Middle East travel: Is it safe to visit Egypt, Jordan and Morocco?

Thousands of people have died since Hamas launched an assault on Israel from Gaza, and the conflict appears to be intensifying

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 16 October 2023 20:27 BST
Israel tells Gazans to evacuate; with nowhere to go, UN fears humanitarian crisis

Many readers have contacted The Independent with concerns about their travel plans to the Middle East as well as the eastern Mediterranean.

These are the key questions and answers.

Is travel to and from Israel still possible?

Yes, commercial flights continue, with El Al linking London Heathrow and Luton with Tel Aviv. But the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) warns against travel to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Standard travel insurance will be invalidated if you choose to go there – and any form of tourism would be completely inappropriate in the current circumstances.

Which other Middle East locations are also officially no-go areas?

The Foreign Office warns against travel to:

  • Iraq
  • Lebanon
  • Syria

The FCDO warns against travel to certain areas of these countries:

  • Egypt: Most of the nation is off limits. Crucially, though, the Foreign Office does not warn against travel to tourist areas, including the entire Red Sea coast and the Nile Valley all the way from the Sudan border to the Mediterranean, including Abu Simbel, Aswan, Luxor, Cairo and the Pyramids and Alexandria.
  • Jordan: Only a 3km strip of territory along the Syrian border is off-limits.
  • Saudi Arabia: Only a 10km strip of territory along the Yemeni border is off-limits.

Terrorist attacks have taken place in these countries, and the FCDO warns that further attacks are likely. But without a “no-go” warning, travel firms can continue to send holidaymakers – and need not offer refunds to people unwilling to travel.

I have a tour of Jordan in three weeks. What are my options?

You could choose to cancel, but if you do so you are likely to lose most or all of your money.

The terrible events in Israel and Gaza are of huge concern for the Middle East, but at present the Foreign Office believes that Jordan is sufficiently safe for British visitors. I have also checked the advice to travellers issued by the Australian and US governments – both of which mirror the British line.

Jordan is a fascinating and welcoming nation, which I have been lucky enough to visit several times in the past few years. On the basis of my experiences I would not hesitate to travel to the Jordanian capital, Amman, or any of the main tourist sites: Jerash, the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba.

If the Foreign Office advice changes to warn against travel to Jordan, package holiday companies will automatically cancel trips and refund. Airlines are likely to offer flexibility.

Aircraft flying in and out of Amman are avoiding Israeli airspace. The British Airways arrival from London Heathrow on Monday took an extended flight path to reach the Jordanian capital, flying south over Egypt to the Red Sea before turning north once in Jordanian airspace.

Is Egypt a safe prospect?

The overall risk level has not changed since the new conflict began in Egypt, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the conflict has not had any impact on the tourist experience in resorts, cities and archaeological sites.

Flights from the UK to Cairo, Sharm El Sheikh and the other main Red Sea airport at Hurghada do not go anywhere near Israel. The number of links from the UK to Egyptian airports is planned to increase sharply in late October and early November, and there is currently no reason to avoid the country.

I am booked on a cruise in the eastern Mediterranean, transiting the Suez Canal to the Red Sea. Is it likely to go ahead?

Yes. While the conflict continues, cruise lines are avoiding calls at Israeli ports. But eastern Mediterranean, Suez and Red Sea cruises are continuing. The only specific warning from the Foreign Office is: “Photography of, or near, military property is strictly banned. This includes the Suez Canal.”

Cruise lines are well versed in responding to geo-political crises, and if there is any perception of significant threat the itinerary will be adjusted. For the coming weeks, all calls to Israeli ports have been cancelled. Some cruise lines have added extra calls elsewhere.

Any excursions booked for Israel will be refunded.

What if I cancel to a currently ‘safe’ country – and the travel advice later changes to warn against visiting?

You will still lose most or all of your money – even if the Foreign Office subsequently advises against travel.

Should I worry about attitudes to Western visitors in other Arab countries and the wider Islamic world?

Since the assault on Israel began, the FCDO has warned of the risks from demonstrations and disturbances in a number of Arab nations, including Morocco and Oman.

  • For Morocco, the Foreign Office warns: “There remains the potential for demonstrations across the country. You should avoid these gatherings, and be aware of the potential for protests to occur spontaneously.”
  • For Oman, the warning is: “Be alert to local and regional developments, which might trigger public disturbances.”

But there is no evidence of tourists being subject to harassment since the latest conflict began.

Are flightpaths between the UK and Asia affected?

Airlines constantly monitor threats and adjust trajectories accordingly.

For example, Virgin Atlantic flight VS250 from London Heathrow to Shanghai would in normal times traverse Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia on its way to eastern China. But because of the exclusion of European aircraft from Russian and Ukrainian airspace, it follows a more southerly trajectory. The latest flight flew over the Balkans, the Black Sea and the Caucasus before turning northeast over the Caspian Sea.

On the extremely popular link between the UK and Dubai, Emirates is currently flying over Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait, avoiding Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

Between London Heathrow and the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the standard route is over Egypt.

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