The United Arab Emirates is a land of intrigue where ancient history blends with futuristic design. Vast stretches of arid earth and rolling dunes dominate a landscape that borders Saudi Arabia to the south, Oman to the west and the Persian Gulf to the north. It’s where the iconic cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi stands like citadels of the modern age: iconic skyscrapers, city-sized malls, indoor ski slopes, palm-shaped island and palatial beach resorts attract millions of tourists throughout the year.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – A MODERN OASIS STEEPED IN LEGEND
It is in the deserts and historic trade routes to the south where legends were born and the lore of the land is etched. For centuries past, versatile tribesmen and nomadic groups gravitated toward the Persian Gulf, hunting for pearls and trading with seafarers and trade convoys. By the 17th century, the area now known as Abu Dhabi had become a trading settlement, with the Portuguese, followed by the British, establishing a strong presence. However, it wasn’t until the discovery of oil in 1958 and the establishment of UAE as a sovereign nation in 1971 that the region was catapulted into the modern era with unprecedented speed.
ABU DHABI AND DUBAI
Where world cities such as London and Rome evolved through centuries of cause and effect, Abu Dhabi and Dubai gained world recognition in as little as two decades. Certainly, the shopping and entertainment facilities are world-class, but what shouldn’t be overlooked is the strong sense of Arabian identity that underlines and permeates these new-born cities.
The sound of Muslim prayer can be heard like a poet’s call through the gilded streets of high end shopping centres and citadels of commerce. In the traditional markets, known as souks, the scent of herbs and spices are powerful reminders of a past that deserves to be cherished above modern influences. For tourists and travellers, the list of things to do continues to grow. World-class restaurants, museums, golf courses and gargantuan shopping malls are a given in both cities as are access to big game fishing excursions, yacht cruises and desert safaris. In Dubai, indoor skiing has artificial snow and challenging slopes while in Abu Dhabi the Ferrari World Theme Park blows away global opposition as the world’s largest indoor theme park. Both cities continue to raise the bar in terms of tourist entertainment and global recognition.
SIR BANI YAS – AN ISLAND ESCAPE
The UAE’s coastline, stretching over 1,300 kilometres, takes in almost 200 islands and is a highlight of any trip to the Persian Gulf. Sir Bani Yas Island, 250 kilometres to the west of Abu Dhabi, has been labelled the Galapagos of the Middle East for good reason. Travellers to this island gem will discover a wonderful array of exotic species that include giraffe, flamingos, hyenas and cheetahs. Likewise, snorkelling and diving enthusiasts can discover the secrets of the world beneath the surface of the Persian Gulf, spotting large sea turtles along with a theatre of brilliant Arabian fish in crystal waters.
THE EMPTY QUARTER – A DESERT ADVENTURE
While the world identifies the UAE with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, many travellers choose to travel inland and into the heart of the Empty Quarter, one of the largest sand deserts in the world. The landscape is dominated by rolling sand dunes that change colour with the rise and fall of the sun; from shades of yellow at noon to burnt ochre at dusk. Few places in the world offer the sense of wide open space and freedom to explore. While many luxuriate in the opulent surrounds of their chosen resort, others venture into the desert to practice the ancient art of archery in the company of a range master.
For centuries the tribesman of Liwa have practiced archery for hunting and continue to pass on the skill to the next generation, if not for survival then to keep the traditions alive. Falconry and hunting with salukis are other traditional practices dating back thousands of years and shared with travellers. Other activities include; sunset and family camel treks, horse riding, land sailing, swimming, biking, dune walks and, for the wild at heart, dune bashing in a specially adapted 4×4 vehicle.
Perhaps the most magical moments here can be found during the still of the night. This is the time when an eerie silence descends and a canopy of stars cast shadows across the landscape, stirring the imagination and setting the stage for 1001 Arabian nights. The script, from therein, is in your hands and for you to discover each unfolding chapter.
When to go
For many people, the determining factor for when to visit UAE is the weather. From late October through to mid-March it’s quite pleasant, with high temperatures ranging from around 27°C to lows of around 15°C. It is almost always sunny. It does sometimes rain between November and February, and can cause road hazards when it does. In the summer, the temperatures can soar to around 50°C degrees with high humidity.
Where to stay
Anantara Vacation Club offers a selection of luxurious Club Escapes throughout the United Arab Emirates, including four distinctive Anantara Hotel & Resort destinations and one Oaks Hotel property.
For comprehensive details on any of these UAE accommodations please visit the Anantara Vacation Club Escapes page
There are many airports in UAE but the main one is Dubai International Airport. Citizens of most industrialised countries will receive a 30-day visa on arrival in the United Arab Emirates free of charge. This can be extended for up to 90 days after arrival for a fee. Visas on arrival are available for all 28 EU countries, Australia, Andorra, Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, the United States of America and the Vatican City.
Public transportation within most cities remains rudimentary. Dubai is building extensive Metro, monorail and tram networks, and has invested heavily in the local bus network in recent years. The other Emirates offer very little public transportation. Abu Dhabi has a network of city buses that are fairly reliable. Intercity bus services are fast, comfortable and reasonably frequent. In the cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah taxis are widely available.
The UAE currency is the Emirati Dirham. All international Visa and MasterCard’s are accepted.
Local laws & Etiquette
Be aware that the UAE is a Muslim nation that is known for its tolerance towards travellers. Alcohol and pork are available for tourists only in certain venues. Drugs are strictly prohibited. As a general rule, it’s advisable to dress modestly especially when visiting temples.
[Source: Footprints Minor Hotel Group / Issue 9 / 2015]