Landscapes in Middle East
In an effort to make travel easier in the Kurdistan region in early 20th century, the local government wanted a road built. The problem is, the area stretching from the regional capital of Erbil north to the Iranian border is rather remote and very mountainous. The locals simply did not have the expertise to take on such a project themselves. Enter New Zealander A. M. Hamilton. While the techniques and statistics associated with the road (built between 1928 and 1932) are somewhat interesting, it is instead the setting of the road that is of interest to modern day travellers. To use words like spectacular or breathtaking simply do not do it justice. Carving its way through valleys and ravines with the backdrop of waterfalls and snowcapped mountains, the road (known as the Hamilton Road) is without question the most beautiful journey, not only in Iraq, but in the entire region.
A bit overhyped, but nevertheless, a lovely and diverse nature reserve with rocky mountain slopes with scrubs and real trees (not something you see much of in Jordan). By staying at the fifteen century ottoman village of Dana right on the edge of the mountain plateau you have a splendid view over the valley. To fully appreciate the reserve you probably need to see and experience it from different angles, whether it's from a trekking trail or from another view point on the mountain ridge.
This is a stunning desert setting with red sand dunes and amazing pink rock formations raising straight up from the valley floor. Throw in several sites with ancient rock carvings and a few newer historical sites from the time when the British officer T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) passed through (in early 20th-century) and you have one of Jordan major attractions. The area is inhabited by friendly Bedouin tribes, who runs the adventure tours into the desert. Most sites can be reached with a four-wheel drive within a full day, but stay overnight at a "Bedouin camp" and enjoy the clearest night sky you might ever experience. If you fancy a camel ride (and a sore bum) or want some trekking add an extra day, the serene scenery only becomes better in a slow pace.
It's a gorge, but a very deep one. The view from the top is... well, breathtaking. You need a four-wheel drive to get to up there, which is at the base of Jebel shams (3000 m), the country's highest mountain. Keep an eye on the dirt track for there is nothing to stop you going over the edge.
There is not much Costa-del-Sol-like beaches in Oman, but that is probably also why you want to come here - to see something different. Part of Oman's coastline consists of jagged pinkish mountains breaking off at the sea with long almost-deserted beaches below, and Yiti beach is just one of these. Here, the sandy inlet extends out to the nearby rocks at low tide, attracting not only wading waterbirds, but also local families who jump from dry spot to dry spot in their burkas and thawbs (the traditional white dress for men).
The Al Disah Wadi is really something, but you need a proper 4x4 to drive through it. However, the landscape in the area is so breathtaking, that a trip in a normal car to Al Disah (and back the same way) is well worth the effort. The wadi can be accessed from both the east and west, this is what you can expect of the east route: Along the main road (8900 on Google maps) the stunning mountain scenery is like straight out of a wild west movie, but it gets even more dramatic when turning off to Al Disah (8788 on Google maps). As soon as the road climbs over the mountain ridge, your entire view will be filled with the several hundred metres high cliffs of the wadi. There is good tarmac all the way to the bottom, where it suddenly ends in sand and rocks. The proper entrance to the wadi is a few kilometres further in.
The 15 kilometres long wadi is one of Saudi Arabia's natural wonders. It's a narrow canyon, which zigzag through a sandstone massif, where the sheer cliff sides are over several hundred metres high. The wadi runs from east to west, where it ends at the town of the same name. The road to Al Disah passes through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery Saudi Arabia has to offer and is a sight of its own. The road has good tarmac all the way to the bottom of the canyon, but from here you need a proper 4x4 to drive the sandy track through the wadi.
Nothing can prepare you for the mind blowing feeling, when you stand on the edge of Al Shaq. The canyon starts as a wadi which suddenly cracks open into a deep canyon. As you follow the edge (we took the south edge), the canyon gets wider and deeper, with even more amazing views. Unless you have a proper 4x4, which can drive in sand and over big rocks, you have to park at the highway and walk about 1.5 hour in. Thankfully, you can actually see the canyon from the highway as a small crack in the horizon between mountains.
The barren plateau breaks off into a 300 metres deep drop at the Edge of the World (Jebel Fihrayn). Some of the towering cliffs are almost vertical with breathtaking views over the desert below. There are several hiking trails to spectacular viewpoints, one more dramatic than the other. The sight has received quite a hype, since Saudi Arabia introduced tourist visa. There are two routes; the most popular is via the Acacia Valley and is only open during the weekend (Friday and Saturday) and the weekday route via the Sadus Dam, which are open at all times. Both roads are rough dirt roads, so don't try in a low-clearance car.
Elephant Rock is exactly what the name suggests, a rock which looks like a giant elephant resting its trunk on the ground. It's a popular site in the evening, when the light is soft and warm. Though the last bit of the road is in sand, it can be done in a normal car without problems. The picture is taken during the winter festival, where an event took place, so don't expect coffee tables if you come at other times.