Myth 4: The Middle East is Dangerous
Between Egypt and tourist havens like Israel and Turkey, the Middle East has its obvious havens for tourists. Westerners have safely traveled through these countries for years, taking advantage of beaches, old cities, and historic sites. Arabs also take advantage of local travel in safe countries in the Gulf: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates.
But what about places like Iraq or Afghanistan? Not all areas need to be avoided just because of what’s perceived from the news or because it has a travel alert.
The State Department travel alerts have one major flaw. They cover whole countries even when problems are isolated to a region. You wouldn’t cancel a trip to Cancun because of violence in Juarez, right?
For the same reason, don’t avoid Iraq just because of problems in Baghdad. Yes, Iraq. I’m talking about the Other Iraq, the majority Kurdish region that takes up the northern third of the country. Contemporary tourism here started as a publicity stunt, when a pro-war intellectual, the late Christopher Hitchens, decided to go on a holiday with his young son to show the progress in Iraq.
It’s good news that we can vacation to Iraq, because it’s the cradle of civilization, at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Erbil, for example, has been continuously inhabited for 7,000 years. You can visit ruins from 5000 BCE, before the advent of agriculture. And despite small crowds, the tourist sites are well developed. The Erbil Citadel has been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site, meaning it’s not only a special place, but it’s accessible as well. The biggest challenge of travel in the Kurdish north of Iraq? ATMs. There aren’t that many. So think about bringing traveler’s checks, cash, and your credit card.