Discovering Eco Escapes: Middle East Edition
Last Updated on by Admin
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Middle East? Is it the glitz and glamour? Or vast expanses of desert? Contrary to common belief, the Middle East is beyond only glamour and desert. The region offers a treasure trove of natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and rich cultural heritage. As we celebrate World Tourism Day, join 365 Adventures on a journey to uncover the eco-tourism wonders in Oman, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
According to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES, 2015), ecotourism refers to responsibly traveling to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education. The learning and understanding of the history of other cities and countries, and protecting the historical landmarks also come under the purview of ecotourism.
The Economic Impact
According to a report by Coherent Market Insights, a global market intelligence and consulting organization, in 2021, the estimated valuation of ecotourism of Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain ( Gulf Cooperation Council countries) is US$ 519.01 million. With the development of technology and transportation, people can now visit the lesser known places in these countries. This exposure of local, cultural and nature based tourism, has shattered the myths that people previously had about the Middle East.
The report by Colliers (EWAA Report III), also says that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are leading with the eco-tourism projects. The support and policies of the governments such as the Vision 2030 of KSA, Vision 2040 of Oman and National Ecotourism Project by UAE, have accelerated the sustainable tourism sector.
Eco-tourism in the Middle East
Eco-tourism in the Middle East offers a variety of experiences, including village tours, adventure activities like kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, and scuba diving, and environment-focused tours such as wildlife safaris and bird-watching expeditions.
Here’s a glimpse of eco-tour options in some Middle Eastern countries
Eco Tours in Qatar
1. Kayaking Tours
The splash of the paddle boat pushing the water away and the feeling of floating on the water while Kayaking are moments you must cherish. It is a way to connect with the present and the nature around.
Besides Kayaking, go for a walk with a local guide to learn more about the ecosystem of the Mangroves, the birds and aquatic fauna. At the Pearl Porto Arabia, there are options for Stand Up Pedal Boards for a leisurely time on the water.
2. Cultural and City Tours
Cultural and city tours enable us to learn about local lifestyle and heritage. In Qatar, the Cultural & Majlis Experience is where you dress in traditional Qatari attire, try the Arabic coffee and dates, participate in the Majlis (a traditional gathering space of the Qataris) and try the delicious and authentic Qatari Cuisine.
While touring the cities in Qatar, don’t miss the Doha City Tour and the visit to Zubara Fort. At Doha, the trip to Msheireb Enrichment Center, Museum of Islamic Art and Katara Cultural Village will let you know the past and the present of Qatar.
Constructed in 1938, the Al Zubara fort served as a military station. The fort now is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a museum that displays artifacts and archeological collections relevant to the local Qatari culture.
3. Al Maha Arabian Oryx Sanctuary & Zekreet Tour
At the Al Maha Sanctuary in Qatar, you get to witness the native Arabian Oryx – the national animal of Qatar. Visit the Zekreet Peninsula, the mystery village, the limestone eroded rock formation and offbeat Zekreet beach. This tour is a mix of wildlife and bird watching experience.
4. The Inland Sea and Desert Tours
The inland sea in Qatar is where the desert dunes merge into the clear blue waters. Go for a fresh swim or scuba diving, desert safari or sand boarding, or spend time with a family picnic – the time spent at Inland Sea will be worth it. You also have the option to try scuba diving at the Inland Sea.
Eco Tours in Oman
1. Turtle Watching Tour
Have you ever watched a turtle hatching from their eggs and crawling to the sea? At Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve of Oman, turtles from both the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf come to lay their eggs on the beaches from May to September. The turtle watching tours are best if visited in the early morning and the evening to get a glimpse of the turtles.
2. Village Hikes and Heritage Tours
A 400 years old town, Al Hamra’s mud brick houses located at the foothills of the Akhdar mountains, are its prestige. These mud villages such as the Misfat Al Abriyeen were abandoned as the locals migrated in search of better opportunities.
The Al Hamra Heritage tour takes you through the village hike, Bait al Safah living museum, the traditional Falaj Irrigation system in the step plantations and date cultivations. Enjoy the local cuisine in the traditional houses of Al Hamra before you go.
Wadi Bani Habib is another abandoned village, also regarded as the ghost village. It can be reached via one hour of hike or via 4×4 vehicle.
Hiking to Jabal Akhdar mountains on a full moon day, to see the stars shining above and the distant lights of the villages and the moonlit Hajar Mountain range – a fascinating experience indeed.
3. Salalah Tour
The green paradise, Salalah is a prominent eco tourism and wellness tourism spot in Oman. During the Salalah tour , you can focus on your wellness and have fun exploring places.
After a refreshing session at Fazayah Beach meditation, head to the Al Mughsail Cave and Blowholes followed by Frankincense valley. Hike up to the Dhofar mountains, paddle in the lakes, dive in the pools and waterfalls and end your trip to Salalah with a short hike to Baobab Trees.
Eco Tours in UAE
1. Kayaking & Snorkelling Tours
In UAE, Kayaking can be done at places like Hatta Dam, Kite Beach, Jumeirah Beach Residence, Ras Al Khaimah and Al Zora Mangroves. While on the Khasab Musandam Tour, dive into the bluish waters for a snorkeling adventure.
2. Jebel Jais Zipline Adventure
Fly in the mountains in the longest zipline of the world. Plunge into the vastness alongside the peaks up to 160 km hr and 1680 m above the Arabian Gulf for a thrilled-filled adrenaline rushing zipline experience in UAE. It is located in the Hajar mountain range of Ras Al Khaimah emirate in UAE.
3. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary Tour
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is home to over 200 bird species, including the stunning pink flamingos. Managed by Dubai Municipality, this sanctuary comprises wetlands and mangroves, making it a haven for birds, mammals, and fish. The sanctuary is a blessing of nature amidst the concreteness of the city.
Eco-tourism Tours in Saudi Arabia
1. Shaybah Wildlife Sanctuary
Saudi Arabia is famous and often stereotyped for its oil fields and the name of this wildlife sanctuary Shaybah, literally means oil field. The best time to visit this 637 square kilometer sanctuary is January.
Three species that historically have inhabited areas around Shaybah: Arabian oryx, Arabian sand gazelles, and ostriches are being reintroduced to the sanctuary. These nearly extinct majestic animals will be a real treat to look at in their natural native environment.
Visitors are also able to look at the native plant species and get an idea of both flora and fauna in this sanctuary.
2. Faifa Mountains
Photo Credits: www.visitsaudi.com
Mountains of Fifa or The Faifa Mountains are the definition of picture-perfect beauty. Lush green terraced mountains along with dense forests, coffee and maize fields and picturesque spots make this place one of the most popular tourist places in the whole of Saudi Arabia.
The mountains are about 100 km from the city of Jazan and mostly have very pleasant weather throughout the year. People come for a laid-back time and feel closer to nature. The view of the mountains hidden by clouds is amazing along with the ample vegetation and wildlife of the place such as red foxes, the Arabian leopard etc.
Visitors can plan a trip ahead and go sightseeing in the old castles and traditional homes of the local people there. Group camping and hiking in this area is also very popular. People also enjoy riding the cable cars as this offers a great view.
Also known as ‘the Maldives of Saudi Arabia’ is a traveler’s paradise. Pristine beaches with turquoise blue water and golden sunsets, Umluj is a place with more than 100 islands with breath-taking coral reefs and ample sea life.
The most recommended places to visit here are The Island of Jabal Hassan, Al Manakhah Heritage Museum and Duqm Tourist Park. The best time to visit is between January and June.
There is an array of exciting and adventurous things to do in Umluj along with peaceful ones. Horse riding all the beach, bike riding in the sand, boat trips, snorkeling are only the names of a few of the activities. But one can also opt for a quiet and relaxing day by the beach or even go on picnics in the evening.
Travel responsibly ensuring sustainable eco-tourism practices. Here’s how:
- Conserve energy and water. Turn off the lights and water taps when it’s not needed.
- Use your own refillable bottles and avoid using single use plastics
- Respect the local culture. To never judge the local customs based on our own customs.
- Visit National Parks and Marine sanctuaries.
- Travel slowly, one place at a time, focussing on creating lasting connections with the locals.
- Leave no trace of waste while hiking.
- Buy souvenirs, dresses and ornaments to support the local economy.