Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Top Natural Beauty Spots to See on Middle East and African Vacations

Our world is an attractive place to experience. Here are my choices of 5 special scenic locations on Middle East and African vacations, offered in Goway’s world. Each one consists of natural beauty and is exceptional.

I am well aware that my choices will not be the next person’s. However, I challenge anyone to disagree with the merits of the following (restricted to 5).

Victoria Falls, Southern Africa

My first sight of Victoria Falls on a Zambia vacation was from a hotel situated on the banks of the Zambezi River. All I could discern was foam rising above the river. However, I could sense the power of the falls even then. Victoria Falls is a huge waterfall dividing two countries, Zimbabwe and Zambia. And why is it thus called? Well, it was the explorer, David Livingstone who, when he first laid eyes on it in 1855, named the falls in honour of Queen Victoria. But the falls also has another name given to it by the indigenous local people – “The Smoke That Thunders,” an apt description. It is not the highest or the widest falls in the world but it has the largest amount of falling water. It is twice the height of Niagara Falls. Now, whether you stay on the Zambia side in Livingstone or the Zimbabwe side in the town of Victoria Falls, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter. To get right up to it, you can join an organized guided tour or you can experience it on your own. One thing I will tell you is that the spray from the falls can rise to anywhere from 400 and 800 metres/1300 and 2600 feet. This means if you are not prepared, you are not going to just get wet but soaked, so wear something waterproof or rent one of the raincoats which are readily available. To reach the edge of the falls, you enter through moist tunnels in the rainforest. There is a concrete walkway which, in parts, gives you a good view. In fact, there are 16 viewpoints along the edge of the falls. One highlight is to descend a set of stairs to a viewpoint called the “Chain Walk” where you can look into what’s known as the Devil’s Cataract. Two activities that will give you another perspective on the falls are to take the cruise on the Zambezi River (which gets fairly close but not too close to be dangerous) or a flight on a helicopter or microlight plane, which lasts anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

If you are in Cape Town on a South Africa vacation, you absolutely cannot miss the presence of Table Mountain. It dominates the city skyline just as does the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. A UNESCO World Heritage site, literally hovering over the city and now officially recognized as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, it is South Africa’s most photographed landmark. The rocks on the mountain are over 600 million years old, making Table Mountain one of the oldest mountains in the world. Table Mountain offers fantastic views of the surrounding area including Cape Town, Table Bay, and Robben Island to the north and the Atlantic seaboard to the west and south. Apart from its size, 3 kilometres/2 miles from side to side, it has a flat top with edges consisting of steep cliffs (just like a table). When it is covered by a cloud bank which sometimes it is, this is referred to as the “tablecloth.”  The Table Mountain Cableway takes passengers from the lower cable station to the plateau at the top of the mountain. The cars rotate 360 degrees, allowing you to have panoramic views of the city as you ascend or descend. If really ambitious, you can walk up and/or down Table Mountain. Once up there, apart from gazing in awe at the views, you can also hike along one of the walking trails or simply visit the shops or the restaurant. One thing to watch out for is the baboons who are particularly cheeky and will steal anything you leave hanging around such as a purse or camera.

Table mountain at sunset, Cape Town, South Africa
Table mountain at sunset, Cape Town, South Africa

Sossusvlei, Namibia

The Namib Desert means “vast place,” a suitable name as the desert stretches for more than 2000 kilometres/1200 miles along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. It is the only true desert in Southern Africa. Part of the Namib Desert is Sossusvlei, the country’s most spectacular and best-known attraction to explore on a Namibia vacation. It is a salt and clay pan surrounded by world-famous red sand dunes. These immense sand dunes are among some of the highest in the world, reaching a height of almost 400 metres/1300 feet, and are magnificent, especially in the morning and evening light. The colours vary depending on the age of the dunes, with the oldest being the brightest. The largest dune has been nicknamed “Big Daddy,” standing over 300 metres/980 feet tall. Most of the wildlife here consists of small animals that live on little water. These include small reptiles and insects including geckos and snakes, but also some large mammals such as the oryx, the symbol of Namibia. Although Sossusvlei is largely barren of vegetation, lichens and succulents are found and a few types of trees are also able to survive the extremely arid climate.

Aerial view of the red dunes at Sossusvlei in Namib Desert, Namibia
Aerial view of the red dunes at Sossusvlei in Namib Desert, Namibia

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

One of my favourite game reserves in Tanzania is the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area which was formed two to three million years ago when a giant volcano exploded and then collapsed. It was named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. It was given its name by the Maasai people, the original inhabitants, which translates as “the Gift of Life.”  The crater, and it is a crater, hosts some of the highest densities of lions in the world and is a good place to see the endangered black rhino. The rim hosts leopards, elephants, and buffalo. In total, the crater houses a permanent population of more than 30,000 animals.

It is quite a sight to look down on the crater before descending, as all you basically can see is foliage, making you wonder where the wildlife is located. However, once your vehicle does descend, there is no lack of animal viewing. If you wish, you can stay at a lodge directly on the rim of the crater. From an ecotourism point of view, some of the local activities include tree planting projects, encouraging Maasai women to sell their handicraft products, introducing water harvesters to accumulate rainwater, and supporting local food producers. The Great Migration, one of the most incredible natural phenomena in the world, passes through Ngorongoro moving south in December and then returning north in June, something special to be experienced on Middle East and African vacations.

Related Article:
What is the Great Migration and When is the Best Time to Go on an East Africa Vacation?

Zebras and Wildebeests Walking Beside the Lake with Flamingos in the background in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Zebras, wildebeests, and flamingoes at Lake Nakuru, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Petra, Jordan

Petra is an amazing site not to be missed on a Jordan vacation. Access is through what is called the Siq, a narrow gorge, 1 kilometre/half a mile long, flanked by high cliffs. You have a choice as to how you reach Petra through the Siq. You can walk, which isn’t too strenuous and is mainly downhill. The alternative is to hire one of the horse and carriage means of transportation. At the end of this gorge, you dramatically arrive at the Treasury Building, carved out of the rock face in the first century AD. After this, you enter a valley where you have your first sight of a vast area surrounded by high rose-coloured cliffs. In this great expanse of land, there are hundreds of rock-cut tombs. Roughly 500 still exist. This historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan was established as early as the 4th Century BC as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom (nomadic Arabs), with a population of around 20,000 inhabitants. It is the number one attraction on trips to Jordan and remained unknown to Europeans until it was rediscovered in 1812.

Highlights include a Roman-style theatre, obelisks, temples, colonnaded streets, and the Ad-Deir Monastery, which is situated on top of a rock face and reached by climbing 800 steps. Also located here are the Petra Archaeological Museum and the Petra Nabataean Museum. An anomaly to me is the restaurant and cafe run by the Movenpick chain in the midst of Petra. However, to see most of this fascinating place, you do need a respite and I certainly appreciated a short stop here. One tip – you need a full day at least to do justice to Petra. There is so much to see and places to explore. If not with a guide, you are totally free to wander at leisure wherever you wish.

Treasury building in Petra, Jordan
Treasury building in Petra, Jordan
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Robert Glazier
Robert Glazier

Contributing Writer - With over 40 years experience in the travel industry, and working for Goway for the last 19 years, British-born Robert Glazier has travelled to over 80 countries. “I have never met a destination which didn’t have something to interest me,” he says. His first foray abroad was from England to Switzerland on a school trip at the age of 14, and that was the start of a long journey. An avid runner, Robert’s favourite way of exploring a destination, is to don his running shoes and really get to know it on foot, even if it means sometimes getting lost! His advice to other travellers? Always wonder what is around the next corner!

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