The Middle East is probably the most fascinating and culturally—rich of the earth's continents. There's no point denying that it's comprised of some politically—troubled countries, several of which—Afghanistan, to name one-you would be advised not to travel to at this time. Hopefully, that will change soon. In the meantime, there are many enchanting countries that you can safely visit in the Middle East—countries that offer incredibly rich touristic experiences.
The continent is the birthplace of three of the world's major religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—so religious sites and buildings abound, from the Western Wall in the city of Jerusalem (Israel), to Lot's Cave in Jordan, to the mighty Islamic pilgrimage city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, where only persons of the Muslim faith are allowed. There are extraordinary cities to explore—cities such as Damascus, Beirut, and Tel Aviv. There's no shortage of ruins or museums where you can immerse yourself in history and culture. And Middle Eastern cuisine is an attraction of its own, with the spices and textures of dishes such as hummus, baba ghanoush, tahini, falafel, and tabouleh.
From a geographical perspective, the Middle East is that area of the planet where Africa, Asia, and Europe come together. It's a relatively small continent, northeast of Africa, southeast of Europe, southwest of Asia, and bounded by numerous bodies of water such as the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Arabian Sea. These bodies of water offer some of the planet's most incredible aquatic experiences. For example, don't miss the opportunity to swim in the Dead Sea, so called because of its high salt content, which makes it impossible for fish or aquatic plants to live, but which makes for a pretty sweet floating experience-even for non-swimmers.
Now, there is some debate about how many continents the earth has, and about which countries belong to which continents. Some geographers and politicians would argue that the Middle East is actually a region, not a continent. For the purposes of our travel guides, we're considering the Middle East to be a continent, but please note that since Egypt is geographically on the African continent, we have included it in our Africa Continent Guide. Also, please note that we have included Turkey in our Asia Continent Guide, although it could just as easily have been included here.
There is at least one major airport in each country in the Middle East, and numerous airlines serve them. There are the Middle Eastern airlines themselves, such as Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar—all known for their superb quality of service. But you can also fly Air Canada or any of the major European and American airlines.
You can book a flight—with a connection or two—right from Canada to the Middle East, but it can be less expensive to book a round-trip ticket to London, England, and then book a round-trip trip ticket from London to your destination in the Middle East. There are several low-cost airlines that connect London to the Middle East.
It pays to book your flight well in advance because flights can be limited to some destinations. Also, weekday flights are often less expensive than weekend flights, so it helps if you have some flexibility in that regard. And, unless you specifically want to be there for a religious holiday, avoid travelling at that time, because both airfare and accommodation will be extremely pricey. The major Christian holidays are, of course, Christmas and Easter. The major Jewish holidays are Passover, Yom Kippur, and Hannukah. Ramadan is a major holiday for Muslims, and the annual pilgrimage (the Haj) to Mecca takes place during the twelfth month (Dhu al—Hijjah) of the Islamic calendar, and because this is a lunar calendar that changes from year to year, be sure to do a little research to find out when the Haj will be taking place-that is, if you're planning on travelling to Saudi Arabia.
The best time to visit the Middle East is in the fall (September through November) or the spring (March through May), when the temperatures are in the mid to high 20°C. Summer is absolutely scorching, with temperatures often reaches 40°C, which makes sightseeing simply too difficult. Winters are generally mild—the temperature seldom drops below freezing—but the coastal areas can be quite cloudy and rainy, and the mountain areas can have harsh, snowy winter conditions.