Fri. Mar 31st, 2023

If you’re a traveler who’s been just about everywhere, there’s a remarkable new opportunity to explore a country that few have visited. Geographic Expeditions (GeoEx), the esteemed travel company that has pioneered some extraordinary trips around the globe, will begin taking small groups to Southern Iraq in 2024.

The 11-day journey, “On the Road to Baghdad: Exploring Southern Iraq,” starts in the ancient port of Basra and visits some of the country’s most iconic archaeological and spiritual sites before ending in Baghdad.

It’s safe to say that the war in Iraq — March 20 marks the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion — the fight over oil and internal conflicts have overshadowed the country’s rich heritage. Tourism to most of the county has been virtually unthinkable for over two decades.

Yet focusing solely on recent history would give the country short shrift, especially now that a democratic government has gained control. Scholars consider Iraq the site of the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; it has some of the most significant landmarks in Islamic history.

“Traveling to challenging destinations is core to who we are as a company, and we are absolutely thrilled to be offering these trailblazing trips to southern Iraq,” says Brady Binstadt, GeoEx CEO. “We first offered trips to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2011, and our staff and travelers have shared many cups of tea and compelling conversations with our Iraqi friends since then. Now it is tremendously exciting to be opening up the southern part of this fascinating and hugely misunderstood country.”

Geographic Expeditions states that the trip’s goal is to weave the stories of Iraq, old and new, into a single tapestry.

“This was one of the most moving trips of my lifetime,” said GeoEx Middle East expert Sara Barbieri, who just returned from an advance reconnoiter of the trip. “It was incredible to experience the combination of iconic historic sites and the unexpected kindness of contemporary Iraqis. Everywhere we went, we were treated with the greatest warmth, generosity, and hospitality.”

The trip is limited to just 12 travelers, allowing ample time to visit the millennia-old architecture of Ur, Uruk, and Ctesiphon. There’s a visit to the Shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf and the Shrines of Hussein and Abbas in Karbala, among Islam’s holiest sites. The group has a chance to explore the Mesopotamian Marshes and the 5,000-year-old culture of the Marsh Arabs.

The trip highlights include Sumer, the locale of the earliest known civilization, said to be responsible for creating the wheel, large-scale architecture, and the world’s first writing system. In Baghdad, there is a visit to see the treasures of the Iraq Museum, with its spectacular treasures of ancient Mesopotamia, some only recently recovered and restored. Few journeys anywhere could offer a site akin to Cidra el Muntaha, the Tree of Knowledge, alleged to be the tree whose forbidden fruit resulted in Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

“The journey was mesmerizing, illuminating, sometimes frustrating and overwhelming, and overall, one of the most profoundly challenging and inspiring trips I’ve ever taken” Barbieri added. “I would go back in a flash.”

“On the Road to Baghdad: Exploring Southern Iraq” will run January 10-21, February 7-18, and November 6-17 in 2024. The cost is from $10,350 per person (based on double occupancy). For more information, visit GeoEx.

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