Middle East and North Africa: Q&A for travellers
The wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East shows no signs of abatement, with flashpoints across the Arab World. At the time of writing there have been very recent protests in Morocco and serious civil unrest in Bahrain, while Libya is the scene of some of the bloodiest clashes yet. Meanwhile, travel advice to Egypt and Tunisia, the original theatres of protest, has been relaxed by some countries.
Here's some up-to-date advice for anyone planning to travel to the region.
I’m supposed to be travelling to the Middle East or North Africa soon. Should I cancel my trip?
It depends where you’re going.
As I said above, you should in the first instance follow your home nation’s travel advice. If you’re a Brit, that means leaving Libya and Bahrain if you’re there and advising against travelling to those countries unless it is essential to do so. If you do still go under these circumstances your travel insurance will not usually be valid should you require assistance. Yemen has been considered unsafe for some time, with a particular focus on Sana’a.
Elsewhere the advice is different and fragmented and varies from place to place. See below for information on Egypt.
Algeria has been subject to protests and some violent clashes. Demonstrations in Morocco and Jordan are not on the same scale as in other countries. At the time of writing, Syria, Lebanon and other countries in the region are unaffected.
Tunisia is safe for travellers but, like everywhere in the region you should keep abreast of political developments.
Is Egypt off limits?
It is now broadly considered safe for travellers to return to Cairo, and Luxor has been calm for some time. The Red Sea resorts and Aswan were never affected by events in Egypt. Note though that while the British government does not, the US government continues to advise against travel to Egypt.
The Red Sea resorts are a case apart, separated by distance and atmosphere from Cairo and other cities, and are very much open for business. There are some very attractive offers for beach holidays to Dahab and Sharm el-Sheikh available and are likely to be for some time as theses resorts try to woo back nervous tourists.
I’m in the Middle East or North Africa NOW. My Mum is freaking out. Should I come home?
The answer is probably no unless you have very clear guidance from your government that you should leave the country. But you should call your Mum a bit more often and let her know you’re ok.
Anyone who’s travelled widely will have seen a demonstration or two and know that, on the whole, these are a fact of life in big cities and provided you avoid them it can feel like life is going on as normal. They’re not normally anything to freak out about.
However, it is very clear that in some popular destinations the situation can change very quickly and demonstrations can develop into something much bigger. It is worth investing in an hour a day on the web checking travel advice and reading the news (many online publications have liveblogs dedicated to the situation, like the BBC and The Guardian). If in doubt, leave big cities and spend some time in smaller towns or rural areas. Do some trekking or desert camping until things have calmed down. If they’re not calming down then consider leaving. Most visits to the region, considering where most travellers go, will continue to be trouble free and very rewarding.
What about Israel?
Travel to Israel continues as normal, and it makes for an excellent alternative to destinations in the Middle East which you may have to postpone visiting for now.
The place I’m going to is calm now. Is it going to stay that way?
As you might imagine, it is hard to say. I’m pondering this too as I’m travelling next week to a country in the region unaffected by protests but one many observers have suspected might see them. The best advice is to keep a very close eye on news, see what travellers on Lonely Planet's community forum Thorn Tree who are there are saying (they usually have a different perspective from those who aren’t) and have a backup plan in case you can’t travel.
I’m booked to travel somewhere in the region, say to Morocco or Jordan, and have been following the advice you have given above. I don’t feel comfortable travelling. Can I cancel and get my money back?
Probably not. Without explicit advice from your government that the destination you’re travelling to is unsafe and to be avoided you won’t normally be able to make changes to your bookings without incurring penalties or, in the event of you holding a non-refundable ticket - which you may well do as they’re usually the cheapest – lose the booking altogether.
It’s worth putting a call in to whoever you booked with and chatting your plans and concerns through. While many companies will stick to hard and fast rules these are extraordinary circumstances and some flexibility may be possible, especially if you’re a regular customer.
Do consider though that all the counties in the Middle East and North Africa are to a greater or lesser degree reliant on tourism as a source of income, and by choosing not to visit somewhere that’s safe to do so you may be both depriving people there of much-needed funds and depriving yourself on a superb holiday.
- UK residents should visit the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website for the latest information about travel in the Middle East.
- US residents should visit the US Consular website for current travel warnings.
- Australian residents should visit the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website for current travel advice.
- Canadian citizens can head to the Foreign Affairs and International Trade site
- New Zealanders should read up on the situation at Safe Travel
UK Travel Editor Tom Hall tweets here: @tomhalltravel
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