Top UNESCO Sites Windstar Cruises Visits in the Middle East

Windstar Cruises offers nearly two dozen itineraries to the Middle East, exploring both cities and natural wonders in Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and beyond. Whether it’s architectural marvels, holy sites or otherworldly landscapes, there are numerous shore excursions that give visitors an intimate look at the most spectacular attractions in the Middle East. 

These are some of the most notable UNESCO sites Windstar Cruises visits in the Middle East: 

Petra (Aqaba, Jordan)

Carved into the rose-red cliffs of southern Jordan, Petra is a mesmerizing ancient Nabatean city that dates to the 6th century B.C. Wander through the narrow Siq, a sandstone canyon that leads to the heart of Petra, and after a short walk you’ll catch your first glimpse of Al Khazneh (the Treasury), which stands 121 feet tall. Beyond Al Khazneh, you are surrounded by hundreds of Petra’s structures, temples, royal tombs, houses, burial chambers, banquet halls, staircases, markets and gates. The city’s ingenious water management systems, including dams, cisterns, and channels, reflect the resourcefulness of its inhabitants. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985; UNESCO describes Petra as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage.” Petra still forms part of the domain of the Bedouin people, and you will see them with their horses and camels along your journey. The nine-hour “Aqaba, Petra Day Tour” is offered on Wonders of Arabia, Red Sea Revelries Via the Suez Canal, Star Collector: Red Sea Medley & Suez Canal, and Star Collector: Pyramids & Jerusalem Sanctuaries Via the Suez Canal. 

Wadi Rum (Aqaba, Jordan)

No trip to Jordan is complete without visiting the surreal landscape of Wadi Rum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that promises an unforgettable desert adventure. This vast wilderness, also known as the “Valley of the Moon,” boasts an expanse of dramatic sandstone mountains, wind-carved canyons and red dunes that stretch as far as the eye can see. Venture into the heart of Wadi Rum aboard a 4×4 vehicle, exploring mesmerizing rock formations like the iconic “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” The landscape’s ethereal beauty has attracted travelers and filmmakers alike, serving as a backdrop for Lawrence of Arabia, among other movies. You will also experience the hospitality of the local Bedouin community, who offer insight into their nomadic way of life — and guide visitors to hidden gems within this stunning and expansive desert. “Aqaba, Wadi Rum Half Day Tour” is offered on Wonders of Arabia, Red Sea Revelries Via the Suez Canal and Star Collector: Red Sea Medley & Suez Canal. 

St. Catherine’s Monastery (Mount Sinai, Egypt) 

With origins tracing back to the 6th century, St. Catherine’s Monastery remains a pilgrimage site to this day. Situated on Mount Sinai, the monastery is a beacon of history and spirituality, sacred to both Christians and Muslims. The monastery houses an impressive collection of manuscripts and icons, making it one of the world’s oldest continually operating libraries. While on your guided tour, you will visit the site where Moses was thought to have seen the Burning Bush, which adds a layer of spirituality to the experience. The “Sharm El Sheikh, St. Catherine’s Monastery” tour is offered on Wonders of Arabia, Arabian Nights & Egyptian Days and Star Collector: Pyramids & Jerusalem Sanctuaries via the Suez Canal.  

Jeddah (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

Unveil the captivating blend of tradition and modernity in Jeddah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Known as the “Gateway to Mecca,” Jeddah is a vibrant city, and the historic Al-Balad district is a treasure trove of intricate coral stone buildings, showcasing traditional architecture from the region. 400 historical homes were developed into tourist attractions and museums, and these restored structures date back from 100 to 1,400 years ago. The city’s unique architecture reflects its role as a trading hub, with elements influenced by diverse cultures from around the world. Modern Jeddah is equally captivating, with sleek skyscrapers, luxurious shopping malls and the Corniche, a picturesque waterfront promenade with stunning views and access to upscale eateries. The four-hour “Historical Jeddah” tour also includes a transfer to the airport, and it is available on the following cruises: Realm of the Queen of Sheba, Star Collector: Bedouin Beauty & the Arabian Sea, Star Collector: Comprehensive Middle East, Star Collector: Red Sea Medley & Suez Canal, Star Collector: Persian Gulf & Arabian Seas and Star Collector: Glory of the Red & Arabian Seas 

Masada National Park (via Jerusalem, Israel) 

Sitting atop a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, Israel’s Masada National Park is an archaeological wonder etched with both triumph and tragedy, bearing witness to the epic struggle of Jewish rebels against Roman forces in the 1st century CE. Herod the Great’s extravagant palaces and fortifications crown the summit, showcasing ancient engineering and opulent architecture. Your flight-seeing adventure begins in Masada, and you will fly above the site for about 10 minutes, followed by a flyover of the Syrian-African rift, the Dead Sea, Mount Scopus and Mount of Olives. “Ashdod, Beyond Ordinary: Masada Flightseeing & Jerusalem Exploration” is available on Star Collector: Pilgrimage to the Holy Land & Beyond: Israel, Greece & Turkey and Star Collector: Pyramids & Jerusalem Sanctuaries Via the Suez Canal.  

Mount Carmel (Haifa, Israel) 

Located on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, Mount Carmel is a place of both natural beauty and historical importance. The mountain, which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, boasts a lush natural environment that contrasts with its arid surroundings. Often referred to as the “Mountain of God,” it holds significance in the Abrahamic traditions, particularly in the Old Testament. Mount Carmel’s prominence is immortalized in the story of the Prophet Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal, a moment that resonates with both Jewish and Christian narratives. The “Haifa, Galilee & Golan Heights” tour is available on Star Collector: Pilgrimage to the Holy Land & Beyond: Israel, Greece & Turkey.

The Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem, Palestine) 

Dating back to the 4th century, the Church of the Nativity is notable for being one of the oldest continuously operating Christian churches in the world. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is believed to be the exact spot where Jesus Christ was born, making it an epicenter of faith for Christians worldwide. The church’s remarkable architecture showcases a stunning blend of Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic styles, with intricate mosaics and elegant columns. “Ashdod, Jerusalem & Bethlehem” is available on Star Collector: Pilgrimage to the Holy Land & Beyond: Israel, Greece & Turkey and Star Collector: Pyramids & Jerusalem Sanctuaries Via the Suez Canal. 

Al-Ahsa Oasis (Dammam, Saudi Arabia)

Embark on a captivating journey to the Al-Ahsa Oasis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. This is one of the largest oases in the world, boasting lush palm groves, ancient agricultural terraces and irrigation systems that have sustained life for thousands of years. Wander through the shaded pathways of the oasis, where over 2.5 million date palms flourish, offering a rich bounty of the region’s renowned export. Explore the historic Al-Qara Cave, an archaeological marvel adorned with rock inscriptions and evidence of human settlement dating back to the Neolithic period. The Al-Ahsa Oasis also hosts traditional souks, where vibrant marketplaces brim with handicrafts, spices and local products. Discover the serenity of the Al-Jarah and Al-Hofuf historic districts, featuring mud-brick architecture and traditional wind towers that provide natural cooling. The “Dammam, Al Ahsa, Forgotten Oasis” shore excursion is offered on Star Collector: Comprehensive Middle East and Star Collector: Persian Gulf & Arabian Seas. 

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