Travel to North Africa is a quite different experience to going on safari elsewhere in Africa. The emphasis here is much more on the cultural and historical highlights of each country, in addition to experiencing everyday life through intriguing sights, sounds and tastes. In many instances, fascinating ancient history sits alongside vibrant modern life, and very often the two are intertwined.
The influence of Islamic tradition can be seen everywhere, while beyond the cities, the landscapes that you’ll see when you travel to North Africa may surprise you. Deserts predominate, of course, but you’ll also see rugged mountains, flower-strewn valleys and beautiful beaches. This is a region that has undergone immense change over the last few decades, but at the same, these countries have remained true to their rich histories.
From the majesty of the Pyramids at Giza to the temples of Abu Simbel, Egypt wears its glorious past proudly. Then there are the bustling markets of modern-day Cairo, and the busy underwater life of the diving sites in the Red Sea. Egypt, ancient and modern, has something for everyone.
Jordan’s most famous attraction is the red-rock city of Petra, but it offers much else besides. Jordan contains many sites mentioned in the Bible, not least the river from which it takes its name. The unmissable Dead Sea is so salty that you really can read your travel guide as you float in it. Jordan’s desert scenery has a unique romantic beauty and can be explored on a 4×4 safari or – for maximum authenticity – by camel.
Morocco offers a surprisingly wide range of scenery: from the rolling sand dunes you may have expected to the snow-capped peaks you quite possibly didn’t. The Atlas Mountains are a hikers’ paradise while if you prefer history to natural history, the cities of Fes and Marrakesh are richly rewarding places to lose yourself in. The mosques, ancient forts and inviting open-air markets in the squares (and the way they transform as night falls) will intrigue and delight.
Turkey occupies a unique position between Europe and Asia, and its role as a crossroads reflects in its cosmopolitan outlook, excellent cuisine, and incredible architecture. Istanbul alone could you occupy you for an entire holiday, but there are also the rugged landscapes of Anatolia, ancient ruins from multiple civilizations, and secluded, warm water beaches. A trip to Turkey isn’t complete without a visit to a hammam (or Turkish bath), the quintessential experience.
Perhaps more than any other country, the UAE has been transformed by oil wealth. What were once sleepy tent settlements are now shimmering cityscapes of glass and steel, featuring iconic buildings and every conceivable diversion. Whether you want to experience world-class shopping malls, indoor skiing or enjoy a meal hundreds of feet above the ground as you look out to sea, the UAE has it all. Away from the glittering skyscrapers, there is also unspoiled desert to explore.