2020 was not a great time for traveling, mostly it was staying home for most of the year. For 2021, we at HalalTrip decided to dream big for the annual HalalTrip's Top Destinations to travel to in 2021!
Funny story – the team was this close to visiting Samarkand back in March 2020 if not for Covid-19! The trip would have been part of a conference we were organizing across multiple cities in Uzbekistan and what I was looking forward to the most is stopping by the ancient city of Samarkand. After having heard it being described by the famous Arab traveler, scholar, and explorer Ibn Batutta as "one of the greatest and finest of cities, and most perfect of them in beauty", it only fueled my curiosity to visit the city.
Samarkand holds great significance in medieval Islamic history and its strategic geographical location made it known as the heart of The Great Silk Road. I look forward to visiting sights such as the Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Registan plaza, and notable scholar Imam Bukhari’s shrine. With its architectural and historical prowess, Samarkand remains one of my top destinations to visit as soon as we get the go-ahead!
When we hear 'Egypt' we immediately think of Pharaoh’s' treasure and the medieval mosques. Have you ever thought of Alexandria, the second-largest Egyptian city, and its antiquity?
If I had the opportunity to travel this year, I would definitely want to go to Egypt, specifically Alexandria. Of course, the Great Pyramids are a must-visit but the spell cast on me by the ancient tales has left me longing for a visit to one of the greatest cities of the Mediterranean world and its association with Alexander the Great. The city is rich in culture from Rome, Greece, and other civilizations that gives it the name - "Bride of the Mediterranean".
Situated on the Mediterranean coast which gives Alexandria a warm and pleasant climate that brings in tourists. It is known that the people there greet everyone with a smile and are very warm and welcoming. If this is not overwhelming already then here are some of the activities and attractions on my list:
Get mesmerized at The National Museum of Alexandria, home to more than 1,800 exhibits rich in history and culture of Egypt. Along the harbor lies the Bibliotheca Alexandrina which is a gorgeously designed center of culture that houses museums and one of the most ambitious libraries. This is in memory of the ancient Great Library which attracted philosophers and scholars from around the world. The next stop would be at the Fort Qaitbey which was once the site of the mighty Pharos Lighthouse (one of the seven wonders of the world). Apart from the fantastic harbor view, the walk itself is just rewarding. Other hidden gems in the city include the Kom el-Dikka "Mound of Rubble" which includes a small Roman theater. Abu Abbas al-Mursi Mosque is one of the top landmarks in the city, worth a visit to see this cream-colored mosque with its captivating Islamic calligraphy. Lastly, don’t miss out on the Main Souq (market) of Alexandria that’s always buzzing. For the brave-hearted adrenaline junkies, there is also an opportunity to explore the ancient underwater ruins with its unique diving attraction.
Overall, this city is sure to weave its magic over you because Alexandria is home to legendary stuff and it is worth a visit.
Muscat is a place of diversified landscapes - beaches, cities, deserts, and mountains. Friendliness runs deep in Omani character and peacefulness is a virtue that Omanis strive to cultivate on a daily basis. Muscat is a must-visit city too for all history and architecture enthusiasts.
The most visible distinction between Muscat and other cities in the Middle East is the non-existent skyscrapers. In fact, the law prohibits skyscrapers, instead, you may find myriads of low whitewashed buildings with Islamic architecture and design, to keep the Islamic traditions and culture intact. When in Muscat, you definitely need to visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque for it is known as the 'Jewel' of the old Islamic Empire, built from 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone and prayer hall that is covered with classical Persian designed carpet.
There are also numerous museums found in Muscat but one that stood out is Bait Al Zubair, a private museum funded by its founder, the Zubair family, one of the oldest families of the Sultanate. Bait Al Zubair was founded as a cultural space that protects, preserves, presents, and promotes Oman's rich cultural heritage. Here, you can find the Zubair family's finest collection of Omani artifacts which spans a number of centuries-old.
If you need a short break from the bustling city life, you can definitely try Muttrah Geotrek - a hiking track that lies within the heart of Muscat. It's a short 10KM hike, which takes you through the mountain range that encircles the natural harbor and corniche of Muttrah. Be mesmerized by the beautiful views of Muttrah, Riyam Park, and the Gulf of Oman.
Last but not least, you definitely have to experience The Sharqiya Sands, formerly known as the Wahiba Sands. It is the original homeland of the Bedouins, hence you wouldn't want to miss the opportunity of getting closely acquainted with the Bedouin culture. This desert is also considered among the most beautiful camping sites in the Sultanate, for one to enjoy the mesmerizing sunset view and beautiful evening sky.
Oh, how great it will be to travel to Iceland, mainly the city of Reykjavik! Something I will love to do is to experience the snow in the city, especially in their parks and gardens. Also, there's a lot of art and culture that I can explore like the Harpa, local performances, museums, galleries, outdoor sculptures, and street art, which are all widely available. There are a lot of sculptures all over the city that I can explore and discover, like the Sun Voyager, Hallstein's park (Hallsteinsgarður) in Gufunes, and in Hólmasel in Breiðholt.
Towering over the center of Reykjavík is Hallgrímskirkja Church, visible from almost every angle of the city, making it very easy to find, a place I would love to explore! Also, a scenic helicopter ride over the city where I make a sightseeing stop on top of one of its surrounding mountains, Mt Esjan will be one of the activities I would love to explore!
Of all the activities I mentioned above, probably something that I will mainly focus on which I didn't bring it up will be catching the Northern Lights, something I would love to see before I die. Iceland is one of the best places in the world to experience the rare and gorgeous Northern Lights.
I have always been interested in the way different cities tell their history through their architecture. I think the intricacy in which these buildings were built holds many stories that we will never know of. That’s what makes every building you see in a different country seem like a whole new world. That is how Jaipur, also known as the ‘Pink City’, had me wanting to visit its iconic pink buildings. (Side note; for the High School Musical fans, being surrounded by all that pink takes you a step closer to becoming just as fabulous as Sharpay Evans).
Not only is it known as the ‘Pink City’, Jaipur is full of many historical structures that exhibit its rich culture and history, such as Hawa Mahal (The Palace of Winds) or Nahargarh Fort which includes a birds-eye view of the city, and is also known to be haunted (spooky!). Many festivals are also carried out throughout the year that showcase how colorful Jaipur’s heritage really is. For the less “touristy” visitors, the city of Jaipur also offers adventure sports activities such as quad biking in the sand and many others.
So, what better way is there to learn about a country’s culture than to immerse yourself in the many cultural events that they offer? I think Jaipur would be just the place for me to start!
Maldives – usually best known as the ultimate honeymoon destination for young couples. Though I may not fit into that category, I think the Maldives is one of the best destinations for young travelers. I haven't been the biggest fan of beach holidays because of how much preparation it takes. For example, looking for an island that is simple to commute around, interesting activities to participate in, and of course, looking for the best accommodation to complete your trip. At Male, Maldives, one of the things that I truly love is the availability of Halal food. As a Muslim traveler, it can be a little difficult to enjoy a beach holiday while being ensured that the food served is Halal. But that wouldn't be a problem in the Maldives because almost 90% of the country are Muslims. Hene, getting Halal food is a breeze. Just be sure to let the resort know of your dietary requirements so that they could prepare your food well.
2020, for me, is the year filled with introspection. 2021 will be the year for self-rediscovery. And what better way to find a new me in a land called Newfoundland? Haha! But seriously though, if you’d like to escape the hustle and bustle of city life like me, this easternmost Canadian province should be on your travel bucket list.
The beauty of Newfoundland lies in the adventures that await you at every corner. You can experience the remote wilderness one day and be transported back in time the next. All you nature lovers and history buffs rejoice!
The city is home to freshwater fjords, complex geological wonders, and a broad range of wildlife. Its expansive coastlines offer not only picture-postcard views of the Atlantic ocean but also incredible vantage points for you to observe whales and puffins in their natural habitat.
Pro tip: Visit Cape Spear Lighthouse if you’d like to be the first to capture a glimpse of the sunrise before anyone else in North America! Newfoundland also has a wealth of history, the city spectacularly preserved as though time stood still.
Walk in the footsteps of the Vikings at L'Anse aux Meadows, dive underwater to explore the hidden past of WWII wreckage at Bell Island, or even relish the opportunity to get up close and personal with 565-million-year-old fossils at Mistaken Point.
And if you’re seeking some action, how about taking a hike down to the “center of the Earth” and walk on the Earth’s mantle at the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park? Or maybe you'd like to kayak alongside majestic icebergs as they journey down Iceberg Alley at Twillingate? Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended). But I’m ready to be lost and found in Newfoundland. Are you?