13 Intriguing Natural Wonders of the Middle East

Socotra Island, Yemen

(images via: gerry & bonni, wikimedia commons 1 + 2)

Socotra Island is isolated enough that a third of its plant life can’t be found anywhere else on earth. This archipelago of four islands is found in the Indian Ocean, but is technically a part of the Republic of Yemen. Socotra was used as a trading base in antiquity, and it’s mentioned in many ancient texts, from Greek tablets to The Travels of Marco Polo. Among its most striking species is Dracaena cinnabari, also known as the Dragon Tree (pictured above). Unfortunately, as in so many other areas of the world, human habitation has resulted in a reduction of the animals and plants that were once present on the islands.

Red Canyon, Israel

(images via: heartburn)

Floods cutting through red, pink and purple sandstone have carved stunning rifts and canyons in Israel near Eilat. A short, kid-friendly hike takes visitors through the crevices between the rocks, offering refuge from the sun as well as some stunning photo opportunities.

Jabal Qarah Caves, Saudi Arabia

Step into a narrow passageway and enter the cool darkness of the Jabal Qarah Caves, located about 8 miles east of Al Hofuf in Saudi Arabia. This intricate cave system features a network of linear passageways that are totally unique in the Al-Hasa region, the largest oasis in the country. The caves tend to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter, making them a welcoming attraction for tourists.

Mount Ararat, Turkey

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Located near the Iran-Turkey border, Mount Ararat is a snow-capped, dormant volcanic cone standing 16,854 feet above sea level. It’s notable in Judeo-Christian tradition as the place where, according to the Book of Genesis, Noah’s ark came to rest. It’s also visible from Armenia and Azerbaijan. In Armenian mythology, Mount Ararat is the home of the Gods, and it symbolizes that nation’s identity. Most of the snow-covered Mount Ararat is treeless, but some areas offer quality pasture grass that is used by the local Kurdish population to graze their sheep.

Rub’ al Khali, Arabian Peninsula

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The largest sand desert in the world is quite a sight to be hold – making up nearly a third of the Arabian Peninsula, including most of Saudi Arabia and parts of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The desert covers 250,000 square miles, and its red-orange sand dunes can reach 820 feet in height. Very little wildlife is able to survive here – you’ll find mostly scorpions and a few rodents. But biodiversity isn’t what makes this area so valuable to the Middle East. It’s the oil. Rub’ al Khali is known as the most oil-rich site in the world.

The Dead Sea, Jordan and Israel

(images via: joi, dejp)

With a salt content so high that nothing can live in it, the Dead Sea has earned its name. This salt lake borders Jordan, Israel and the West Bank and its surface and shores are 1,388 feet below sea level, making it the lowest land elevation on earth. Being 33.7% saline means objects – including people – are especially buoyant in its waters. The Dead Sea experiences sunny skies and dry air year-round yet has weakened ultraviolet radiation and relatively cool temperatures in the summer compared to the rest of the region. These factors, paired with high oxygen content in the air and lots of beneficial minerals in the sea, make it a popular therapeutic destination.