Beat the Crowds at 6 Lesser-Known Beach Towns in the Middle East and AfricaBy Karen Dalton-Beninato
Some of the most inspirational beach towns in the world dot the coasts of Africa and the Middle East, where you can dream up the perfect itinerary to satisfy your wanderlust, from Cleopatra’s Bath to coral reefs with a “Lawrence of Arabia” backdrop.
As always, check for travel restrictions or closures before planning your trip.
History and Beaches in Sur, Oman
The cozy fishing village of Sur, on the eastern side of Oman, is a hidden gem surrounded by bright blue waters. Trade beach vibes for a history fix at the Sur Maritime Museum, which demonstrates shipbuilding and maritime trade over the centuries.
At sunset, you can watch fishermen casting their nets for a late-day catch. Then treat yourself to a fresh seafood feast at Al Hawash Restaurant at Al Ayjah Bridge overlooking the beach and historic Al Ayjah Lighthouse.
Queenworthy Swimming at Cleopatra’s Beach, Egypt
Fancy a photo at Cleopatra’s Bath for the ‘Gram? The village of Marsa Matrouh, Egypt, is the home of Cleopatra’s Beach, which was once overshadowed by the Egyptian queen’s palace.
Tucked into this rock-lined lagoon is a spot named Cleopatra’s Bath, which is said to have been the bathing destination of Cleopatra and her paramour, Mark Antony. (You can’t swim in the Bath, as the water is too rough and there are rocks offshore, but the beach is swim-friendly.)
A 3.5-hour drive from Alexandria, Marsa Matrouh’s powder-fine sand, sapphire blue Mediterranean beaches and otherworldly rock formations make the region photogenic, even without an empress. Enjoy a bracing coffee at friendly downtown Lux Cafe to round out your day.
Laid-Back Vibes in Coffee Bay, South Africa
The laid back village of Coffee Bay, South Africa, earned its name from Xhosa lore that a coffee barge crashed ashore and the beans germinated into coffee trees. The district surrounding Coffee Bay is also proudly the birthplace of Nelson Mandela.
Near enough to Durban for a day trip, Coffee Bay is on eastern South Africa’s Wild Coast. Stop at Friends Sea View Café for fresh coffee and baked goods with a backdrop of cliffs, hills dotted with wildlife and a white sand beach.
Post brunch, surf the south side of this Indian Ocean bay (lessons available) or simply soak up some sun, with toes in the sand, at the edge of the bright blue sea.
Red Sea Fairy Tale, Saudia Arabia
For an epic beach experience in the heart of the Red Sea, visit the coral island village of Farasan in southwest Saudi Arabia off the coast of the port city of Jazan.
Scuba and reef dive in the marine sanctuary, or just stretch out beach-side, admire the bird sanctuary’s biodiversity and watch for humpback dolphins in the pristine water. Abandoned structures, including Turkish castles and ancient forts, dot the landscape, giving the island a fairy-tale vibe.
Try the catch of the day during a Middle Eastern feast at Khaleej Restaurant. Farasan Island, the largest in its archipelago, is accessible by a free public ferry, which departs twice a day, at 7 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. Arrive an hour early for a security check and book in advance next to the Al Baik Restaurant in Jazan.
Coral Reefs and a Cinematic Backdrop in Aqaba, Jordan
The Red Sea’s warm waters are only a day trip from Petra, Jordan, traveling south to Aqaba, where the copper-colored cliffs of Wadi Rum (site of “Lawrence of Arabia” and sci-fi filming) serve as the backdrop to golden sandy beaches.
Take a dive with the Coral Garden Diving Center (complete with equipment) and explore the coral reef up close. Sea turtles, undersea wreckage and a rainbow of tropical fish will make your dive Instagram-worthy.
Enjoy a beach break while soaking in ancient culture at the Aqaba Museum, housed in a port city sultan’s former palace, where artifacts date back to the Bronze Age. Finish up with a Middle Eastern feast at foodies’ favorite Alshinawi Restaurant, enjoying outdoor seating to soak up more Jordanian sun.
Beach Safari and Salt Domes at Sir Bani Yas, Abu Dhabi
The UAE can feel like a modern, human-made oasis, even down to its beaches. But a day trip away from the capital city of Abu Dhabi to historic Sir Bani Yas Island yields natural white sand beaches among wild mangroves and the ruins of ancient temples.
Book a safari at the conservation-minded island’s Arabian Wildlife Park, which is full of natural wonders like formerly endangered oryx. Flamingos flock to the shores of this ‘Gram-worthy destination. The island yielded a rich salt trade in its heyday, and you can still see the ancient salt hills.