Terrorism. It’s a word that has changed our world in so many ways and is unfortunately now synonymous with an entire region in the world. Needless to say, many of our friends and family thought we were crazy to be travelling to the Middle East. We are fully aware of how the Middle East is portrayed in the media and it’s sad that fears of safety and terrorism have crippled tourism significantly.
We did not once feel in danger or unsafe in the 4 months of travel through Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Palestine. But how safe is it to travel through the rest of the Middle East?
We thought what better way to tackle #fakenews and beat the fear-mongers than to ask fellow travel bloggers to share their unique travel experiences and how they felt about safety during their time in the Middle East.
- Bahrain By An Expat
- Cyprus As A Solo Female Traveller
- Egypt With Kids
- Jordan: Backpacking, Couchsurfing & Hitchhiking
- Kuwait In A Weekend
- Morrocco As A Female Traveller
- Oman Road Trip
- Qatar With My Husband and Son
- Saudi Arabia From A Local Perspective
- Syria In The Past
- United Arab Emirates As A Solo Female Traveller
Bahrain By An Expat
Johann Kuruvilla from Escaping Life.
Bahrain is a tiny little island in the Arabian Gulf that welcomes you with the simplicity and warmth of its people, the Bahrainis. As an expat, I had the opportunity to spend over a decade in the island and in all those years, I was most impacted by the people. Their humble, open, vibrant culture is what makes it what it stand out from the rest.
In Bahrain, you’ll find European style cafes to swanky clubs and souqs to hotels – they all have an Arabian old world charm. You can travel in taxis, public buses and even take a round trip around the island on them. The people everywhere would be glad enough to help you and some even might show you around.
High religious tolerance and liberalism is a strong point with Bahrain as you will see streets with mosques, churches, temples, gurudwaras and even a synagogue which exists close to each other.
To make your trip wonderful, you should explore the cultural side first and get to know the people. You can meander through the narrow cobbled streets of the souq and be lost in the colours and sounds, be mesmerized at the grand dome of the Grand Mosque and soak into hundreds of years of history at Bahrain Museum.
Cyprus As A Solo Female Traveller
Stephanie Craig from History Fangirl
Geographically, Cyprus is in the Middle East; however, politically and culturally Cyprus is in Europe. I spent a month in Cyprus as a solo traveller and never felt unsafe even walking around at night alone. The only safety issue that came up while I was there had to do with leaving the island. Syria used to be a popular day trip or onward destination from Cyprus, but those tours are no longer in operation due to the war in Syria.
Cyprus is an easy country to travel around alone and the intra-city bus system is fabulous. While the buses are a bit old school, they’re reliable, safe, and inexpensive, making it easy to get from city to city. If you’re looking for some unique things to do in Cyprus, then don’t skip Nicosia!
The resort towns and coastal cities are the biggest tourist draws, but I love the capital. The world’s last divided capital, a visit to Lefkosa and Northern Cyprus requires a trip across the UN buffer zone. However, the situation isn’t tense and there are no active hostilities. Instead, you’ll find an interesting blend of Greek and Turkish cultures trying to make things work sharing an island.
Egypt With Kids
Kyla Hunter from Where Is The World
This spring I spent two weeks travelling throughout Egypt, with my kids, and never once did I feel unsafe. Sure, there are places in the country where terrorist groups are active, like the Sinai Peninsula and the Western desert. I don’t think I’d feel safe at all riding a camel into the heart of the Sinai Peninsula right now! However, the tourist hot-spots around Egypt are just as safe as anywhere.
That’s not to say there’s no risk whatsoever. Unfortunately, there’s risk wherever you are in the world, and places, where a large number of people tend to congregate, are natural targets. However, I actually felt safer visiting the Great Pyramids than I did the Eiffel Tower.
The one thing that did bother me in Egypt was the desperate touts. I was expecting very pushy salesmen, but I found them to be more frantic than I anticipated. The decrease in tourism has seriously crippled the income of many people in this country, and they’re anxious to have it back.
Tourism is starting to increase, but not nearly to the level it was previously. Now is the perfect time to travel here, before the world realizes that Egypt is actually a safe place for tourists! There are currently fewer visitors to get in your pictures, and your tourism dollars are badly needed.
Kay Rodriguez from Jetfarer
I didn’t know what to expect while travelling in Iran as a US American. On one hand, I’d heard nothing but amazing, glowing reviews from friends who had visited in the past. On the other, the media, especially in the United States, tends to constantly paint Iran in a bad light. However, out of sheer curiosity and a longing to understand what Iran was really like, I decided to pack my bags and go.
Contrary to what the media says, Iran is a completely safe country for tourists, and I recognized this as soon as I stepped off the plane in Tehran.
The people there are arguably some of the kindest and friendliest in the world. It’s so safe, in fact, that I often left my bag on the ground while setting up my photo gear or trying on clothing, and no one batted an eye. Additionally, not a single person showed open hostility towards me because I was a US American.
We went around to the major cities like Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz, as well as more rural areas like the Mesr Desert, and I never once felt unsafe in any of them.
In the over 40 countries I’ve ever visited, I’d say Iran was one of the safest. I am so glad I made the choice to see it for myself.
If you decide to visit Iran, be sure to plan way in advance, especially if you’re a US American, Canadian, or British citizen. The visas can be a lengthy and tedious process, and it takes a bit of time to ensure you’re approved to go. However, the painstaking process is worth it – once you get there, you’ll be completely safe and welcomed by everyone around you.
Joan Torres from Against The Compass
From the Iran-Iraq war in the ’80s to the Gulf conflict, the USA invasion and the endless war against the Islamic State, Iraq has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world…
…and, to some extent, it really is.
However, not all the country has to be necessarily dangerous. In the north of Iraq, there is one autonomous region named Iraqi Kurdistan, a region which is separated by a border from the rest of Iraq and which, fortunately, in the last decade, has been able to enjoy a complete level of peace.
It’s a different world.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, crime is unheard of and, in the last couple of years, there have been less terrorist attacks than in other European capitals such as London, for example.
Home to many expats, some of the most Westernized people in the Middle East and a large Christian community, Iraqi Kurdistan is not only a place to enjoy the social life of Erbil and Suleimani, the two region main cities but also, it is a place filled with some of the oldest historical sites and the world.
With some of the most hospitable people I have ever met, my journey through Iraq Kurdistan was not only safe but also, as pleasant and enjoyable like nowhere else that I know of.
However, despite being a safe country, you should be always careful and the best tip I can give you is meeting locals through Couchsurfing, as they will always guide you during your journey.
Anna from Would Be Traveller
Before I went to Israel, I found myself answering the same questions over and over again to worried friends and family members. “Yes, Israel is perfectly safe”, “Yes, I will be absolutely fine.” They had no reason to worry!
In May 2018, I travelled around Israel to various cities including Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Akko and Tel Aviv. Yet, despite the ongoing conflict with Palestine and the more recent threat of terrorism, at no point did I feel unsafe as a visitor.
The troubles are mostly confined to the Gaza Strip in the south and Golan Heights up by the Syrian border, so try to stick to the main cities in the centre of the country and you should avoid trouble.
Normally the sight of guns has me running in the opposite direction. But, in Jerusalem, it was oddly reassuring to see Israeli police officers with machine guns, to deter protestors. Israeli defence is very secretive and tourists have been punished for taking photos (of the IDF), so please make sure you don’t (or at least ask first).
The age-old advice of visiting any city still rings true – don’t leave valuables lying around and be wary of walking around late at night if you’re a solo traveller. Just apply common sense and you’re sure to have a wonderful visit to Israel.
Jordan: Backpacking, Couchsurfing & Hitchhiking
Amanda Tran from La Vida Viva
Not only is Jordan a safe country to travel, it’s one that will keep you coming back for more. While most people usually spend less than a week in Jordan, Daniel and I had the pleasure of spending 9 weeks in this wonderful country. We did Workaways which allowed us to meet and connect with locals and experience what it’s like to live here.
We saw so much more than just the major tourist attractions, experienced Ramadan, were welcomed into many homes and have built special bonds and lifelong friendships in Jordan. It’s these kinds of experiences that we love sharing with people.
In our 2 months in Jordan, we backpacked through the country taking public transport, hitchhiked, couchsurfed and did a road trip. At no point did we feel unsafe or threatened. We’ve truly experienced Jordan in many unique ways and will never think of any issues with safety when remembering this country.
In general, there is a fair bit of catcalling and harassment from men but I called people out on this, some would apologise. Men and women outside of Amman are generally dressed quite conservatively so I recommend bringing some loose pants to deal with the heat without feeling uncomfortable or out of place.
Kuwait In A Weekend
Esra Alhamal from Arabian Wanderess
Kuwait is a very small country and it is only a four-hour drive from the East of Saudi. The vibe here is relaxed and the main activities of shopping, eating and lounging by the beach are all in busy safe areas.
I was at complete ease when I was walking around and getting taxis. Men try to flirt everywhere, but they are usually harmless.
Although it safe, I would still be aware of my surroundings especially late at night. It is lively until 10 pm though. Unless you are going for a specific event, Kuwait can be seen in a weekend.
Kamila Napora from My Wanderlust
I freaked out so much before my trip to Lebanon, I was even close to cancelling it altogether! As it quickly turned out there was nothing to worry about and Lebanon turned out to be a wonderful destination with a vibrant capital, stunning places to visit outside of it and the most delicious food ever.
I walked a lot around Beirut and there wasn’t even a single situation when I felt something is wrong. When I travelled outside of the capital, using public transport, everyone I met and talked to was friendly, hospitable and super helpful. The only stressful situation was crossing the street in Beirut as traffic is insane there but that was a small price to pay for visiting Lebanon.
During my trip, there were some places that were not advised for tourists so better check the situation with your ministry of foreign affairs before travelling or just ask at the reception of your accommodation when arriving. I stayed away from these, just to be on the safe side, but I met fellow travellers who went to places like Tripoli or some suburbs of Beirut and were all fine!
Morrocco As A Female Traveller
Cherene Saradar from Wandering Redhead
Morocco is enchanting, exotic and exhilarating. From the colourful bustling winding alleys of the medinas to the sprawling majestic desert, it is one of my favourite countries. I’ve now been twice, both times with a female friend. I found Morocco to be very safe for a female traveller. I walked around Marrakech alone at times and my friend and I walked at nighttime without any incidents.
Females may experience some verbal harassment or catcalling. This is best ignored. There are certain safety recommendations all travellers should follow when in crowded streets and Moroccan cities are no exception. Don’t wear expensive jewellery, don’t have all your money in one place, and carry a bag that is secured and closed and in your sight at all times. Dress modestly keeping cleavage and legs above the knees covered. You don’t want to attract too much attention.
The biggest threats to women are the threats to any traveller… being ripped off. You need to be careful who you book tours with and how much you pay taxis. Moroccans are charismatic hustlers and random people will approach you in a very friendly manner trying to sell you something or offer to take you on a tour. It’s best to stick to official tour companies, especially for the female traveller. The average Moroccan I encountered was helpful, friendly and had a great sense of humour.
Oman Road Trip
Emily Lush from Wander-Lush
When we road tripped around Oman in late 2016, it was our first time visiting the Middle East. We had our reservations—but we never once felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
Oman has a long coastline and a desert interior wrapped in glorious mountains. It’s big and sparse, so we often found ourselves alone on desolate roads. During the day, the streets are often empty as well—even in the capital, Muscat. It’s at dusk when I would normally think to put up my guard when families and groups of friends come out to enjoy the cooler air and do their shopping at the huge souqs.
There were a few times we had to leave our rental car unattended with our luggage locked inside, and we didn’t hesitate to do so. Petty theft is pretty rare in Oman, and violent crime is extremely low. In 2017, Oman was the only country in the Middle East to score zero on the Global Terrorism Index.
The main thing that contributes to the feeling of peace and security is how relaxed and polite Omani people are. English is pretty common in the cities, and as a female traveller, I never felt intimidated by groups of Omani men. It’s quite common for people to invite you into their home for coffee, and this happened to us a few times. In one small town, a local insisted on jumping into our car so he could guide us around the local market. He didn’t ask for anything in return.
Amanda Tran from La Vida Viva
I don’t know what the actual temperature was but it felt like 38 degrees and I was too hot to commit to the 3km walk. I stuck my thumb out and car after car passed. A taxi stopped and I told him that we were hitchhiking and didn’t want a taxi. “No money, no problem!” He said back. I asked if he was sure and he beamed back, “Yes! No problem!”
He welcomed us to Palestine and was happy that tourists were coming to see Jericho. We thanked him and he asked for a selfie. We’ve hitchhiked in a few different countries but a taxi driver has never stopped and taken us for free. This is the Palestinian spirit.
We felt welcomed in our short time in Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah and Hebron and were shown so much kindness all around. People just wanted us to enjoy ourselves, the food, the culture and traditions.
Since there isn’t a huge number of tourists here, travellers will always obviously stand out. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but I would recommend exercising usual common sense and dressing conservatively to not stand out any further. Though I don’t believe that this would ultimately impact safety, people do stare and this might make you feel more comfortable.
Qatar With My Husband and Son
Nadine Maffre from Le Long Weekend
My first visit to Qatar was an eye-opening experience. It was my first time in the Middle East and I had no idea what to expect. What we found in the capital, Doha, was a city that is a startling clash between rapid modern development and strong cultural roots. It’s the kind of place where you can walk into an upscale bar and hear people conversing in several languages around you, and then step outside to see camels tied to their posts.
Travelling with my husband and young son, I never felt unsafe while travelling around Qatar. In general, we found the Qatari people to be quiet and respectful. I don’t know if I would have had a different experience had I been travelling alone, but my instinct says no.
As with anywhere, I recommend adhering to the country’s cultural guidelines about the dress code – not only to prevent any potential harassment but simply out of respect. I’d also recommend hiring a car and travelling out of the city to see what the rest of this remarkable country looks like. There are plenty of things to do in Qatar and hidden treasures in the desert landscape, such as a striking art installation by Richard Serra and the impressive Al-Zubarah Fort.
Saudi Arabia From A Local Perspective
Esra Alhamal from Arabian Wanderess
Saudi Arabia is a huge country and has so many different provinces, so the sense of safety and security is not constant throughout the whole country.
I come from the East of Saudi around Khobar, Dammam and Qatif. I find these cities to be safe if you are in a restaurant, a shopping mall or in an Uber late at night. Walking is usually not done because the heat is unbearable and the roads are not set for pedestrians.
Traditional shopping areas such as Khobar Souq might be a little sketchy to walk around too late alone because it is full of unpredictable people, but the usual hangout places should be safe.
West of Saudi is where the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah are. Those two cities along with Jeddah are also considered safe. I went with a female friend to the old part of Jeddah at noon, where it was mostly empty and it was absolutely fine, very hot, but safe.
However, I would be concerned to go alone for long distances with a random driver. It is better to be in a trustworthy group if you want to wander off to the desert or the off the beaten path cities.
Syria In The Past
Cherene Saradar from Wandering Redhead
Syria is a truly beautiful country with arguably the best food in the Middle East. Maybe I’m biased but I’ve heard Iraqis, Egyptians and Saudis all admit to this “fact”. Here you can see Crusader castles, well preserved Roman ruins and the world’s oldest living city, Damascus.
Syria is hard to write about since it has been in a tragic war since 2011. It is also my father’s home country and one that is close to my heart. I have visited three times (that I remember).
Obviously, Syria is not a safe place to visit at this time although some travellers have been since the war started and will claim that certain areas are safe. Knowing what I know, I cannot recommend this. However, I will say that in non-wartime, Syria is one of the safest countries in the world to visit.
The people are some of the most hospitable in the world. The crime rate is low and nobody would ever harm a woman on the street. There is no harassment, no catcalling and nobody trying to sell you sketchy tours. It is unique in this way compared to other countries.
There are few places I’ve felt safer as a tourist, even with my belongings. The punishment for theft is severe… so much so that you will see stacks of gold jewellery displayed in stores in a way that would never work in most major European or US cities. Women should dress conservatively but there is no a strict dress code and no need to cover your head. Syria is largely secular and has many modernly attired women. I hope everyone has the chance to visit someday when things are improved there.
Sarah Carter from ASocialNomad
I started my trip to Turkey with a bus journey across the border from neighbouring Bulgaria (we travelled from Bansko to Istanbul). It was a seamless trip, easy and comfortable. Istanbul itself was an incredible city, on both the European and Asian sides – friendly, easy to navigate, great food.
As we travelled throughout the country – from Gallipoli to Troy, Ephesus and then further to the East – through Pamukkale, Ihlara and onto Goreme – through to the border with Georgia I didn’t see any change. I felt as safe as I did in any other city and country.
I generally dress conservatively and I felt comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt in Istanbul, but as we moved further east, and certainly in Konya I wore long trousers and took a scarf with me. It wasn’t that I felt uncomfortable, rather I wanted to be aware of local sensitivities.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend my travels to Turkey and I’d certainly travel there again. I would, however, as I do with all countries, check the advice from my government before going and ensure that I felt comfortable with the political situation before travelling.
United Arab Emirates As A Solo Female Traveller
Arzo Nayel from Arzo Travels
If you ask me whether the United Arab Emirates is safe to travel to – or not – I will not only tell you it is safe, I would actually say it is one of the safest places for tourists. As a female solo traveller, I love the country and how safe I always feel during all of my trips. I have never felt unsafe or uncomfortable – especially in regard to pickpocketing, theft, harassment by (drunk) men and even terror attack.
Whether I walk the streets after dark, leave my stuff at the beach to take a swim or whatever, the UAE give me a good feeling.
But it is not only about small-scale crime – while the government probably would not announce it anyhow, there is no known case of terror attacks. While this means Big Brother is watching you (aka security cameras everywhere) tourists do not have to be afraid of attacks.
As a regular visitor to the UAE, I am happy to say this is luckily the case in many other cities/Emirates – like Abu Dhabi or Sharjah. Especially compared to other areas in that region it is safe to say, the UAE is safe for female solo travellers and when exercising some common sense it is a great destination to visit.
When I visited Yemen, I was not sure on how to dress or what to do and what not. I didn’t have any preparation or research. My only tool was a few contacts in Hadhramaut. Even so, I wasn’t worried. I was extremely excited! I didn’t feel scared of entering Yemen. I was only afraid to be denied entry for any sort of reasons.
Given my Asian look, walking around Hadhramaut solo without a face cover was hard to miss. 99.9% of women walk around with a face cover. However, I never felt like I was in danger. Surely locals stared a lot but that’s simply because they never have any tourists since the war that broke early 2015.
Hadhramaut is a non-conflict zone and I can definitely vouch that Hadhramaut is safe. I have spoken to a couple of people living in Northern Yemen, there are of course conflicting answers in regards to safety but those who live there are going by their day.
My recommendation for future travellers that want to visit before the war ends, apply for a student visa to any of the Islamic Schools in Hadhramaut. There are many Westerners/Europeans in there. Get in touch with locals and have them tour you around so you don’t have to expose your nationality. A lot of them would happily host you!
What countries will you now be adding to your bucket list? Let us know in the comments below and make sure to share this with your family and friends the next time someone wants to tell you how dangerous is it to travel to the Middle East.