Backpacking destinations you might not have thought of
For backpackers who are keen to travel somewhere that is a bit off the beaten track, North Africa and the Middle East offer some of the most fascinating and overlooked destinations.
The overthrow of the Gadaffi dictatorship in Libya has made the country a hot destination for enterprising backpackers. There are thousands of years of history to explore without the kind of crowds common at historical sites in Egypt, Greece and Italy.
However, weapons are in free circulation in Libya, so it’s important to check that your backpackers insurance is valid for the country. It is also advisable to check on the FCO website for advice on where it is safe to travel within the country.
If you do fancy braving the country once the dust has settled, why not enjoy the ancient Greek settlement Cyrene in eastern Libya that gave the region the name of Cyrenaica. You can still explore the Roman ruins at Leptis Magna, close to Tripoli in the west, almost alone. In between, visit the World War Two battle sites and graveyards at Tobruk, Benghazi and Tripoli.
There are a few hostels inland as far as the oasis town Murzuq in the southern Fezzan region, close to the borders of Niger and Mali. This town was once dubbed the “Paris of the Sahara”. It is dominated by a 16th-century fort built when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire.
Wonder at the magnificent rock formations around the wadis – dried river valleys – in south-west Libya. Follow through to Ubari, another oasis and the palm-fringed saline Ubari lakes that nestle in a sea of sand. You can swim in the lakes and buy a souvenir from visiting Tuareg tribesmen.
You can visit the world’s oldest skyscrapers in the mountain villages of Yemen. This was the land of King Solomon, the Kingdom of Himyar and Arabia Felix. Start at the fishing port of Hudaydah on the Red Sea, which is filled with boats from Eritrea and Djibouti as well as Yemen.. Continue to Aden, the former British colonial stronghold which also has a rich biblical history.
This is one of the hottest and most humid places on earth. It’s a good idea to find a safe driver to negotiate the hairpin roads up the coastal mountains to the desert plains. Sana’a, the capital that stands at an altitude of 12,000 feet, is famous for its towering houses decorated with intricate plaster designs. Watch how local workmen today still mould them with their fingers.
If you enjoy hiking and trekking, the central Haraz Mountains provide the most spectacular views and the best coffee in the country. This is a very conservative region so visitors should dress modestly and cover arms and legs.
Ma’rib in the east of Yemen is famed as the ancient capital of the Sheba kingdom. The Shebans built huge dams for irrigation and terraced the mountain slopes for agriculture. The remains of these are still visible.
Most of the trade in these parts was in the form of frankincense and myrrh. The Dhofar region of southern Oman, just over the border from Yemen, is famous for its frankincense trees (Boswellia sacra). Dried resin from these trees was carried by camel caravan to Yemen, through Arabia and to the Mediterranean.
Travel to Salalah, the Dhofar capital that sits alongside the Indian Ocean amid papaya trees and palms. Go diving, surfing, snorkelling or whale watching along the whole of the Indian Ocean coast in Oman from Salalah to Muscat, the capital city.
Forts, castles and endless historical treasures stand proudly along inland trading routes and towns. Wildlife reserves throughout the country boast leopards, oryx, ibex, desert foxes and gazelles.