The Middle East is a region that comprises of more than one country and continent. It generally includes Western Asia, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Dubai, and other countries within the area. Although the region has had periods of political and social unrest in the past, it is a region that offers one of the most diverse tourism experiences in the world. History is deeply woven into the culture & lifestyle of the Middle East.
The most common languages spoken in the region include Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Berber, and Kurdish. However, English is spoken by a reasonable number of the population, but mostly by other tourists, or immigrants from other countries. Interestingly, it is in the Middle East that the first cities were built and people learned to write.
But for most wintersun lovers, not all those locations are suited equally, because of factors like the winter weather, and safety concerns. We will focus this blog post more on the more popular countries like Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai). Some locations like Egypt and Turkey will be discussed in a separate blog post.
Why should people stay in the Middle East during the winter?
The Middle East boasts of a high level of hospitality. Locals can strike up a conversation with you randomly, or even invite you into their homes for a kettle of sweet tea, or a local meal. Contrary to many people's idea of the Middle East, these spontaneous acts of hospitality will disarm you and change your opinion of the region and its people.
The cities in the Middle East are some of the oldest inhabited cities on earth. A walk through the streets of Jerusalem, Cairo, Istanbul, or Beirut will feel like a stroll through time and history. Every town has a tale to tell. From charming Bazaars and coffee shops, the Middle East is an embodiment of mystery and story-like magic.
The Mighty rivers (the Nile & Euphrates), magnificent deserts (the Sahara, the Empty Quarter, and peerless Wadi Rum), and beautiful green landscapes are some of the main attractions of the Middle East.
The Middle East is a mix of historical sites and culture. You can either gaze at the magnificent Pyramids of Giza or experience the captivating Sufi dance. It is also not difficult to get around countries in the region or to find suitable accommodation.
The Middle East has a fairly consistent Climate throughout the region and has only two seasons; Winter & Summer. As it is a large region the weather can differ a lot. The summer is usually very hot and dry. The winter weather will differ even more depending on the location and can range from perfect sunny days with a nice temperature to cold and rainy. Also, desserts can be hot during the day and really cold during the night. Living close to a desert also can see occasional sandstorms in some areas.
For more climate information visit Meteoblue
Some countries in the Middle East have suffered from political unrest and terrorist activities. However, some countries are very safe like Oman and the United Arab Emirates. If you plan to visit other areas it is good to understand the security situation of the countries in the region you will like to visit, before making your trip.
Communication, internet, and cellphone in the Middle East
Arabic and other Middle Eastern Languages are widely spoken, but English too is common with a reasonable number of the population. Especially those that have business with tourists. Basic understanding of Arabic, or having someone that can interpret will go a long way to easing the challenges that might come with communication.
Wintersun Locations in The Middle East
A short selection of some Middle East wintersun locations:
- Muscat, Oman: You will find luxury resorts, white beaches, and hot sunny winter weather. You can camp out in the Wahiba Sands desert, and walk along trails in wadis (valleys). If you are there in the autumn you have the chance to see turtles laying and hatching their eggs on one of the beaches.
- Salalah, Oman: One of the most beautiful coastal cities in Oman, located in the south of the country. Good winter weather and plenty of things to see and do.
- Aqaba, Jordan: The only Jordan beach resort at the Red Sea, and close to one of the wonders in the world, Petra.
- Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Too hot in the summer, but perfect in the winter. You can swim and visit the snow in Ski Dubai on the same day. Huge selection of restaurants and shops.
- Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Similar to Dubai too hot in the summer, but with perfect sunny winter days. Abu Dhabi is more family orientated with things to do for all ages. Nice beaches, and lots of shops and restaurants.
- Fujairah, United Arab Emirates: Not as well known as Dubai and Abu Dhabi the only beach resort on the East Coast is a popular location to enjoy perfect winter beach weather.
- Manama, Bahrain: The capital of Bahrain can be extremely hot in the summer, but very nice in the winter. Manama is not a beach destination, but has many things to do and see, and has been designated as the Capital of Arab Culture. Women do not need to have their heads covered.
Things to see in the Middle East
For Snowbirds, there are almost limitless options of things to see and do while in the area, depending on your interest, budget, or time to spare. Here are some examples:
- The Burj Khalifa (Dubai): This is the tallest structure and building in the world. It is a 160-story building. It has been a major tourist attraction to Dubai. Tourists can get to the very top of the building and gaze down at the growing city of Dubai from an observation deck.
- Hagia Sophia Museum: Located in Istanbul, Turkey, the Hagia Sophia museum was once a Greek Orthodox cathedral, later a mosque during the Ottoman empire, and now serves as a museum.
- The Blue Mosque: The Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a functioning mosque that attracts lots of tourists each year that come to see the hand-painted blue tiles that adorn the interior of the mosque and see the mosque bathed in blue by lights in the night.
- Giza Necropolis: The Giza necropolis is the site in Egypt of the great pyramids like the Great pyramids of Giza, the pyramid of Khafre, the Pyramid of Menkaure, other pyramid complexes, and the Great Sphinx of Giza. The area is approximately 9 meter (30 feet) west of the Nile River and about 13 meter (43 feet) southwest of the city center of Cairo.
- The Grand Bazaar: Located in Istanbul, The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. Hundreds of thousands of visitors visit the over 4,000 shops daily.
- Petra: Petra is a historical and archaeological rock-cut city in a deep valley in Southern Jordan.
- The Dead Sea: The Dead Sea is a Salt lake that shares borders with Jordan to the East and Israel & the West Bank to the west. It is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, making swimming in the sea similar to floating. It is a major attraction for tourists all year round.
- Topkapi Palace Museum: This is a historical museum in Istanbul, Turkey.
- Valley of the Kings: Located in Egypt, the valley of the kings is the site of many Pharaohs' tombs and burial grounds.
- Pamukkale: This is a very beautiful clear thermal spa terraces and Hierapolis ruins in Turkey.
- The Sheikh Zayad Grand mosque: this is an iconic landmark with 82 white domes, elaborately decorated artworks on the walls and floors. It is the largest mosque in Dubai.
- Ferrari World Abu Dhabi: For car enthusiasts, this is a motorsport-themed entertainment complex in Abu Dhabi, Dubai.
- Luxor Temple: This is the site of what remains of an ancient place of worship in Egypt.
- Jerusalem, the Western Wall. Snowbirds can visit the iconic ancient sacred site of Jewish prayer, where people pray or write their prayers in a paper and place it in the cracks of the wall'.
- Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
- Dome of the Rock: An iconic Islamic Shrine white a huge golden dome.
- Mount of Olives.
Activities in the Middle East in the winter
Whichever country you decide on visiting in the Middle East, there are so many activities you could engage in during your stay, but here are some suggestions:
- Visit some of the most beautiful rich museums in the world.
- Swimming in the Dead Sea
- Tours to ancient archeological sites.
- Ship & Ferry cruises.
- Food tastings: Get to experience some of the favorite local dishes.
- Cultural experiences like watching Sufi dancers.
Shopping + Restaurants. Are they open in the winter?
Many shops within the region stay open throughout the year, but tourist shops close when there is a low flow of tourists in the area. However here are some suggestions:
- The Abu Dhabi Mall: home to some globally recognized brands.
- The Great Bazaar: An ancient thriving market scene in Istanbul with lots to offer from shopping to dining.
- Dubai Gold Souk: This is a beautiful market to shop for gold jewelry in elaborate designs and sizes.
- Khan el- Khalili: A souvenirs & Crafts market in Egypt.
- Aziz Saffron: This is an old school complex of shops and stalls that has so much you could buy, from fabrics to food.
- İstiklal Caddesi: Located in Turkey, there are many shops and cafes at this spot you could choose from.
- Snowbirds could try some of the local favorite meals such as Fattoush, Manakish, Tabbouleh, Shawarma, Hummus, Falafel, Kibbeh, Pita, Baklava, Dolma, Tea, and Dates.
In terms of Air transportation, International and domestic flights are always available and also easy to book. You can check Kayak for more information on booking and prices. Major airlines like Emirates operate within the area.
On average, the cost of transportation in the Middle East is fairly cheaper than many snowbirds are used to back home.
Most Snowbirds will arrive in the Middle East by Air, but by Sea is also possible. Once you've arrived, getting a taxi to your destination is easy, but make sure you do not get into unmarked cars and also ensure you ask the driver if he can speak English.
Car rentals are not a solid trend in transportation in the Middle East yet, but there are some local companies like Hertz or EasyCar.com that offer similar services, so you could check them out to see if they are available at your destination.
The rail network in the Middle East has been vital for traveling around and over the years, the network has expanded and improved, so it is a good choice if you are interested in traveling by train.
It is also possible to travel through ferries, ships, and boats while enjoying scenic views.
Many countries in the Middle East like Dubai, can boast of excellent healthcare systems. Many of the doctors in the area are very well trained, and though they might be speaking Arabic, some doctors speak English. The public health sector in some countries might be slow in some countries. Those that will opt for private health care services will pay more money than the public services charge.
Dentists are available in all locations without problems.
There are many options for accommodations in the middle east. The price can differ a lot depending on the:
- Location: The location would like to stay. Dubai will be more expensive than some other locations.
- Area: The area in the city you would like to stay. Staying on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai will be much more expensive than a location further inland.
- Time of the year: Visiting during the Christmas, or other religious periods (Islam) can be more expensive
- Property size and amenities: The size of the house/apartment and the amenities, like having your own private pool can be a big price differentiator.