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Finding Adventure in the Middle East

I was initially nervous about visiting the Middle East, but all those concerns disappeared once I arrived in Jordan.

By: Will Cebron + Save to a List

When you think about the Middle East, your first thoughts probably aren’t about adventure. I get it. It’s a scary time with war in Syria, a blockade of Qatar and the travel ban dominating headlines. I remember sitting in a hotel in Dubai, twelve hours from boarding a plane to Jordan, when the US launched a missile strike against the Syrian regime. Scared and uncertain, I considered canceling my trip and flying home but instead stayed the course. I’m glad I did. I visited a country full of adventure and history, but with only a fraction of the normal crowds. You can see my journey through the Middle East and more at @wcebron.

It’s a personal decision to visit the Middle East and you should make sure you’ve done your homework (e.g. understand the situation in each country you’re visiting, check the State Department's travel warnings, use common sense, etc.), since each person’s situation is different. For me, I felt like the rewards outweighed the risks. Here were a few of the places I visited.

Wadi Rum (Jordan)

Wadi Rum is the closest I’ll ever get to a Mars landscape, more so than Joshua Tree, the Atacama or Death Valley. It’s no wonder it was picked as the otherworldly Mars location in…wait for it…The Martian. Getting here is a 4-hour drive from the international airport in Amman, and once you arrive, the best way to see Wadi Rum is by staying with the local Bedouins. They’ll drive you around the desert in vintage trucks, taking you through deep canyons, across natural bridges and up giant sand dunes all while sharing their unique history and serving up a delicious blend of tea. The highlight of my trip to Wadi Rum was an intense scramble up to Burdah Rock Bridge which should only be done with a guide (mainly because there doesn’t seem to be any discernible trail or route). At night, the dark skies fill with stars, so definitely pack your tripod. I’d recommend two days and one night here in the desert. It’s like nowhere else I've been.

Petra (Jordan)

For most people, a visit to Petra consists of walking down the Siq to the Treasury and then on to the Monastery. That’s fun but if you’re on The Outbound, you probably want more. Lucky for you, there’s a whole different side of Petra if you’re willing to work for it. Up above the canyon walls are a series of ledges and viewpoints that make you feel like you’re Indiana Jones. You can find them on your own, but it’s definitely easier if you make friends with a local inside Petra who can lead you around. My other advice is to come early. While Jordan is experiencing a decline in visitors, Petra still feels like a zoo during the day (and it can get insanely hot). Try to arrive when Petra opens (or close to it) since that will give you time at the Treasury without tourist hordes ruining your experience. The same goes for Petra at Night – the candlelit night tour of Petra. People will start to queue outside the gates early, and the officials will often let ticket holders in before the start time.

Dubai (United Arab Emirates)

First off, the actual city of Dubai isn’t for everyone (including me). It’s a giant and gaudy city that doesn’t feel authentic (although who needs it when you have the largest indoor aquarium, tallest building, yada yada). If you stay in Dubai, the adventure highlight is probably sky diving over the Palm, an expensive but a once in a lifetime experience. My favorite part of Dubai was getting out of the city and into the desert. Along endless roads lined with dunes, you’ll see camels wandering and even the Arabian Oryx if you’re lucky. A lot of tours will include a sunset dinner but trust me, skip this. All these tours head to their final dinner destination well before the sun starts to set. You want a private driver who will take you out into the dunes and let you watch sunset from as far out as possible. It’s an incredible experience sitting on a dune, alone in the desert, watching the fiery red sun dip behind the horizon.

I only had a few days on my trip to the Middle East but they were jam packed with outdoor adventure. I also felt completely safe my entire stay. The Jordanian people were so welcoming and friendly, and Dubai felt as safe as any other big city. One of the good things about the Middle East is the proximity of each country. In a short amount of time, you can visit several countries (e.g., you could even take a day tour to Petra from Israel). Maybe you want to explore more of Jordan and hike through the aqua blue waters of Wadi Mujib. Maybe you’re going to see the Pyramids in Egypt. Maybe you want to camp along the coast in Oman. It’s all right there.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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