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Newcomer's first trip to the Middle East...needs advice!

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Apr 15th, 2010, 02:28 PM
  #1
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Newcomer's first trip to the Middle East...needs advice!

So, my husband and I are planning our first trip to the Middle East. Our primary goal is to go to a friend's wedding in Tel Aviv, but we thought that since we will be in the area we should just give'er and fulfill one of our travel dreams to wander the Middle East.

We will be traveling from Sept. 15 to Oct. 11. We are planning to visit Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan and Egypt. I understand this is extremely ambitious from everything I've read but would really like to see it though.

I have a lot of questions but will just start out with a few:

To tour or not to tour? My husband and I HATE tours but I see that a lot of people tend to go for them in the Middle East. Would it be completely nuts to just adventure on our own with no guide? We are quite seasoned travelers but I am having second thoughts about traveling alone after reading some posts...

Clothing for women? I understand that I should cover it up while I am in the region but would say, loose fitting capri pants and a 3/4 sleeve top with close-toed shoes be considered risque?

Where should we spend more time? I would really like to spend the majority of time in Lebanon and Egypt but does anybody have advice on other countries they really enjoyed that we should spend more time in?

That's it for now, I think. Thanks in advance!
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Apr 15th, 2010, 03:22 PM
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Hi - with respect to your question about traveling without a guide (or a driver) I can comment on Egypt and Jordan.

In both countries you can easily travel on your own (in fact in Jordan you can easily drive yourself) but with just a bit of preplanning you can have nice, comfortable airport transfers and tours arranged in advance which IMO will greatly add to your trip as you won't be doing everything on the fly when you get there. In both those countries the main sites are pretty obvious (they're why you're going there!) so you can lay out an itinerary and then add spontaneous other adventures - because you have your own driver and/or guide.

Here's a link to our blog - we highly recommend the guide/travel planner we used (Ahmed Hamed Yousif ( [email protected] ) - he arranged the Egypt and Jordan portion for us.

http://lizandrichardsa.typepad.com/l...8_adv/b_cairo/

(that's the Cairo link - navigate on the right hand side for the Nile Cruise and Jordan portions)

happy to answer any questions.
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Apr 15th, 2010, 03:38 PM
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The entire region will still be hot during your visit... some areas more than others. So loose fitting clothing is best; better than sticking to your already warm/hot body. During the heat, skirts/dresses, even loose fitting short caftans (called galabeyas in Egypt) are usually better than pants, but pants are fine (and crop below the knee also good). Long walking shorts to the knee (if you must) are okay at some of the sites, but maybe frowned on at others... Arms are best covered. Forget halter/backless tops for most sightseeing. Any exposed skin should be slattered with SPF. Have a wide-brimmed hat, comfy shoes (plenty of uneven and dirty ground) and always bottled water (inexpensive and available everywhere).

However, on the beaches/resort areas of Egypt/Israel, shorts, halter/backless tops and swimsuits are fine - forget topless bathing.

In towns/cities all countries, and in Israel's Orthodox communities... be covered. I'm sure I've missed something, so let's see what others can add.

With a month, you have more than enough time to visit all countries. But since Lebanon and Syria won't allow entry with an Israeli passport stamp, best to visit these first. No problem when visiting Jordan or Egypt.

All of the countries can be done independently, but it's often a good idea to work with an in-country outfitter to handle logistics, as: meet/greet, transfers to/from airports, arrange vehicle if you wish to rent, and maybe even a guide for sightseeing (unless you enjoy having your nose in a guidebook when someone else can be telling the history... to each their own). Some sites have guides for hire at entry points... will vary between countries. You can certainly arrange hotels directly, but often the in-country folks get discounts not available if booking yourself. You'll have to research the options.

And, don't forget language barrier. English is spoken in these countries, especially major tourist sites, but at many outlying areas, maybe not as much/any!

Pick-up guidebooks for each country and determine your interests, where, for how many days, transport (road/air), petrol stations and how payment made (credit cards can't always be used), hotels, costs, Visa requirements/costs, medical requirements. Figure out what's important and doable within your timeframe and ask yourself just how hectic you want this adventure to be.

While there are many threads and Trip Reports of those who've visited Egypt, Jordan and Israel, fewer reports on Lebanon & Syria but even these seemed to go well without hitches.

Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.
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Apr 15th, 2010, 10:59 PM
  #4
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Wow! Thank you for all the information. We have picked a few sites we want to see already but nothing is set in stone. My husband is now extremely glad that he can drive in at least one country (Jordan) as he loves driving (he did all of our driving in Kenya).

It's also good to know that English is spoken in most but should we learn a bit of Arabic anyways?

Thanks!
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Apr 16th, 2010, 01:13 AM
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Foodtraveler... my husband said he is learning Arabic too... "how much you want for blonde lady" is his phrase of choice at the moment! BTW, you'll be away when I am in Egypt and Jordan too...
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Apr 17th, 2010, 01:12 AM
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If you're going to be in Israel, you should definitely visit Jerusalem. Israel in general is easy to tour without guides. people here are friendly, helpful and english speaking, so you can cout on strangers helping you out if ever feel lost or confused.
Having that said, I do think Jerusalem is better seen with a guide, especially the old city since it holds such historical significance that you can't fully grasp without guidance. I would recommend taking a day tour, or maybe a half day tour so you won't feel tied in.
contact me if you want recommendations on guides.
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Apr 17th, 2010, 07:11 AM
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No problem driving in Israel either (having visited Jordan my impression is that Jordanian drivers are crazier). A car is definitely the best way to visit the Galilee and the north of the country, but it is a liability in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, where parking is a nightmare and public transport is good.
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Apr 17th, 2010, 10:49 AM
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Hi Foodtraveler,
My husband and I (plus our two sons, 21 and 18) visited Egypt Christmas 2008 and Lebanon this past Easter 2010. We also went to Jordan for a quick weekend visit with one of our sons.
We loved Lebanon. We were visiting my son who is doing his semester abroad studies at AUB. For that reason we stayed in the Hamra area, at the Hotel Gefinor Rotana. Since we had a week to explore the country we alternated between walking all around Beirut with organized day trips through Nakhal. We set up the day trips with our hotel. We also did a walking tour with WalkBeirut. Even though we had already seen most of the sights on the walking tour on our own, Ronnie gave us lots more information on the history of the area and explained what we were seeing as well as why in certain areas we were told "no pictures".
For our weekend trip to Jordan we used Desert Horizons since there was alot I wanted to see in a very short time. This worked out very well. We did exactly what I wanted to on our own time frame.
Our trip to Egypt turned out to be a private tour but that was only because no one else signed up for our particular trip. It was also very well planned. We used Thomson Family Adventures for that trip.
The driving in Egypt and Lebanon is crazy. The drivers are very confident and aggressive and rules of the road are more like suggestions. Jordan seemed very doable. There are speed bumps on the roads to control traffic speed and the drivers actually stop at red lights!
If you have any specific questions I'd be happy to help out. I'd visit all three countries again in a heartbeat and all three are very different.
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Apr 17th, 2010, 07:41 PM
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If it's not already too late on my part, remember that once you have been to Israel you will not be allowed in Lebanon.

Jordan and Egypt will be fine, but they are the only Arab countries that I'm aware of who will permit people with Israeli stamps in their passport into the country.
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Apr 17th, 2010, 08:33 PM
  #10
 
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You will have to aware of traveling elsewhere in middle east if you go to Israel.
Jordon - you will be fine to drive alone sans guide.
I would not drive in Egypt as it is absolutely crazy the way they drive - be careful - and have fun!
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Apr 17th, 2010, 10:20 PM
  #11
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Thanks for all the words of advice. We will definitely map our trip based on our Israeli stamps. Right now we are planning on flying into Beirut and leaving out of Cairo.

We are almost thinking of leaving out Jordan and Syria there is so much to see in Egypt and Lebanon (and Israel we have to go to). I would love to see Damascus though...

So, the general consensus I am getting is Lebanon, Jordan and Israel are good to go without a guide and Egypt I may need one.

Thanks!
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Apr 18th, 2010, 06:33 AM
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Definitely reconsider leaving out Syria and Jordan! (Did you read my trip report?) There are some excellent sights in Syria, and you certainly shouldn't miss Petra even if you see nothing else in Jordan.
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Apr 18th, 2010, 06:47 AM
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Folks have pretty much covered all the basics - but let me add one.......

Eveyone always worries about how women should dress, but don't often think about men. There aren't as many "rules" but the one thing to keep in mind - at least in Eygpt - is that men/boys don't wear shorts. Shorts are considered to be like underwear. So while you will see men (tourists) in shorts in Cairo, it isn't really acceptable.

My DH and sons always found the nice zip-off pants to be helpful. They would wear the full length pants when leaving/arriving at the airport, sightseeing, going into town for dinner, etc - but have the bottoms zipped off when appropriate (on the plane, back in our little suburb, on the cruise ship, at the beach hotel, etc).

Note: because there were so many westerners in our suburb, clothing "rules" for everyeone were a bit looser. But we all knew to follow the "rules" when we went anywhere else.
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Apr 18th, 2010, 08:52 AM
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MiGr,
Can you give me some names of tour leaders for a private tour for my husband and myself while we are in Israel in September? Thanks so much.
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Apr 19th, 2010, 03:26 PM
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Expect delays if you are entering Israel after having been in any Arab country, such as Lebanon, Syria, Egypt or Jordan. Although there are diplomatic relations with the latter two, security is especially tight when coming from these places. Once again you cannot enter Syria or Lebanon, once you have been in Israel.
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Apr 23rd, 2010, 05:22 PM
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Hi Foodtraveler8, I second Elizabeth_S suggestion for a private guide. My husband and I were in Egypt the last two weeks of December with Ahmed Hamed Yousif and what a great trip! My sister-in-law and brother used Ahmed's services last May for a trip to Egypt and Jordan on the recommendations of Elizabeth and others on this board. I know, I must write a trip report...

We found Ahmed easy to work with as he is very flexible. We knew where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see as I teach ancient Egypt. We also wanted a Nil cruise and travel by plane within the country. We emailed back and forth until everything was well organized.

As far as how to dress, there is a lot of good advise here. I mostly wore jeans and T-shirts and like Grcxx3 wrote, my husband did not wear shorts at all.

Hope you have a great trip!
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May 11th, 2010, 10:23 AM
  #17
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Hello all,

Just wanted to thank you all again for all the great advice. Here is the following itinerary my husband and I have come up with (everything is still up in the air though):

Beirut:5 nights and 4 days with day trips to Baalbek, Byblos and Jeitta Grotto
Travel to Aleppo
Aleppo: 2 nights and 1 day
Travel to Damascus
Damascus:3 nights and 2 days
Travel to Jerusalem (must travel to Amman and then to Jerusalem, don't know if this is possible)
Jerusalem: 2 nights and 1 day
Tel Aviv: 1 night
Kibbutz Ginosaur (for friend's wedding: 1 night
Travel to Jordan
Petra/Wadi Musa:3 nights and 2 days
Wadi Rum: 2 nights and 1 day
Travel to Dahab
Dahab: 2 nights and 1 day spent on Mt. Sinai
Fly to Aswan
Aswan area: 5 nights and 4 days with trips to Abu Simbel and Luxor
Travel to Cairo
Cairo: 3 nights and 2 days with trip to Giza

Any advice would be great!

THANK YOU!!
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May 11th, 2010, 10:42 AM
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Sounds great. Just wanted to add, in case noone has said so, that in Egypt, the general rule for women is "no breasts, no shoulders, no knees". Capris and a short sleeve shirt were my daily standard. Sandals are fine, although closed-toe shoes are better for the "antiquities" sites, but that's because of the rubble and uneven ground, not because of the "coverup" aspect.
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May 11th, 2010, 12:25 PM
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How are you getting from Beirut to Aleppo? I looked at doing this by public transport and concluded it was a bit iffy. I'd recommend flying into Aleppo, visiting Palmyra on the way south to Damascus and then visiting Beirut.

I think Damascus to Jerusalem is very ambitious. I think it took me just under four hours from Damasuc to Amman, but that was only because one of the locals in my shared taxi convinced the driver to speed. Then you have to get across the border to Israel. Plus, doing that you'll need two visas for Jordan. I'd visit Jordan and then go on to Israel.

I think three nights for Petra is good, but two nights for Wadi Rum might be overdoing it. Did you read my TR? http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...iddle-east.cfm
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May 11th, 2010, 01:09 PM
  #20
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Hi thursdaysd,

Yes, I most certainly read your trip report; it was so informative! It seemed like you didn't enjoy Syria as much, though and while you didn't have a good time in Wadi Rum, I have talked to some people who have. Was it really that much of a disappointment?

Thank you so much for replying!
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