Where (Not) To Go In The Middle East (part I)
Though the events of Arab Spring are several years behind us, the recent attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunisia has once again brought up the question of how safe it is to travel to the Middle East and North Africa. Several countries, such as Syria, have plunged into daily violence or carry precautionary warnings, while others in the region remain healthy tourist destinations.
With safety concerns in mind, we've checked the status of tourism in countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa and issued some recommendations. Keep in mind that this list was last updated in March 2015, and political events can change the situation rapidly. Register with the U.S. State Department (or your own country's equivalent) if you're going on an extended trip to the area.
What's Happening: Algeria largely escaped the upheaval that affected other countries during Arab Spring, but it remains at risk for violence; foreign citizens were killed in separate terrorist attacks in January 2013 and September 2014.
Tourist Fallout: Companies such as Intrepid Travel and Peregrine Adventures offer tours to Algeria, but many governments (including the U.S. and Australia) urge their citizens to avoid traveling here.
Should You Go? We'd advise against it.
What's Happening: Ever since the events of Arab Spring four years ago, Egypt has been subject to numerous political demonstrations, which sometimes turn violent. Terrorist attacks are also a threat.
Tourist Fallout: Tourism plummeted in Egypt in 2011, with visitation dropping more than 33 percent. Tourism has rebounded over the past few years, though, with several river cruise companies putting Nile River itineraries back on their schedules.
Should You Go? Yes, but only if you're a traveler who can handle uncertainty. Otherwise, wait (the Pyramids will still be there).
What's Happening: Westerners have long been discouraged from traveling to Iran, due to political tensions, civil unrest and the possibility of terrorist attacks.
Tourist Fallout: The U.S., Australia, Canada and other governments advise against any travel to Iran. However, tours are available from companies such as Intrepid Travel and G Adventures.
Should You Go? We'd advise against it.
What's Happening: Although many people travel safely each year to Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, the situation here remains volatile. The Gaza Strip and the borders with Syria and Lebanon are particularly dangerous and best avoided, while the rest of the country is at risk for terrorism and civil unrest.
Tourist Fallout: Despite the security concerns, Israel has long been a popular tourist destination, and numerous tours are available. The U.S. State Department notes that there is increased security presence in places tourists are most likely to visit.
Should You Go? Yes, but keep abreast of news reports before and during your trip.
What's Happening: Although Jordan did see some Arab Spring-related protests in 2011, it's generally considered one of the more stable countries in the region. Visitors may still encounter demonstrations or other civil unrest.
Tourist Fallout: Tourism to Jordan's most famous monument, Petra, has dropped by half since 2010, due mostly to concerns about violence in neighboring countries. However, numerous tours are available, and most travelers visit without incident.
Should You Go? Yes.
What's Happening: Until Arab Spring, Lebanon had experienced a resurgence in tourism, with record visitor numbers in 2009 and 2010. Beirut in particular became a trendy travel destination, with new hotels, clubs and restaurants rising along its beaches. In recent years, however, the country has fallen victim to terrorist bombing attacks, and the violence in neighboring Syria is also cause for concern.
Tourist Fallout: Lebanon's tourism has plunged, with multiple governments (including the U.S., Canada and Australia) urging against any non-essential travel to the country. Most tour operators and cruise lines have pulled out of Lebanon.
Should You Go? No.
See Part II.