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 2012 Viator Travel Awards: Africa and Middle East Edition! Rather than make this a list of specific tours, as we’ve done in the past, we decided this year to make a list of 25 of the most fun and interesting things to do in Africa and the Middle East – with a few specific tours as options in each destination.
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. Explore the desert near Dubai
Exploring Dubai wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the desert, so take a 4×4 Dubai Desert Safari, where you’ll get to live out your own Arabian Nights fantasy, crossing the desert plains on a camel, careening downhill on a sand board and getting your own traditional henna tattoo.
Or why not complete the adventure by sleeping beneath the stars on a Private Overnight Safari: Sandboarding, Camel Ride, BBQ Dinner and Belly Dancing where you can even opt to smoke a shisha (a traditional water pipe) and learn some belly dancing moves.
2. Go on safari in South Africa
No bucket list can be without an African safari and where better to spot the Big 5 – buffaloes, leopards, elephants, lions and rhinos – in their natural habitats than in South Africa? Take a trip to one of Africa’s most popular game reserves, Kruger National Park, on a 3-Day Classic Kruger Breakaway Tour from Johannesburg or combine it with a trip through the scenic Mpumalanga region on a 4-Day Mpumalanga Tour Including Kruger National Park and Mthethomusha Game Reserve from Johannesburg. Alternatively, an Aquila Game Reserve Wildlife Safari from Cape Town offers the chance to spot endangered species like the rare ‘Aquila’ Black Eagle and the elusive snow leopard, alongside hippos, giraffes and of course, the Big 5.
3. See Dubai from above and below
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, with a Dubai Hot Air Balloon Flight or Dubai Seaplane Flight, where you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the city’s mesmerizing surroundings. Or explore the souks (markets), mosques and museums on a Dubai Hop-on Hop-off Tour or Dubai City Half-Day Sightseeing Tour, where you’ll also get the chance to take a traditional Abra boat ride across the busy Dubai Creek and learn how the desert town has been transformed into the Middle East’s hottest destination.
4. Explore the ancient ruins at 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 ruins of the ancient city of Petra are Jordan’s principal attraction. Explore the theatre, colonnaded streets and vast mausoleums famously carved into the red rock, with a Petra Day Trip from Tel Aviv – UNESCO World Heritage Site or a Private Tour: Petra Day Trip from Amman where you’ll also get to look out over the ancient city from the vantage point of the nearby Hasan Prince Palace. Or combine it with a tour of the region’s key sights on a Private 4-Day Jordan Special Tour: Petra, Wadi Rum and The Dead Sea or a Private Three Day Tour to Petra – UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you’ll have ample time to delve into Petra’s rich history, including a visit to the magnificent Treasury (El-Khazneh) and visit the legendary Dead Sea.
5. Soak 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 ‘cures’. 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. Take a Highlights of Israel Day Trip from Tel Aviv: Jerusalem and the Dead Sea where you’ll get to visit two of the region’s holiest destinations; or pay a visit to the ruins of Masada and King Herod’s palaces, before soaking in the sacred waters with a Masada and the Dead Sea Day Trip from Tel Aviv or a Masada and the Dead Sea Day Trip from Jerusalem.
6. Trek through the Wadi Rum Valley
Few landscapes are as mindblowingly beautiful as the desert valley of Wadi Rum, the much swooned over backdrop to 1962 hit Lawrence of Arabia. Just 40km from Jordan’s other principal attraction – the ancient city of Petra – Wadi Rum is most famous for its craggy red mountains and unique, multi-hued landforms. Explore the famous red Sand Dunes and the Seven Pillars of Wisdom; spot ibex and vultures roaming the vast plains; and learn about Bedouin culture on a Private Full Day Tour to Wadi Rum or sleep out under the stars in a traditional Bedouin encampment on a Private Overnight Tour to Wadi Rum.
7. Cruise along the Nile River
The longest river in the world at an incredible 6,650 km (4,130 miles) long and flowing through 10 countries, there’s no better way to explore Egypt than taking a cruise down the country’s most famous river. Check off all the sights onboard a luxury cruiser with a 4-Day Nile River Cruise from Aswan to Luxor with Optional Private Guide or 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. Or combine elegant dining with an entertaining evening of folklore music and belly dancing on a Nile River Dinner Cruise in Cairo.
8. 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: Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis, Sakkara where you’ll get to explore the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, the necropolis of Sakkara and the former capital, Memphis, under the guidance of an expert Egyptologist. 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.
9. See the religious sites of Israel
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 Day Tour to Jerusalem and Bethlehem from Tel Aviv or further explore the Holy Land on a Nazareth, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee Day Trip from Tel Aviv, where you can retrace the steps of Jesus and visit a range of key biblical locations.
10. Visit Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates
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 finally 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 City Sightseeing Tour – The Arabian Jewel. As well as marveling over one of the world’s largest and most stunning mosques, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and the world’s biggest man-made port, Jebel Ali, you’ll get to peek into local handicrafts workshops and learn about the city’s rich oil history.
11. Learn about Berber culture in Morocco
Once you’ve explored the vibrant souks and magnificent mosques of Marrakech, delve deeper into Moroccan culture by venturing into the surrounding mountains and deserts. Follow ancient Berber Trails into the Atlas Mountains on a Berber Trails 4WD Day Trip from Marrakech, where you’ll get the chance to mingle with the locals in remote mountain villages and learn the art of preparing Morocco’s famous sweet mint tea. Or enjoy a dazzling journey through Berber history with the Fantasia Moroccan Dinner and Cultural Show, where you’ll tuck into delicious tagine while traditional Arabian music, belly dancing, horseback riding and even a ‘flying carpet’ provide the entertainment.
12. Take an unforgettable drive along the Cape Peninsula, Cape Town
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; or swoop over both oceans on a Cape Town Helicopter Tour: Indian and Atlantic Oceans where you’ll get to circle the iconic Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles mountains.
13. Explore the Medina of 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 (town square). Discover the city’s exquisite array of palaces and mosques on a Marrakech Palaces and Monuments Tour; dive into the pungent dyer’s workshops and spice stalls, then haggle over eclectic furnishings in the bustling souks (traditional markets) on a Marrakech Discovery Tour; or escape the frenzy of the city with an Ourika Valley Day Trip from Marrakech, a haven of greenery set in the foothills of the grand Atlas Mountains.
14. Wander the ancient streets of Egypt
Visit the Kom ash-Shuqqafa Roman burial site, Pompey’s Pillar and Roman amphitheater and the fascinating Alexandria Library, home to a copy of every book published in the world on a Private Tour: Alexandria Day Trip from Cairo or explore the city highlights on a Private Tour: Coptic Cairo, The Hanging Church, Abu Serga, Ben Ezra, where you’ll visit one of the oldest synagogues in Egypt and learn the turbulent history of Christianity in Egypt. Or why not brush up on your photography skills and guarantee some perfect holiday snaps on a Cairo Photography Walking Tour: Souqs, Mosques and Palaces.
15. Have a desert adventure in Egypt
Once you’ve checked admiring the Pyramids and a cruise along the epic Nile River off your to-do list, it’s time to get out and explore the vast Egyptian Desert. Add a fun twist to the journey by going Quad Biking in the Egyptian Desert from Hurghada, where you’ll be able to get the adrenaline pumping on a high speed hurtle down sand dunes, through canyons and across sand-dusted plains.
16. Sample wine in South Africa
Take a break from wildlife spotting and explore South Africa’s tamer countryside with a trip through the country’s winemaking region, where the famous red Pinotage wine is produced. Take a Stellenbosch Wine Tour from Cape Town or a Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl Valley Wine Day Trip where you’ll get to visit the region’s historic wineries, such as the Merelust Estate, learn about the grape growing and harvesting process and, of course, sip some fine wines. Alternatively, add a visit to the legendary wine region to your day’s sightseeing, with a Cape Town Super Saver: Cape Point Highlights Tour plus Wine Tasting in Stellenbosch or put a spin on the proceedings with an adrenaline fueled Cape Winelands Tour by Chauffered Sidecar.
17. Visit the blue city of Essaouira
Famous for the royal blue dye drawn from the area’s seashells, the bohemian port town of Essaouira has literally painted the town with its trademark color; a picturesque sight with its blue and white houses and harbor teeming with bright blue painted boats. The creative hub has played host to legendary artists like Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens over the years, as well as recently becoming a burgeoning hotspot for windsurfers and kite surfers. Explore the laid back seaside town on an Essaouira Day Trip from Marrakech, where you’ll stroll around the historic port and UNESCO World Heritage listed Medina, then shop for handmade goods in the jeweler’s and handicrafts quarters.
18. Explore the diverse landscapes of Lebanon
With its vast and varied historic sites, the riotous party scene of Beirut and a range of celebrated traditional cuisine, Lebanon’s mind-blowing diversity, along with its many off-the-beaten-track finds, makes it one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. Explore the celebrated limestone caves of Jeita Grotto, pay a visit to one of the oldest cities in the world and journey through the country’s most archeologically rich region with a Byblos and Jeita Grotto Day Trip from Beirut or Byblos, Jeita Grotto and Harissa Day Trip from Beirut; or take an Anjar, Baalbek and Ksara Day Trip from Beirut where you’ll discover the ancient sites of Heliopolis and Umayyad Ruins, then visit the famed Chateau Ksara, Lebanon’s oldest winery.
Alternatively, take a Baalbek, Kozhaya and Cedars of Lebanon Day Trip from Beirut and visit the ancient sites of Heliopolis and the Monastery of St Anthony, followed by the country’s prized cedar groves – now the iconic symbol of Lebanon; or opt for a Full-Day Tour of Beirut, Beiteddine and Deir El Qamar and take in a medley of cultural sites, including the dashing 19th century Beiteddine Palace and the traditional village of Deir El Qamar (Deit El Kamar).
19. Visit the townships and villages of South Africa
South Africa’s notorious townships have earned themselves a tough reputation over the years, but despite their hardships, the country’s vibrant villages offer a fascinating insight into tribal culture and traditions. Take a trip to the rocky hills on a Lesedi Cultural Village Day Trip from Johannesburg where you’ll get to visit traditional Zulu, Ndebele, Sotho, Pedi and Xhosa villages, watch tribal dancers and enjoy a pan African feast; explore the city’s most metropolitan township and learn about its harrowing history on a Soweto Half-Day Sightseeing Tour; or understand more about South Africa’s turbulent past with a Johannesburg Half-Day Sightseeing Tour where you can take in sights like historic sights like the Nelson Mandela Bridge, Constitution Hill and the Johannesburg’s Old Fort Prison Complex.
20. Dive in the Red Sea
The Middle East might be better renowned for its all-encompassing 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 where you’ll uncover a colorful underwater world teeming with striking corals, tropical fish and even sharks; or swap desert sands for white sand beaches and clear blue lagoons on a luxury Tiran Island Cruise and Snorkeling tour.
21. Visit Oman, the rising star of the Middle East
Tourism is booming in Oman and with its vast deserts, majestic mountains and sun-ravaged beaches, it’s little surprise that the spotlight is finally shining on its shores. With recently improved road networks and a new push for tourism, Oman’s diverse landscapes – including historic forts, desert dunes and traditional mountain villages – are now wide open for exploration. Take in the 17thcentury Forts of Nizwa, one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions and famous for its spectacular murals, on a Day Tour to the Enchanting Forts of Nizwa; explore Oman’s contrasting scenery, traveling from the vast Eastern Hajar Mountains to the idyllic costal town of Quriyat on a Private 4×4 Safari – Mountain Fascination – Eastern Hajar Mountains; or unveil the secrets of Oman’s capital on a Muscat City Sightseeing Tour – A Fascinating Capital, where you’ll get chance to marvel at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, stroll the historic old town and try your hand at haggling in the local souks.
22. Dive with sharks in South Africa
Forget trailing tigers in the savannah, for the ultimate in daredevil activities, why not get up close with the menace of the ocean instead? Get your heart pounding by trying Cage Diving with Great White Sharks from Cape Town, where you’ll be safely inside a cage but so close you’ll feel the swish of shark fins; or opt for a rendezvous with the gentler giants instead on a decidedly tamer Hermanus Day Trip with Seasonal Whale Watching.
23. Explore the mountain kingdom of Lesotho
The world’s only independent state that lies entirely above 1,000 meters (3,281 ft), the landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho – aptly nicknamed the ‘Kingdom in the sky’ – is one of South Africa’s most breathtaking secrets. Climb the steep Sani Pass into Lesotho’s mountainous realm on a Mountain Splendor -The Kingdom of Lesotho tour, where you’ll get to explore the remote peaks and valleys, before visiting the traditional mokhoro houses of a Sotho Village and immersing yourself in the vibrant local culture.
24. Drive across South Africa
For the ultimate in road trips, make your own unique African safari by traversing the scenic southeastern coastline on the famous Garden Route. Take a 4-Day Garden Route Tour from Cape Town where you can discover some of the country’s most celebrated National Parks en route; try Ostrich riding; visit bays teeming with dolphins, seal colonies and endangered Southern Right Whale; and even brave the Bloukrans Bridge Bungy – the world’s highest bungee jump. Or why not continue all the way up the coast to the cultural hub of Durban, where you can explore the colorful Indian Markets, a throwback to the city’s colonial past, on a Durban City Sightseeing Tour or a Durban City Sightseeing Tour with Ushaka Marine World, where you can swim with dolphins at the city’s recently established water adventure park.
25. Explore the cosmopolitan city of 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. Uncover the city’s enthralling history, taking in the main attractions and iconic monuments on a Table Mountain and Cape Town Half-Day Trip or Cape Town City Hop-on Hop-off Tour.
Alternatively, experience a different side of the city by embracing the city’s love of Reggae and Rastafarian culture on a Cape Town Rootz Reggae Tour; visit Cape Town’s notorious townships where you can get up close with the locals in their crafts workshops and shebeens (taverns), on a Cultural Cape Town – Langa and Khayelitsha tour; or get an insight into the art of traditional African beer-making on a Half-Day Small-Group Beer-Tasting Tour of Cape Town, with plenty of tasting opportunities along the way.
- Viator Travel Team