Planning A Trip To The Middle East
We recently took a whirlwind trip to the Middle East that was action-packed and spectacular. When I plan a family trip, we hit all the main attractions but there’s usually a little downtime in the mix. When my husband, Chris, plans a trip, it’s usually a full itinerary of go-go-go! This trip was the latter…in the best way! We went for a little over two weeks, visited four countries, and saw some of the most famous sites in the world. Chris and I have been to the Middle East before, but this was our first time being here with the kids. I’ve always loved traveling and I strongly believe it’s an amazing education for the kids (and the grown-ups 😉…getting to see and experience other cultures). It was a LONG trip from Colorado, but I think it was so worth it. Keep scrolling for the details on our itinerary, the travel agency we used to plan this trip, and my thoughts and impressions traveling here as a family.
If you’re interested in how to dress in the Middle East and what I wore, make sure you check out this post.
#1 Tip for Traveling to The Middle East
Before we get started, I want to mention that for this trip, we hired a travel agency and guide. With such a quick, action-packed trip, having a travel agency take care of all the logistics was something I was very thankful for! For example, you have to have a Visa to go to Egypt even if you’re just there for a few days. The agency completely took care of that for us, which took a lot of travel stress off of us. It wasn’t necessarily cheap, but it was absolutely worth the money in my opinion to not have to worry about anything. We used Mosaic. The travel agency also ensured that our travel from country to country was seamless and safe. We felt very cared for and anxiety-free which on a potentially stressful trip like this…is KEY!
Now onto our first stop…
Day 1 – Burj Khalifa
Our first stop on this whirlwind Middle Eastern tour was Dubai. To my surprise and delight…it’s a very modern, clean, safe, and luxurious city! On our first day, we visited the world’s tallest building…the Burj Khalifa. It’s just over a half-mile tall (2,716.5 to be exact) and has incredible views. Our hotel, the Address Downtown Hotel was right next to the Burj Khalifa… and it was was connected to one of the HUGE Dubai malls. This mall had every single luxury designer you could think of, a skating rink, aquarium, and much more. They even had three Chanel stores…THREE! We went to the mall a few times throughout our stay but truthfully, it was so large, it pretty overwhelming for me. Our hotel was wonderful but there are a lot of 5-star hotels in Dubai and if I did it over again, I’d probably stay at a hotel on the water instead! Keep in mind if you stay on the water, you are pretty far from downtown. I would weigh the pro’s and con’s. We were only in Dubai a few days so we opted to stay downtown for convenience.
Day 2 – City Tour
On day two… we took a city tour which included stops in the old town, a stroll through the gold souks, and visiting the waterfront. The gold was UNREAL! I asked our guide, “are people really buying this stuff??” And she said that it’s common for wealthy Middle Eastern families to buy something gold for a bride on her wedding day…kind of like a dowry.
Another interesting cultural distinction in Dubai is all of the perks that an Emirates gets from the government including tax-free income, free high-quality health care, subsidized fuel, access to land to build homes with interest-free loans, and free higher education. This is the main reason why you don’t see homeless people and you aren’t bombarded with sales offers. It’s a wealthy city because of oil and tourism.
Day 2 – Evening Desert Safari
There is a desert outside of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates called, “The Empty Quarter.” We went on a desert safari where we learned how they used to use falcons to hunt, saw elegant, native, white oryx, and, of course, got to ride camels. I liked the city of Dubai, but I LOVE the desert. It is very special!
Day 3 – Abu Dhabi, UAE
Our next stop was Abu Dhabi … one of the seven “Emirates” or states…of the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi is a short drive from Dubai. We visited the gorgeous Sheikh Zayad Grand Mosque made up of mostly marble and the most magnificent chandeliers. At the mosque, you have to dress very conservatively. You must be fully covered from head to toe. Nothing should be tight-fitting and you can’t wear anything even remotely transparent. (You could see the outline of my tank under my striped shirt, so I had to cover that with a scarf.) Our experience visiting here was quite a surreal contrast to Ferrari World, which we went to immediately afterwards. Ferrari World is a theme park with rides including the world’s fastest roller coaster. The kids loved it, but I could have skipped it. According to our guide, the United Arab Emirates wants to bring all of the best tourist sites from around the world here to attract tourism.
While in Jerusalem… we visited the Arabic market, ate some delicious, Israeli falafel, and walked through the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. I was so moved at the church by the hypnotic sounds of the priests chanting… and the sight of dozens of people praying SO deeply. It was really interesting to see… and better understand… how important Jerusalem is to three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and is revered by each of these religions for its historical and religious significance. We were there during Holy Week, which I think made it even more special. After visiting Jerusalem, you have a much better understanding of the political complexities here. It’s fascinating and in so many ways, life-changing.
By the way, we stayed at the famous, King David Hotel, which was perfectly located for all of our planned activities.
Day 2 – Dead Sea
Our next activity was pretty fun…we took a plunge into the Dead Sea and coated ourselves with the famous, therapeutic mineral mud! Not only is the Dead Sea the lowest place on earth with the saltiest water… it is known for its healing, mineral-rich waters, therapeutic mineral mud, and air so rich in oxygen that it protects you from sunburn. Some even consider it a ‘Fountain of Youth’. The mineral mud in particular is known for its nourishing, beautifying, healing, and restorative benefits… so you know I had to give it a try! BUT, full disclosure, I didn’t notice much of a change in my skin. I DID have one mud-stained swimsuit afterward. 😉 I think Elizabeth had the most fun with the mud. Can you tell?? (BTW, please ignore that dude in the background ;))
Day 3 – Masada
Our next day was filled with one of the most iconic hikes in Israel…The Masada Snake Path! Masada is an ancient fortress that stands above the Dead Sea… with a pretty incredible and has an impressive history. Starting from the lowest point on earth, the Snake Path takes you up to the top of Masada. It was quite the climb. (The kids were troopers). But the view was SO worth it… At the top, you get an amazing view of both the Dead Sea and the Moab Mountains of Jordan on the other side. If you don’t love hiking, you can also ride a cable car to the top of Masada.
Who else would hike Masada in Chloe sneakers? 😉 I literally only had space for three pairs of shoes in my carry-on suitcase…so my Salomon trail runners didn’t make the cut. Remember, to find out more about what I packed and wore on this trip, you can visit this post.
Day 4 – West Bank
We did a quick hike in the West Bank, which can be a safety issue, so it’s important to have a local guide for this. The hike is short, and the sights are incredible. It was a really special experience. The Monastery of St. George is hanging from a cliff, carved into a rock wall. It’s truly incredible!!! Founded in the 5th century, the monastery has housed monks for centuries. It is thought to be just off the path of the Roman Road where Jesus shared the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan.’
Day 1 – Wadi Rum
Next, we crossed the border from Eilat, Israel into Jordan. If you’ve done this before, you know how surreal and somewhat nerve-wracking this experience can be. Once we made it into Jordan, we spent a day touring Wadi Rum, also known as the “Valley of the Moon,” in the Jordanian Desert. It reminded me a lot of Moab, Utah with lots of red rock and soil… and sculptural rock shapes starkly, scattered amid the sea of sand. Having now visited many deserts, I can say that they are all so unique and beautiful. No two are alike. We started this desert day with a jeep ride, followed by hot tea under a beautiful tent, a 30-minute camel ride (which is WAY too long, by the way. 10 minutes is plenty!), and then finished our journey with a Mission Impossible-esque sandstorm!
Day 2 – Petra
On our next day in Jordan, we went to see Petra, a.k.a The Lost City of Jordan! It’s a famous archeological site in the Jordan desert that was “lost” for hundreds of years and wasn’t rediscovered until the 1800s. It was incredible, breathtaking, and way bigger than I was expecting. It’s carved into the pink, red, and white sandsone and it’s amazing! The Siq, which is the main riad that leads to the city was also really beautiful.
Our next stop was Cairo, Egypt… home to one of the seven wonders of the world, The Great Pyramids of Giza! Giza is just outside of Cairo. Because of COVID, tourism is still not in full swing, which made visiting the amazing pyramids all the more special! You see them and literally can’t understand how these ancient civilizations constructed them. It’s mind-blowing! We walked inside one of the pyramids, which I would not recommend if you are even a little claustrophobic, 😉 but I’m glad we did it. This was definitely a bucket list moment! In the morning, we visited The Egyptian Museum, which was very crowded, but if you go right when it opens, you’ll be okay!
Because I know you’re probably curious, I wanted to touch on the safety aspect. We felt completely safe in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Israel. When we got to Egypt, it was a little different. Safety is a concern as you will see by the level of security. For example, when we pulled up to our hotel (Four Seasons Nile Plaza), there were multiple steps to even get to drive up to the hotel (metal rods in road to stop cars, device to bomb check cars, etc.) and metal detectors to get into the hotel. You’ll also need to be very aware and have street smarts in Egypt. You’re often approached. We also experienced that quite a bit in Jordan. When faced with these situations on vacation, I imagine I have my NYC armor back on. I keep my head down. Never make eye contact and keep moving. All of that said, there are PLENTY of VERY dangerous places in the US. Plenty. Common sense and street smarts can go a long way!
We wrapped up our Egypt visit with an EPIC last day in Luxor! We visited one of the ancient sites called “Luxor Temple.” It was actually right next to our hotel, Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor (which was amazing, by the way). The impressive temple was created by ancient Egyptians in 1400 BC!! We also visited the Valley of The Kings, which is a burial ground of Egypt’s pharaohs. There’s A LOT to see but we saw the tombs of King Tut (Tutankhamun), two different King Ramses, and the Temple of Hatshepsut.
I am SO thankful that Chris and I can share our love of travel with our kids. We know this is a bucket list trip and we got to see SO much. I love that we can teach our kids about other cultures and they actually get to experience them. It’s a dream come true and I get teary-eyed thinking about it.
* I strongly suggest using a travel agent if you are going to try and see this much in one trip. It’ll allow you to relax and actually enjoy the trip vs. grappling with logistics.
* Don’t take group tours. Hire a private tour guide through a travel agency or Airbnb. I personally think group tours are boring and exhausting.
* We felt pretty safe everywhere, but it’s important to be street smart and make wise choices.
Have you ever been to the Middle East? Where did you go and what did you see? If you’re planning a trip and have a question, please leave a comment below!
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