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 2016 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 explorations in the desert city of Dubai; excursions to iconic sights like the Egyptian pyramids, Dead Sea and Nile River; and unforgettable South Africa safaris. Join us for this tour of the Top 25 Things to Do in Africa and the Middle East!
1. Stand Atop the World at the Burj Khalifa
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. Go up one level more with an exclusive Burj Khalifa “At the Top” SKY Lounge 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 tour including Burj Khalifa admission and afternoon tea at Atlantis the Palm.
2. Discover the Dubai Desert
A visit to Dubai wouldn’t be complete without a trip into 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 Dubai sightseeing tour. You can get an expanded experience with a Dubai Desert 4×4 Safari with Quad Ride, Camel Ride, BBQ Dinner and Belly Dancing. For the automobile enthusiasts, there’s a luxury desert experience with dinner and Emirati activities via vintage Land Rover.
3. Marvel at Dubai City
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 with their desert surroundings. Contemplate how one of the world’s most modern cities found itself sandwiched between towering sand dunes and ocean beaches during a Helicopter Flight in Dubai. You can also see the city from ground level with a Dubai City Half-Day Sightseeing Tour or Big Bus Dubai Hop-On Hop-Off Tour. Head out on the water on a Bateaux Dubai Dinner Cruise.
4. Explore the Peninsula From 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. From vineyards to wildlife safaris to national parks and more, the Cape Peninsula is full of surprises. Get a taste for the area – stroll the sandy beaches of Hout Bay and spot African penguins – on a Cape Peninsula Tour from Cape Town.
5. Float in the Dead Sea
A stretch of ocean so salty 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 and mud. See if you feel any of those health benefits with a Masada and the Dead Sea Day Trip from Tel Aviv or Masada and the Dead Sea Day Trip from Jerusalem. See the Highlights of Israel on a day trip from Tel Aviv, including Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
6. Explore the Atlas Mountains of Morocco
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 exploration, 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.
7. Check out the Great Pyramids and Sphinx of Egypt
However much you think you learned about the Egyptian pyramids in your high school history 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 private tour of the Giza pyramids, Sphinx, Egyptian Museum and Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, during which you’ll explore the Great Pyramid of Giza, Sphinx and former capital Memphis, under the guidance of an expert Egyptologist.
8. See the Capital of the United Arab Emirates, 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 United Arab Emirates – has earned itself a place on the luxury hot list. Get an overview of the city’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 or a full-day Abu Dhabi sightseeing tour. For even more in-depth insight into what makes this place tick, sign up for a private Abu Dhabi tour from Dubai.
9. Explore the Green Side of Marrakech
Just outside central Marrakech is a palm grove covering more than 50 square miles. The area, known as the Palmeraie, is full of palm trees and luxury hotels and homes. It’s something of an escape from the bustle of the city, and well worth visiting for some much-needed green. Take a Desert and Palm Grove Camel Ride from Marrakech to see this oasis for yourself. To experience the Palmeraie at its romantic best, take a Sunset Camel Ride in the Palm Grove of Marrakech. If camels aren’t quite fast enough for you, sign up for a Marrakech Desert and Palm Grove Quad Bike Tour.
10. See the Sites of the New Testament
It’s one thing to hear Biblical stories in church, and quite another to visit the places where those events are said to have taken place. You can spend a full day exploring some important New Testament sites with an expert guide, which can help put the stories into context. Visit Nazareth, including the Church of the Annunciation and St. Joseph’s Church, as well as the Sea of Galilee and baptismal spot on the Jordan River in Tiberias. Take a Nazareth, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee Day Trip from Tel Aviv or Nazareth, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee Day Trip from Jerusalem.
11. Go Wine Tasting Near Cape Town
Take a break from wildlife spotting and explore South Africa’s tamer environs with a trip through the country’s winemaking regions, where the famous red Pinotage is produced. A Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl Valley Wine Day Trip or Private Tour: Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl Wine-Tasting Tour from Cape Town give you a chance to visit the area’s historic wineries, learn about the grape-growing and harvesting process and – of course – sip some fine wines. 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 tour and wine tasting in Stellenbosch. Explore a totally different wine region with a private Cape Point and Constantia Valley wine region tour from Cape Town.
12. Visit a Variety of Valleys Outside Marrakech
Even if you know the Atlas Mountains are just outside Marrakech, their jagged peaks visible on the horizon, it’s surreal to venture out of the busy city into the rugged countryside to see the dramatic landscape up close. With mountains come valleys, and there are three near Marrakech which are easy to visit on a day trip. Check out the Ourika Valley’s waterfalls, Oukaimeden Valley’s villages, and Asni Valley’s orchards. Jump into a 4×4 for a Three Valleys Day Trip from Marrakech with Optional Visit to Takerkoust Lake and Kik Plateau to see all of that and more.
13. Tour the Townships of Cape Town
One of the most culturally challenging things you can do in South Africa is visit one of its townships, holdovers from the apartheid era. These are typically independent towns now, though still almost totally segregated, and best visited with a guide. With a good tour and guide, however, you’ll do more than just see a township – you’ll walk around, meet residents and sometimes even stop for food or a drink in a local cafe. Take a Township Tour from Cape Town to see the oldest township outside Cape Town, or upgrade the experience with a Cape Town Townships Tour Including Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
14. Expand Your Horizons with a Multi-Day Tour of Jordan
Jordan’s countryside is home to so many incredible things to do and see that taking a day trip or two may not be sufficient. Luckily, there are several multi-day tours of Jordan available, during which you’re likely to get a more in-depth look at its culture and attractions. Choose a 3-night Jordan private tour including Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea for a chance to check some big sights off your must-see list. Focus on some particular history with a 4-Night Jordan Biblical History and Highlights Private Tour Including Petra and the Dead Sea. Cover even more ground with a 6-Night Best of Jordan Tour from Amman, including Jerash, the Dead Sea, Petra and Wadi Rum.
15. Step Back in Time on a Day Trip From Beirut
Beirut is not only a fascinating and exciting city (with a complicated past), it’s also a great base for exploration. You can visit some remarkable places not far from Beirut, both to step back in time as well as see how Lebanese people live in the modern world. 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. You can visit the villages of Kozhaya and Besharreh, along with the Cedars of Lebanon, 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. Or see the UNESCO-listed city of Tyre, along with Sidon and Maghdouche on a day trip.
16. See the Highlights of 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 its 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 an overview tour that puts the major attractions in context and gives you a head start on your own independent sightseeing afterward. Join a full-day Marrakech Discovery Tour or a Casablanca Half-Day Sightseeing Tour. Add a unique transport method to your sightseeing with a Marrakech Segway Tour.
17. Have an Animal Encounter in the Wild
Seeing the “Big 5” of Africa – water buffaloes, leopards, elephants, lions and rhinos – in their natural habitat is on many a bucket list. If this is your year to go on a safari in Africa, it’ll be a year you never forget. Get out of South Africa’s so-called Mother City for a day trip on an Aquila Game Reserve Wildlife Safari from Cape Town. Visit one of Botswana’s top attractions on a day trip to Chobe National Park with game drive and river cruise. See the former Kenya home of the Out of Africa author during a Nairobi National Park, Karen Blixen Museum and Langata Giraffe Center Tour from Nairobi. Or choose a 2-Day Western Cape safari from Cape Town with a Big Five game drive and visit to Cango Wildlife Ranch.
18. Explore Religious Jerusalem
No matter your religion, a visit to the religious sites of Jerusalem makes for 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 Jerusalem Day Trip from Tel Aviv. See multiple sides of this historic place with a Jerusalem Three Religions Holy City Walking Tour, visiting the holiest sites of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Dig a little deeper with a City of David and underground Jerusalem day tour.
19. Cruise the Nile River
The longest river in the world, measuring an incredible 6,650 kilometers (4,130 miles) and flowing through 10 countries, the Nile River is best explored by boat. You can combine elegant dining with an entertaining evening of music and belly dancing on a Nile River Dinner Cruise in Cairo or Cairo at Night dinner cruise. Check off all the sights on board a luxury cruiser with a 4-day Nile River Cruise from Aswan to Luxor with 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.
20. Explore Religious 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 half-day trip to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, or see both Bethlehem and Jericho on a day trip from Jerusalem. Explore two important historic cities with a Day Tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
21. Wander the Ancient City of Petra
A UNESCO World Heritage Site 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 theater, colonnaded streets and vast mausoleums famously carved into the red rock on a full-day private Petra day trip from Amman. Start in neighboring Israel for a day trip to see Petra with either a Day Tour to the City of Petra from Tel-Aviv or Petra Day Trip from Tel Aviv – both of which include round-trip flights and local guides.
22. Eat Your Way Around the World
Learning about a country through its cuisine is not only informative, it’s delicious. You can learn about the fascinating history of the lucrative spice trade with a Zanzibar Food and Spices Tour Including Traditional Swahili Lunch. Experience Marrakech with a food and market tour of Djemaa El Fna and traditional dinner. Liven up your evening with some music during a Zimbabwean Dinner, Dancing and Bongo Drums Evening at Boma in Victoria Falls. Sample the culinary offerings of many different African countries in one restaurant with a 14-course meal during a Traditional South African Dinner Experience including dancing, drumming and interactive performances at Gold Restaurant in Cape Town.
23. See the Vibrant Capital of Oman
Muscat is the capital of Oman and has long been an important port city, but it’s also one of the most architecturally interesting places on the continent, with building codes requiring traditional elements on every structure. Muscat isn’t all about history, however – there’s a relatively new Royal Opera House drawing international attention. Get an overview with a Big Bus Muscat Hop-On Hop-Off Tour or city tour of Muscat, during which you’ll get a chance to marvel at the grand Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, stroll the historic old town and try haggling in the local souks. Make the most of your time in port with a Muscat Shore Excursion: Private City Highlights Tour.
24. Listen to the “Smoke That Thunders” at Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls is famous the world over as the largest waterfall in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Its indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, means “the smoke that thunders” – an apt description of the roar and mist created by the volume of water. See the incredible place on a Victoria Falls Walking Tour, or soar overhead during a Victoria Falls Helicopter Tour. For a different viewpoint on the falls, explore the river from which it stems. Take a Sunset Zambezi River Cruise with Transport from Victoria Falls or spike your adrenaline with a Zambezi River Whitewater Rafting Adventure from Victoria Falls.
25. Get Back to Nature in Mauritius
Tiny Mauritius sits far off the eastern shore of Madagascar, which is off the eastern shore of the African continent. It’s renowned as a nature-lover’s paradise, with a wide variety of flora and fauna you can see nowhere else. It’s also one of the top luxury destinations on earth, thanks in part to its lovely beaches and tropical weather. Explore the best of unspoiled Mauritius with a Southwest Mauritius day trip including visits to Chamarel Waterfall, Trou aux Cerfs and Seven Coloured Earth to see multi-colored dunes, taste locallymade rum, see a sacred lake and indulge in a three-course traditional Mauritian lunch.
– Viator Travel Team