Arabic as we know it first began to form somewhere between the 1st and 4th centuries AD. Over time, it spread across the Middle East and beyond. Its expansion was, of course, aided by the Quran, Muhammad (PBUH), and the rise of Islam. Today, Arabic is the national language of 26 states. Admittedly, not all of these states are prime vacation destinations. Many are, unfortunately, plagued by poverty and violence and are unsafe for even their own residents, let alone tourists. However, there are several Arabic-speaking countries which you should definitely try to visit over the coming years.
Journeying to an Arabic-speaking country has a number of advantages. If you are a Muslim or of Arab descent, visiting an Arabic-speaking country will allow you to experience the culture of your ancestors. For non-Arabs, visiting an Arab country is a great way to broaden your mind and enjoy a culture entirely different to what you have experienced in the Western world. For Arabic students or Muslims whose Arabic has grown a little rusty, visiting an Arabic-speaking country is a great way to master the language.
In this article, we’re going to be looking at the most breathtaking Arab nations in the world and discussing why each should be near the top of your travel wish list. Here are five Arabic-speaking countries you need to visit.
Of all the Arabic-speaking countries in the world, it’s difficult to think of one that has done a better job of converting its history and culture into a commodity than Egypt. The country is a master of the tourism industry and has been attracting Western tourists in droves for decades. While it also has some allure as a place of pilgrimage for Muslims, Egypt is the place to go for any non-Muslim looking to visit an Arabic-speaking country.
Most synonymous with Egypt are its pyramids. One of countless traces of the nation’s past glories, the Egyptian pyramids pay homage to the pharaohs which once ruled the land. Most famous of all of Egypt’s pyramids is the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Great Pyramid of Giza boasts the distinction of being the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, its achievements don’t end there. It is the largest pyramid in Giza’s pyramid complex and stands at a staggering 481 feet. Although initially built as a tomb for Khufu, a pharaoh from Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty, it today serves as the most popular tourist attraction in the country, if not the whole world. Daily tours of the pyramid are offered, allowing tourists to experience this wonder of the ancient world up close and personal. Aspiring Egyptologists will also want to check out the Sphinx, the Abu Simbel temples, and the Step Pyramid of Djosser. Although the Step Pyramid of Djosser isn’t quite as magnificent as Ancient Egypt’s more famous monuments, it boasts the impressive achievement of being the very first pyramid built by the Ancient Egyptians.
Egypt is an Arabic-speaking country which non-Muslims can visit and be certain of a great time, while their more religious counterparts can expect to leave spiritually unfulfilled. Saudi Arabia is almost the exact opposite. While the country doesn’t offer a whole lot when it comes to secular tourist attractions, it is a must-see destination if you are a Muslim. We use the term “must-see” quite literally.
As you likely already know, Saudi Arabia is the location of Mecca. It was here that the Muslim prophet Muhammad was born and raised. It was during his time in Mecca that Muhammad received his first revelation of the Quran and Islam was born. Later, after a period of exile in Medina, Muhammad would return to Mecca and reclaim the Kaaba. He would then restore the Kaaba to its monotheistic routes and establish it as the most holy shrine in all of Islam. Today, every Muslim who is capable of doing so is expected to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and the Kaaba at least once in their life. One of the five pillars of Islam, this journey is formally known as “Hajj” and is traditionally performed by Muslims the world over during in late June or early August. There are numerous agencies operating in Saudi Arabia dedicated to helping Muslims plan and perform Hajj. We suggest enlisting the help of one such agency while preparing for your Hajj.
While Saudi Arabia will certainly be more alluring to Muslims than non-Muslims, we’re not saying secularists should entirely write the nation off as a potential vacation spot. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been making a conscious effort to attract Western businesses and tourists. This it has done by incorporating many elements of Western culture into its own. In June of 2018, the country finally lifted its ban on women driving. A little over a year later, the nation introduced a law allowing unmarried couples to share hotel rooms. From an entertainment standpoint, Saudi Arabia has been courting the major players in Western media. Perhaps most notably, it is currently in the early stages of a much-publicized deal with WWE, the American professional wrestling juggernaut. This deal has already seen a number of WWE shows take place in the country, while being broadcast all over the world via the WWE Network. You can experience one of these shows in person thanks to Saudi Arabia’s recently introduced tourist visa program. This visa initiative is the country’s first step to becoming a true force in the mass tourism industry.
Morocco is one of the most popular Arabic-speaking countries in the world. This is no surprise, given the fact it had a strong Western presence for much of the 20th century. The Moroccan town of Casablanca was immortalized by the 1942 American movie of the same name. This only increased Western visitors to the country, adding a whole new dimension to the economy of Casablanca and Morocco as a whole. Multiple guide agencies operate in Casablanca, offering comprehensive tours of its historical and cultural landmarks. For our shopaholic readers, Casablanca boasts the world-renowned Morocco Mall. The second-largest shopping mall in all of Africa, Morocco Mall is home to some of the finest boutiques in the world. It also features a breathtaking 1,000,000-liter aquarium, which holds more than 40 different fish species. Visitors are offered the opportunity to scuba diva inside this aquarium, making the Morocco Mall a great place to spend an afternoon even if you’re not in the mood for shopping.
Casablanca isn’t the only tourist hotspot in Morocco. Marrakech, the fourth largest city in the country, has experienced a surge in tourism in recent years. Much of this is the result of Groupon’s partnership with the city and its businesses. The virtual discount giant regularly offers generous deals which encompass flights, accommodation, and even experiences to keep you busy throughout your time in the city. If you’d rather organize your own excursions during your time in Marrakech, there is no shortage of activities for you to choose from. Guided tours operate throughout the city, introducing tourists, and even residents, to the historical, cultural, and spiritual hotspots of the city. For the adrenaline junkie, tours of the desert are offered via camel or quad bike. The former option is ideal for Muslims who wish to connect with their ancestors and experience a journey similar to those made by Muhammad and his followers in the early days of Islam.
The United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates is often confused with Saudi Arabia. This is understandable, given the close proximity of the two countries. Additionally, there are certain customs and traditions shared by both. However, the United Arab Emirates is markedly more secular and tourist-friendly than Saudi Arabia. In fact, the UAE owes its very existence to outsiders. 7.8 million of the nation’s 9 million citizens are immigrants. While Arabic remains the country’s national language, its large immigrant population means English is more widely spoken there than it is in many Middle Eastern countries. For this reason, we commonly recommend the UAE to tourists who wish to experience an Arabic-speaking country without the inconvenience that typically comes with trying to navigate a non-English speaking land.
Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of things for tourists to do in the UAE. If you wish to experience the decadence for which the country is famous, be sure to head to Dubai. There, you can indulge in the many bars and nightclubs, while being serenaded by the finest singers flown in from Western countries. Multiple car rental agencies operate in the area, offering low rental rates on luxury brands such as Mercedes, Ferrari, and Rolls-Royce. Similarly, affordable yacht rental companies make it possible for tourists to live like Arabian royalty for the duration of their trip. Much like in Morocco, desert tours are offered throughout the UAE, with camel and quad bike options available. As for shopping, there is perhaps no greater destination in the Middle East for a shopaholic than the United Arab Emirates. In the Dubai Mall alone, you will find more than 1000 boutiques. These boutiques are complemented by entertainment and fine dining, turning the Dubai Mall into a city of its own.
Despite being a decidedly secular nation when compared to other countries in the Middle East, the UAE is not without its fair share of religious sites. Muslims who visit the country should be sure to check out Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque Center in Abu Dhabi. Despite being only a couple of decades old, Sheik Zayd Grand Mosque is one of the most recognizable sites in the entire Middle East. Its visitor programs aim to familiarize tourists with the basics of Islam, while also helping Muslims develop a deeper connection to their faith. It has even been voted the world’s second favorite landmark by leading travel website Trip Advisor.
For the traveler who really wants to go somewhere different, there is Algeria. Algeria is rarely mentioned when people speak about visiting Arabic-speaking countries. When its name does come up, it is often quickly written often due to perceived threats towards tourists. While Algeria has certainly experienced a great deal of social and political turbulence, these hardships are very much in its past. Today, the country is in the process of rebuilding and has already established itself as one of the top places to visit among travelers who like to veer off the beaten track.
Algeria is the largest Arabic-speaking country in the world. It is also the largest country in all of Africa. It is home to a total of seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. These are Tipasa, Timgad, M’Zab Valley, Kasbah of Algiers, Djémila, and Al Qal’a of Beni Hammand. All offer a fascinating insight into the nation’s development and the lives of its earliest inhabitants. For a long time, Algeria was known as “French Algeria” and had a large French presence. As a result, much of the country’s architecture is French-inspired. This is especially true in Algiers, the nation’s capital. Walk through Algiers on any given evening and you’ll feel as though you’re strolling through Paris, albeit with a noticeably Arab flare.
Islam and Christianity co-exist in Algeria, another sign of the nation’s past French presence. For those interested in visiting the sacred sites of Algeria, we often suggest Notre Dame d’Afrique. A Roman Catholic church, Notre Dame d’Afrique sits atop a cliff, offering a breathtaking view of Algiers. As a sign of solidarity with the Muslims of Algeria, the church’s alter bears the words “Notre Dame d’Afrique priez pour nous et pour les Musulmans”. When translated to English, this inscription reads, “Our Lady of Africa, pray for the Muslims and for us”.
Arabic-speaking countries are often overlooked as holiday destinations. As you can see from the locations discussed above, however, they have just as much to offer tourists as more popular vacation sites. In the UAE, one can experience the glitz and glamour commonly associated with Hollywood. In Egypt, you can travel back in time with the Ancient Egyptians. In Algeria, you can enjoy the sites and sounds of Paris while practicing your Arabic with local merchants. From a religious standpoint, spirituality is constantly flowing in Arabic-speaking countries. Their national language itself is irreversibly tied to the Islamic faith, while their many places for worship make them a welcoming destination for travelers of all creeds.