Where in the Middle East is safe to travel to?

is the middle east safe for tourists

Concern about potential Middle Eastern dangers is one of the topics readers of this blog ask me about the most so, in this guide, you will find everything you need to know about it

Right before I began to write this article, I decided to Google the latest Middle East-related news, and these were the first results that showed up:

  • How Europe is getting entangled in the big Middle East conflict
  • Saudi Arabia hinders Yemeni agreement
  • Israel and UAE historic deal to normalize relations
  • UAE and Israel to establish spy base in Yemen

They are all related with the ongoing Middle Eastern issues, to a greater or lesser degree.

That’s what the international media talks about and, unfortunately, pretty much the only information most people from around the globe get access to.

As a result, the Middle East is perceived by many as an unsafe territory, hence an unlikely place to travel to, which is extremely sad and wrong, because this region is large, rich, composed of many different countries which, more often than not, have nothing to do with each other’s issues.

The Middle East is one of the most troubled regions in the world, nobody is denying that, plus there are some areas – just a few, in my opinion – which can be extremely dangerous.

Based on my travel experience in the Middle East, in this post, I wanted to tell you where in the Middle East is safe to travel, which includes a thorough analysis and country breakdown.

is the Middle East safe


In this Middle East safety guide, you will find:

The reasons why the Middle East is safe
Where in the Middle East is safe

Solo female travel in the Middle East


Is the Middle East safe? 4 reasons to believe it isn’t a dangerous place to travel to

The Middle East is huge

The Middle East is an enormous territory almost as big as Europe and composed of 15 countries, 16 if you count Turkey as well.

These countries are:

Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen

From a cultural point of view, they have little to do with each other. Of course, they share many similarities but comparing, let’s say, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon, is like comparing Belarus, Germany and Spain.

Iranians are not Arabs but they are Persians and practice Shia Islam.

The United Arab Emirates is a very rich Arab nation. On the one hand, they practice a very conservative branch of Sunni Islam and, on the other, their laws are very tolerant towards foreigners.

And Lebanon is the most culturally diverse country you can never think of, in which around 40% of the population are Christian, from many different branches and backgrounds.

And then of course you have Israel, Palestine, Yemen and a large etcetera.

Each country is a completely different world, so you can’t put them all in the same bucket.

Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, a region inhabited by Kurds, a separate group of people from Arabs, and one of the safest places in the Middle East


There are actual borders

The Middle East isn’t like a Schengen zone, in which all Arabs and non-Arabs cross from one to another freely, but they have secured borders, many of which people are not even allowed to cross.

What I want to say is that, if there was a war or any conflict in a specific country, it doesn’t mean that the neighboring countries are unsafe as well.

For example, according to the World Economic Forum, Oman is the 4th safest country in the world. Yet, it shares a border with Yemen that is completely open to both foreigners and locals.

This is Oman, just a couple of kilometers away from the Yemeni border, and the most beautiful region in the country


The media tells you only one part of the story

You already know that but, just to remind you that the media only shows you one side of the story which, unfortunately, tends to be the ugliest side.

Just remember that countries are big pieces of territory and, whenever they show you an image of a partially destroyed city like Aleppo, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the cities are unsafe as well.

I mean, did you know that the city of Damascus almost remained untouched in the current Civil War?

What if the only thing you knew about the USA was the 9/11 attacks?

Syria is considered one of the most dangerous countries to travel in the Middle East but I took this photo in Damascus in 2019


Many Middle Eastern countries are safer than yours

Hopefully, the above reasons were quite obvious to many of you, but I have always had a hard time trying to convince my friends about this one.

For some reason, crime in the Middle East is barely existent.

You may find some little petty crime in a few capitals like Amman (Jordan) and Cairo (Egypt) but that’s because they are the most touristic capitals in the region and, in any case, it’s nothing particularly disturbing.

War and terrorism-wise, some parts of the Middle East are f***ed up, for sure, but outside those few areas, life is definitely safer than in your home country, and the locals have developed such a strong sense of community that it makes traveling super pleasant, as you don’t need to worry about anything.

where in the middle east is it safe to travel
Some old tanks from Sadam Hussein’s Army


Which countries in the middle east are safe to visit?

Please note that the following country breakdown is a mere opinion, based on all my years of travel in the Middle East. It may differ from your own and, if it does, I will be happy to answer your concerns in the comments section.

Extremely safe countries in the Middle East to travel to

The safest countries in the Middle East to go right now are the Gulf Monarchies on and around the Arabian Peninsula.

All of them are incredibly rich (except for Saudi Arabia), two of them having the highest GDP per capita in the world.

Oddly enough, the local population in all of them barely reaches 50%, the rest being all immigrants, mostly coming from South Asia (Pakistan, India and Bangladesh), but there is also a large Western expat community.

The Gulf Monarchies are definitely safer than any other Western country.

Bahrain

The smallest of all, Bahrain is a tiny island connected to Saudi Arabia by a bridge and infamous for having the most permissive rules towards alcohol and prostitution, the reason why its many bars tend to be filled with Saudis who come over for the weekend to enjoy some freedom.

In my opinion, there is nothing of interest in Bahrain other than eating out and clubbing but still, if you want to party legally until 6am in the morning, this is one of the safest countries in the Middle East to do so.


Oman

I already mentioned it in the previous section that Oman is, according to the WEF, the 4th safest country in the world and in the Global Terrorism Index, compiled by the Institute of Economics and Peace, Oman is ranked as 0, meaning that the impact of terrorism is non-existent (USA is ranked as 5.4).

Moreover, despite the country’s obvious modernization, Oman is the only country that has been able to keep its most traditional essence, making travel here an even better and more authentic experience, in which the local Omanis will continuously bless you with their hospitality.

Furthermore, something worth mentioning about Oman is that, unlike other Arab countries, they have always strived to have good relationships with all Middle Eastern countries, including Israel and Iran, plus they stayed out of the Yemeni conflict.

Learn more:
Is Oman safe?
Travel in Oman, everything you need to know

In Oman, the safest country in the Middle East, there are plenty of ancient fortresses


United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Home to one of the most international cities in the world, Dubai, the UAE is an extremely developed country whose impeccable safety is hailed by absolutely each and every expat living there.

Let’s not forget, however, that the UAE is heavily involved in the Yemeni war, helping Saudi Arabia with the airstrikes, but then, your main concern should be ethical, rather than worrying about the country’s safety.

Learn more:
Dubai 7-day itinerary
Off the beaten track places in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates is not only about the typical luxuries you find in Dubai, but it is home to incredible deserts


Qatar

Officially the country with the highest GDP per capita in the world, Qatar is a powerful Arab country whose state model follows the same line as the UAE.

Due to its recent close ties with Iran, however, Qatar is going through a diplomatic crisis with its best friends from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who decided to boycott them indefinitely, but that doesn’t affect the security situation of one of the safest countries in the Middle East.


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia doesn’t come without its own issues. There is no political freedom and their laws are strictly based on Sharia, the Islamic law, whose main criticism in the West is that its rules bring women down to second class citizens.

Unfortunately, because of those facts, foreigners assume Saudi is inhabited by dangerous fanatics who would completely stone a woman to death just because she is a blonde foreigner, and I have actually heard a woman saying that.

After coming back from Saudi Arabia, I was heavily criticized by many readers who were questioning my ethical principles, and there was this specific woman who told me:

I don’t want to travel to Saudi Arabia because I don’t want to be stoned to death.

If you actually believe this, you clearly have no idea about anything. Saudi Arabia is, along with the other Gulf Monarchies, one of the safest countries in the Middle East.

I backpacked and hitchhiked around the country for over 2 weeks and had a real blast, not only because the country is filled with stunning natural sites but also because the people were amazingly kind, hospitable and helpful.

In my opinion, Saudi is the most misunderstood country on Earth, even more than Iran.

Learn more:
Tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia 2-week itinerary
Is ethical to travel in Saudi Arabia?

Beautiful, kind-hearted Saudi are the highlight of any trip to Saudi


Kuwait

I haven’t been to Kuwait, and I don’t have any interest in traveling there any time soon, but this is another business hub, similar to Qatar and the UAE, so the country is absolutely safe.


”Just safe” countries in the Middle East to go

Personally, I consider that some of the following countries are extremely safe to travel to as well, but I am putting them in the ‘’just safe section’’ because, while there isn’t any terrorist thread and stuff like that, they are politically unstable, especially Iran and Lebanon.

Iran

Unlike what many people in the West think, especially in the USA, Iran is an extremely safe Middle Eastern country.

On the one hand, violent crime is extremely rare and, on the other, there is no terrorism, especially because Iranians are Shia Muslims, the worst enemy of ISIS and other terrorist organizations alike.

I don’t know a single person who hasn’t had a great time in Iran, not only because the country has an enormous touristic potential but also because, along with the Omanis, Iranians are the most hospitable and kind-hearted people in the region.

However, because of the current protests and all the issues with the USA, who have flooded them with endless, annoying sanctions, traveling here comes with its own particular challenges, logistically speaking.

Learn more:
Is Iran safe?
Iran, 1-month itinerary
Iran travel tips

The Islamic architecture in Iran is absolutely out of this world


Lebanon

Lebanon is another often misunderstood country, for the following reasons.

First of all, it is located right at the heart of the turmoil, nestled between Syria and Israel and the truth is that a tiny northwestern region of Lebanon has suffered in the past from a small Syrian war spillover, but you weren’t able to go there anyways, even if you wanted to.

Second of all, people still associate Lebanon with war and yes, a bloody Civil War happened here, but it ended in 1991!

And third, while there have been some critical terrorist attacks, those bombs have always targeted Shia-populated districts – far away from any touristic area – plus there haven’t been more attacks than in other European countries.

Nevertheless, the political situation in Lebanon is today highly unstable and protests are now being spurred by the massive port explosion that worsened the situation even more.

Learn more:
Is Lebanon safe?
Lebanon, 2-week itinerary
Beirut travel guide

The FCO advises against traveling to Tripoli but the truth is that today, it is a peaceful traditional city


Jordan

After Egypt, Jordan is the most touristic country in the Middle East, home to mass tourism sites such as Petra, Jerash and the Dead Sea.

A very safe and politically stable country that even managed to escape from the 2011 Arab Spring.

Nevertheless, since this is a very touristic country, some petty crime exists – just regular pickpocketing – plus some women have claimed being verbally harassed by local men.

Petra is the most visited place in Jordan


Egypt

The situation in Egypt is very complicated and difficult to explain.

On the one hand, this is one of the most touristic countries in the world but, unfortunately, it has recently suffered from terrorism and, unlike in Lebanon, some of those attacks have targeted tourists.

As a result, tourism in Egypt has massively decreased to the extent that there is a tangible crisis, visible when you see a shit load of businesses closed and some internationally famous sites are empty.

Nevertheless, while I do believe that those attacks are a major concern, you need to know that they tend to be one-off events and the likelihood of suffering a car accident is much greater than being caught in a terrorist event.

Still, travel with caution, avoid the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula and Coptic Christian sites.

Learn more:
Egypt travel guide
Egypt off the beaten track

Besides its traditional temples and archaeological sites, in Egypt you can do many things, like visiting this traditional camel market in Daraw


Israel & Palestine

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is real, but the situation has dramatically improved and today, the West Bank, home to some really important Christian sites and cities, such as Bethlehem, is very safe for travel, so is Israel.

In the last years, all the Palestinian-Israeli issues you have been hearing in the media have mainly happened in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian region which is geographically separated from the West Bank.

The Gaza Strip can be dangerous but you can’t go there as a tourist anyways.

Learn more:
Palestine, 2-week itinerary
Gaza travel guide

is it safe to visit the Middle East
Palestine is filled with epic Christian sites, such as this Orthodox Monastery named Mar Saba


Relatively safe countries in the Middle East to travel to

Iraq

More than a relatively safe country, Iraq is divided into 2 regions: one which is extremely safe, and one which is not.

The extremely safe region is Iraqi Kurdistan, and the one which isn’t is actual Arab Iraq, Baghdad and stuff.

Iraqi Kurdistan is a completely different world. They aren’t Arabs but Kurds, control their own borders and are pro-American and pro-Israel, which is why they stayed out of the conflict that made Arab Iraq into a failed state.

I have been in Kurdistan twice, hitchhiked all around the country and it’s a real, very safe paradise, one of the safest regions outside of the Gulf Monarchies.

Arab Iraq, nevertheless, is a different story. While it may not be as dangerous as the media portrays, the threat is real but, in any case, you can’t travel there independently, as booking an organized tour is a visa requirement.

Learn more:
Is Iraq safe? Welcome to Kurdistan
A guide to travel in Iraq Kurdistan

This is Amedi, one of the oldest villages in the world, found in Iraqi Kurdistan


Dangerous, or less safe, countries in the Middle East

These two countries are dangerous but I am also calling them less safe countries because either the situation has improved – in Syria – or there are specific regions which managed to stay out of the conflict – in Yemen.

Syria

You already know the situation in Syria. There’s been a Civil War since 2011 that caused hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced people, making it one of the most dangerous countries on Earth.

Nevertheless, you also need to know that, today, the war is almost over and there are some Government-controlled areas, especially in the Western part of the country, which are now relatively safe for travel and, when I say relatively I mean that they are currently safe but the situation can change overnight.

I traveled in Syria recently, visiting Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. The security measures were insane, but I didn’t experience any bad situation; on the contrary, all the Syrians I met were great and helpful.

Learn more:
Syria travel guide
Visiting Aleppo after the war

The partially destroyed city of Aleppo


Yemen

Yemen is unsafe.

It’s an actual war zone where airstrikes are common and there are pro-ISIS people who would not hesitate to kidnap you if that meant making some extra money.

However, there are two regions – the island of Socotra and Hadramaut – that somehow, are staying away from this horrible war and, according to many travelers, they are relatively safe, especially Socotra.


Is the Middle East safe for solo female travelers?

I am completely aware that traveling in the Middle East as a woman is a different experience than as a man but, unfortunately, I can’t really speak for them.

What I would like to highlight, however, is that the different Middle Eastern issues the media talks about have little to do with a woman’s experience, but are more about being traditional, conservative Muslim countries, where the locals don’t know how to behave with Western women, or just women in general.

Because this is such an important topic, I decided to create a solo female travel section where solo women adventurers share their experiences:

If you want to write a guest post for Against the Compass, please send me your pitch ideas at joan(at)againstthecompass.com

Middle East safe countries

Disclosure: As a traveler, I use all the companies I recommend and you should know that, if you buy any service through any of these links, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These small earnings help me to improve and create more content for Against the Compass. I really appreciate your support :)

Start planning and booking your trip

For booking accommodation

Use Booking.com for hotels and guesthouses

Check on Hostelworld for for backpacker hostels

For travel insurance (with COVID-19 coverage), I recommend:

1 – IATI Insurance (5% discount) – Cheapest travel insurance and for travelers above 70

2 – True Traveller – Best backpacking insurance (only Europeans)

 

For all your travel gear

Trekking equipment, books, etc, check on Amazon

If you want to know all the companies I use to plan my trips, check my travel resources page

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *