9 Awesome Canyons That are Just as “Grand”

What’s in a name? When we’re talking about canyons, one name will always come to mind before any other: the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. The name sure seems like a successful marketing ploy—not only is the Grand Canyon the first name that comes to mind, it’s often the only one. That’s despite the fact there are plenty of other canyons out there, scattered around the world, some of them larger, wider or deeper than the Grand Canyon. Here are just 9 examples of canyons that are just as “grand” as their American counterpart.

9. Katherine Gorge (Australia)

Bordering on the better-known Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia is home to a series of gorges on the Katherine River and Edith Falls. The Katherine Gorge is the central attraction of the park, which was formerly called Katherine Gorge National Park. The Katherine Gorge is actually a series of 13 gorges cut deep into the sandstone by the Katherine River. The gorges are home to a series of rapids and falls, as the Katherine River moves through the area. In the dry season, the gorges are disconnected from each other as the water dries up. Cruises will take you up to the 5th gorge, but you can also strike out and explore on your own via canoe or flat-bottomed boat. There are also 2 campgrounds and a number of trails throughout the park.

Katherine Gorge

8. Copper Canyon (Mexico)

Move over, Grand Canyon; Mexico’s Copper Canyon system should probably be your top North American canyon destination. This group of 6 distinct canyons, located in the southwestern part of Chihuahua state, is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. They’re also breathtaking, thanks to the large deposits of copper in their formation: the canyon walls are eye-catching copper and green hues. Copper Canyon has been the site of tourist development for the Mexican state, although there has been some resistance from local peoples and there are concerns about developing a tourist industry that protects and respects this sensitive ecosystem. Popular ways of exploring the canyons include hiking, biking and horseback riding. The Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico runs between Chihuahua and Los Mochis, and the train travels through Canyon Urique, the main canyon in the system.

Copper Canyon

7. Nine Mile Canyon (Utah)

Don’t let the name fool you—Nine Mile Canyon in Utah is actually more like 40 miles (60 kilometers) long. While it’s not necessarily the longest, deepest or widest canyon in the U.S.—and certainly not in the world—it has earned itself a reputation as the world’s “longest art gallery,” thanks to its extensive collection of rock art by the Fremont and Ute peoples. Ruins from these cultures also make the area an archaeological hotspot. There may be 10,000 or more individual pieces of rock art in the canyon, including the famous Cottonwood Panel, making it North America’s largest concentration of rock art. Many sites in the canyon have been added to the National Register of Historic Places since 2009, and there are plans to add more in the coming years as efforts to preserve the rich heritage of Nine Mile Canyon continue.

Nine Mile Canyon (Utah)

6. Rugova Canyon (Kosovo)

The Rugova Canyon, also known as the Rugova Gorge, is approximately 16 miles (25 kilometers) long and up to 1,000 meters deep in some places, making it one of Europe’s longest and deepest canyons. The canyon was carved out over years as the glacier near modern-day Pec melted and eroded through the Prokletije Mountains, near the border between Kosovo and Montenegro. The Pec Bistrica river cuts through the canyon, dividing it in 2. Waterfalls, colossal rocks and caves dot the landscape. The Gryka e Madhe (Great Canyon Cave) is one of the better-known caves in the area, although only about 11 kilometers of the cave system have been explored to date. Obviously, the area is popular for spelunkers, but it is also popular for rock-climbers, reflected in the recent addition of a via ferrata (iron road) for climbers.

Photo by: Otaulant via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Otaulant via Wikimedia Commons

5. Itaimbezinho Canyon (Brazil)

About 170 kilometers from Porto Alegre, in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, is the Itaimbezinho Canyon. The canyon is located within the Aparados da Serra National Park, which was created in 1959 specifically to protect the canyon. One of Brazil’s first parks, Aparados da Serra is relatively small and has a daily cap on the number of visitors in order to better protect sensitive environments. The canyon is approximately 6,000 meters (6 miles) long and has a maximum width of 2,000 meters at some points, with a depth of about 1 mile, making it the largest canyon in Brazil. Waterfalls dot the landscape as the Rio do Boi wends its way through the canyon. The park offers hiking tours through the area. The Cotovelo Trail is a popular option, as it winds around the edge of the canyon.

Itaimbezinho Canyon

4. Fish River Canyon (Namibia)

Namibia is home to plenty of natural wonders, including the Namibian desert’s infamous red sands, but this African country is also home to Fish River Canyon—not only the largest canyon in the country, but the largest canyon on the whole African continent. The canyon is approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) in length, with gaps up to 27 kilometers wide and depths of nearly 550 meters in some areas. The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail follows the canyon for about 88 kilometers, from Hobas to the hot spring resort Ai Ais. There are a number of footpaths and some shortcuts, which means that the hike will be largely up to the hikers. While hiking the trail can take 5 days, trail running is a popular and faster way of taking in the canyon—the current record for trail running is just under 7 hours.

Fish River Canyon

3. Colca Canyon (Peru)

The Colca Canyon, located on the Colca River in Peru, is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. That’s fitting, considering that the canyon is one of the deepest in the world, with a depth of 3,270 meters (10,725 feet). More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, it is only the second-deepest gorge in Peru, ranking behind the Cotahuasi Canyon. The Colca Valley area surrounding the canyon is popular with tourists for other reasons as well: the area is rich with pre-Inca cultures, including the Collagua and Cabana peoples who still inhabit the area, as well as Spanish colonial towns. The Canyon is also noted for bird-watching, as it is home to the Andean condor and tourists flock to see them flying at close range near the Cruz del Condor. Ruins, rock art and local festivals are also popular attractions.

Colca Canyon

2. Tiger Leaping Gorge (China)

Part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan World Heritage Site, the Tiger Leaping Gorge lies on the Jinsha River, a tributary of the Yangtze River. The river passes between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain in a series of rapids, down cliffs 6,600 feet (2,000 meters) high, creating one of the world’s deepest and most spectacular river canyons. The name comes from a legend, in which a tiger leaped across the gorge at its narrowest point to escape a hunter. Even then, the tiger was still leaping across 82 feet (25 meters)! The area is popular with hikers and backpackers from other areas of China and abroad. The high-road hiking path is well-maintained and takes hikers through a variety of micro-ecosystems along the gorge’s length. Although the gorge is only 15 kilometers long, the high road is approximately 22 kilometers (14 miles).

Tiger Leaping Gorge

l. Indus River Gorge (Pakistan)

The Indus River passes through the Himalayas, rising in Tibet and flowing through India and Pakistan, before emptying into the Arabian Sea. In the northern territories of Pakistan, the river must pass through the Nanga Parbat region, home of the world’s ninth-highest peak, the infamous Nanga Parbat. As the Indus winds through this mountainous region, it flows through enormous gorges, some of them 17,000 feet (5,200 meters) deep. Near Dasu Patan in Kohistan, the gorge plunges to a maximum depth of 6,500 meters—making it one of the deepest, if not the deepest, canyon in the world. Some dispute about the depth of the gorge and other contenders continues today. Nanga Parbat is likely the better-known tourist attraction in the area, but the Deosai Plains and the Karakorum Highway are also popular with visitors.

Indus River Gorge

The Cheapest Cities for Expats to Live Around the World

With so many reports and studies on the world’s most expensive or most livable cities, we have a refreshing new take on the subject with the least expensive places to live in, housing costs and all. This list is intriguing for adventure travelers and expatriates looking for a nice place to spend a year abroad or even for a warm, safe place to retire. Some places are cheap and nice through circumstances beyond their control, others are inexpensive because they are lousy places to change planes on a layover, let alone spend time living in. But some of the following are diamonds in the rough that you may not have heard of and you’ll definitely want to find out more about. So here is the Dollarama edition of travel destinations.

10. Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi is an obscure place off the beaten path, but not for much longer. It’s said to be the next must-see wine destination. The winemaking tradition here goes back about 4000 years. Strikingly set on cliffs, bisected by a river, the architecture and cuisine of Tbilisi is a crazy, critically-acclaimed fusion of East, West, Russian and Near Eastern. The old city is a beautiful rabbit-warren of narrow streets and alleys. Instead of Starbucks coffee shops, there are wine bars on every corner. The beautiful wine route through stunning scenery is largely unknown – for now. A little apartment just outside town is barely $200 a month. It is a shockingly poor country. Sixty per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. There are signs of better days ahead but still, Tbilisi will remain a memorable place to visit or live at any price.

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

9. Managua, Nicaragua

Managua is one of those old, down at the heels, completely charming Latin American cities that resembles that past as if time simply stopped moving back in 1962. According to Numbeo, three bedroom apartments downtown can still be had for $466 a month. Or as the legendary Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians sang in a 1946 recording, “Managua, Nicaragua is a beautiful town/You buy a hacienda for a few pesos down”. Actually real estate prices are on the rise as it becomes more popular as a retirement destination and a place for expats to chill for a spell. Always warm, a cultural and financial center and a university town, it has cheap fine-dining, crazy markets, insane traffic, occasional garbage collection, and proximity to some impressive natural beauty. Guidebooks warn about wearing flashy jewelry at night, but the same be said of Cleveland.

Managua, Nicaragua

8. Cape Town, South Africa

A heavenly alignment of the economic planets for expats as the South African Rand is hitting fifteen year lows with no letup in sight, making one of the world’s great destinations ridiculously affordable. It’s no accident that more people visit Cape Town than the Great Pyramids. The one-bedroom downtown apartment is $600 and a meal at McDonald’s is $3.80. That’s not to suggest you should eat there all the time or even at all, but it is an uncannily accurate reflection of the cost of living. Yes there is crime and the tragic sadness of the Apartheid townships. But they should remind you how far this country has come and that you are truly blessed to see Table Top Mountain as you leave your flat every day. It’s also a great treat to be able to make a quick drive to some of the world’s best vineyards and feel the presence of greatness in Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island.

Cape Town South Africa

7. Minsk, Belarus

Poor Minsk needs a little travel lovin’. Its battered economy sinks deeper every day with that of its biggest customer while Russia disintegrates with the effects of sanctions for invading Ukraine and the disappearing price of oil. But even 40 years ago, in his 1975 comedy Love and Death, Woody Allen uses Minsk as the setting for The Village Idiots Convention. It does have its cosmopolitan side but still, it is a virtual police state run by Alexander Lukashenko, a poor man’s Vladimir Putin whose views seem locked in a Cold War era time warp. They make great beer but seriously, when one of the 10 Best Tourist Attractions is the one time home of convicted Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, it makes you think twice about hanging here for long.

Minsk, Belarus
Grisha Bruev / Shutterstock.com

6. Banjul, Gambia

Banjul is a little jewel on an island in the Gambia River in The Gambia of which it is the capital. It has a wonderful market, a charming if decrepit old town and only 43,000 people. Stunning beaches. The languorous pace of life that agrarian societies have. Lonely Planet calls it “urban Africa at its best”.  Its main economic staple is the growing and processing of peanuts, which is apt since that’s what its currency is worth. The annual per capita Gross Domestic Product is $1700 USD which puts it down there with the likes of North Korea and South Sudan. It can be a nice place, maybe even idyllic, but sometimes abject poverty and the persecution of innocent minorities can take the shine away. A small cost can sometimes come at a high price which might be why the expat community is on the small side here.

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

5. Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje is a cheap place to live looking at all the comparisons. A pound of chicken is $2.31 and the three-bedroom downtown apartment is $422. Walmart can’t match these prices. Plus it’s just been given a modern facelift though it still has an ancient fortress dating back to the fifth century, a fantastic old bazaar second only to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and breathtaking mountain lakes and canyons nearby. Lonely Planet says it has some of the most affordable dining in Europe. It is two hours and 47 minutes by car to the renowned beaches and nightlife of Thessaloniki in Greece. It does have an unemployment rate of 27%, but this is a travel site you won’t find advertised online. Talk about a hidden gem!

Andrei Tudoran / Shutterstock.com
Andrei Tudoran / Shutterstock.com

4. Tunis, Tunisia

Recent terrorist attacks, responsibility for which has been claimed by Islamic State militants will wreak havoc on the country’s already fragile economy. At least half a million jobs depend on a tourism sector worth over $20 billion and that should be in past tense. The wonderful beaches and the sublime combination of Arab, French and African influences will be cheaper to experience but expats, especially Westerners, will need an amazing reason to settle there. The U.S. State Department advises “U.S. citizens in Tunisia maintain a high level of vigilance, as terrorism remains a significant concern”. It doesn’t really sound like now is the time or place to look for bargains here, now does it?

Tunis, Tunisia

3. Karachi, Pakistan

It sounds fantastic with a wealthy industrial, commercial, artistic and financial hub, one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Called the City of Lights for its nonstop nightlife. Close to fabulous beaches on the Arabian Sea. Less than $400 for a three bedroom place in the city. What’s not to like? You can’t help but wonder why it is so cheap. Unfortunately, it is not ideal in terms of deadly heat waves, unsustainable power accessibility and high rates of crime. So, if you can look past these headlines, it’s one of the cheapest places to travel in the world.

Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com
Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com

2. Windhoek, Namibia

Windhoek is the capital of Namibia and largest city in the country. It has a westernized appearance and wouldn’t look out of place anywhere in North America. Well, except for north of the Tree Line. It is clean, relatively safe, with a stable and occasionally corrupt government it is magically placed in one of the world’s most biodiverse and scenic nations. Numbeo.com says a one-bedroom apartment is $491 a month. Most expats can find work in the booming tourism business or the uranium and diamond mining companies. Main courses at the best African cuisine restaurants start at $8. Talk about a cheap date! Those who have traveled here rave about the ecotourism and safaris throughout gorgeous orange deserts. The New York Times put it at #6 of world’s destinations to see. Decent wine at $4.83? What are we waiting for -grab a wine glass and go!

Grobler du Preez / Shutterstock.com
Grobler du Preez / Shutterstock.com

1. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

At 63 Kyrgyzstani Som to the dollar, a gin and tonic sets you back about a buck and a half while dinner will be five to 10 dollars. If you must, Marlboro’s are 86 cents a pack. According to the Expatistan cost of living chart, the rent for a two bedroom apartment in the expensive part of town is $763 USD. That’s about one-ninth the cost for a similar place in the survey’s most expensive city, Luanda, Angola. Many of the expats who travel here work the gold mines or teach English to students. It’s not the safest place to travel, but when visiting here be sure to take a tour along the legendary Silk Road.

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The 15 Worst Airports For a Layover

While the increase of people flying means more flights, it also means more stops and connecting flights, which can be a good or bad thing depending where you stop. Having a layover is most people’s worst nightmare. There are often long lines to clear customs and security and scarce food choices along with overpriced Wi-Fi and uncomfortable seating. The following 15 airports are the absolute worst for layovers in the world. Next time you are booking a flight you may want to avoid flying through any of these airports even if it means spending a few extra dollars. Trust us, you’ve been warned.

15. Paris Beauvais-Tille International Airport, France

This airport is mainly used by budget airlines and is often found at the top of the list of airports to avoid at any cost. This is in due part to a number of different factors. To start with the airport is located a long and slow 88 km away from Paris, therefore count on not leaving during your layover. The airport looks more like a bus station rather than an airport and the building is run-down and dirty. It is often cramped and crowded with passengers who are unloading and trying to leave as quickly as possible. The airport also closes at night so you will want to avoid an overnight layover here, as you will be asked to leave. In saying all of this, the airports in Paris are not known for being first-class so if you are looking to save a few dollars, flying in here may be worth your while.

Paris airport

14. Dulles International Airport, Washington, D.C

If you were expecting to enjoy your layover at the Dulles International Airport, think again. With one of the worst on time performances in the US, this airport often keeps passengers waiting far longer than necessary. If you think your layover was long already, expect to tack on even more time. What really irks passengers who are on a layover here is the lack of amenities and shops that can keep you entertained. If you were looking for options when it comes to dining, think again and realistically your best bet may be to slide up to the airport bar and have a beer. The good news is that the Dulles International Airport at least offers WiFi throughout the terminals; the only problem will be finding an available plug.

Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com
Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

13. Miami Airport, Florida

The biggest thing about having a layover in Miami is making sure it isn’t a long one. The reason being is that this airport moves at a ridiculously slow pace and if you need to rush to make your connection, you aren’t going to make it. Expect security lines, baggage claim lines and a frustrating lack of amenities. Shops and restaurants are limited and highly overpriced and don’t let the “free WiFi” signs fool you, it isn’t actually free to browse the net. If you are planning on spending the night here, one will be hard pressed to find a floor that is carpeted, a place where the lights are dimmed and the announcements stop. Instead sleepers are privy to noisy cleaners, brightly lit areas and chairs that have armrests, thus ensuring you have to lie on the floor. The only saving grace this airport offers is that South Beach is just 15 minutes away, therefore if you can store your bags and leave the airport, we highly suggest hitting the beach.

Daniel Korzeniewski / Shutterstock.com
Daniel Korzeniewski / Shutterstock.com

12. Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France

It is one of the world’s busiest airports and although it is improving it is still one of the worst airports to have a layover in the world. If you want to use the internet while you are here, plan on paying big bucks to connect to WiFi. One can also plan on disorganization, chaos and rude staff who absolutely refuse to speak to you in English. You won’t find first class shopping, nice lounges or attractive dining options here either. Many complain about the size of the restrooms quoting they are ‘dirty and too small’ while others have frustrations in the all too often terminal corrections. Food here is also quite pricey and if you are planning on eating, we suggest bringing as many snacks with you as possible from outside the airport.

pio3 / Shutterstock.com
pio3 / Shutterstock.com

11. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi

It is not surprising that Africa has some of the worst airports in the world, due to the impoverishment of the country, the overwhelming heat and questionably effective security processes. Having a layover in any of these airports can often be long, tiring and downright boring. Passengers seem to expect more from this International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, but instead are faced with long lines that have been referred to as ‘cattle markets’, overcrowded lounges, dirty and run down restrooms, shabby stores and overpriced food. It is currently undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation which hopes to be open in 2017 and capable of handling 20 million passengers. For now though, when you have a layover here expect to pay loads for the WiFi, food and drinks. Expect the bare amenities and cross your fingers you are not there during a threat as that is when things really go downhill.

Photo by: Arthurbuliva via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Arthurbuliva via Wikimedia Commons

10. London Luton International Airport, England

You are most likely flying into this airport if you have booked on a budget airline but expect to spend even more money once you get here. If you stuck here on a layover everything will cost you more. If you want access to WiFi, expect to pay. If you need a plastic baggie to put your liquids in to go through security again, you will have to pay for one of those too. If you want to buy something to eat, expect to pay higher than normal airport prices. Because of the slew of budget travelers that are flying into here seating can be limited, as well as sleeping space. The carpet is hard and cold, the announcements boom day and night every 10 minutes and it’s freezing cold, all the time. Do we need to say anything more about the layover life here at Luton?

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

9. Chicago Midway Airport, Chicago, USA

If you get stuck on a layover here and it’s unexpected it is most likely due to weather. Both Chicago airports are notorious for cancelling and delaying flights because of weather and unlike O’Hare, the Midway Airport lacks in pretty much all amenities to keep you occupied while you wait. If you do have to have a layover here we suggest doing it overnight. In Concourse C this airport actually sets up cots, military style for a few hours, until 4am when they wake you up and tear down the cots as the airport is opening. It is actually your only option here as the concourses close from midnight until 4am. If you are stuck here during the day it is good to know that WiFi isn’t free, the food is bearable and you may have to fight someone for an electrical outlet.

Photo by: Chicago Midway International Airport
Photo by: Chicago Midway International Airport

8. Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii USA

A layover at this airport is almost always inevitable if you are visiting one of the Hawaiian Islands but it’s not exactly the greatest welcome to Hawaii. If you are planning to sleep there overnight it is important to note there is no real good sleeping area other than the floor. As well, many layover passengers complain about the constant Hawaiian music that plays on repeat all night loud, except for when one of the many announcements comes on. There are a few dining choices at the airport, but everything closes by 10 pm. A lot of boarding gates do not open until right before flight time which leaves many passengers roaming aimlessly around the halls as the seating is very limited. WiFi will cost you, plugs are a hot commodity and it can get quite hot in this open air airport.

cleanfotos / Shutterstock.com
cleanfotos / Shutterstock.com

7. Frankfurt Hahn International Airport, Frankfurt, Germany

First off let’s be clear in saying that this airport is not in Frankfurt, despite the official name. Don’t depend on leaving the airport and spending a few hours in the city during your layover because the city is actually located over 120 km’s away. The best way to describe this airport is downright depressing. The low ceilings, the plastic chairs, the lack of artwork or anything of color and the overall feel. The floors are dusty and dirty and if you plan on sleeping here we suggest laying some newspapers down on it. Nighttime layovers tend to be loud with lots of young people who are flying on budget airlines and if you can muster up a quiet space, the good news is security won’t bother you. Dining options are nil after about 10 pm and expect loud cleaners and announcements all night long.

Photo by: Tadekptaku via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Tadekptaku via Wikimedia Commons

6. Los Angeles International Airport, California, USA

It is safe to say that most people hate flying through this airport. It is a stark contrast to the many Asian airports it connects with and needs serious updating to compete with them. An overall lack of signage and unfriendly staff is what people complain about most. Being the fourth busiest airport in the world, this airport gets crowded quickly and not knowing where you are going becomes quite frustrating. An overall lack of cleanliness is also a major complaint and it is best to avoid staying here overnight. The food options are scarce and overpriced, the chairs are uncomfortable with armrests on all of them and the charging stations throughout are placed in areas where there are no seats. Combine all these things with the fact that some terminals close at midnight and the security lines are atrocious and you’ll understand why people hate this airport.

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

5. Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport, Italy

This airport although cheaper than the others that service Milan can be a big pain if you have a layover here. A lack of electrical outlets is a major source of irritation amongst tech savvy travelers, as well as a lack of seating. Due to the number of backpackers and other budget travelers who fly in here, there are many people trying to sleep and waste hours upon hours on layovers. It means there is not enough space for everyone. The security staff and cleaners can often be short tempered and if you were hoping for a restful sleep think again. Sleeping passengers are often woken up to move for cleaners and otherwise. The lack of WiFi is annoying and there is often loud, drunken travelers spending the night alongside with you.

Photo by: Luigi Chiesa via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Luigi Chiesa via Wikimedia Commons

4. LaGuardia International Airport, New York, USA

This worn out airport is at the top of the list for the worst airports in the US, layover or not, year after year. Even Vice-President Joe Biden compared LaGuardia to the likes of a ‘third world country’. So what makes this airport so awful for a layover? To start, the ridiculous long lines you have to wait in, to clear security, to recheck your bags, to even get a coffee. Speaking of coffee, the restaurant choices are mediocre and unfriendly at best. The décor doesn’t help out matters as it is downright depressing, as are the metal and plastic seats that don’t have any cushions. This airport isn’t overly clean either. The amount of delays this airport faces is almost embarrassing so one can expect a long layover here, even if it wasn’t scheduled to be. Spending hours in this airport is a total mind numbing experience that will have you avoiding it like the plague for the rest of your flying life.

Photo by: La Guardia Airport
Photo by: La Guardia Airport

3. Islamabad Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Pakistan (ISB)

This airport has been referred to being more like a prison than an airport and having a layover here is definitely not recommended. If you do happen to be stuck here, it is recommended you don’t leave the airport as taxi drivers and touts like to loot the unknowing customers. This airport is often overcrowded and there is seemingly no crowd control throughout the entire place. Complaints range from corruption to aggressive security checks to an overall lack of cleanliness to non-existent technology. Officers will outright ask for bribes and this is generally just not the place to be stuck on any type of layover. Filthy, crowded, and hot are all words used to describe this awful airport. The good news, apparently they are building a new airport that will be finished in 2016, let’s hope it’s not as corrupt as this one.

Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com
Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com

2. Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, USA

Passengers can’t say enough bad things about the Newark airport. It is awful being stuck here on a layover, whether it was scheduled or a result of weather delays. The biggest complaints are about the unfriendly staff who work at this airport, from security that kicks you out of the terminal at ungodly hours to the service staff at the restaurants. Using the WiFi here will cost you, although it probably won’t work or be too slow for your liking. We also suggest bringing along a heavy sweater as even during the summer it seems this airport is freezing. Chairs with solid armrests force travelers to sleep on the floor and make sure you watch out for cockroaches as they constantly roam the terminals. And don’t even think about trying to make it into NYC to waste some time, it’s at least an hour and half by public transit, and that’s on a good day.

Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

1. Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila

This is by far the worst airport in Asia and has been continuously at the top of that list for years. Luckily they are doing things to improve conditions but clearly not fast enough. First off passengers will want to fly into terminal three and only terminal three, but if you have the problem of being stuck in any other terminal on a layover than this is what you can expect. Dirty, filthy, cramped toilets that smells awful. This is one of the most widely-known complaints about this airport. Metal seats, spotty WiFi and a lack of dining and shops are some of what passengers can experience. Plan on waiting in lengthy lines and be sure to grab any seat available as they don’t come up often. Don’t plan on sleeping on this layover as the announcements every 10 to 15 minutes will keep going all night long, along with the three beeps before and after, just to make sure you are listening.

Photo by: Mithril Cloud via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Mithril Cloud via Wikimedia Commons

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 10 Most Dangerous Cities in the Middle East

Home to numerous important ancient religious and cultural structures and cities, the region recognized as the Middle East consists of the countries located centered on Western Asia and Egypt. With very corrupt governments in these countries, popular uprisings began to occur throughout the region in 2011 during what is known as the Arab Spring. The resulting uprisings have led to a number of civil wars and violent demonstrations. Civil war in Syria combined with the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq has created a situation with a great deal of very dangerous cities in the Middle East. For this list, cities like Raqqa and Mosul that are currently under control of extremist groups were excluded.

10. Mecca, Saudi Arabia

In comparison to its neighbors, Saudi Arabia saw a minimal amount of upheaval and violence following the 2011 Arab Spring protests that engulfed much of the Middle East. However, a number of hot button issues are still on the minds of Saudis and the country has experienced a fair amount of turmoil. Potential travelers to Saudi Arabia should note that the country does not issue travel visas, and visit duration requests can be listed in lunar months rather than the standard Western months.

This can lead to travelers overstaying by several days, which can result in a near $3,000 fine and incarceration. Although the city of Mecca – birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and the holiest city in Islam – sees a large number of tourists each year, non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the city. Saudi Arabia has also received threats for its support of the U.S. led coalition targeting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. Although the city of Mecca is not an incredibly dangerous place, it is a destination that should be avoided for travelers of non-Muslim faith, and for those unfamiliar with the culture and customs of the region.

Zurijeta / Shutterstock.com
Zurijeta / Shutterstock.com

9. Peshawar, Pakistan

Serving as the link that connects Pakistan to neighboring Afghanistan, the area is regularly struck by outbreaks of violence. Due to the proximity to Afghanistan, and many of the beliefs held by locals, this region can be very unkind to Westerners. Travel at night in Peshawar can be very dangerous, with reports of criminals blocking roads and robbing or kidnapping motorists, both local and foreign.

While the city itself can be friendly to foreigners, tribal authorities rule the surrounding outskirts and subsequently can be very dangerous for unsuspecting travelers. The diverse collection of ethnic and religious groups in the area occasionally results in large demonstrations that can sometimes turn violent. The ongoing conflict between the Pakistani government and the Taliban in the area also causes violence to flare up. Bombings are not unheard of in this region, and it is strongly recommended that visitors avoid drawing any extra attention when in Peshawar.

thomas koch / Shutterstock.com
thomas koch / Shutterstock.com

8. Kabul, Afghanistan

Although generally considered to be one of the safer places in Afghanistan, Kabul is still under the threat of bombings and kidnappings from extremists. A helpful tip for traveler safety is to stay away from restaurants that are popular amongst expats and wealthy Afghans. These locations along with police or military buildings and embassies are the most common targets for attacks. A change in policy has seen the kidnapping of foreigners in Kabul no longer being reported.

For visitors to Afghanistan staying a longer duration, it is suggested to vary routes and timings on a daily basis as a means of staying vigilant. Because Kabul is the capital and most populous city in the country, the political turmoil within the nation is reflected by the occasional riot or demonstration. Though there are dangers, the Afghani people are traditionally welcoming and kind to guests, and the city is home to a number of five star hotels as well as the bonus of excellent cellular reception that lets American and European phones work on the local network.

Kabul, Afghanistan

7. Sana’a, Yemen

The capital of Yemen – and the largest city in the country – Sana’a is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world (a list that also includes Aleppo and Damascus, Syria). Travel to Sana’a is strongly discouraged due to a serious risk of kidnapping as well as civil unrest and general lawlessness in the country. The threat to Westerners posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is very real and should not be taken lightly when traveling to Yemen.

Visitors unfamiliar with the area should find a local guide, and should not be alarmed by the sight of firearms being carried. Many men hold or own a gun for traditional reasons. The Old City of Sana’a is a declared World Heritage Site by the United Nations and has been home to civilization for more than 2,500 years. With tensions seemingly rising in Yemen, the city of Sana’a and its unique cultural sights are at risk as unrest spreads through the nation.

Stefano Ember / Shutterstock.com
Stefano Ember / Shutterstock.com

6. Gaza City, Palestine

One of the most densely populated areas in the world, the Gaza Strip and West Bank is a 25-mile strip of land that is home to some 1.8-million people. While the area is no longer under occupation by Israeli forces, it is still under an extremely strict border control. The Israeli military regularly launches raids inside the region to engage militants who conduct attacks against Israel from inside the border.

Those visiting Gaza should stay away from demonstrations, and off the streets at night when most violent clashes occur. Areas near the border are prone to gunfire and airstrikes, while police stations and government buildings are often targets for larger scale Israeli operations. Hamas imposes strict Shariah law in Gaza, so travelers should be familiar with cultural expectations before landing in the city. Because of damage sustained from Israeli airstrikes, the Gaza power station lacks the ability to operate at full capacity, leading to frequent outages. A large number of generators are used in the city, some of which could be poorly maintained causing a potential risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com
Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

5. Kashmir, India

The Jammu and Kashmir region is the most northern area occupied by the state of India. Kashmir is often described as the prototypical idea of “heaven on Earth” because of the serene landscape; however, the area is heavily disputed between the governments of India, Pakistan and China. India and Pakistan in particular have gone to war two times as a result of disputes over the borders of Kashmir. As recent as October 2014, troops have engaged in gunfire across the boundary, and the two countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998 before fighting broke out in Kashmir in 1999.

With violent demonstrations and extremist activities in the area, neither foreign governments nor India can guarantee the safety of visitors to the region. Currently Kashmir is experiencing danger from severe flooding on top of the border turmoil. While there are numerous great sights to see in Kashmir, visitors should be sure to stay far away from the Pakistani border where the conflict is at its most intense.

Kashmir, India

4. Baghdad, Iraq

Since the invasion of Baghdad in 2003, the city has become one of the most dangerous in the world. Following a lull in the violence, large-scale attacks in Baghdad have been on the rise since 2012. Many governments strongly suggest traveler’s stay away from the area because of the extremely volatile situation, where the threat of a terrorist attack or kidnapping is certainly possible.

A common suggestion for staying safe in Baghdad is simply just to not go there. Most visitors to the city hire a security detail for safety, and it should be noted that travel outside of the International Zone is incredibly dangerous. Roadside and car bombings are a daily occurrence in Baghdad. And while the tides seem to be turning against ISIS, the terrorist organization is still in control of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, located north of Baghdad and certainly has eyes on the nations capital as it looks to expand its caliphate should it be capable.

Baghdad, Iraq

3. Karachi, Pakistan

The second-largest city in the world in terms of population within the city limits, Karachi is now home to some 23.5-million people, and a population density of more than 15,500 per mile. Over the past decade, millions of residents of northwestern Pakistan fled fighting and settled in the city, the commercial heart of the country. The 12.3 per 100,000 residents homicide rate (25% higher than the next closest) makes Karachi the most dangerous mega-city in the world.

The former capital of Pakistan has been overrun with political strife, gang violence and a growing threat of militant incursion. Karachi is even known to be home to “target killers”, individuals who are known for assassinating victims on motorbike for a relatively small fee. Gangs run smuggling rackets, rob banks and oversee the administration of ruthless justice. It is not uncommon for heated gunfights to be drawn out over days between multiple gangs, or gangs fighting the police.

Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com
Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com

2. Damascus, Syria

Starting with peaceful protests in 2011, Damascus and the rest of Syria escalated into a full-blown civil war and has turned the city into an incredibly dangerous place. The city came under heavy attack in 2012, although the Syrian government managed to repel the attacks and maintain control over its capital. Damascus is considered by the U.N. to be a world heritage sight, but because of the civil war and subsequent attacks in the city, ancient ruins have sustained damage from the numerous battles fought through the city.

Those opposed to the Syrian government including ISIS will certainly look to continue attacks in Damascus in hopes of capturing the city from government control to gain a very significant victory. Travel to the area should not be done without an armed companion. Foreigners are under severe threat of attack or kidnapping, potentially from either side of the conflict, and the region should be avoided at all costs.

Damascus, Syria

1. Aleppo, Syria

The largest city in Syria, Aleppo has been, and still is home to some incredibly fierce fighting going on between the Syrian government and opposition forces. Fighting began in Aleppo during February of 2012, and the battle has been the site of atrocities committed by both sides, including barrel bombs allegedly dropped by Syrian military helicopters, and indiscriminate gas cylinder bombings by opposition forces in government held territories.

Although diplomatic measures are trying to be arranged to establish a ceasefire, the Syrian army is pushing forward with a major offensive effort to surround the city. Tragically, Aleppo is also considered to be a world heritage site by the U.N. and much of the ancient city has been irreparably damaged by the heavy bombardments in the area, with no sign of tensions easing any time soon. Travel to Aleppo is nearly impossible, and no visitor should expect even a remotely safe trip to the once great city.

Aleppo, Syria