Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Middle East & Africa
Perhaps Egypt’s best-known diving and snorkeling site, the Blue Hole is a coral-fringed submarine sinkhole just north of Dahab in the Sinai. Dropping vertiginously to depths reaching 426 feet (130 meters), with a dramatic tunnel at 183 feet (56 meters), it’s popular with submarine enthusiasts, from technical divers to snorkelers.
If you want to understand the complex history of Tunisia, a visit to the National Bardo Museum (Musée National du Bardo) is a good place to start. The country’s top museum – one of the largest in Africa – is housed within a fifteenth century Hafsid palace and displays a collection of archaeological artifacts and works of art spanning the totality of Tunisia’s history.
The highlight of the impressive collection is the collection of well preserved Roman mosaics – one of the best collections in the world. Other notable pieces include early Islamic ceramics, rare Phoenician artifacts and an ornate baptismal font dating back to the end of the sixth century.
Located just south of the city, Nairobi National Park is Kenya’s first game reserve and the only protected area in the world that sits so close to a nation’s capital. Visitors to the vast wildlife park are likely to spot black rhinos, lions, giraffe, and zebra, as well as some 400 bird species.
In the heart of Ethiopia’s highlands, 11 rock-cut churches stand as a testament to the country’s rich heritage and architectural mastery. Commissioned by King Lalibela in the 13th century, the monolithic construction was one of the first landmarks to receive UNESCO-listed status, making it a must for first-time visitors to Ethiopia.
A short stroll from Manger Square in Bethlehem lies another sacred site – the Milk Grotto, so called as it was allegedly used by Mary to nurse the baby Jesus. Legend has it that the Holy Family hid out in the grotto during the Massacre of the Innocents, before fleeing to Egypt, and that while nursing, a drop of Mary’s milk hit the ground, turning the cave white.
A church has stood on the spot since the 5th century and today, a small Franciscan chapel stands watch over the entrance to the Milk grotto, now a shrine to the Virgin Mary. The cave itself, sculpted from white chalk rock, has become a magnet for women looking to conceive, with many believing that drinking the powdered rock (on sale at the grotto) will enhance their fertility. The display of notes and baby photos sent to the grotto from around the world seem to testify to its powers.
Valley of the Kings is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders, containing dozens of tombs filled with art and hieroglyphics. See King Tutankhamun’s tomb—the most famous sight in the valley—then tour the temples of the sons of Ramses II and of Amenhotep III and others to marvel at the centuries’ old art and artifacts.
Agadir Beach (Plage d'Agadir), for all its fame, doesn’t really feel like Morocco. Depending on what you’re looking for this can either be good or bad, and if it’s a break from Moroccan food and tea the Western influence is welcome. If, on the other hand, you’re lusting for authentic experiences and rich doses of culture— you might want to just give Agadir a pass or accept it for what it is. As Morocco’s largest and most popular beach resort, Agadir caters to pre-packaged tourists much more than the independent traveler. Resorts and restaurants line the sand that stretches for nearly six miles, and cabanas, cocktails, and crashing surf round out the coastal scene.
The temperature here is surprisingly mild during every month of the year, where the sun continues to shine through winter but stays relatively cool through summer. Though Agadir was rocked in 1960 by a hugely destructive earthquake, the old Casbah on the hill above town has walls dating back to the 1500s and inscriptions in Arabic and Dutch. More importantly, the view looking out over Agadir Bay is arguably the best in the city, with a Casbah sunset offering a view you’re sure to never forget.
Built on the site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the longest surviving Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the 15th-century Citadel of Qaitbay (Fort Qaitbey) is a postcard-pretty sea fort. The battlements offer sweeping city views, the small museum houses maritime relics and aquariums, and three pillars likely date from the lighthouse.
The Badagry Heritage Museum houses hundreds of artifacts and historical relics chronicling the transportation of slaves through Badagry, which was one of many areas in Africa where slaves were traded before being sent to America. From the beginning of the 16th century, Badagry was one of the main slavery ports on the West African coast, and it is estimated that approximately 550,000 slaves passed through this route.
There are nine galleries to explore within this one-storey museum, which takes visitors on a journey through sobering reminders of the slave trade, with documents, shackles, photographs, and other salvaged records from this dark period in the city’s history. However, the museum also explores the history and culture of the area during the pre and post-slavery eras, with artefacts and records of the people who inhabited Badagry.
In addition to the museum itself, the entire town of Badagry serves as a living historical museum, from the open market where slaves were auctioned, to the exit route used in the 17th and 18th centuries, known as the Point of No Return.
The Seychelles is a destination for lovers, and Baie Ternay is its hot spot for adventurers. That’s because this pristine beach is home to some of the island’s top snorkeling and diving, thanks to crystal-clear waters and incredible coral reefs right next to shore. This idyllic beach is an ideal place for relaxation and sunbathing, while also offering travelers picturesque views of Morne Seychellois peak, the island’s tallest mountain.
Those in the know say an excursion to Baie Ternay Marine National Park is an essential part of any Seychelles’ visit, and the turquoise waters, lush mangroves, and secluded stretches of sand offer up some of the best beaches in the area.
More Things to Do in Middle East & Africa
When you think of the United Arab Emirates, it’s usually about sand dunes, towering skyscrapers, or the sparkling Arabian Sea. In the mountains of Ras al Khaimah, however, travelers can venture up the rugged slopes of rocky Jebal al Jais, which at 6,207 feet is the UAE’s tallest peak. Leave the rush of the city behind as you snake your way up the mountain, where the surrounding cliffs and rock-strewn plains make it seem like the surface of the moon. The view of the city from the top is spectacular—particularly at sunrise and sunset—and sleeping beneath the desert stars is a popular visitor activity. So, too, is renting a sports car and hugging the mountainous curves, or booking an afternoon picnic lunch enjoyed right on the mountainous slopes. The last section of the road to the summit has lately been closed for construction, but plans are to not just improve the road, but also create the world’s longest zipline that runs for 1.4 miles. There has also been talk of putting a resort and golf course up on the mountain, but for the time being it’s a desert escape that’s peaceful and undeveloped.
One of the most mysterious Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (and the only one still standing), the Pyramids of Giza—the Great Pyramid of Khufu, Pyramid of Khafre, and Pyramid of Menkaure—still live up to more than 4,000 years of hype. Seeing these 4th-dynasty pyramids and their guardian Great Sphinx rising from the Giza Plateau is a must on any trip to Cairo (and the reason many travelers find themselves in Egypt).
Standing at around 2,680 feet (817 meters) above sea level, Mt. Nebo is an important Judeo-Christian pilgrimage site. Moses first saw the Holy Land from the summit and may have later died here. While it's of particular interest to history buffs, it's also great for its views—on clear days it's possible to see the Dead Sea from here.
Between April and July 1994, countless Rwandans were murdered by Hutu extremists, who terrorized the country in an attempt to wipe out the Tutsi population. More than 250,000 victims are buried at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which aims to provide a context for the slaughter and educate visitors about prevention of future genocide.
The race car–themed Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi features 20 rides and attractions—everything from the toddler-friendly carousel of Ferrari prototype cars to cutting-edge racing simulators that will please older kids and teens. The largest indoor theme park in the world is also home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa, a hydraulic-powered thrill ride that sees visitors strapped into a Ferrari Formula One-like coaster car and launched at speeds of up to 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour.
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, soaring 2,717 feet (828 meters) high with more than 160 stepped floors that narrow as it climbs syringe-like to the sky. Designed to pay homage to the complex geometry of Islamic art, the Burj Khalifa brings a new meaning to the term skyscraper and is a highlight of the massive downtown Dubai complex.
During the last years of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese constructed a massive fort to protect the port of Mombasa. Designed by Giovanni Battista Cairati, Fort Jesus is one of the best preserved examples of Portuguese military architecture from the era, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Today, Mombasa’s most visited attraction houses the Fort Jesus Museum. The collection includes archaeological finds not only from Fort Jesus, but from nearby sites as well. Highlights include a collection of ceramics from the Kenyan coast and what’s left of the San Antonio de Tanna, a Portuguese gunner that sank not far from the fort in the late seventeenth century.
The Philae Temple (Temple of Isis) was once set on a holy island in the Nile River, the site of many pilgrimages. Although projects to dam the Nile once threatened the existence of both the island and the temple, UNESCO worked to rescue and preserve the ancient monument, damming the island itself with a high surrounding wall until the Philae Temple could be moved in sections to a new location: the higher, nearby Agilka Island.
Visit the temple to learn about the temple's history, as well as Isis, who was a very important goddess in ancient times. She was known as the Mother of God, giver of life, and protector and healer of kings.
The massive, white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the central place of worship for citizens of the United Arab Emirates, accommodating roughly 40,000 people. Highlights inside include white marble columns with mother-of-pearl engravings, expansive Iranian carpets, and intricate crystal chandeliers.
Experience a natural infinity pool with a dip in Devil’s Pool. Perched on the edge of Victoria Falls, the rock-lined pool lets you swim to the rim of one of the world’s largest waterfalls and watch the cascade thundering below. Accessible on seasonal guided tours, the cliff-side pool is recommended for adrenaline junkies.
Located near Sal’s northeastern coast, the Pedra de Lume Salt Crater is a popular attraction where visitors can see beautiful pink- and white-hued salt pans against a mountainous backdrop. Though some evidence of the crater’s industrial past remains, the area it is now a wellness center where you can swim and float in the salty water.
The Coral Beach Nature Reserve in Eilat is home to a unique coral reef with more than 100 types of coral and 650 species of fish, making it a popular spot for snorkelers. It is the only coral reef in Israel, and one of the most densely populated in the world.
Running parallel to the beach, the reef is over a kilometer in length and can be accessed right from the beach via a pier. Once underwater, trails are marked by buoys, and spectacular underwater gardens created by unique and colorful coral are immediately revealed. Along the way, snorkelers will spot a variety of fascinating tropical fish, including the parrot fish, butterfly fish, nocturnal fish, and many more besides.
On the edge of the Sahara Desert in Ouarzazate, Atlas Film Studios is not only the center of Morocco’s film industry, but the largest film studio in the world. Founded in the early 1980s, the studios boast an impressive pedigree, having hosted iconic film sets such asGladiator andStar Wars, as well as scenes fromGame of Thrones.
The Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum (Qasr al-Ain) is based in the residence of the founder and first president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The palace complex was built in 1910 on the western side of the mighty Al Ain Oasis and was home to Sheikh Zayed and his family from 1937 until 1966. It later became a museum in 1998.
The building is set around attractive courtyards and gardens where guests can wander around while learning about Sheikh Zayed and his life. Visitors have access to the meeting rooms, or majlis, where the president met with dignitaries and other visitors to the palace. There’s also the chance to take a peek at the palace’s sleeping quarters, including the canopied bed of the ruler’s wife.