15 of the Best Outdoor Hotel Pools in the World

Outdoor hotel pools don’t need to be square concrete blocks, littered with screaming children and leaves that haven’t been scrapped off the bottom, which are normally freezing cold. In fact, outdoor hotel pools can be downright beautiful. From the ever popular infinity pools that look over the sides of cliffs, to rooftop pools so high up you forget what lies below; these outdoor pools are wonderfully unique in their own ways. Discover 15 of our favorite outdoor pools, and before long you will be booking a night, just to try out the pool.

15. Hotel Caruso -Salerno, Italy

This open-air infinity pool is brilliantly blue in color and creates the perfect atmosphere for hotel guests to relax. The pool is set atop the highest point of Ravello, seemingly suspended in the clouds, halfway between heaven and earth. It overlooks the breathtaking views of the Amalfi Coast, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Getting to the pool is just as beautiful as the pool itself as guests will have to wander through a rose garden. Complete with medieval ruins towering beside the pool, you will simply feel as you have fallen back in time. Make sure to indulge in the fresh-fruit appetizers that will be delivered to you poolside, or request a pre-loaded iPod with your choice of music. A visitor here can even get an Evian vaporizer delivered to them while they are in the pool. This is luxury at its finest.

Photo by: Belmond Hotel Caruso
Photo by: Belmond Hotel Caruso

14. The Oberoi Udaivilas -Udaipur, India

Spread over a 50 acre wildlife preserve is this wonderful hotel in India that features not one but two impressive pools. Guests here will be privy to amazing scenery, wildlife and exceptional service. The first pool runs lengthwise along the interconnecting domes and corridors that make up the hotel. This 70-foot pool is for guests that are staying in one of the semi-private pool rooms that allow access to this wonderful pool right from the room door. Private pool rooms are also available for those guests wanting their own private 36 foot plunge pool complete with dining area. The main pool at this hotel is stunning in deep blue tiles, set within a Mewar style courtyard with lush green lawns. The sandstone and marble tile patterns set off the sapphire blue color and truly make it a majestically centerpiece for this hotel.

Photo by: scupperssf via Flickr
Photo by: scupperssf via Flickr

13. Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti -Serengeti, Tanzania

As if staying at a safari lodge isn’t enough of an amazing experience, the Four Seasons have upped the ante with this awesome outdoor pool. This large sparkling blue free-form infinity pool is among favorites of visitors to this awesome safari lodge. The pool is the perfect break from your safari adventure, although it may not feel like much of a break from wildlife sightings as you watch over the watering hole that brings elephants, lions and other wildlife up close and personal. Relax in the cool waters, grab a cocktail from sunrise to sunset or relax in one of the sun beds on the deck. Watching a sunset from here is a favorite activity as the sky turns a brilliant pink and orange while the sun disappears. At night enjoy a romantic dinner poolside, complete with candles, lanterns and excellent dining options.

Photo by: Roman Boed via Flickr
Photo by: Roman Boed via Flickr

12. The Library -Koh Samui Island, Thailand

Located just a few steps away from the white sandy beaches is a pool that shines so brilliantly red, one would think that the water is dyed to be that color. This signature red pool is absolutely stunning to the naked eye and swimming here is an unforgettable experience. We promise, you aren’t swimming in dark crimson blood, although we admit it looks like that from a distance. It is in fact the stunning mosaic tiles that make it look so red, as the combination of the red, orange and yellow present a dazzling spectacle of brilliant color. This shallow pool is perfect for relaxing and gazing out at the beautiful blue water. The Library is also the only five-star hotel in Chaweng Beach and in addition to the amazing pool, the hotel itself is wonderful.

Photo by: The Library
Photo by: The Library

11. The Sarojin -Phang Nga, Thailand

This enchanting hotel is only reached by a hidden pathway and borders on five national parks, as well as a long sandy beach. The pool itself is surrounded by lush green gardens and tropical foliage and shimmers a gorgeous turquoise color under the bright sun. Private cabanas are placed in the shallow waters and come complete with sun beds, umbrellas, curtains that can be closed for privacy, towels and bar service. The blue mosaic tiles, the large vases growing beautiful flowers and the steps leading into the deeper water all make this pool incredibly beautiful. With warm water, a serene setting and a private cabana; you may never want to leave this hotel.

Photo by: Roderick Eime via Flickr
Photo by: Roderick Eime via Flickr

10. The Grace Santorini -Santorini, Greece

This exquisite infinity pool is the largest of its kind in Santorini and offers breathtaking views of the sea below. In typical Santorini fashion, the pool is outfitted in white and blue, a perfect combination of simplicity yet style. Chairs and table are places around the pool, at staggering heights to allow for the unparalleled views of the surrounding hills and water. The pool features both a shallow and deep end, for any type of swimmer. Make sure to check out the infamous Santorini sunsets that occur nightly, either from inside the pool or from the chairs. Food and beverage service is available around the pool all day and evening, and visitors are encouraged to spend their days enjoying it.

Photo by: Grace Hotels
Photo by: Grace Hotels

9. San Alfonso del Mar -Valparaiso, Chile

It holds the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest crystalline pool, measuring over one kilometer in length, eight hectares and holds more than 250 million liters of water. Apart from the sheer size of it, the waters here are an amazing turquoise color and have the same transparency of those in the Caribbean. The water also happens to be an amazing 26 degrees Celsius in the summertime, the absolute perfect temperature for splashing around. The white sand beaches here are private to each of the buildings and recreate a tropical paradise. During the day you will find kids snorkeling, sailing in small boats and many recreational activities taking place in the biggest pool on earth. Make sure you book your room into one of the buildings that has access to the private beaches and pool, as some do not.

Pierre-Yves Babelon / Shutterstock.com
Pierre-Yves Babelon / Shutterstock.com

8. Amangani -Jackson Hole, United States

This legendary resort is Jackson Hole’s most exclusive resorts and it set seven thousand feet above sea level, carved into the hillside at Gros Ventre Butte. The 100-foot heated swimming pool operates year round and offers stunning views of Wyoming’s snow-capped peaks. During the summer visitors enjoy lounging in the crystal clear waters, taking in the surrounding scenery and watching out for wildlife, all with a cocktail in hand. During the winter guests take advantage of both the warm pool and the attached hot tub, which comes in handy after a long day of skiing in the area. At night the candles are lit and there is no where better to enjoy a bottle of wine than this awesome luxury pool.

Amangani, Wyoming

7. B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa -Zurich, Switzerland

This trendy 60-room boutique hotel features open spaces and a fabulous rooftop pool. It was once a 150 year old brewery. The hotel has managed to keep the aged stone walls and has refurbished the valves and bolts as clever décor elements. The natural thermal pool on the roof is really what visitors here love though. This uniquely shaped pool offers visitors unparalleled views over the city of Zurich, especially during the night. The pool is divided into different zones, all featuring different jets that relax and unwind you. There are enough nooks and crannies here that everyone can have their privacy. Although there are no surrounding loungers or service staff; the experience is unlike any other rooftop pool experience.

Photo by: B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa
Photo by: B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa

6. Marina Bay Sands Tower Pool -Singapore, Indonesia

It is hailed as the world’s largest rooftop pool at its height and sits high above the city of Singapore on top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. If you don’t like heights, you may want to avoid this pool as it is 55 storey’s up in the air and more than three times the length of an Olympic pool. Did we mention that this pool is an infinity pool? This pool is part of the Sands SkyPark, a park that spans over all three hotel buildings and offers shops, restaurants and observation decks to the public. Building the SkyPark was one of the most expensive construction projects in history and once you see it, you can believe it. Unfortunately for the general public, the infinity pool is just open to hotel guests. With plenty of sun loungers, umbrellas, palm trees and dining choices, it is easy to spend an entire day on top of the world here.

Victor Maschek / Shutterstock.com
Victor Maschek / Shutterstock.com

5. Ubud Hanging Gardens -Bali, Indonesia

It is one of the most photographed pools in the world and it is no wonder why, as the architecture here is absolutely stunning. This pool won’t be for the faint of heart though as it jets out from the hotel, high above the treetops. It is a split-level infinity pool, the top half featuring a huge deck that flows out from the hotel. The bottom half is almost hidden from sight and creates the feeling of having a private atmosphere, complete with a waterfall. The curved pools were designed to replicate the steep terraced rice paddies that are such an iconic feature of this area of the world. There are a variety of benches and sun chairs around the pool and service staff is more than happy to bring guests food and drink. For the true romantic, you can even eat dinner on a floating dock in the lower level of this awesome infinity pool.

Photo by: Hanging Gardens UBUD
Photo by: Hanging Gardens UBUD

4. Habita Monterrey -San Pendro Garza Garcia, Mexico

These pools are located on the rooftop terrace of this modern boutique hotel and offer guests stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The infinity style pools run the length of the rooftop with a bar and eating area running down the middle to separate them. One of the pools is warm and perfect for relaxing while the other is slightly cooler and draws more swimmers serious about swimming laps. The concrete canopy above ensures that you aren’t sweltering up here and there is no better place to grab a cocktail after your swim than from the friendly bartender up on the roof, willing to make you just about anything you desire.

Photo by:  Hotel MTY
Photo by: Hotel MTY

3. Kempinski Hotel Ishtar -Amman, Jordan

This five star luxury hotel is situated on the edge of the famous salt lake, the Dead Sea and provides unlimited views across the sea. This resort doesn’t just offer one amazing pool though, it offers nine. The most popular pool here is the lazy river, which takes visitors around the resort. The sunken pool is the perfect place to relax, offering guests a fireplace in the middle and fringed with palm trees along the sides. The round infinity pool though is perhaps the most visually impressive and offers load of space to visitors looking to take a dip. All the pools here are surrounded by plush sun beds, extraordinary scenery and excellent service. It’s too hard to narrow down which of these pools is the best one, so we suggest trying them all.

Photo by: Dan Lundberg via Flickr
Photo by: Dan Lundberg via Flickr

2. Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor -Siem Reap, Cambodia

This colonial style hotel offers an escape from the city and features an authentic looking tropical pool. The saltwater pool here is surrounded by lush tropical gardens and soaring palm trees on one side, enough to make you forget that you are indeed in the middle of the city. There are enough sun beds on the other side for all guests and this tropical oasis manages to never feel crowded. The inviting lounge spills out onto the swimming pool terrace and most of the bedrooms horseshoe around the pool, giving lovely views to all who stay here. Most visitors love to pad around these tranquil grounds, sip a cocktail on the deck or go for a refreshing afternoon swim.

Photo by: Belmond La Residence D'Angkor
Photo by: Belmond La Residence D’Angkor

1. Hacienda Uayamon -Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

This wonderfully unique property is set ideally close to the Mayan site of Edzna, on Mexico’s stunning Yucatan Peninsula. It is hidden away in thick jungle foliage and ancient ruins and was created to retain some of the original charm of the former cattle ranch it was once. The pool is actually situated in a ruined part of the building and was once the main room. It has since been flooded with water and has become one of the most beautiful swimming pools in the world, with its crumbling stone walls and topless pillars. The absence of a roof means that light pours in all day to this pool and more often than not guests can been seen lounging in the provided hammocks. This setting is sure to relax and inspire you as your worries drift away in the clear turquoise waters.

Photo by: Julie Edgley via Flickr
Photo by: Julie Edgley via Flickr

The 24 Newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey and the Blue and John Crow Mountains in Jamaica are just two of the 24 newly inscribed World Heritage sites approved by the 39th UNESCO committee in Bonn, Germany recently.  From ancient, archaeological sites to complex industrial systems and cultural landscapes, the 2015 list provides no shortage of exciting and intriguing travel ideas for the year, sure to peak even the most veteran travelers’ interests.

1. Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System – Mexico

Constructed in the 16th century and located on the Central Mexican Plateau, this aqueduct was built with support from local indigenous communities.  Along with tanks, bridges and a water catchment area, this heritage canal system has the “highest single-level arcade ever built in an aqueduct”.

Photo by: UNESCO/Espacio de la Imagen/Edgar Valtiago
Photo by: UNESCO/Espacio de la Imagen/Edgar Valtiago

2. Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale – Italy

The nine structures included in this Arab-Norman Palermo are comprised of two palaces, three churches, a cathedral, a bridge, the Cefalù cathedral and the Monreale cathedral.  Located on the northern coast of Sicily, this heritage site, dating from the 12th century, depicts the relationships between the Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures that eventually led to new spatial, structural and decorative concepts.

Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale

3. Baekje Historic Areas – Republic of Korea

The Busosanseong Fortress and the royal palace at Wanggung-ri are among the eight archaeological sites that make up the Baekje Historic Areas.  Found in the mid-west region of the Republic of Korea, these sites, dating from 475 to 660 CE, are an accurate representation of the Baekje Kingdom, a time when the ancient kingdoms in Korea, China and Japan were sharing and exchanging thoughts and ideas on contemporary issues such as artistry, religion and technology.

Gongsanseong fortress Korea

4. Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas) – Jordan

This heritage site, located on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, is believed to be the spot where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist.  With multiple church and monastery remains, this archaeological site is a place of Christian pilgrimage and a testament to the Roman and Byzantine religious influence in the area.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

5. Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars – France

Already one of the most popular wine regions in the world, the Champagne Hillsides were given World Heritage designation due to its historical importance in the production of sparkling wines.  Since the early 17th century, these historic vineyards have understood the value of illustrating the process of champagne production and have become a household name in the wine and tourism industry.

Champagne hillsides france

6. Christiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement – Denmark

This town, a planned settlement of the Moravian Church, was intended to represent the Protestant urban ideal and so was constructed in its entirety around a central Church square.  Founded in 1773 and still used today by a community of the Moravian Church, this town is complete with simple and homogenous architecture, such as its yellow brick buildings with red tile roofs.

Christiansfeld denmark

7. Climats, terroirs of Burgundy – France

These delimited vineyard parcels, found south of Dijon, are an excellent representation of the ancient cultivation and production methods in place since the High Middle Ages.  Due to human cultivation and natural conditions, these parcels, located on the slopes of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune, are now identified by the wine they produced.

Château du Clos de Vougeot Burgundy France

8. Cultural Landscape of Maymand – Iran (Islamic Republic of)

This heritage site of Maymand is a self-contained area located in the southern part of Iran’s central mountains.  UNESCO designated this area a heritage site because of the semi-nomadic pastoralists who live with their animals on mountain pastures, and relocate depending on the seasons.  The nomads live low in the valley during the winter months in unique cave dwellings, and live in temporary settlements higher up on the mountain during the spring and autumn months.

Photo by: Ngjyra
Photo by: Ngjyra

9. Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape – Turkey

Situated in the aptly-named Fertile Crescent, this city and its surrounding landscape has been given an World Heritage designation due to it being an important center throughout different time periods, from the Hellenistic period, to the Ottoman times and into the present.  The fortified city of Diyarbakir, along with the Hevsel Gardens, is comprised of an inner castle,  a 5.8 kilometer long wall, towers, gates, 63 inscriptions all from different periods and is located on the Upper Tigres River Basin.

Diyarbakir Fortress Turkey

10. Ephesus – Turkey

This World Heritage Site has long since drawn Pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean.  The ancient city of Ephesus, featuring successive Hellenistic and Roman settlements, is comprised of many excavated monuments and historical sites, and is a great example of a Roman port city.

Ephesus Turkey

11. Fray Bentos Cultural-Industrial Landscape – Uruguay

West of the town of Fray Bentos and situated on the Uruguay River, this site was built in order to process the meat that was produced on the nearby prairies.  This was given World Heritage status due to its excellent illustration on the process of meat production; its crucial location, industrial and residential buildings and social institutions ensure that this site of meat production was known on a global scale.

Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com
Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com

12. Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain and its surrounding sacred landscape – Mongolia

Having long been a site of ancient shamanic and Buddhist practices, the Burkhan Khaldun, situated in the central part of the Khentii mountain chain in the north-east part of the country, has been a place of worship of the sacred mountains, rivers and ovoo-s (shamanic rock cairns) that make up the landscape.  Believed to be the place of Genghis Khan’s birth and burial, this site is crucial to the unification of the Mongol people and to the mountain worship prevalent in their culture.

mountain mongolia

13. Necropolis of Beth She’arim: A Landmark of Jewish Renewal – Israel

The series of catacombs that make up this heritage site are an important collection of Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew artworks and inscriptions.  Southeast of the city of Haifa, Beth She’arim was the primary Jewish burial place outside of Jerusalem and is an important testimony to ancient Judaism and to the Jewish renewal after 135 CE.

Beth She’arim Israel

14. Rjukan–Notodden Industrial Heritage Site – Norway

Using the natural mountainous landscape to its advantage, the Norsk-Hydro Company manufactured artificial fertilizer from nitrogen in the air and became an example of a new global industry in the early 20th century. The hydroelectric power plants and transport systems and towns included at the Rjukan-Notodden site show how this company used its industry, in combination with nature, to meet the Western world’s increasing demand for agricultural production.

Rjukan-Notodden Norway

15. Rock Art in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia

Petroglyphs and inscriptions on the rock face of this heritage site offer a glimpse into the passages of the ancient Arab populations across the Great Narfoud Desert.  These preserved depictions of human and animal figures show 10,000 years of history found in this great desert landscape in Saudi Arabia.

Photo by: saudi-archaeology
Photo by: saudi-archaeology

16. San Antonio Missions – United States of America

A great source of pride for Texans now and past are the five frontier mission complexes that make up this newly designated World Heritage site located in southern Texas.  Built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century, the San Antonio Missions are symbols of Spain’s colonization of the region and are the site of the historic 1836 Battle of the Alamo.

San Antonio Missions Conception

17. Singapore Botanical Gardens – Singapore

Used for both conservation and education, the Singapore Botanical Gardens, built in 1859, include many historical features that illustrate the development of the garden and its importance as a site for science and research.

Singapore Botanical Gardens

18. Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining – Japan

Eleven properties make up this heritage site, situated in the southwest of Japan.  This site depicts the time in Japanese history when the country actively sought technology from both Europe and America and is considered the first successful transfer of Western industrialization to a non-Western nation.

Nirayama Reverbatory Furnaces Japan

19. Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus – Germany

Built on a narrow island in the Elbe River from 1885 to 1927 and partially rebuilt from 1949 to 1967, these two urban areas, centrally located in the port city of Hamburg, are examples of the effects of rapid international trade in the 19th and 20th centuries.  These two areas together are one of the largest historic ensembles of port warehouses in the world.

Speicherstadt Germany

20. Susa – Iran (Islamic Republic of)

These architectural monuments, depicting the nearly extinct Elamite, Persian and Parthian cultural traditions, are comprised of administrative, residential and palatial structures excavated in the south-west of Iran.  These archaeological sites illustrate settlements found in the area from the late 5th millennium BCE to the 13th century CE, successively.

Susa Iran

21. The Forth Bridge – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The largest multi-span cantilever bridge, located across the estuary of the Forth River in Scotland, has earned World Heritage designation from UNESCO due to its innovative use of bridge design and construction.

The Forth Bridge UK

22. The Par Force Hunting Landscape in North Zealand – Denmark

The two hunting forests of Store Dyrehave and Gribskov, along with the hunting park of Jaegersborg Hegn/Jaegersborg Dyrehave, where Danish kings hunted with hounds until the end of the 16th century, have reached World Heritage status due to its demonstration of Baroque landscaping principles.

Photo by: .bastian (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: .bastian (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

23. Tusi Sites- China

From the Yuan and Ming periods of Chinese civilization, the Tusi Sites depict the tribal domains whose chiefs were elected based on the Tusi system.  This system, in place from the 13th to the 20th century, rose in prominence due to its unification of national administration and its allowance of customs and culture from ethnic minorities.

Photo by: photo.navi
Photo by: photo.navi

24. Blue and John Crow Mountains – Jamaica

Jamaica’s first World Heritage designation is the unique and historically important mountainous region situated in the south-east of Jamaica.  Not only does this site contain many of the endemic plant species present in the Caribbean Islands, but it also provided refuge for both the indigenous Tainos and escaped African slaves known as Maroons.  Due to the isolated nature of these mountains, the refugees managed to resist the European colonial system, and in doing so, developed spiritual connections with the mountains that are still felt today.

Blue Mountains Jamaica

8 Things to Know Before Visiting the Middle East

For many people who live outside the region, the Middle East can seem like a somewhat confusing and chaotic place. Nonetheless, many are compelled to visit for any number of reasons, ranging from business to family ties and heritage to religion. Some people just want to visit the area; others still go to teach or even relocate to the region after a single visit proves too little time in this amazing part of the world. While many feel daunted by the thought of a visit to the Middle East—by stories of political turmoil, religious strife, human rights grievances, harsh climates, and sheer cultural difference—the many countries of the Middle East are wonderful destinations, full of warm and welcoming people, many of them happy to showcase their homelands to those who are willing to visit and learn. Learning, of course, can start before you land at the airport and anyone who plans to visit the Middle East—whether now or in the future—can benefit from knowing a few things before they take-off for the great unknown. And even if you have no plans to visit the Middle East, take heed—because you never know where your travels will take you.

Each Country is Unique

Anybody who is familiar with the Middle East probably knows that the first thing anyone needs to know is that the region is composed of a multitude of countries, each with their own unique history and culture, and often, with their own religious practices and languages as well. While it’s easy for outsiders to talk about the region as one big, monolithic whole where everyone shares in the same culture, language, religion and ethnicity, nothing could be further from the truth. Much like a visitor to Europe can’t research the customs of Norway and expect things to be exactly the same in France, so too should visitors to the Middle East do research on the customs and norms of the particular country they’re going to visit. While some things might not vary a lot from country to country, other things will be quite different depending on where in the Middle East you are! One of the best things you can do before booking your ticket is to actually stop thinking about the region as a whole or as we generally call it “the Middle East.”

middle east life

Dress Conservatively/Respectfully

To immediately contradict that, there are some generalizations that you can make about areas of the Middle East. These “rules of thumb” should serve you well in your travels, but always keep in mind that each country is unique and should never be treated as though it is “exactly the same” as one of its neighbors. One thing you can usually assume in Middle Eastern countries, however, is that you’re going to need to show respect to the local culture. One of the best ways to do this is to dress conservatively. This doesn’t necessarily mean donning a hijab or abaya or any other specific type of clothing for men or women, but it does mean covering up. Both men and women should engage in conservative dress. Low-riding jeans that slide down when you bend over are a huge social faux pas and sleeveless tops are considered rude for both sexes. Shorts (especially short-shorts, ladies) are generally frowned upon, as are crop tops. It might be hot, but most of these clothing items violate social expectations for dress. Although people in the Middle East are often too polite to say anything about how you choose to dress, “letting it all hang out” is actually incredibly rude and shows disrespect and insensitivity toward the cultures of these countries.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Most Women Aren’t Forced to Cover Up

Speaking of clothing and cultural norms, you might be asking about veiling. Above, it was indicated that you might not need to don a headscarf in most places, and, in some areas, putting one on might even be considered a little bit disrespectful. In other countries, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, women will need to wear a headscarf in order to be respectful. As they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and nothing could be more true in this case; following local customs is a sign of awareness and respect for the culture. That doesn’t mean that you should assume that a headscarf or any other form of veiling has been forced on a woman; in most Middle Eastern countries, the decision to wear a hijab or another covering is entirely up to a woman and insinuating otherwise is insulting to her! The decision to wear a headscarf or not, in most places, is part of a woman’s identity, much the way wardrobes in the West are used to showcase individual identities. The exceptions to the rule are Iran and northern Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan under the Taliban. Even in Saudi Arabia, no one is exactly forcing women to wear head-coverings, although it is frowned upon to do otherwise.

muslin women

Don’t Refuse Coffee

Another custom that might seem strange to visitors is that it is considered incredibly rude, almost forbidden, to refuse an offer of coffee at a store. While you’re out and about, you might decide to do some shopping. If you’re offered a coffee while you’re in a shop, don’t refuse, especially if you plan to make a purchase or if you’re already at the register putting the transaction through. The offer is simple hospitality throughout much of the Middle East and rarely refused.

Turkish Coffee

Bye Bye Bacon/Alcohol

If you happen to eat out—and you’re likely to visit at least one restaurant on your trip—don’t be surprised if you can’t find any pork dishes on the menu. The tenants of Islam forbid the preparation and eating of pork, so it most definitely won’t be found on the menus of any eateries serving up traditional dishes and, because much of the Middle East is Muslim, most chain restaurants won’t serve it either—even if their counterparts in other countries do. This has to do with strictures about the preparation of food, particularly meat; food must be halal and if there is pork being prepared in the same area, the food would be considered tainted. Another notable absence might be a lack of alcohol; Islam similarly has strictures against the ingestion of alcohol by followers of the faith. While there are certain local spirits or similar beverages that may be served, you shouldn’t expect your Muslim hosts, family, friends or business partners to hit the bar or to have a glass of wine with dinner. The increasing number of foreign businesspersons and international visitors has led to more alcohol being readily available, but it’s still not an embedded part of cuisine and culture like it is in, say, France. You might be invited to partake in hookah, however, which is a Middle Eastern custom in which flavored tobacco, called shishah, is smoked. Nonetheless, don’t assume that your hosts enjoy shishah; it is very much up to individual preference and the customs of the area you’re in.

Kebabs

Haggling is Usually Expected

Customs around money and the exchange of money can also be baffling to someone visiting the Middle East for the very first time. Although customs vary from place to place, haggling is very much the norm in many Middle Eastern stores. While Westerners expect to see set prices when they walk into a store, and to pay those prices when they cash out, most Middle Easterners expect to do a bit of bartering. For that reason, prices in shops may be set high on the assumption that the customer won’t pay that price, but will haggle a bit with the shopkeeper to get a better deal. This is more common in marketplaces and bazaars where individual proprietors can set their prices as they see fit than it is in chain shops, especially those that have parent companies in the West. Nonetheless, you should always be prepared to see if you can get a better deal—especially on things like cab fares—and be prepared to take a bit of extra time to do business. The culture isn’t focused on in-and-out shopping like the West is; in fact, “doing business” is often seen as a way to build social relations and thus it should take time.

Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock.com
Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock.com

Baksheesh is Everywhere

Baksheesh is another Middle Eastern custom around money that, at first glance, might seem familiar to an outsider. Upon closer examination, however, you’ll quickly find that it can seem a little bit strange. Baksheesh is what is known as “tips” in the English-speaking world. The difference is that anyone can ask for a tip for just about any service, whether it’s a necessary service or not. And many people are not shy about asking for a tip. In most Middle Eastern countries, the customer is allowed to decide whether or not they want to tip, depending on how satisfied they were with the service, but it is almost expected that workers in the hospitality industry, including hotel maids, bellhops, valets and restaurant wait staff, should be tipped. This is because these jobs are low-paying and it’s assumed that baksheesh will make up a large portion of the worker’s income. For other “services,” the cultural push to tip is less pressing—you don’t need to tip everyone, even if they ask for a tip, and you especially don’t need to tip if you didn’t like the service!

middle east currency

Everyone is Unique –Treat Them That Way

Not liking a service or being asked for a tip, however, doesn’t give you free reign to be rude to people and you shouldn’t condone or partake in rude behavior others might engage in, even if it seems to be “culturally acceptable,” such as young men being insolent toward women in Egypt. Leaving those incidents—which aren’t approved or accepted by everyone—aside, Middle Easterners are some of the warmest and most welcoming people on the planet and visitors need to reciprocate that hospitality, while also respecting that every country is different and, beyond that, every person they encounter is a different person. In Lebanon, you’re likely to meet a mix of people from different backgrounds, each of them with a different story. Not every person in a Middle Eastern country is Arab, and not everyone is Muslim—assuming this is like saying that everyone in the United States is white and Christian. It’s simply not true. You will meet Muslims and Arabs, but you will also meet Jews and Christians, Kurds and so many, many others. Even the Muslims you meet will be different in every country, every city and every place you visit. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that everyone in the Middle East is exactly the same! Experienced travelers know that some people—perhaps a small minority—will fit into the stereotypes they have of a particular population, but the vast majority of people will likely defy all your expectations—and often in the most pleasant of ways. That’s one of the most compelling reasons to travel anywhere in the world, and meeting new people and sharing in what they have to teach you is one of the best reasons you can have for traveling to a Middle Eastern country.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

The 7 Safest Places to Travel in the Middle East

Beautiful mountain ranges, untouched beauty, warm waters and some of the oldest history in the world makes the Middle East a perfect place to visit. Unfortunately finding a safe place to explore here is often compared to finding a needle in a haystack. With political unrest, terrorism and travel advisories; travelers are often avoiding this beautiful part of the world but as you will soon discover; you don’t have to stay away. We have dug deep to find you the seven safest places to visit in the Middle East. From temples to tombs, from The Dead Sea to lush mountain tops to the tallest structure in the world; these Middle Eastern destinations have something for everyone to enjoy. Although these destinations are safe at the time of writing, we highly suggest doing your research and keeping up to date with the information on any place you are planning to visit.

7. The Nile, Egypt

With all the political unrest in Egypt over the past year it was just as surprising to us that Egypt has made our list! When we dove deeper into the safety of Egypt we discovered that there are not only safe places to visit; but now may be the best time to go. From the un-crowded pyramids of Giza to the tourist empty Valley of The Kings; travelling along the Nile is a safe and plentiful option for travel right now. We do recommend sticking to cities such as Luxor and Aswan if you are going to travel alone without a guided tour. If you are going to see the Pyramids of Giza a cruise of the Nile with a guide is our best suggestion.

Dan Breckwoldt / Shutterstock.com
Dan Breckwoldt / Shutterstock.com

6. Northern Israel

Please take note that we mention NORTHERN Israel above, not Southern Israel. With all the conflict happening in this country one might be surprised to find it on our list but we are confident in telling you that the Northern part of this region is still a safe Middle Eastern Destination. We recommend visiting regions such as Galilee; a mountainous region in the north that is famous for its wine country, national parks and Jewish and Christian Holy Sites. Set some time aside to explore the city of Nazareth. From the historic churches to the local market to the ancient bath houses; this city is filled with amazing things to discover. As with all of these destinations, do your research beforehand and understand local customs and dress codes.

Nazareth

5. Cyprus

Home to more than two million visitors a year, Cyprus is known as a relatively safe place to travel; and therefore puts this island on the list. Couple those facts with the sizzling sun, spectacular coastlines and top quality mountain treks and you have your next vacation destination. We suggest going out of your “comfort zone” and exploring this island rather than sticking to the popular tourist towns such as Pafos and Agia Napa. The north coast boasts some of the best golden beaches around as well as ruins of medieval castles that will bring forth the fairytale daydream in all of us. A bathing suit, a pair of hiking boots and some sunscreen will go a long way in helping you explore this beautiful land.

Cyprus

4. Qatar

Scheduled to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup; Qatar is slowly but surely becoming noticeable as a tourist destination. Surrounded by the sea and being a safe Middle Eastern Country to visit makes this country number four on our list. For a western approach on water sports make sure to try kite-surfing, or take a page from the locals and jet-ski right next to the beaches. Visit the Museum of Islamic Art, the cultural village of Katara and Souq Waqif; the traditional marketplace of Qatar. Don’t miss the chance to watch the traditional sport of the sheiks, known to us as camel racing. Head over to Qatar’s popular camel racetrack where this expensive sport continues even today.

Qatar at night

3. Oman

Up until recently Oman has been virtually unknown in the tourist world. In recent years however Oman has invested heavily in tourism and it shows. An absolute must is watching the hundreds of green sea turtles come up to nest on one of Oman’s beaches (the best time for this is September to November). The Historic village of Nizwa is home to one of Oman’s mightiest forts and here you will find plenty of Souks selling everything you desire. A visit to Oman would not be complete without a cruise through Khor Ash Sham; a 16km inlet where you are treated to remote hamlets along the shoreline and pods of dolphins throughout. Explore the towering mountain range, sleep in the dessert and enjoy the remote country of Oman.

Muscat, Oman

2. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

It should be no surprise that Dubai makes this list due to its modernity, richness and high security.  For those looking for a modern Dubai experience don’t miss out on the world’s tallest structure; Burj Khalifa which stands 828 metres and 160 floors tall. The dancing Dubai Fountain will knock your socks off in their nightly show, which can accessed through the Dubai Mall; just in case you have some shopping to do first. For the history buff; Dubai Museum is a great place to start where modern technology meets history in an underground fort that shows the fascinating transition from village to modern empire that the Emirate is today. The Markets or Souks as they are called are worth a visit and can be found on both sides of the Dubai Creek.

Sophie James / Shutterstock.com
Sophie James / Shutterstock.com

1. Jordan

Our number one pick for the safest place to visit in the Middle East is Jordan. Despite its close proximity to places with recent war; Jordan’s security is first class. Avoiding the area closest to Syria and Iraq (3km within both borders) is recommended but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Jordan. Make sure to visit Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World where the breathtaking ruins will have you in awe. Float in the Dead Sea, dive in the warm waters at Aqaba or relax in the natural hot springs underneath a waterfall. To make you feel even more at ease in this wonderful country; most people in Jordan speak English. Don’t be afraid; be enthralled.

Petra Jordan