be cold but making excellent weather for skiers. Spring (March to May) and autumn (September-October) are best for hiking or sightseeing, with moderate temperatures. Summer (June-August) can be unbearably hot, especially inland.

International airports

Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport (BEY) 5km from Beirut.

Getting around

With nowhere more than a few hours’ drive from anywhere else, there are no internal flights or railways.

Roads are good; regular buses and minibuses connect the main towns, and more-expensive servées (shared taxis) run regular routes. Car hire is easily arranged, but insurance is expensive so many visitors prefer to hire a car with driver and/or guide.

Accommodation

Lebanon has a range of accommodation from deluxe hotels – most of them in Beirut – to reasonable mid-range hotels and hostels. Notable hotels outside Beirut include the famous, luxurious Palmyra opposite the ruins in Baalbek, and the Grand Hotel Kadri in Zahlé. Chbat Hotel in Bcharré is a comfortable three-star option, perfect for exploring the Qadisha Valley.

Food & drink

Eating is one of the delights of Lebanon. No visit to the country is complete without at least one full mezze meal – an array of dishes to share, usually starting with hummus, olives, aubergine, labneh cheese and tabbouleh salad. Typically, next might come fried squid, fish baked with almonds, meat grilled on skewers, stuffed vine leaves and balls of spicy lamb. Remember to leave room for baklava (sickly sweet pistachio filo treats). Fish is the choice in coastal towns, though generally much more expensive than meat. For delicious budget snacks try manaeesh – a kind of Lebanese pizza with various toppings.

Excellent Lebanese wines, both reds and whites, are found everywhere in Beirut and Christian-dominated areas, and found occasionally in some hotels – ditto the locally brewed pilsner-style Almaza beer.

Health & safety

Stick to bottled water. Make sure you’re up to date with your vaccinations: check with your GP before travelling. If visiting rural areas make sure you have appropriate anti-malarial tablets. If diving, take the usual precautions.

The security situation is fluid and restrictions may apply – check the latest advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office before departure.

Kuwait

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Kuwait

Kuwait

Kuwait has come a long way since February 1991. When Allied forces liberated a battered city shrouded in acrid, black smoke from oil wells set alight by retreating Iraqi troops. Now glitzy hotels, shiny malls and four-lane highways abound, and the white sand beaches look perfect, with every grain of sand is in its place.

Kuwait City offers visitors the greatest rewards. The new Scientific Center boasts the biggest (and most impressive) aquarium in the Middle East, as well as an IMAX cinema and a dhow harbour where the Fateh al-Khair, the last surviving dhow of the pre-oil era, is moored. The Tareq Rajab Museum is an astonishing ethnographic museum, which escaped being plundered by Iraqi invaders because the owner bricked up the entrance door and strewed the way with rubbish. The immaculate corniche comes alive at sunset as people flock to the sea to catch a breeze and dine at the restaurants and coffee shops that line it.

If you find yourself in town between November and April, don’t miss out on the opportunity to take in the camel races at the Al-Atraf Camel Racing Club. Races are held most Thursday and Fridays.

You can’t miss

Kuwait City offers visitors the greatest rewards. The new Scientific Center boasts the biggest (and most impressive) aquarium in the Middle East, as well as an IMAX cinema and a dhow harbour where the Fateh al-Khair, the last surviving dhow of the pre-oil era, is moored.
Read article

Kuwait Towers

Designed by Swedes, built by Yugoslavs and left relatively unscathed by the Iraqi invasion. These spherical towers have become the unofficial symbol of Kuwait, and offer great views over the city at sunset.

Al-Qurain Martyrs’ Museum

A sobering insight into the impact the Iraqi invasion had on ordinary Kuwaiti families.

The aquarium at the Scientific Center

A wrap-around, floor-to-ceiling shark tank competes with fluorescent jellyfish and black-spotted sweetlips to get your attention.

Failaka Island

An atmospheric port with old dhows and archaeological sites, including an impressive Greek temple nearby. Take the KPTC ferry from near the scientific centre.

Kazmah desert cliffs

They offer good views of the bay, but watch out for young Kuwaitis in their jeeps and quads, tearing up the desert.

Latest Kuwait articles

Capital
Kuwait
Languages
Arabic, English
Population
2.7 million
Int. dial code
+965
Visa
Time zone
GMT+3
Voltage
240V 50Hz
Currency
Kuwaiti dinars KD. Larger banks will exchange travellers cheques. Many places will accept payment by credit card.
Kuwait travel advice
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Jordan

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Jordan

Jordan
Wadi Rum, Jordan (Shutterstock)

But Jordan is far from a one-trick pony (or should that be camel?). Elsewhere, Roman remains at Jerash and Azraq, Hellenic ruins at Umm Qais and crusader castles at Karak and Shobak draw history buffs.

And Jordan’s natural charms are just as alluring: float in the briny Dead Sea, dive the dazzling depths to explore Red Sea reefs at Aqaba, spot wildlife in the valleys and heights of Dana Nature Reserve, and wander the desert expanses of Wadi Rum – by foot, 4WD or camel power.

Sprinkle in Jordan’s tempting cuisine, great walking and canyoning, easily traversable distances and smiling people, and you’ve got the recipe for the perfect Middle East mezze.

You can’t miss

From ancient cities to the Aqaba mountains, a new 650 km-long trail cuts through Jordan’s wadis and gorges. Leon McCarron is here to guide your choice of the best bite-sized sections
Read article

For a different perspective on Petra, take the six-day trek from Dana to enter the rose-red city through the back door. Try a hammam (‘Turkish’ bath) – especially good as a way for women to get chatting to local ladies.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Discover the green Middle East – hike the Al-Ayoun Trail in north Jordan
  2. See Petra – and take time to explore beyond the iconic treasury
  3. Rejuvenate your skin with a Dead Sea mud spa
  4. Dive the vibrant reefs of the Red Sea at Aqaba
  5. See a chariot race at the Roman theatre in Jerash
Capital
Amman
Languages
Arabic. English is widely spoken.
Population
6.3 million
Int. dial code
+962
Visa
Time zone
GMT+2 (Apr-Oct GMT+3)
Voltage
230V 50Hz AC
Currency
Jordan dinar JD. ATMs are widely available at or near the main sites. Tips of 10% are expected in better restaurants; elsewhere, rounding up bills is appreciated.
Jordan travel advice
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

“Driving in Jordan, particularly in cities, is extremely chaotic. Drivers often change lanes quickly and without signal, speeding is the norm and cars tend to operate very closely together. Travellers, brace yourself before hopping into a taxi and be extra careful as pedestrians.”

Holly Gurr

The one thing she wished she’d known on her arrival

When to go

Climate and weather in Jordan Temperatures are largely dependent on altitude; Amman and the north tend to be cooler. Spring (March-June) and autumn (mid September-late November) bring pleasant temperatures and greenery. Summer (July-September) can be stiflingly hot, particularly in Wadi Rum and at the Dead Sea. Winter (December-February) can be chilly, though Aqaba remains balmy. Note that many ecotourism projects don’t operate in winter.

Ramadan in Jordan During the ninth month of the Muslim calendar adherents must fast and not drink during daylight hours. Though visitors are not expected to follow suit, opening hours can become erratic.

International airports

Queen Alia International Airport (AMM) is 35km south of Amman.

Getting around

Jordan’s road network is modern and fairly well maintained. Car hire is a good way of getting around, though not all rental vehicles are in the first flush of youth and you’ll need an International Driving Permit. Buses and minibuses are cheap and easy ways to get from town to town; serveeces (long-distance taxis) – though pricier – offer an convenient alternative. Domestic flights shuttle between Amman and Aqaba.

Accommodation

Jordan has the full range of accommodation options, from campsites and hostels through simple lodges and family-run hotels to luxury hotels.

Food & drink

Bread (khubez) is the bedrock – flat bread, used for scooping and dipping. Mezze – shared platters of appetisers – form the basis of most meals; simple dishes include the likes of hummus, olives and baba ghanouj (aubergine dip) or more elaborate treats such as kibbeh (wheat and lamb torpedoes) and warag aynab (stuffed vine leaves). Mansaf is a Bedouin feast dish comprising boiled lamb on rice. Coffee (qahwa) is ubiquitous; some decent Jordanian wines are available.

Health & safety

Crime is rare in Jordan, even in Amman. Tap water is chlorinated and bottled water is widely available. Use high-factor sunscreen, wear head protection and drink plenty of water. Check with your GP or travel health clinic that you’re up to date with your jabs.

Syria

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Syria

Syria

Syria is one of the world’s great unsung travel destinations. And it’s unsung for a reason: the country’s testy relationship with the West has largely protected its rich history and natural wonders from the erosions of tourism.

The size of the country means any visitor can pack plenty in. The classic route is north-south between the big cities, with an excursion to the desert halfway – but there are plenty of variations.

If you want a city-break, you have two great metropolises to choose from, each now boasting many characterful boutique hotels. There’s the capital, Damascus – perhaps the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city – and Aleppo, its equally venerable northern cousin, whose moody, all-dispensing souks seem to rise straight from some Biblical illustration.

History buffs can take their pick – Bronze Age relics, Crusader Castles, Ottoman remnants, some of the best ruins in the Roman empire – plus the lack of ropes or barriers at major sites makes the whole country a living museum. For wilderness lovers, great sweeps of Lawrence of Arabia desert are still home to Bedouin tribes, and firelit nights under the stars beckon.

More and more people are cottoning on that Syria is politically stable, safe, inexpensive and remarkably close to Europe. Just keep it to yourself.

You can’t miss

Jeremy Head gives us his ideal 3 day tour through the Souqs, Mosques and tea stops of Damascus
Read article

Women should dress modestly but there is no need to cover up excessively – a wander through Damascus’ Christian quarter on a Thursday evening will make you wonder why you were even worried. However, bare flesh will get you the wrong sort of attention, so cover shoulders and tops of arms. Skirts to the knee are mostly fine but to be sure, wear loose-fitting long sleeves and trousers. Take a scarf in case you have to enter a mosque where none are provided.

Capital
Damascus
Languages
Arabic
Population
20 million
Int. dial code
+963
Visa
It is imperative that you do not have Israeli stamps in your passport
Time zone
GMT+2 (GMT+3 Mar-Oct)
Voltage
220 V
Currency
Syrian Pound SYP. Credit cards are rarely accepted. Never change money in the street or souk. Small tips are welcome but by no means mandatory – arm yourself with S£50 notes and keep tips simple and small.

Some men, especially in the countryside and in more conservative Aleppo, might not expect to shake hands with a woman. If in doubt, the hand-on-heart gesture is always polite and respectful.

Wanderlust recommends

In Aleppo, explore the Citadel and medieval, sunbeam-lit souks – an atmospheric step back in time (note, souks are closed on Fridays; the citadel is closed on Tuesdays)

In Damascus, visit a hammam (steam bath) – the Hammam Malek Zaher near the Umayyad Mosque hails from the 10th century but has now been sensitively modernised

Stay overnight at Palmyra and rise early to see the sun rise over the town from the Arab castle

Follow the mighty Euphrates to Deir ez-Zor, spending a night desert camping with the Bedouin en route

Marvel at the colossal Krak des Chevaliers crusader castle

Stop off at Hama, a great halfway point between Damascus and Aleppo where ancient waterwheels creak on the Orontes. Don’t miss the Azem Palace

When to go to Syria

Climate Spring (March – May) is the ideal time to visit – days are sunny but cool (18-20°C) and orange blossom flowers sensationally. Autumn (Sept – Oct) is also pleasant. Summer temperatures rise to a searing 45°C, while winters are similar to the UK – chill, wet, grey and occasionally snowy.

Festivals Time your visit to get even more from your trip to Damascus. At Easter, especially Maundy Thursday, the locals spend the evening promenading around seven churches in Bab Touma. On the last day of May there are processions for the Virgin around Bab Touma. In September the Festival of the Holy Cross in Maaloula takes place – think pagan bonfires, fireworks and dancing in the street. In December (5th in 2010) the Shi’a Muslim festival of Ashura celebrates the martyrdom of the prophet’s grandson, Hussein, and takes the form of processions, chanting and sometimes self-flagellation with chains. Seyyeda Zeinab, 10km south of Damascus, is the place to watch this.

Check when Ramadan falls as travel at this time can be challenging: 11 Aug-9 Sept, 2010; 1 Aug-30 Aug, 2011.

International airports

Damascus International Airport (DAM) lies 26km from the city centre and is currently being refurbished; Aleppo Airport (ALP) is a 20-minute, 6km journey from Aleppo city centre. If you’re visiting both Damascus and Aleppo, consider flying into one and out of the other to save a long drive back.

Getting around in Syria

Buses are the most convenient way to travel, and serve most parts of the country. Choose between luxury coaches (more expensive, more comfy) and service or microbuses (basic but cheaper). There’s a comfortable overnight train from Aleppo to Damascus, and it’s also possible to take the train from Istanbul to Damascus.

In town, taxis are cheap and plentiful. Check that the meter is on before setting out, or agree a price. Cham Car based at the Cham Palace Hotel, Damascus, offers good-value car hire. It’s not advisable to drive after dark.

Syria accommodation

Syria is not as good value as it used to be, but it’s still inexpensive. Accommodation costs in the now-ubiquitous boutique hotels – often converted from Ottoman houses and palaces – are cheaper than Europe or the US, and big discounts are available off-season.

Budget accommodation is mainly in the big cities, of variable quality, and often noisy. Take earplugs. There are few campsites, but unofficial camping (even at historic sites) may be tolerated if you ask permission

Syria food & drink

Expect meat kebabs, chickpeas in various forms (falafel etc) and bread. Picnics are a good way of avoiding the repetitive nature of Syrian restaurants: whole roast chickens (found at rotisseries on many main roads through small towns) are a great picnic food, and flat bread, tomatoes and hummus are never hard to find. Tea and coffee are ubiquitous; alcohol is, perhaps surprisingly, easy to find.

Health & safety in Syria

No particular vaccinations are required for Syria. Tap water should be avoided. Food is generally clean but avoid eating tabbouleh, a notorious stomach-turner. Damascus is very dusty: in winter the heavy air pollution can affect asthma sufferers.