Middle East Extravanganza Tour

Start
May 15, 2023
Tehran
End
Jun 11, 2023
Beirut
Duration
28 days
Price
US$3995.00





TOUR OVERVIEW


What do Iran, Lebanon and Syria have in common? Well other than the fact they're in the Middle East and the commonalities that come with that, not much else! That's why they're our amazing destinations for our Middle East Extravaganza Tour. We want you to see everything this spectacular part of the world has to offer, and there's no better way than heading to three markedly different places, all with so much to offer.

Beginning in Iran, we experience everything this surprising country has to offer, full of history and once the centre of the world. We then head on to Lebanon which despite recent economic problems is still known as the Paris of the Middle East for a reason. It's cool, chic and definitely where the party is in the region. We then save the best for last finishing with Syria, which will leave you in amazement at how normal it feels, even after a decade of crisis.

They say all good things come in threes. On this tour, you'll visit three amazingly cosmopolitan capitals - Tehran, Beirut and Damascus. You'll visit three of the world's most important historical sites - Persepolis, Baalbek and Palmyra. In fact you'll experience everything all three countries have to offer. From the markets of Isfahan, to the futuristic brutualist world fair site of Tripoli to the beach resort of Latakia.

We won't just show you the awesome side, which is hard to hide, you'll also see the trials and tribulations of all three countries, which as we all know, have all experienced their own destruction, tragedies and hardships.

SAIGA tours' Middle East Extravaganza takes you to three of the most unique, exciting and eye opening countries this incredible region has to offer.

View the full itinerary


This tou can also be done in sections: The Unexplored Iran Roatrip , Unique Lebanon and Summer in Syria .








If you like the look of this tour but the dates don't work for you, or you'd like to do part of the tour, please get in touch and let us know. All our tours are able to be split into smaller sections, we're always scheduling new tours and your dates might work for one of them, or we can always organise an independent tour.

INCLUSIONS:

Visa support for Syria

Accommodation in twin share at roughly 3 star hotels, breakfast included

Transport as per itinerary (flight between Tehran and Beirut not included)

Entrance fees to most sites mentioned in itinerary (except hammam in Syria)

SAIGA guide and local guides


SINGLE SUPPLEMENT: $995


EXCLUSIONS:

Visa fee

Visa support if necessary for Iran or Lebanon

Meals other than breakfast at accommodation

Transport to Tehran at the beginning of the tour, between Tehran and Beirut, and from Beirut at the end of the tour

Personal expenses such as souvenirs or any optional activities

Any COVID related expenses



TOUR HIGHLIGHTS


Stare into the mesmerising flames of Tashkooh, Fire Mountain

Get a different side of the story at the Hezbollah Museum

Explore the breathtakingly in-tact Roman ampitheatre in Bosra



Itinerary
Day 1Mon May 15
Tehran
  • Arrive in Tehran for a quick tour briefing, then head straight out to explore the amazing city that is Tehran. You’ll be shocked at how cosmopolitan Tehran is, so don’t worry you’ll be able to get a flat white! We’ll make sure you can change some money as well at the black market rate.
  • We’ll first head to the former US embassy that was taken over by protestors in November 1979. Today the former embassy is known locally as the US Den of Spies and is home to a wonderful museum.
  • We’ll then head to the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest markets in the entire world with over 10km of walkways. The Bazaar is like a city within a city, with banks, mosques and hotels. We’ll pick up some lunch here.
  • In the afternoon we’ll head to the Holy Defence Museum which tells the story of the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Right next to the museum is the Tabiat Bridge, known as Nature Bridge, the beautiful modern structure connecting two of the post popular parks in Tehran. Here we’ll see Iranians doing what they do best, picnicking and relaxing.
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Day 2Tue May 16
Tehran, Abyaneh, Isfahan
  • Today we’ll hit the road, with our first stop being just south of Iran at the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who led the 1979 revolution to overthrow the Shah and establish the modern Islamic Republic of Iran.

  • We’ll then continue to the town of Abyaneh, known as the red village as all the buildings are built using the local red soil. Like an oasis in the desert, this small cool paradise is atypical of the surrounding areas and inhabitants live in a very traditional manner. Local rules mean any new construction must continue to be built using the red clay of the area.

  • Finally, we’ll continue on to Isfahan, where you’ll have the evening free to wander around possibly the most beautiful city in Iran.

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Day 3Wed May 17
Isfahan
  • Today we’re exploring Isfahan which has a lot to offer. We’ll start off by visiting the UNESCO listed Imam Square which was previously used as a polo field! We’ll visit Square Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque which was completed in 1619 after nearly 20 years of work. Today, the mosque stands as a magnificent and detailed public work. However, when it was originally built it was a private and luxurious place of worship for Shah Abbas I and the women of his court.
  • Surrounding Imam square is the bazaar of Isfahan where you’ll get a chance to walk around and if you’re so inclined try some Iranian ice cream! We’ll have lunch at one of the coolest restaurants in Iran, Azadegan Teahouse, with every centimetre of wall space displaying an eclectic array of nostalgia and memorabilia.
  • After lunch we’ll head to the Armenian Vank Cathederal. Yes you read that right, a church in Iran!
  • We’ll then finish the day by taking a walk along the river to get a look at the two most famous sites in Isfahan, the Khaju Bridge and the Si o Se Bridge. You’ll get a chance here to wander around and mingle with locals, who, you guessed it, are picnicking and relaxing.
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Day 4Thu May 18
Isfahan, Varzane Desert, Khoramdasht
  • Today we’re going to say goodbye to Isfahan and have some fun doing something a bit different. We’ll head out to the Varzane Desert for some dune bashing, quad biking and other exciting activities.

  • We’ll then stay in the small village of Khoramdasht where we’ll throw a little party with some of our Iranian friends.

  • There might even be some intoxicating beverages!

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Day 5Fri May 19
Khohramdasht, Meybod, Yazd
  • On the way to Yazd we’ll stop in Meybod, a lovely little desert town, parts of which are millennia old, some of which are abandoned which gives us the opportunity to do a little exploring. Urb-ex, but ancient. Much of it is left in its original state rather than being reconstructed so we’ll get a real idea of life past.
  • Continuing on to Yazd which is the centre of the original religion of Iran – Zoroastrianism. Here we’ll learn about this unique ancient religion by spending the afternoon firstly visiting the Eternal Flame. This brick Zoroastrian temple holds a fire that has burned for more than 1,500 years. The ancient flame has been kept alive throughout various centuries and relocations and continues to burn today.
  • Next we’ll head to the Dowlatabad Garden which is a classic example of Persian gardens. Its 33.8 meter tall windcatcher is the tallest adobe-made windcatcher in the world. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011, as part of the Persian gardens.
  • Lastly we’ll head to the Tower of Silence. Until 40 years ago, corpses could still be found on top of the Towers of Silence in Yazd, Iran, slowly disintegrating or being picked apart by desert vultures.
  • In the Zoroastrian tradition, once someone has died, their body can immediately be contaminated by demons and made impure. To prevent this infiltration, Zoroastrians purified the dead body by exposing it to the elements and local fowl on top of flat-topped towers called dakhmas in the desert.
  • Although the towers are no longer used in ceremony, they can be visited along with a number of the ossuaries in the area.
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Day 6Sat May 20
Yazd
  • Today is a relaxing day and we can have a late start, as we’ll be exploring the old town and its winding narrow alleyways.
  • Yazd has an extreme and arid climate. It can get very hot in the daytime and cool down considerably at night. Long before electricity and air conditioning were invented, back when Iran was called Persia, staying cool in these conditions required ingenuity; that’s how windcatchers were born.
  • Windcatchers are a traditional Persian architectural design that creates natural ventilation in buildings. The basic design consists of a tower that rises from a building below, with openings at the top. Yazd, one of the largest cities i n Iran, is known as the “City of Windcatchers”.
  • Yazd is also known for having a large network of qanats , which are underground channels that transfer water from a well to the surface. The windcatchers and qanats often worked together to create an amplified cooling effect.
  • Yazd is also amazing for its sunset views, so make sure you’ve got plenty of space left on your memory card.
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Day 7Sun May 21
Yazd, Persepolis
  • Today we’ll drive to Persepolis, one of the great ancient sites of the world, and spend the afternoon there. Persepolis was once the richest city on earth – the glittering capital of the Achaemenid Empire. At the heart of the city lay the royal palace – a wonder of gold and silver, ivory, and precious stones. From there, Xerxes planned his war against Greece – and the treasure of a vast empire piled up in the store-rooms.
  • In 330 BCE, Persepolis was captured by Alexander the Great. Before he left the city, he ordered the palace be burned to the ground – whether through drunken malice or sober calculation, it is impossible to be sure. Today the haunting, spectacular ruins of Persepolis reveal both the glory of the Achaemenid Empire, and the abruptness of its passing. The palace is still marked by Alexander’s fire: three feet of ash covered the floor in some places when it was first excavated – and many of the columns are still visibly scarred by those flames which burned over two thousand years ago.
  • There are plenty of places to sit down and have a cold drink meaning that those who want extra time to explore are able to do so while others who feel they have gotten the most out of it can relax.
  • Since we’ll be staying near to the ancient site we won’t be in a rush and can even stay to enjoy the sunset over the ruins.
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Day 8Mon May 22
Persepolis, Shiraz
  • It’s a short drive today to Shiraz, which most of you probably know from one of your favourite wine varieties.
  • Today we’ll visit Nasir al-Mulk mosque, also know as the Pink Mosque. There’s a chance you will have seen pictures of this online as it has possibly the most beautiful stained glass window display in the world, making the interior dazzle with colour.
  • As if that wasn’t beautiful enough, next we head to the Shah Cheragh mosque, which is completely covered in mirrors. Rather than being inside a religious building, it feels like you’re inside a disco ball.
  • Despite being damaged by human hands and natural disasters over the centuries, the mosque has been maintained and repaired and shines brightly even today. The increasingly sprawling site is still an extremely important pilgrimage location for Shia Muslims, however visitors of any faith are likely to marvel at the sheer beauty of this glassy wonder.
  • Lastly we’ll head to the Eram Gardens. Another example of a classical Persian garden, it’s possibly the most famous in all of Iran. With their beautiful flowers, refreshing air, aromatic myrtles and towering cypress trees, including one tree which is said to date back to 3000 years ago, the Eram Gardens are a major tourist destination, especially during the spring. Locals flock here and no doubt you’ll end up striking up a conversation with some and being asked to join in photos.
  • In the evening we’ll head to the main square to enjoy some alfresco dining at one of the popular hip cafes.
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Day 9Tue May 23
Shiraz, Ghalat, Fire Mountain, Ramhormoz
  • Leaving Shiraz, we’ll head to a village which has recently gained notoriety and earned the nickname “Little Amsterdam”. Known for its open attitude towards marijuana and large fields growing it , Ghalat is now a popular destination for a quick day trip for local Iranians. I wonder why? Ghalat was previously famous for its vineyards, but with the Islamic revolution they needed to find a new crop to make money, so cannabis it was.
  • We’ll then continue to Ramhormoz, on a beautiful mountain drive. You’ve probably never heard of it, because, well, there’s no reason to have heard of it. No foreigners come here because there’s nothing to see. The reason we’ll be stopping here is twofold. Firstly it’s a convenient stop on our grand tour around Iran, and secondly we can use it as a base to visit Tashkooh, otherwise known as Fire Mountain! Plus, we also like to visit little-known places that never see any tourists!
  • After checking in we’ll drive to Tashkooh at that perfect time when it’s still daylight but we’ll be there for sunset, and then also be there when it’s dark, allowing us to see it in all its glory. Gas seeping out of the side of the hill catches on fire in the extreme heat of the area, allowing us to see a hillside that’s literally on fire.
  • The place is a popular spot for locals, and during the weekends it’s not uncommon to see people picnicking and cooking food above the flames.
  • After we’ve taken all this in, we’ll head back to Ramhormoz for dinner.
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Day 10Wed May 24
Ramhormoz, Shushtar, Shush, Dezful
  • Heading north today through the Arabic part of Iran, this area is hot desert. The province is called Khuzestan. You’ll feel the difference compared with the normal tourist trail as we head through areas not used to foreigners.
  • Our first stop is the Shushtar Hydraulic System. Doesn’t sound like much, but this labyrinth of dams, bridges, canals, and other structures dates back to the 5 th century BC and is seriously cool and almost looks like an aqua theme park. UNESCO describes it as ‘a masterpiece of creative genius’.
  • We’ll then continue to St Daniel’s tomb in Shush. There are several places in the world that claim to hold the remains of the biblical prophet Daniel. These include Samarkand, 4 different sites in Iraq, 1 in Turkey and even another in Morocco. All we know is that Shush is a weird small town and this pilgrimage site is a bit different to your classic sites.
  • We’ll then finish our day in the city of Dezful. The name Dezul means Fortress Bridge and is a colourful vibrant town considering its very regional nature. There’s a beautiful waterfront, with ruins literally in the middle of the river, and lots of locals relaxing on the picturesque waterfront, so we’ll join in  and head down to the riverfront for a great local meal and even a shisha.
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Day 11Thu May 25
Dezful, Ali Sadr
  • Today is a long drive through some very varied terrain as we head back towards Tehran. We’ll leave the desert and head up into the mountains through Lorestan. All of a sudden out of nowhere green pastures appear and even snow-capped mountains.
  • We’ll stop for lunch in Korramabad as we make our way further north, arriving in Ali Sadr in the afternoon.
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Day 12Fri May 26
Ali Sadr
  • After yesterday’s long drive, today will be a slower pace, visiting the Ali Sadr cave, one of the largest subterranean water complexes in the entire world, arguably the largest. We’ll explore this amazing place by boat, travelling through numerous grottos, witnessing fantastic rock formations, and definitely getting our quota of stalactites, some several stories tall.
  • The water itself is crystal clear and if it weren’t for the movement of the boat, would look like a pane of glass. The colours are sure to mesmerise as we head through tunnels and winding passages. Caves such as the Wedding Room, known for its 1000 stalactites, and the Freedom Hall, at a whopping 600m long are sure to amaze in this natural wonder.
  • Ali Sadr was only found in 1963 but had been used by humans thousands of years ago with the oldest cave painting dating back 12000 years.
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Day 13Sat May 27
Ali Sadr, Tehran
  • We’ll head back to Tehran today and if we have time in the afternoon, we’ll head to the Tehran Aerospace Exhibition Centre. It’s not really an exhibition centre, but more an aeroplane graveyard with Boeings, Lockheeds, Cessnas and other planes left rusting in a large open field next to Tehran’s Mehrabad airport. For lovers of all things retro, you’ll also appreciate the old-fashioned livery and colour schemes while being envious of the much more spacious cabins of years past.
  • Tonight we’ll have our last dinner all together and reminisce over the great tour of this fantastic country we just had.
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Day 14Sun May 28
Tehran, Fly to Beirut
  • Today we will fly between Tehran and Beirut (flights not included).
  • Free time in Tehran for the rest of the day. There are loads more things you can do in this vibrant city if you want to, and we can give you lots of advice if you want it. Or you might just want to have a wander and relax with some delicious food.
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Day 15Mon May 29
Beirut
  • We will start off the morning with a traditional Lebanese breakfast at one of the most famous restaurants in all of Beirut. Get ready for some of the best hommus of your life!
  • We'll then make our way over to Pigeon Rocks to see one of Beirut’s most famous sites. From here we'll meander along the Corniche, taking in the beautiful Mediterranean seaside views of Beirut and soaking in the atmosphere.
  • Next we'll jump in a taxi and make our way to another institution of Beirut, the famous Hana Mitri ice cream shop. It might look like a nothing hole in the wall type place, but this ice cream is special. You will not be disappointed!
  • From there we'll weave our way through the Achrafieh district to Gemmayzeh where we will understand where Beirut gets its name of “Paris of the East”. This is the European hipster heart of Beirut, complete with an Armenian flare.
  • Here we will try yet more of Beirut's delicacies, whilst exploring the history of the aristocratic families of Beirut. This will also be chance to see the vast contrasts between Beirut's rich upper classes, and the poor.
  • Our next stop will be the “Egg”, which was originally used as a movie theatre but now is nothing but a hollow concrete structure.
  • Lastly we'll take a walk past the explosion site, before heading back towards Hamra to round out the day.
  • If you would like us to help you with accommodation or anything else while you're in Lebanon, please let us know .
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Day 16Tue May 30
Beirut, Tripoli, World Fair Site, Byblos, Microbrewery
  • We will meet this morning at 9am to begin our exciting trip to some of Lebanon’s more interesting and unusual sites.
  • We’ll start off with a drive up the north coast of Lebanon. Our first stop is the Tripoli International Fair Site . In 1963, the famous brutalist architect Oscar Niemeyer was commission to design a complex for a World Expo. Unfortunately, construction was interrupted by the Lebanese Civil War and the project remaine d unfinished and since then it has been left to decay. The fair grounds present us with an awesome opportunity to explore some amazing, abandoned brutalist architecture. We’ll then head into the centre of Tripoli to take a walk around and get some lunch.
  • On the way back south, we’ll stop in at the famous ancient city of Byblos. Many believe Byblos is the oldest city in the entire world, with it first being inhabited between 8800 and 7000 BC! Over the course of its existence, Byblos has seen ma ny of the world’s empires come and go, including the Egyptian, Assyrian, Phoenician, Persian, Greek, Roman and Ottoman just to name a few.
  • One last stop, this time at a microbrewery! “A microbrewery in Lebanon?” you’re thinking… Opened in 2014, this local watering hole offers some unique drops made on site. Filled with young and hip Lebanese, we’ll stop by to have a drink. For those who didn’t get enough abandoned buildings in Tripoli, there is a never-finished aquarium right next door.
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Day 17Wed May 31
Hezbollah Museum, Al Khiam Prison
  • Today we’ll head in the opposite direction and drive south, first to the port city of Sidon, another town which claims to be the oldest in the world. Here we’ll stop to get permits to head to the south. This is the only way to get these permits, they don’t issue them in advance, but it in itself is a pretty unique and interesting experience!
  • We’ll then head to the famous Hezbollah Resistance Museum. This open-air museum was built on one of the sites of battles they fought against Israeli soldiers. This theme park/propaganda museum is surprisingly tasteful and shows both the lives of soldiers as well as the politics behind the deadly confrontations. It is due to Hezbollah that Israeli forces retreated from this part of southern Lebanon in 2000, after 22 years of occupation.
  • We’ll then use our permits to travel to the Al Khiam Prison , which was notoriously used by the Israeli occupation and their Lebanese allies to detain and t orture Lebanese resistance fights. Here we’ll see the methods used to torture and gain important information for the war. When the prison was liberated, the Lebanese allies of Israel who ran the prison fled to Israel. Parts of the prison were then bom bed to hide the evidence.
  • Finally we’ll take a drive along the wall that the Israelis have built to cut off parts of Lebanon and the border areas under the watch of UN peacekeepers. After a very full day of site-seeing, we’ll head back to Beirut with a stop in Sidon for dinner.
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Day 18Thu Jun 1
Baalbek and Rayak Winery
  • Baalbek is one of those must-see sites, the most famous in all of Leban on and considered one of the world’s most important historical sites. During the Greek and Roman Empires, the city was known as Heliopolis. Baalbek dates back to possibly as early as 9000 BC, when it was an important place of worship. In 1984 it was made a UNESCO World Heritage site and you can see why with its magnificent towering monuments and impressive structures. Baalbek stopped being a city in 748 when it was partly destroyed and ransacked by Marwan II of the Umayyad Caliphate.
  • We'll take the scenic route there, through the mountains east of Beirut, but on the way back we'll drive through the Beka Valley, stopping at our favourite winery on the way home.
  • Rayak Winery is in the town of Rayak, and is a really magical experience. Family run, it is definitely a passion project, and you won't find their wines sold anywhere other than at their own cellar door. For $5 per person we'll be given a "tasting" (though we can pour our own from the vats!), while the owner will proudly explain in as much detail as you like about all the processes involved. Then to top it off, we'll be given an arak display. And this is no joke - this is genuinely some of the best wine you'll ever have tasted.
  • We'll stop for dinner on the way through the Beka Valley and return to Beirut in the evening.
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Day 19Fri Jun 2
Jeita Grotto, Dictator Museum, Moussa Castle
  • Another one of the must-see sites in Lebanon is the Jeita Grotto. The grotto is the longest cave in the Middle East at over 9km long and is only a short drive from Beirut. There are actually two caves, but they are linked by smaller passages. One of the highlights is the impressive collection of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the underground river.
  • It is believed the caves were infact inhabitated during prehistoric times but then weren’t discovered until 1836 by an American missionary.
  • The area itself has been appropriately kept natural with souvenir shops, train rides, ropeways, a small zoo, a sculpture park and all the other gimmicks you’d expect.
  • After the grotto you’re in for a real treat! The Hall of Fame Museum, the world’s first animated silicon museum. Some of your favourite world leaders are here and prime for a photo opportunity. American Presidents such as Bill Clinton and George Bush, dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Honsi Mubarak as well as other eminent individuals such as Einstein, Pope John Paul II and Arafat. There’s also a lot of Lebanese political leaders as well.
  • Heading to the southern side of Beirut again we'll drive into the mountains to one of the stranger sites in Lebanon, the Moussa Castle.

  • As a young man Moussa Al Maamari had a hard life, ridiculed by teachers and shunned by the girl he wanted to be with. Instead of despair he bought himself some land and made it his life-long ambition to build his own castle. Doing part time work elsewhere to fund his dream, he not only built a large castle but filled it with an eclectic collection of guns, jewellery and wax figures.

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Day 20Sat Jun 3
Beirut, Damascus
  • Meet in Beirut at 8:00. Meeting point to be advised closer to the time.
  • Begin the drive to the Syrian border, which will take about two hours. We’ll stop on the way for a quick breakfast and to buy any Lebanese snacks you might want.
  • Cross the border, with a stop at Duty Free in No Man’s Land, for some of the cheapest alcohol you’ve ever experienced.
  • The whole border crossing will take around 1.5 hours.
  • After clearing Syrian Customs and Immigration, we’ll continue our drive to Damascus, another hour.
  • Arriving in the old town, you’ll immediately be intoxicated by the buzz of the old town as we walk towards our hotel. We’ll be staying in a beautifully renovated old Damascene house, complete with a tranquil courtyard surrounding a bubbling fountain, and the distinctive black and white stonework of this part of Syria.
  • In the afternoon we’ll explore Damascus’ old town, bazaar, shopping areas and bar/restaurant street. You might like to try some local ice-cream or have a shawarma, and shisha is available just about everywhere.
  • We’ll also visit Ananias Church, Damascus’ oldest church which happens to be underground, and Omayad Mosque, the main mosque in the centre of the city.
  • Free time in the evening to enjoy Damascus’ vibrant night-life.
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Day 21Sun Jun 4
Damascus
  • Leaving the centre of town, we’ll drive to the outskirts of the city and you’ll get your first glimpses of the destruction caused by the recent conflict, on our way to the October War Museum, dedicated to the war against Israel.
  • We’ll visit Kim Il Sung Park for some great photo opportunities. Syria and DPRK have had a long history of friendship and recently the Syrian Government decided to dedicate a park to the founding leader of DPRK, Kim Il Sung.
  • Returning to the centre of town we’ll visit the National Museum in the afternoon, followed by the Souk Al-Hamidiye and El-Azem Palace
  • One of the staples of any Middle Eastern destination, it’s time to experience a hammam. Anyone who doesn’t want to join in can either hang out with a shisha or a cup of tea inside the hammam’s “albrani”, translated into English as the “outside section”, which is the first room of the hammam.
  • It’s a very cool experience for anyone, but especially for females it’s a great way to see how Syrian women enjoy themselves free of headscarves and social pressures. There will be women of all ages, and they really make a day of it. Children, grandmothers and everyone in between take in snacks and drinks and stay there for hours smoking shishas, listening to music and relaxing.
  • If you prefer you can return to the hotel to enjoy the serene Damascene house, or have free time around the bazaar.
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Day 22Mon Jun 5
Damascus, Maaloula, Aleppo
  • Today we’ll leave Damascus to start exploring the rest of the country.
  • Our first stop today will be at Maaloula, a small Christian town that was almost completely decimated by ISIS in 2014.
  • We will visit a Greek Catholic church which was destroyed but has already largely been rebuilt.
  • This will be your first opportunity to properly explore the destruction that is now so commonplace in Syria, at the Safir Hotel. Until 2014 it was a 4 star hotel with plenty of international guests, but is now a shell filled with rubble. There are still “do not disturb” signs, menus, folders of guest information, time sheets, crockery and all sorts of other things amongst the debris.
  • We’ll walk through a canyon to the St Sergious and Bakhous Monastery where you’ll have the chance to meet nuns who were kidnapped and held hostage for several years.
  • Our next stop will be Homs, another of the worst affected places during the Syrian war. We’ll take a walk through one of the most destroyed parts of the city, where you can really get a close up look at the damage. A few families have already started moving back in, so kids will come up and want to speak to you.
  • We’ll make a quick stop at the St. Mary Church of the Holy Belt, the Seat of the Syriac Orthodox Church, where the Virgin Mary’s belt was kept until shortly before the war. Fortunately the belt was already removed before the church was looted and all the icons and artwork were burnt or stolen.
  • Visit the grave of Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest who established a community centre and farm in Homs where he worked with the homeless, disabled, sick and hungry, as well as for harmony between Christians and Muslims. Greatly respected by locals, he was then shot dead in the garden in 2014 by members of the Al-Nusra Front, and it is now a memorial to him and his work.
  • And finally, we’ll visit a popular local restaurant which was the local ISIS headquarters when they were in control.
  • Continue the drive to Aleppo with a couple of stops along the way, arriving in the early evening.
  • Free time for dinner and the rest of the evening, however if you want to join us, we can take you for the best falafel in Syria .
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Day 23Tue Jun 6
Aleppo
  • Aleppo was arguably one of the worst affected cities during the Syrian war. Here you’ll get the chance to see some of the terrible destruction as well as the opportunity to witness the early stages of rebuilding that Syrians are now doing as they slowly return to their homes.
  • Our first stop in the morning will be the famous Aleppo Castle. On the way in and out of the castle you’ll also be able to see the destroyed souk.
  • There will be time to explore the souk and do some shopping if you like, or if you prefer, you can just enjoy a shisha or a coffee.
  • We’ll then drive into the old town, one of the areas that was the worst affected by the war.
  • Visit a shop which will satisfy all your Syrian souvenir desires – flags, tshirts, keyrings and Assad branded everything.
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Day 24Wed Jun 7
Aleppo, Latakia
  • Leaving Aleppo, today we’ll drive to Latakia, stopping on the way for lunch.
  • Arriving in Latakia, in the afternoon, we’ll have a chance to enjoy the beach or swimming pools, before heading out to experience the nightlife of this holiday town.
  • We’ll take a walk through the centre of town, soaking in the atmosphere of this city, very different from any of the places you’ve been so far. We’ll stop at a family run sweet shop, and then after dinner we’ll take you to our favourite bar in town .
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Day 25Thu Jun 8
Latakia, Salah al-Din Citadel, Latakia
  • Although not one of the most famous, this might be our favourite Crusader castle. Built on top of a rocky peak in the middle of the forest high in the mountains behind Latakia, the castle itself was built by the Franks, but the spot had been a fortified stronghold for the Phoenecians, Alexander the Great and the Byzantines.
  • Rambling and overgrown, it feels like something out of a fairy tale, and we can climb all over the walls for amazing views out over the surrounding valleys. Probably our favourite part though is the massive hand-carved canyon that forms the eastern side of the fortress.
  • We won’t drive straight back to Latakia – we’ll take a little detour through some of the windy mountain roads to our favourite manakish shop in a tiny village. Run from the front of a local family’s home, this is really a unique food experience.
  • We’ll get back to Latakia in the afternoon with time to enjoy the beach again before heading out for another fun night. This time we’ll head to the area near Ugarit Port where there are loads of cheap, local restaurants with great views over the Mediterraean.
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Day 26Fri Jun 9
Latakia, Arwad, Krak Des Chaveliers, Valley of the Christians
  • Our first stop today will be at the port in Tartus where we will hop on a local ferry to visit the island of Arwad. Bustling and lively, the island feels a lot more backwards in many ways to the cities on the mainland, but has a really cool atmosphere.
  • With no cars, the island is made up of hundreds of tiny alleyways which we’ll wander around.
  • We can stop and speak to some boat builders, and if we’re lucky even see them at work, before stopping for a fresh seafood lunch near the port.
  • Returning to the mainland we’ll head to Krak de Chaveliers, the most famous of all the Crusader castles. It was first built by Kurds in the 11 th Century, and has changed hands many times, but most recently was damaged in the Syrian civil war. Recaptured by the Syrian government in 2014 it’s now safe and possible for us to visit the castle and the surrounding village of al-Husn, which is now mostly abandoned.
  • After visiting the castle, we’ll visit a nearby café that has a great view overlooking the castle, to sit down with a coffee or a beer or a shisha, and take in our surroundings.
  • We’ll spend the night in the Valley of the Christians, just below Krak Des Chaveliers.
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Day 27Sat Jun 10
Valley of the Christians, Palmyra, Damascus
  • Today we’ll visit Palmyra, probably Syria’s most famous site.
  • Once a lush city on the Silk Road, Palmyra was even briefly its own empire in the 3 rd Century, stretching from Turkey to Egypt. Although the old city was ruined, it was famously in spectacular condition and exceptionally well preserved. Sadly though in 2015 it fell under the control of ISIS, and a lot of the buildings were razed to the ground.
  • Until recently it wasn’t possible to visit the ancient site, however it is now possible, providing you have the correct permission.
  • We will also try and make a stop in the completely destroyed modern town of Palmyra, though this is difficult because of the presence of the Syrian Army and their allies. Even if we’re unable to stop though, we’ll drive though and you’ll be able to see what ISIS accomplished there.
  • Leaving Palmyra, we’ll drive back to Damascus, arriving in the evening.
  • Overnight in Damascus.
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Day 28Sun Jun 11
Damascus, Bosra, Beirut
  • In the morning we’ll head down to the south of the country to visit Bosra, which is still under the control of the Free Syrian Army – a very different experience to anywhere else we’ve been so far. Although they still don’t support the Assad Government, they have come to a mutual agreement that means that they’re not currently in direct combat with each other. Still though, you’ll notice the lack of Syrian flags and pictures of Assad.
  • Our first stop will be at the famous amphitheatre. Between its vast size and the fact that it’s still almost completely in-tact, it really is breath-taking.
  • We’ll sit down for a manakish or a falafel and have a chance to talk to a Free Syrian Army soldier, who will share his stories, and also a very different perspective on the situation in Syria than what you’ll already have heard.
  • Next we’ll take a walk through the old city and get a feel for this town, which has a totally different vibe to any other city in Syria. If we’re lucky, we might even meet some more people on our way who are happy to share their feelings and ideas on the situation with us.
  • Sadly this brings the end of our time in Syria and we will head back towards the Lebanese border. Including the border crossing and a few stops, we’ll arrive back in Beirut in the evening.
  • Anyone catching a flight this evening can be taken directly to the airport, otherwise we’ll be dropped off back in the centre of Beirut.
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