Prepare to be intoxicated by the exotic aromas, dazzling colours and surreal scenery of North Africa and the Middle East. This historically important region is home to staggering remains from the towering Pyramids of Giza to the charming ancient city of Petra. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were all born in this intrinsically spiritual region that is a mind-boggling maze of religious temples and monuments. Enter this vivaciously diverse world of bazaars and souks, Nomads and Berbers where everyday life is an adventure in itself. Serenity can always be found a short distance from the frenzy of the cities whether it be in the stunning mountain ranges or imposing dunes. North Africa and the Middle East is a compelling, intriguing and often challenging destination that delivers a true adventure to its visitors.
What to Expect
Culture and Traditions
North Africa and The Middle East is a region deeply infused with ancient cultures and traditions that are still apparent in modern life. For the western visitor it may seem worlds away and it is important to be culturally aware when visiting these opposing places. The most prevalent religion across the region is Islam, however the Islamic countries are also home to many Christians and Jews. Natives of the Sahara and the Maghreb most commonly speak in dialects of Berber and Arabic and many still lead the nomadic life that is often depicted in the media. The clothing across the region comes in intricate designs splashed with vivid colours, far from the white robes and black veils that people commonly associate with these Islamic countries.
Weather and Climate
The climate across North Africa and The Middle East is predominately hot and dry however this can vary dramatically depending on the country and region. The summer months from June to August bring long sunny days to the coastal regions however generate unendurable weather in other parts with scorching heat waves and ferocious desert sand storms. During winter months from November to February things cool down as weather is generally milder with bouts of rainfall. Mountainous regions such as The Atlas experience extreme winter weather, with snow lasting until as late as July! The best time to visit is either spring from mid-March to May or Autumn from September to October, when the heat is manageable and the region is alive with colour.
The region of North Africa and the middle east is often referred to by use of the acronym ‘MENA’. This vast expanse includes an extensive list of diverse countries from Morocco through to Iran. Throughout the continent the topography is dramatically varied, from imposing snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes to endless stretches of desert and Egypt’s Red Sea. Iran is home to the highest peak in the Middle East, ‘Mount Davamand’, a stratovolcano that climbs to an impressive 5,771m. The famous Sahara also sweeps dramatically across the region, the largest desert in the world with its fascinating villages and tranquil oases.
Morocco’s treasured Fez is a vibrant and compelling city that captures the spirit of the country. This medieval city is divided into three parts, Fez El Bali(old medina), Fez Jdid (new medina) and the new city. UNESCO protected Fez El Bali is famous for being the world’s largest car free urban space and is the pinnacle of chaotic Moroccan life. Amongst the narrow bazaar filled lanes children play happily, donkeys operate as transport and enticing food stands lure visitors in
Resting in the south-west of the country at the foot of ‘Kuh-e-Rahmat’, the Iranian Mountain of Mercy, lies the ruins of Persepolis; the ancient capital of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire, once the richest city on earth. Built in 518BC Persepolis became the empire of a succession of Persian kings before it was conquered and burnt to the ground in 330BC. The haunting columns, imposing gateways and stunning carvings left behind are merely a shadow of the former Empire.
Captivating Yazd is Iran’s oldest inhabited city and Is home to the country’s largest community of Zoroastrians (devotees of an ancient pre-Islamic religion). It is a feast for the eyes with its enchanting maze of mud-brick alleys topped with evocative badgirs (wind towers). Many visitors spend their Yazd evenings in rooftop restaurants, watching the sun go down over the desert city scattered with medieval minarets.