Unesco: 1. Cathedral and Churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zuartnots (Armenian central domed cross-hall type of church) 2. Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin (Byzantine monasteries, learning, above the Debet gorge) 3. Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley (rock cut churches and tombs, landscape)
Unesco: 1. Qal’at al-Bahrain* – Ancient Harbor and Capital of Dilmun
Unesco: 1. Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran 2. Bam and its Cultural Landscape (oases, trade, irrigation, fortified medieval town) 3.Bisotun 4. Meidan Emam, Esfahan (royal square, mosques, ceramic tiles) 5. Pasargadae (first dynastic capital of Cyrus, cultural diversity) 6. Persepolis (ruins of Darius) 7. Sheikh Safi al-Din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble in Ardabil 8. Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System 9. Soltaniyeh 10. Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex 11. Takht-e Soleyman 12. Tchogha Zanbil 13. The Persian Garden
Natural: Zagros Mountains 2. Salt Glaciers (salt plugs feed huge salt deserts, Zagreb Mountains) 3.
Unesco: 1. Ashur (Qal’at sherqat) 2. Hatra 3. Sanarra Archaeological City
Unesco: 1. Baha’i Holy Places in Haifa and the Western Galilee* 2. Biblical Tels – Megiddo, Hazor, Beer Sheba 3. Incense Route – Desert Cities in the Negev 4. Masada* 5. Old City of Acre* 6. The White City of Tel-Aviv* – the Modern Movement 7. Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls*
Natural: 1. Red Canyon (striped sandstone, Eilat* 2. Dead Sea* (1,320′ below sea level, 50 miles long, salt 6x sea water) 3. Makhtesh Ramon Crater*, Negev Desert (actually a valley 25 miles long, 5 wide and 1,650′ deep, geology)
Epic Hikes 4. Nubian ibex – species of goat antelope with 2000 animals in the wild. 60cm tall at shoulder and weigh 50kg. Male horns can reach 1m in length. Rare so see especially rutting males. Ein Avdat NP has canyon with beautiful Wilderness of Zin nature trail, 2-3hrs one way.
1. Israel National Trail
Length: 580-620 miles
The Trip: For long-distance hikers with a love of both ancient and contemporary history, the Israel National Trail (INT) delves into biblical landscapes, the beauty of the wilderness of the Middle East and the everyday lives of modern Israelis. The trail is divided into 12 smaller sections, each of which makes a worthwhile shorter trip.
The southern end of the trail starts in the resort town of Eilat on the Red Sea and then crosses the harsh and lovely Negev, populated by wandering Bedouins and long-horned Nubian ibex and filled with wildflowers in spring. There’s not much water to drink especially in the Negev where it is necessary to stash water prior to starting. It dips into the 600-foot-below-sea-level waves of the Sea of Galilee, flanks the baptismal River Jordan, passes through Jerusalem and runs along Mediterranean beaches north of Tel Aviv.
Some spots have immense significance in the Judeo-Christian world and beyond. Among these is the 3-mile, sheer climb up the 1,929-foot peak of Mount Tabor and the Church of the Transfiguration, where Barak and 10,000 Israelites defeated Sisear and the Canaanites as recorded in the Bible’s Book of Judges. Views overlook the Jezreel Valley to Mount Carmel, the Galilee, the Golan Heights, and Mount Hermon. The heights of Mount Carmel are sacred to Jews and Christians as well as to Ahmadiyya Muslims and followers of the Bahá’í faith. More modern sites, such as the Metzudat Koach memorial, commemorating 28 soldiers who died taking a fort in the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, speak to the still ongoing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. But life on the trail is safe and far from current hostilities. In fact, the joy of the trail is meeting the Israelis hiking it and spending some time in small kibbutzim where the local people will take hikers into their homes. The biggest blessing comes in the form of “trail angels” along the INT who give a helping hand and often offer a place to stay free of charge to thru-hikers. On the trail, there is peace and friendship.
When to Go: The early spring (February to May) is the best time to enjoy the trail. Avoid the heat of summer.
Unesco: 1. Petra• 2. Quseir Amra• 3. Um er-Rasas (Kastrom Mefa’a) 4. Wadi Rum Protected Area•
1. Petra Through the Back Door – Dana Reserve to Petra
Length: 50 miles, 3 – 7 days .
The Trip: Go with many tour companies. To enter the Nabataean city of Petra in a small party at the conclusion of 3-5 days in the rugged wilds of the Kingdom of Jordan is a far more satisfying arrival than pulling into the parking lot with its idling tour buses ten miles away. That’s what makes the weeklong trek unique.
From the ancient city of Dana, the route leads down to the Feynan Eco-Lodge before crossing the vast arid expanse of Wadi Araba before climbing into the Sharah Mountains past iconic oasis and Bedouin camps toward Petra itself. The off-trail travel through the deserts and mountains can be grueling, exacerbated by the heat. At the top of an ancient stairway carved into the red rock, the narrow defile leads around a sharp bend, and suddenly you are stopped cold. There stands the exquisite carved façade of Al Deir, better known as the Monastery, perhaps Petra’s grandest monument. And you have it to yourself. Besides the iconic sites of the Siq, the Treasury and the Monastery are mystical venues, as are the Place of High Sacrifice and the Great Temple.
When to Go: October through April, when desert temperatures relent—a little.
The following three hikes are all in Petra.
2. Wadi Muthlim. This adventurous scramble is an exciting alternative route into Petra if you’ve already taken the main path through the Siq. The hike is not difficult or strenuous, but there are several places where you’ll need to lower yourself down pour-offs. Don’t attempt the hike if it has been raining or is likely to rain. As there was a fatality on this route, a guide is now required and the police stop you from entering from the top. I wasn’t stopped and entered from the top. The trail starts at the dam just to the right of the entrance to the Siq. You almost immediately go through a short tunnel (Nabataean Tunnel). Simply walk down the rocky creek bed. There are some spots with stupendous sandstone – dark red layers alternating with tan-coloured rock. And the lower end slots up with some nice narrow, twisty bits. The canyon ends about a kilometre from the Royal Tombs but on the walk back, you pass many rock-cut tombs. A good trail runs just along the south side of the wadi. If the police don’t allow you to walk down the wadi, plan on coming back out of Petra this way. It is well worth it.
3. Al-Khubtha Trail. Before you reach the Royal Tombs coming from Wadi Muthlim, this “trail” goes up a side canyon to the south. It is a long steep climb up a gorgeous (mostly) rock-cut stairway cut into the cliff face. The first view point gives a hint of the incredible views up ahead. Before the last short bit of stairs is a bench perched right at the edge of a 1000 foot drop. The view is of the entire centre of Petra with the Theatre to the left and good views down toward the Great Temple and the start of the trail to the Monastery. Those last stairs bring you to the top of cliffs above the Royal Tombs. Walk in front of a small “house” rock-cut into a rock bump right at the top, descend a small cliff and walk south along a dirt trail. This eventually leads to a Bedouin home perched on the edge of the cliff immediately above the Treasury. The views are unbelievably nice. Return the way you came as there is no way down the vertical cliffs. There were a lot of goats at the top. Don’t miss this one.
If planning on doing the Mount Aaron hike, take the time at the top of the Al-Khubtha viewpoints to follow the road that is the first part of the route there.
4. Jebal Harun (Mount Aaron 1270m). Aaron was Moses’ brother and his tomb is in a sanctuary right at the top of this mountain.
Walk a few hundred meters past the Theatre and take a rocky trail to the left. This eventually hits a dirt road that passes just above the Great Temple and that is followed for the majority of the hike. The first landmark is ‘Amud Fir’awn or the Pharaoh’s Column. This is the solitary column remaining of a ruined sanctuary. Just after the column, take the right fork that crosses through a large wadi (Wadi Ras Suleiman) and continues past several rock-cut tombs and many Bedouin homes climbing up to reach a shoulder where you get the first view of your destination, Jebal Harun with the white tomb of Aaron on top. Scan the south flank of the mountain to see the faint white zig-zagging trail. Cross two tributaries of the headwaters of another large wadi. Just at the high point after the first tributary, leave this main road and take a faint track heading west. Scan ahead to the right of the wadi to see the beginning of the trail that winds along the bottom of a hill. Cross the upper end of the wadi, pass in front of a small block building and head up aiming for the start of the trail. The trail is easy to follow to the top of the mountain. Most is slick rock cleared of all rocks. When on top of the cliff below the summit block, walk along the west side to the stairway on the north side of the mountain that ascends the cliff face.
The views are huge: back to Wadi Musa and for hundreds of miles to the west and north. Climb the narrow stairs on the NW of the tomb to get onto the roof. Descend the way you came.
It took me 2 1/2 hours from just past the Theatre to the summit. On the flank of the mountain, i met a young bedouin couple with a baby on donkeys. He offered a donkey for 20JD for the remaining hour to the top. I was only interested in walking. As the “keeper of the keys” to the tomb, he then offered use of the key to enter the tomb for 10JD. He discounted the view as being of any importance. We were miles apart on price.
5. Other Hikes. There are numerous hikes into the hills and siqs around Petra. You need a guide for any hikes requiring overnight stops (it’s not permitted to camp within Petra itself), but there are many other smaller trails that can be easily hiked alone.
a. Umm al-Biyara. This is a steep hike up the imposing mountain whose sheer cliffs dominate Petra to the west. The steep, exciting route climbs 300m to 1160m at the top. Start as for Jebel Harun to Pharaoh’s Column and cross the wadi. About 100m after crossing the wadi, go right 50m left of some stone tombs. Pass through a rocky defile into a little basin surrounded by caves, up diagonally past more caves then zigzag left and right to enter the gully at a new wall. Ascend the gully on ramps and reach steps, ledges and more steps to the top. On top is an Edomite settlement and Nabataean sites and cisterns.
Unesco: 1. Anjar 2. Baalbek• 3. Byblos• 4. Ouadi Qadisha* (the Holy Valley) and the Forest of the Cedars of God 5. Tyre•
Natural: 1. Qadisha Grotto, Bcharre (caves, springs) 2. Pigeon Rocks•, Beirut 3. Cedars of Lebanon• (best Bcharre Cedars, 3,000 years old)
Unesco: 1. Aflaj Irrigation Systems of Oman• 2. Archaeological sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn 3. Bahla Fort• 4. Land of Frankincense
Natural: 1. Jebel Harim• (Mountain of Women, 3,300′ cliffs, 4wd access) 2. Musandam Fjords• (overlooks Straits of Hormuz, explore by sea) 3. Tawi Attair – The Well of Birds (huge sinkhole 500′ across and 690′ deep, birds sing) 4. Mughsayl Blowholes, Dhofar
Unesco: 1. Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Madain Salih) 2. At Turaif District i ad-Dir’iyah
Natural: 1. Desert Caves, Eastern Province 2. Asir NP (mountains to the Red Sea, animals, birds, flowers in spring)
Unesco: 1. Ancient City of Aleppo 2. Ancient City of Bosra 3. Ancient City of Damascus 4. Ancient Villages of Northern Syria 5. Cros des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din 6. Site of Palmyra
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Unesco: 1. *Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas)
Unesco: 1. Historic Town of Zabid 2. Old City of Sana’a 3. Old Walled City of Shibam 4. Socotra Archipelago
Natural: 1. Wadi Dhar, Sanaa 2. Socatra Island and the Dragon’s Blood Tree, Adan (320 kms of coast, high plateau often in cloud, endemic plants)