Top 25 Things to Do in Africa & the Middle East: 2015 Viator Travel Awards

January 13, 2014 by

Middle East & Africa, Press & Publicity, Things to Do, Top Travel Destinations, Viator Travel Awards

Plan your next vacation with these top activities in Africa & the Middle East!

Plan your next vacation with these top activities in Africa & the Middle East!


Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.

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Welcome to the 2015 Viator Travel Awards: Africa and Middle East Edition! Below, we’ve compiled a list of 25 of the most fun and interesting things to do and best places to visit in Africa and the Middle East.  The tours and activities listed have been chosen based on traveler reviews, data from the millions of people who check out Viator.com during the year, and information on which tours travelers book most often. Reading through this list, you’ll get a sense of the top things to do in each place – it’s a great virtual vacation from work, or the perfect way to start planning a trip anywhere.

You’ll find all kinds of activities listed below, including exploring the desert city of Dubai, seeing iconic sights like the Pyramids, the Dead Sea, and the Nile River, or going on an unforgettable South Africa safari. Join us for this tour of the Top 25 Things to Do in Africa and the Middle East!

1. Burj Khalifa

View from the Burj Khalifa observation deck

View from the Burj Khalifa observation deck

Dubai is a city of superlatives, not least because of the Burj Khalifa – the tallest man-made structure on earth at 2,722 feet. The tower’s observation deck, “At the Top,” isn’t the highest outdoor observation deck in the world at 1,483 feet, but it’s only in second place by 118 feet. And at that height, who’s counting? Marvel at the heady view yourself with a Burj Khalifa “At the Top” entrance ticket. Combine the soaring heights with high tea with a trip to Burj Khalifa “At the Top” including afternoon tea at the Burj Al-Arab hotel. Spend a day on a Dubai sightseeing tour that includes Burj Khalifa admission and afternoon tea at Atlantis the Palm.

2. Atlas Mountains

Visit the Atlas Mountains

Visit the Atlas Mountains

Forming a dramatic natural barrier between the coastal lowlands and the Saharan plains, the rugged landscape of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains range is ripe for exploring, and it’s easy to escape to the hills on a day trip from Marrakech. Head out to see the natural beauty on an Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou day trip through the Atlas Mountains from Marrakech. Soar over them for a bird’s eye view on an Atlas Mountains hot air balloon ride from Marrakech, including a Berber breakfast and desert camel experience. To really explore this region in depth, you’ll need more time. With a 7-night High Atlas Mountains summer adventure from Marrakech, or a 7-night High Atlas Mountains winter adventure from Marrakech, you’re covered in any season.

3. Dubai Desert

A visit to Dubai wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the desert, especially when the locals are so fond of exploring the nearby dunes. Go out on a 4×4 Dubai desert safari, or combine a desert safari with a super-saver Dubai sightseeing tour. You can get an expanded experience with a Dubai desert morning tour in a 4×4, inclduing a camel ride, quad bike tour, sandboarding, and camel farm visit. You can also upgrade yout experience. Consider a luxury desert camel safari and dinner with Emirati activities with transport from Dubai, or – for the gear-heads – a luxury desert experience with dinner and Emirati activities with transport from Dubai in a vintage Land Rover.

4. Egypt Great Pyramids and Sphinx

See the Great Pyramids

See the Great Pyramids

However much you think you learned about the Egyptian pyramids in your high school geography lessons, prepare to be blown away when you stand before the legendary Pyramid of Khufu at Giza – a structure worthy of its status as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Take a private tour to see the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx. Expand your list of sights with a Private Tour of the Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis, and Sakkara or a Private Tour of the Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Egyptian Museum, and Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, where you’ll get to explore the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the former capital, Memphis, under the guidance of an expert Egyptologist. You can enjoy a half-day morning Giza Pyramids and Sphinx adventure from Cairo, including an Egyptian lunch, or a half-day Saqqara Pyramids and Memphis tour from Cairo to see the Step Pyramid of Zoser, the world’s oldest stone pyramid. Alternatively, take a history class with a difference, by witnessing the Pyramids Sound and Light Show with Private Transport, a dramatic lightshow that brings the mystical history of Egypt to life.

5. Dubai City

Dubai from above

Dubai

An urban oasis perched on the tip of the Persian Gulf, Dubai’s fashion-forward shopping districts, futuristic architecture and unabashedly luxurious resorts seem incongruous to their idyllic surroundings. Contemplate how one of the world’s most modern cities found itself sandwiched between towering sand dunes and ocean beaches during a Dubai Hot Air Balloon Flight or a helicopter flight in Dubai. You can also see the city from ground level with a Dubai city half-day sightseeing tour, or head out on the water on a Bateaux Dubai dinner cruise. Don’t miss a chance to explore the nearby dunes, either, with a Dubai 4×4 sandboarding safari.

6. Cape Town

Cape Town

Cape Town

From its hard-partying and nature-loving façade to its harrowing history and hardships, Cape Town’s unique spirit shines throughout, making it one of the most creative, cosmopolitan and culturally rich cities in South Africa. Get an overview of the Mother City with a Cape Town City Hop-on Hop-off Tour or a Table Mountain and Cape Town Half-Day Trip. Get a bird’s eye view on a Cape Town Helicopter Tour: Indian and Atlantic Oceans. See the prison where Mandela lived for decades during a Cape Town townships and Robben Island tour. Steep in the local culture with a traditional South African dinner experience at Gold Restaurant, including dancing, drumming, and interactive performances.

7. Dead Sea

Relax in the Dead Sea

Relax in the Dead Sea

A stretch of ocean so salty that no fish can survive, the Dead Sea belies its morbid name by acting as a natural therapeutic spa, said to boast a number of health benefits and cure a plethora of ailments. Tourists from around the world flock to the area, where they can float in the salty waters, take a mud bath in the world’s richest source of natural salts, and purchase spa products made from the waters. See if you feel any of those health benefits with a private half-day tour of the Dead Sea. Visit several sights along the way with a private tour of Mount Nebo, Madaba, and the Dead Sea on a day trip from Amman. Explore the area’s history in greater depth during a 4-night Jordan Biblical history and highlights private tour, including Petra and the Dead Sea.

8. Johannesburg

Johannesburg has long been South Africa’s main entry point for international travelers, but many don’t stay longer than a change of planes is required. This complicated city has plenty to offer visitors who stay for a few days, however, from historic attractions to natural wonders. Get introduced to the city with a Johannesburg hop-on hop-off tour, or combine that with a trip to one of the country’s most famous townships with a Johannesburg hop-on hop-off tour and Soweto tour combo. Go on a Johannesburg walking tour to see MuseumAfrica, the Market Theatre, and the Carlton Center Observation Deck, where you’ll get a commanding view of the city from the 50th floor. You can also use the city as a base for exploring further afield, such as with a 3-day Victoria Falls tour with round-trip flights from Johannesburg, or an even more extensive 5-day Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park tour with round-trip flights from Johannesburg.

9. African Safari

See elephants on a safari tour!

See elephants on a safari tour

Seeing the “big 5″ of Africa – water buffaloes, leopards, elephants, lions and rhinos – in their natural habitat is on many a bucket list. Is this your year to go on a safari in Africa? Explore South Africa’s best-known safari park on a 3-Day Kruger Park Wildlife Safari or 4-Day Kruger National Park Safari Tour from Johannesburg: Game Drives and Wilderness Walks – more time spent in the park means more chances of seeing the animals. If you’ve got limited time, no problem. Consider a Pilanesberg Nature Reserve Safari and Sun City Day Trip from Johannesburg or a Hluhluwe Game Reserve safari from Durban. And although it’s a different sort of animal you’ll see underwater, a Marine Big 5 catamaran safari from Cape Town is no less impressive.

10. Religious Jerusalem

No matter your religion, a visit to the religious sites of Jerusalem is an impressive history lesson. Sacred to multiple religions, Jerusalem is as complicated as it is important. Get an overview of the historic and modern city with an Old and New Jerusalem full-day tour, or focus on history during an Old Jerusalem full-day tour. You can also visit two important cities in one day, with a day tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Cover the highlights with a Jerusalem half-day tour of the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. Dig a little deeper with a City of David and underground Jerusalem day tour.

11. Abu Dhabi

Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Immortalized in Chick Flick history as the location for 2010’s Sex and the City 2 movie, Abu Dhabi – the capital of the Emirates – has earned itself a place on the luxury hot list. Explore the country’s unique blend of Arabian traditions and affluent modern living with an Abu Dhabi Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Including Yas Island and Sky Tower. Spend a day exploring the highlights of Abu Dhabi on a tour of the Sheik Zayed Mosque, the Zayed Centre, and Heritage Village. Take to the skies for an overview during an Abu Dhabi seaplane flight, or see the sights from the water on an Abu Dhabi RIB sightseeing boat cruise. You can also explore the nearby dunes with a 4×4 Abu Dhabi desert safari with camel ride, dinner, and belly dancing performance.

12. Wadi Rum

Jordan’s beautiful Wadi Rum is a desert valley dotted with mountains, many of which feature prehistoric petroglyphs. It’s a popular tourist destination as much for adventurers as for history buffs, with lots of hiking and rock climbing opportunities. Get a taste of what’s on offer with a private full-day trip to Wadi Rum from Amman or a private overnight tour to Wadi Rum. To see even more of this remarkable sandstone landscape, consider a 2-night Jordan private tour from Amman, including Petra and the Dead Sea; a 4-day private tour from Amman of Wadi Rum, Petra, and Aqaba; or an even more extensive 6-night “best of Jordan” tour from Amman, including Jerash, the Dead Sea, Petra, and Wadi Rum.

13. Wine Tasting Near Cape Town

Stellenbosch vineyard in Cape Town

Stellenbosch vineyard in Cape Town

Take a break from wildlife spotting and explore South Africa’s tamer countryside with a trip through the country’s winemaking regions, where the famous red Pinotage wine is produced. A Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl Valley Wine Day Trip, a Stellenbosch Wine Tour from Cape Town or a Private Tour: Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl Wine-Tasting Tour from Cape Town each offer the chance to visit the region’s historic wineries, learn about the grape growing and harvesting process, and – of course – sip some fine wines. You can add a touch of whimsy to your experience with a Cape Winelands tour by chauffered sidecar. You can also combine an exploration of wine country with a sightseeing tour of the area with a Cape Town super saver, including a Cape Point highlights tour and wine tasting in Stellenbosch.

14. Exploring the Peninsula from Cape Town

Cape Point

Cape Point

Stretching out from Cape Town between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the spectacular Cape Peninsula is home to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Table Mountain National Park, but there are plenty of other scenic gems to be found in South Africa’s most idyllic coastal stretch. Stroll the sandy beaches of Hout Bay and spot African penguins on a Cape Peninsula Tour from Cape Town. Explore the Cape Peninsula’s many wildlife-filled National Parks and travel out to the peninsula’s furthest point on a Cape Point Sightseeing Tour. Spend some time getting to know the area on a 3-day Western Cape highlights trip from Cape Town. Sample some of the famous local wines with a private tour of Cape Point and the Constantia Valley wine region from Cape Town. Head out into the wilderness on a 2-day Western Cape safari from Cape Town with a Big 5 game drive and Cango Wildlife Ranch.

15. Casablanca and Marrakech

Often mistakenly thought of as the capital of Morocco, Marrakech is still the unofficial cultural capital, oozing with character and centered around a lively Medina (Old Town). Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, is its economic epicenter, of course famed as the setting of the 1942 film of the same name. Get to know each of these cities with a Marrakech discovery tour or a Casablanca half-day sightseeing tour. Casablanca is a great base from which to explore other destinations, such as a Rabat day trip from Casablanca to see the Moroccan capital city or a Fez day trip from Casablanca to see the ancient Medina. You can sample the unique traditions of Marrakech is with a Fantasia Moroccan Dinner and Cultural Show, where you’ll not only get to dig into a traditional Moroccan feast, but also enjoy an evening of impressive horseback displays, belly dancing and folk music. You can also get out of the city for a tour of the nearby Asni Valley and Oukaimeden Valley on a Three Valleys Day Trip from Marrakech with Optional Visit to Takerkoust Lake and Kik Plateau.

16. Petra

Petra

Petra

A World Wonder, a UNESCO World Heritage City, and even a Hollywood star (Petra was featured in the 1989 hit Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), the spectacular ruin of the ancient city of Petra is Jordan’s principal attraction. Explore the theatre, colonnaded streets and vast mausoleums famously carved into the red rock, with a private 3-day tour to Petra, UNESCO World Heritage Site, or a Petra day trip from Amman if you have more limited time. You can upgrade to a Private Tour: Petra Day Trip from Amman for a more personalized experience. Spend more time exploring the area during a 3-night Jordan private tour including Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea.

17. Cultural Africa

Many travelers to Africa are focused entirely on going on safari to see the wildlife or checking natural wonders like Mt. Kilimanjaro or Victoria Falls off a bucket list. To begin to understand the many countries in Africa, however, you’ve got to spend time learning about the various cultures. Learn about the history of South Africa’s apartheid regime during a Township Tour of Cape Town or a Knysna Township tour. Enjoy a traditional meal and entertainment during an Egyptian cultural dinner and show in Hurghada. Get out into the community on a Tanzania village coffee and community tour from Arusha, including lunch with a local.

18. Religious Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

The ultimate in sacred destinations, a visit to the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem is a popular pilgrimage for believers of any religion. Take a tour of the site of the Crucifixion at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, before soaking up the atmosphere at the famous Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on a Little Town of Bethlehem Half Day Trip from Jerusalem or see both Bethlehem and Jericho on a day trip from Jerusalem. See the highlights of the country on a 2-day “best of Israel” tour, including Old Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada, and the Dead Sea. Visit the spiritual sites on a 4-day tour of Christian and Jewish sacred sites in Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. Spend Christmas Eve in Israel with a Jerusalem sightseeing tour, dinner, and midnight mass in Bethlehem for a once in a lifetime holiday.

19. Beirut and Around

Often the best way to dispel myths about a place is to visit, and that’s definitely true in Beirut. There’s more to Lebanon’s capital city than what you might have seen in the news years ago, and there are historic monuments being uncovered even today. Take a walking tour of historical Beirut to go back in time to 15 B.C.E., and then beginning plotting your day trips to nearby attractions. You can visit the villages of Kozhaya and Besharreh, along with the Cedars of Lebanon, on a day trip from Beirut. You can see the UNESCO-listed city of Tyre, along with Sidon and Maghdouche on a day trip from Beirut. Spend a day exploring the cities of Anjar, Baalbek, and Ksara on a day trip from Beirut, seeing ancient ruins and a famous Lebanese winery. Explore the cities of Byblos and Harissa and the world-famous Jeita Grotto on a day trip from Beirut, a combination of rich archaeological excavations and natural wonders.

20. Food

Nutmeg in Zanzibar

Nutmeg in Zanzibar

Learning about a country through its cuisine is not only informative, it’s delicious. You can experience Essaouira with a food and art walking tour of the Medina and ramparts to find out more about the Blue City of Morocco. You can learn about the fascinating history of the lucrative spice trade with a Zanzibar food and spices tour including a traditional Swahili lunch. And why stop at simply tasting new dishes when you can learn how to make them yourself? Get into the kitchen with a Kumasi food tour including a market visit and cooking class or an Accra food tour with markets, dinner, and a cooking class in Ghana.

21. Egypt, Not Just the Pyramids

It’s easy to think that Egypt is synonymous with pyramids and then move on to considering other destinations. Egypt is a big country, however, with much more to offer the traveler than just the (admittedly fantastic) pyramids and Sphinx. Learn more about the country’s archaeological treasures with a private tour of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Expand your sightseeing list with a private tour of the Egyptian Museum, the Alabaster Mosque, and Khan el-Khalili. Get out and see the temples with a private tour of the Luxor East Bank, Karnak, and Luxor temples or a private tour of the Luxor West Bank, Valley of the Kings, and Hatshepsut Temple. You can also experience Egypt’s adventurous side with a Tiran Island cruise and snorkeling trip or quad biking in the Egyptian desert from Sharm al Sheikh.

22. Red Sea

Red Sea diving

Red Sea diving

The Middle East might be better renowned for its enormous desert and dynamic cities than its beach resorts, but where there’s sun and sand, there’s always a good excuse to get in the water. Head to Sinai’s famous Ras Mohamed National Park on a Ras Mohamed Red Sea Cruise and Snorkeling trip, where you’ll uncover a colorful underwater world teeming with striking corals, tropical fish and even shark. Swap desert sands for white sand beaches and clear blue lagoons on a Red Sea Snorkeling tour. Or, to really immerse yourself in the water, climb aboard a Sinbad Submarine for an Under the Red Sea experience you’ll never forget.

23. Animal Encounters

Africa is, to many, all about safaris to see some of the most majestic animals in the wild. In some places, you can get up close and personal with these wild animals – safely, of course – to make your heart pump just a little bit more. Take a day trip from Hermanus for seasonal whale watching in South Africa. Go on a dolphin and whale watching research cruise from Muscat with a professional research crew. Learn about the ancient art of (and try your hand at) falconry on a wildlife tour in Dubai. Tackle your fears with a Cage Diving experience with Great White Sharks from Cape Town, or – for a more personalized experience, so strangers won’t hear you scream – go for a private tour cage diving experience with Great White Sharks from Cape Town.

24. Cruise the Nile River

Cruise along the Nile River

Cruise along the Nile River

The longest river in the world, measuring an incredible 6,650 km (4,130 miles) long and flowing through 10 countries, the Nile River is best explored by boat. You can combine elegant dining with an entertaining evening of folklore music and belly dancing on a Nile River Dinner Cruise in Cairo. Check off all the sights on board a luxury cruiser with a 4-day Nile River cruise from Aswan to Luxor with an optional private guide, or a 5-Day Nile River Cruise from Luxor to Aswan with Optional Private Guide, where you can hop off along the way to explore the Valley of the Kings, Kom Ombo and Philae Temple in Aswan, and other celebrated temples at Edfu, Karnak and Luxor. If you really want to take your time on this legendary river, then go for broke with an 8-day Nile River cruise from Aswan to Luxor with an optional private guide, with stops at the Valley of the Kings, the Karnak and Luxor Temples, Edfu Temple, Kom Ombo and the beautiful Philae Temple in Aswan.

25. Oman

Grand Mosque in Muscat

Grand Mosque in Muscat

With recently improved road networks and a new push for tourism, Oman and its diverse landscapes – including historic forts, desert dunes and traditional mountain villages – are now wide open for exploration. Introduce yourself to the capital city with a Big Bus Muscat hop-on hop-off tour or a city tour of Muscat, the fascinating capital, during which you’ll get chance to marvel at the grand Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, stroll the historic old town, and try haggling in the local souks. See what changes in the city after dark during a private tour of Muscat by night, and take to the water for a sunset dhow cruise from Muscat. Explore nearby attractions, too, such as the enchanting forts of Nizwa on a day tour from Muscat.

- Viator Travel Team

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One Response to “Top 25 Things to Do in Africa & the Middle East: 2015 Viator Travel Awards”

  1. Kylle McFisher Says:

    I promise to myself to visit one of these wonderful places this year. Maybe this summer with my friends.

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