From ancient cities to dusty desert plains, the Middle East’s wonders render the region a go-to destination for hikes and walks, says Abra Dunsby
The Middle East is rich with natural wonders and mesmerising landscapes, so for clients who want to stretch their legs and explore the great outdoors by walking or trekking, there are myriad options.
The region boasts an array of trails, many of which are new, allowing clients to avoid the tourist coachloads and take the path less trodden instead.
Here, we round up the options, offering tips from the experts so clients can get the most out of their time outdoors.
From the hidden city of Petra to the desert dunes of Wadi Rum, Jordan’s epic landscapes have been luring travellers for years. Most visitors opt to visit the sites by bus, but a new trail that traverses the country aims to change that, allowing clients to take in the sights at a slower pace.
The Jordan Trail is a 400-mile route that runs from Umm Quais in the north and ends at the Gulf of Aqaba in the south. The entire route can be trekked in 40 days. Less hardy clients can opt to trek one of the trail’s eight sections, which vary in length and difficulty.
“The most popular section is from Dana to Petra, which can be completed in four days and takes in the key sights while still exploring lesser-known villages in Jordan. It also allows clients to enter Petra from the quieter monastery side, beating the crowds at the traditional entrance,” says Mahmoud Freirat, marketing area manager at the Jordan Tourism Board.
He advises that the best time of year to walk the trail is in early spring and late autumn, when the weather is cooler. In preparation to walk the trail, clients can purchase a Jordan Pass online, which includes entrance to key sites along the trail (jordanpass.jo). Clients are advised to travel with GPS navigation, appropriate footwear and plenty of water.
Book it: On the Go tours offers the eight-day Dana to Petra Trek, which includes five days of trekking, beginning with an overnight stay in Madaba before trekking from the Dana Nature Reserve through Wadi Barwas, Ras el Feid, Shkaret Msei’d and Beidah, finishing in Petra. Prices start from £1,099pp based on two travelling, including daily breakfast, lunch and dinner, and airport transfers. onthegotours.com
While Oman has high temperatures, it’s typically around 15C cooler in the mountains, making it a good trekking option, particularly in the winter months.
Those heading into the Hajar or Jebel Akhdar mountain ranges will be rewarded with sublime views and a tranquil perspective away from Oman’s tourist-filled resorts.
Clients staying at remote luxury resort Alila Jabal Akhdar, located two hours south of Muscat, can test their mettle on the via ferrata climbing route. The route is the highest in the Middle East and is an unforgettable way to experience the Jabal Al Akhdar, nicknamed the Green Mountain owing to the roses, grapes, peaches and pomegranates that flourish there.
The via ferrata trek involves clients attaching themselves to cables to make their way along the cliffside for mesmerising views, not to mention leg-trembling heights. On the four-hour Introduction to Via Ferrata with Trek excursion offered by Alila Jabal Akhdar, clients will trek through the village of AlKhutaymi, hidden in a cave in the wadi floor, before stopping at a natural pool in the Green Mountain for a refreshing dip (£137pp).
Book it: Cox & Kings offers a six-night stay in Oman, including three nights at the Alila Jabal Akhdar from £2,225pp, including flights, private transfers and B&B accommodation. coxandkings.co.uk
This emirate may be famous for its high-rise skyline and luxury resorts, but there’s also a more natural side to Dubai that’s ideal for hikers. The lesser-known Hatta region is a great place to start for trekking thanks to its two new trails.
“The Hatta Hiking Project links a number of tourist attractions in the picturesque town of Hatta, located in the Hajar mountains, an hour and a half outside central Dubai,” explains Shahab Shayan, senior manager for the UK, Ireland and the Nordics at Dubai Tourism.
The ochre-rock region is a haven for adventurers, who can try their hand at mountain biking, cycling or kayaking in the surrounding natural pools. Shayan recommends clients stay at the four-star JA Hatta Fort Hotel, which boasts rooms with mountain views, two pools – one enclosed within the rocks – and a number of outdoor activities such as archery, a driving range and air-rifle shooting.
Book it: Travel 2 offers three nights at JA Hatta Fort Hotel on a B&B basis from £559pp, including flights, valid for travel September 5-20, 2018. travel2.com
With its diverse landscapes spanning the Hajar mountains and the UAE’s highest peak of Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah is well suited to clients with a love of the great outdoors.
“The emirate is also at an advantage with its cooler climate compared with its neighbours, owing to its more northerly location and mountainous terrain, allowing tourists to maximise and enjoy their outdoor experiences,” explains Haitham Mattar, chief executive officer of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.
The destination currently has a special focus on adventure tourism and is developing official trekking and hiking routes, which are due to open at the end of this year. Current trekking options include the Sunrise at Stoneway Wadi walk, which runs alongside the Jebel Jais mountain, and walks through a dry canyon surrounded by rock formations that were once inhabited by semi-nomadic tribes.
Book it: Hayes & Jarvis offers three nights at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah on a B&B basis from £989pp. Price includes transfers and flights, based on October 5 departures. The hotel is near the start of the walk. hayesandjarvis.co.uk
Israel offers a wealth of hiking opportunities, ranging from shorter trails to epic treks. The longest is the 683-mile Israel Trail, which runs the entire length of the country, starting at Dan Kibbutz near the Lebanese border and ending at Eilat on the Red Sea.
The trail takes in a wide range of landscapes and an impressive array of historic sites. A popular shorter option is the Gospel Trail, a 40-mile trek that’s located between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, and which follows in the footsteps of Jesus.
Sharon E Bershadsky, director of the tourist board, says: “Israel has such a wonderful climate – it’s part of the culture to enjoy the outdoor life, walking through the beautiful landscapes and enjoying the sun. Clients can also visit amazing historical sites, which adds to the pleasure of the hiking experience. As it isn’t a vast country, walking or trekking outside the cities can be enjoyed even on short breaks to Israel, making it a very tempting destination.”
Book it: Pomegranate Travel offers a week-long hiking holiday in Israel, including treks along the Israel Trail. Prices start from £2,500pp based on two sharing, excluding flights. pomegranate-travel.com
Home to some of the highest mountains in the Middle East, Iran has enticed mountaineers and explorers for centuries. Mount Damavand is the country’s highest peak, and clients can climb to the summit – or around its surrounding hills for a less challenging experience.
For serious trekkers, there’s also the Dasht-e Lut desert, one of the Earth’s hottest, driest places. This landscape boasts startlingly beautiful rock formations and salt plains. For a gentler experience, clients can visit the mountain village of Abyaneh, known for its ancient charm and traditional mountain community.
Book it: G Adventures offers a 14-day Iran: Discover Persia trip, including a guided walk through Abyaneh, from £2,139pp, excluding flights. gadventures.co.uk
Given the country’s high temperatures, trekking options in Abu Dhabi are minimal. However, for clients seeking a laid-back walking experience, Anantara’s Qasr Al Sarab property offers a desert walk accompanied by a flora and fauna expert.
The walks take place either at sunset or sunrise for optimum weather conditions and picture-perfect skies. The walks are suitable for families, and clients can pick a trail to suit their needs and fitness levels. The hotel also offers night walks and full-moon walks in the desert.
Book it: Abercrombie & Kent offers a five-night stay at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab from £1,100pp, including flights and transfers, based on two sharing on a B&B basis. abercrombiekent.co.uk