United Arab Emirates Travel Guide

A union of small sultanates with more immigrant workers than native inhabitants, the United Arab Emirates offers an astounding variety of landscapes including mountains, beaches, deserts and oases.

The capital Dubai immediately springs to mind when thinking about shopping and it also offers a surprisingly lively nightlife. With aspirations to be the Middle Easts most happening place, a finacial centre, twenty-first century skyscraper showcase and shopping mecca, the UAE is wisely looking beyond oil for its prosperity.

Why You Should Go

What’s Cool: Shopping, no tipping, non-Muslims can drink alcohol, souqs, lots of air-conditioning, fine beaches, world-class diving, desert safaris, glitzy record-breaking hotels, all kinds of food, male friends holding hands and everything’s clean.

What’s Not: The heat, expensive hotels, aggressive drivers, intolerance to same sex couples, expensive restaurants, flash floods, getting stuck in a desert sand storm, men staring at Western women, draconian drug laws and unannounced speed bumps.

When to Go

Hot, steaming, boiling, scorching, sweltering, blazing and baking…

The best time to visit is between October and May when humidity and temperatures are at their lowest.

The period from June to September is the hottest with little rainfall.

December to March is much more bearable with lower midday temperatures, chilly nights and the most rainfall.

Getting There & Away

The glitzy Dubai Airport is a shopper’s paradise and a major regional hub. Daily flights link Dubai and Abu Dhabi, while hair-raising experiences can be had on the excellent road network.

Taxis are available in all towns and are the most convenient mode of transport. Generally, city fares are metered, while fares for longer journeys should be negotiated in advance. Limited bus services run to major towns and passenger ferries serve all coastal ports.

Walking can be extremely dangerous as few drivers stop at red lights and even fewer stop for pedestrians, particularly during Ramadan when getting home to eat takes priority over any safety concerns.

Health & Safety

The UAE has twice won the accolade of the world’s safest holiday destination. However, penalties for drug offences are severe. Make sure you have no traces of drugs in you blood, including codeine! The UAE is a clean and shiny destination and hygiene is high on the agenda. Sunburn and dehydration are the most common health problems. Medical care here will burn a hole in your wallet like the sun will in your head.

Food & Hospitality

Seven-star accommodation anyone? Dubai has it! Rates are expensive and budget hotels are of widely varying standard, while there are even some beach and mountain resorts at prices to match. Don’t come here looking for motels and guesthouses though. All kinds of international cuisines are available and western fast-food is a favorite with the locals. Arabic cuisine is delicious and only mildly spicy, and grilled chicken is available everywhere. If you fancy a tipple, alcohol can be freely ordered by non-Muslims.

Itineraries

One week is the least you can get away with to take in the main highlights.

  • Two or three days to see Dubai’s highlights and do some shopping.
  • Two days to explore Abu Dhabi’s old Batin area and ancient burial mounds.
  • Two or three days to visit Al Ain, an oasis and former caravan stop with a camel market.

Extra time

  • Two days to explore the archaeological digs at Hili with ancient tombs, pottery and swords.
  • Four or five days exploring the desert’s spectacular and varied wilderness and meeting the nomadic Bedu folk.
  • Three or four days on the east coastvisiting the resorts of Dibba and Fujairah.

Highlights

Dubai: is the ‘Pearl of the Arabian Gulf’ with shopping and a natural harbor for dhow traders, pearl divers and fishermen.

Abu Dhabi: old building yards exhibit craftsmen’s skills that have remained unchanged for centuries, while modern malls are there for those who need to cool off.

Al Ain: is built on a huge fertile plain and offers spectacular scenery on the journey from Abu Dhabi.

Hili: offers ancient archaeological treasures and stone tombs.

Hafit Mountain: south of Al Ain, it has ancient tombs, pottery and swords.

Palm Islands: off Dubai are the world’s largest manmade islands, said to be visible from the moon.

Activities

Shopping: is a must, with electronics, carpets and gold artifacts firm favorites.

Golf: Dubai has been declared the world’s leading golf destination.

Diving: in the waters off Dubai, known as one of the best diving spots in the world.

Deep-sea fishing: for the Gulf’s abundance of game fish.

Skiing and snowboarding: can be enjoyed at the new Ski Dubai indoor snow sports facility.

Festivals & Events

Dubai is famous for shopping and it hosts some major international sporting events. Some of the best events and festivals include:

December to February: Dubai Shopping Festival is the leading shopping event in the world.

February: Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament is held at what was the first grass golf course in the Middle East.

March: Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival features international acts performing a variety of genres including funk and bluegrass.

April: Abu Dhabi Latino Fiesta and Abu Dhabi International Jazz Festival boast Latin dancers and leading jazz performers.

June to September: Dubai Summer Surprises Festival eases the summer heat with fun, games, music, art, food and prizes.