Bahrain Travel Guide
Putting the Middle East firmly on the F1 map, Bahrain is one of the smaller but more determined of the Gulf States. Once considered an island paradise and the home of the gods, Bahrain is an archipelago in the Middle East consisting of 33 islands.
Although terrorist threats have stripped off its mythical reputation, locals and visitors still find Bahrain a welcome respite from its staunch Islamic neighbors. Long stretches of beach and friendly locals contribute to Bahrain’s warm, welcoming appeal. But despite its Western ties and evolving culture, what draws visitors to Bahrain is its antiquity – the centuries-old Tree of Life, the world’s largest ancient necropolis, and a wealth of archaic buildings that attest to its rich and fascinating history.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Wayne Gretzky, polar bears, maple syrup, French influences, fantastic skiing, Mounties, Niagara Falls, Biôdome in Montreal, high level of safety, the world’s largest mall, Rocky Mountains, beavers, Cariboo Gold Rush route, Monty Python’s Lumberjack song!
What’s Not: Freezing cold winters, short summers, compost toilets, huge distances, pesky mosquitoes, itchy blackflies, marauding moose, rivalry between French Canadians and the rest of the population, raccoons snatching your dinner.
When to Go
Whenever you choose to visit you are going to bake! Bahrain is mostly arid, with very hot and humid summers and relatively mild winters. Sandstorms are common in the summer. Temperatures can reach 45 ºC from April to November, but are mitigated by occasional northerly winds. The best time to visit is October to March; November and April are hot, but bearable.
Getting There & Away
Bahrain has one international airport, located just outside Manama. There are no train services; local land travel is provided by a regular bus service connecting Dahran and central Manama. You can drive to Saudi Arabia via paved causeways. Gas is cheap, taxis are widely available, but drivers tend to overcharge foreigners. You’ll need skill to to negotiate with the driver and insist on a metered fare.
Health & Safety
Growing a big bushy ‘Mujahedin’ beard will help you blend in, but Bahrain is one of the less troubled Arabian nations. Tap water is considered safe in Bahrain, and most hotels have their own filtration systems. Bottled water is also widely available. Make sure your meat and poultry dishes are well-cooked and served hot.
The only significant health risk is Hepatitis B, which is endemic in the region. Hospitals are well-equipped, and emergency medical service is offered for a small fee. Terrorist threat is high, and there have been indiscriminate attacks on Western nationals. Take extra care in public places and at night, and if possible, leave your valuables (credit cards, passports) in secure places.
Food & Hospitality
There’ll be no hangovers in Bahrain, this Moslem country is strictly dry, but puffing on a hookah is permitted by the morality police. Cuisine is typical Middle Eastern, often favoring pitas, chick peas and hummus, and a generous use of spices, sesame seeds, mint and parsley. Restaurants serve both local and Western food in a wide range of prices. Luxury restaurants can be expensive even by Western standards, although the food is usually worth it. Adlyia and Exhibition Avenue offer decent meals for under one dinar.
Hotels are also varied, from five-star luxury to budget family hotels. Most hotels are competitively priced compared to US hotels. International chains such as the Ritz-Carlton are well-represented, and usually offer a pick-up service direct from the airport.
Unless you’re planning to watch the GP, fry yourself in the baking Gulf sun or study the Koran, there is little to keep you in Bahrain for more than a few days.
- One day in A’Ali
- One day at the Tree of Life
- One day each at the Barbar Temples and al-Areen
Tree of Life: Bahrain’s signature tourism icon, this large mesquite tree has mysteriously thrived on desert ground for hundreds of years. It currently serves as the resting place for locals traveling through the desert.
Bait Al-Qur’an (House of the Qur’an): housed in an attractive modern building, this museum displays a collection of Holy Qur’ans and rare manuscripts, as well as ancient calligraphy and Islamic art.
A’Ali Burial Mounds: giving Bahrain an excuse to open up to tourism, this is perhaps the world’s largest prehistoric cemetery, a site which features thousands of burial mounds dating from 3000 BC to 600 AD.
Barbar Temples: no relation to Ali Barbar and his forty thieves, these three temples were supposedly built for the god Enki and his wife. Bizarrely, they are built on top of each other, with the bottom one built over a sacred well.
al-Areen Wildlife Sanctuary: with its desert beauty, the Sanctuary is home to several endangered species, including the nimble-legged Arabian onyx. A great place for those ‘dune photos’.
Water sports: With its warm Gulf waters, Bahrain’s coastal location makes it a great place for fishing, swimming, snorkeling, waterskiing, and scuba diving. You can rent boats for yachting and parasailing as well.
Camel rides: of course yes! Camels are not just for deserts you know – you can actually tour the city on a camel’s back.
Shopping: get your bargaining turban on, the souks (markets) are a shopper’s haven, selling everything from clothes and linens to interesting local foods. Check out the gold souk southeast of the market area for a great night time view.
Beaches: Al Jazair has everything you need for a relaxing day at the beach – miles of coastline, picnic areas, beach huts, and pretty pavilions. The coral reefs make a great underwater scene, though revealing bikinis might not go down too well.