The stark desert peninsula of Qatar extends into thePersian Gulf, bordered on the landward end by Saudi Arabia and theUnited Arab Emirates. Its area may be small, but the independentemirate is exceedingly wealthy, with one of the highest per capitaincomes in the world thanks to its oil and gas resources.
Whether visiting Qatar for business or pleasure, mosttravellers use the stylish capital, Doha, as their base. Formerly aquaint and busy pearl fishing village, Doha is today one of themost important cities in the Middle East due mainly to its power asa major trading centre.
It has a large British and American expatriatepopulation (the Al Udeid air base was headquarters for the USinvasion of Iraq in 2003), which has moulded the city into aninteresting blend of eastern and western culture andarchitecture.
Tourists tend to spend their time on the DohaCorniche, a palm-fringed public promenade that extends for fourmiles (7km) along the seafront, lined with five and six-star resorthotels, restaurants, shops, beaches and recreational areas.
Although there is some adventure to be found in theglittering sands beyond Doha, the biggest draw card for visitors toQatar is shopping, whether it is in the exotic traditional markets() or the plethora of massive ultramodern malls thatfill the city centre. In addition to this impressive retailoffering, Doha is fast becoming a sought after destination forfoodies because of a sophisticated fine-dining scene.
Those wanting to explore outside the city canundertake excursions to interesting little towns, fishing villages,beautiful beaches, camel racing events, luxury resorts, and the AlMaha Sanctuary at Shahaniya, where the near-extinct Arabian Oryx isbeing protected. The Oryx is thought to be the origin of the legendof the unicorn and is Qatar's national symbol, flying high on thetails of Qatar Airways jetliners.
Whether it is learning to haggle at the , fine-tuning your dune driving skills, relaxing onthe beach, or marvelling at the wonders of the Arabian world in oneof the many museums, Qatar has something for every traveller. Thecountry is a shopper's dream, while business travellers will findit equally exciting as Doha is fast making its mark as a regionalbusiness hub.
Deep in the heart of Doha sits Al Koot, also knownsimply as the Doha Fort. This Moorish-style relic of military powernow exhibits historical photographs and artwork depicting dailylife in Qatar, as well as exhibitions detailing many Bedouin Saduhandicrafts and practices, including wooden ornaments, fishingequipment, boat-building, rope-making and gypsum-burningtechniques. While some of the examples may be unrefined, they are atrue indication of the local people's ability to adapt certainobjects and situations to suit their needs.
The fort itself was built in 1880 during the Ottomanoccupation. It was originally a military barracks and a policestation before being used as a jail from 1906. It is now one ofQatar's most celebrated tourist attractions and visitors shouldbudget at least two hours to take it all in. The fort is locatedalongside the famous Waqif Souq, a sprawling and fascinating marketon Grand Hammad Street which will no doubt also occupy travellersfor many hours.
Qatar is rapidly making a name for itself in museum developmentand the gem of the country's cultural offering is Doha's Museum ofIslamic Art. The museum houses an exquisite collection of artworksfrom all over the Islamic world.
The pieces on display date from the 7th to the 19th centuriesand include glass, ivory, wood, ceramics, textiles, metal, preciousstones and manuscripts. The collection housed at the Museum ofIslamic Art was sourced from three continents and the buildingitself was designed by the acclaimed architect I. M. Pei.
One of the great cultural assets of Doha, all visitors to Qatarshould make a trip to the Museum of Islamic Art as part of theirsightseeing itineraries. Budget at least three hours to soak up allthat is on offer.
The Doha Corniche is a beautiful waterfront promenadeand one of the most popular areas in Doha for tourists and localsalike. Now one of the most attractive areas of the city, theCorniche was formed after nearly 15 years of dredging andconstruction work during the 1970s and 80s. It now extends forseveral kilometres and connects the West Bay Business District tothe south of the city.
The two ends of the Corniche are marked by two ofDoha's best tourist attractions for foreign visitors, the Museum ofIslamic Art, and the Sheraton Hotel, where you can buy alcohol andwhere parties and live music are often staged.
Although the Doha Corniche used to be a largely emptyexpanse, the beauty of its seaside location and the groundswell ofinternational commercial activity in Doha has seen extensivedevelopment take place. These days, the Corniche sports aglass-and-steel skyline to rival the likes of New York City.
A popular area for joggers, walkers, and bikers, theCorniche is also a wonderful place to gather in the coolness of theevening, to sip some coffee, or to have a meal and socialise withother tourists and Qatari locals while the sun sinks behind thegleaming buildings in the west.
A quintessential Arabian pastime and a funalternative for western visitors to Qatar who are missing theirregular nightlife options, shisha bars are where friends gather tosit, chat, and share a smoke of a water-pipe together.
The design of the shisha pipe ensures that evennon-smokers should find the experience smooth and comparativelygentle on their lungs, and the tobacco used comes in a variety ofdelicious flavours such as grape, pineapple, and vanilla.
Visitors should keep in mind that since this is avery traditional recreational activity, women are not allowed intomany of the shisha bars in Doha. However, there are some moreforeigner-friendly venues which happily allow women in. It's bestnot to assume women will be welcome and to ask before entering.
A highly recommended tourist activity in Doha, avisit to a traditional shisha bar for some tea and a smoke makesfor a great cultural experience, and presents a fantasticopportunity to engage with locals in a relaxed setting.
Doha is world-famous for its collection of souqs,which are largely open-air marketplaces selling a wide variety ofgoods. Shopaholics will feel as though they've died and gone toheaven when perusing Doha's incredible range of souqs, whereanything and everything can be bought.
The most famous of Doha's traditional marketplaces isthe Souq Waqif ('the Standing Market'), which sells gorgeoustraditional garments (including Bedouin cloth), spices, perfumes,handicrafts, and the best range of authentic Qatari souvenirs (suchas dullahs and khawas, traditional coffee pots, and smallaccompanying cups). Souq Waqif also has a fine selection ofrestaurants and food stalls turning out things like traditionalfare, international cuisine, and a couple of popular shishabars.
Tourists looking to buy jewellery or gold in Dohashould check out the Gold Souq, while those seeking a uniquecultural experience should check out the Camel Souq and Falcon Souq(both located in downtown Doha's E-Ring), where you will be amazedat the prices that these magnificent animals can fetch.
Whether you're a committed shopper or just an eagertourist looking to get to grips with the local culture, Doha'ssouqs are a fine place to spend many hours of your Qatar holiday.Be prepared to haggle: this is a normal and accepted part of theshopping experience.
The Pearl is a staggering feat of human engineeringand one of Doha's hottest new tourist areas. An artificial islandlocated in the West Bay and spanning more than 985 acres (400hectares), The Pearl is a world-class luxury accommodation andbeach resort destination in Qatar. Building the developmentnecessitated the creation of over 20 miles (32km) of new coastline.Of this, 12 miles (19km) consists of pristine sandy beaches.
Expatriate businesspeople in Doha will be interestedto know that The Pearl is the first land available for freeholdownership by foreign nationals, as its developers look to foster alavish, secure Riviera-style community on the man-made island.
The Pearl boasts thousands of permanent residents andhas become a massively popular shopping and dining area forwell-heeled travellers and Qatari locals alike.Internationally-renowned restaurants are the order of the day atthe pearl, while its enormous malls are home to cinemas, theatresand boutique stores stocking every big name brand under thesun.
Doha's desert climate has year-round hot, sunny weather withvery little rainfall. Winters (December to March) are marginallycooler with average lows of 54°F (12°C), and there is more chanceof rain. Summer temperatures (April to November) can rise as highas 104°F (40°C) and above. The best time to visit Doha is betweenNovember and March, when daytime temperature are at their mostmerciful, and the threat of sand storms is low.
Qatar has a dry, subtropical desert climate. The sun shinesvirtually every day and rainfall is almost non-existent, averagingabout three inches (80mm) a year and falling only in winter.Summers (June to September) are sizzling hot by day, and warm atnight, with temperatures often hitting 104°F (40°C) or above.Winters are only slightly cooler by day but can be very chilly atnight. The best time to visit Qatar is between October and April,when daytime temperatures are bearable and there is little threatof sand storms.
The official currency is the Qatari Riyal (QAR), which dividesinto 100 dirhams. Money can be exchanged at banks, the airport andexchange dealers. The main bank branches are on Grand Hamad Streetin Doha. Banks are open Saturday to Thursday 8am to 1pm and someare open into the evening. ATMs are available on the main streetsof the cities and towns, at banks and in shopping malls. Mostshops, hotels and restaurants accept international creditcards.
Arabic is the official language, but English is widelyspoken.
Electrical current is 240 volts, 50Hz. Round pin plugswith grounding as well as rectangular blade plugs are inuse.
United States citizens with a passport valid for six monthsbeyond date of arrival. No visa required for a maximum stay of 30days. Can apply to extend stay another 30 days.
Passports must be valid for a minimum of 6 months from thearrival date. British citizens do not require a visa for a maximumof 30 days. They can apply to extend their stay another 30 days.Holders of British passports with any other endorsements areadvised to check on entry requirements for Qatar.
Canadian citizens must have passports valid for a minimum ofthree months beyond date of arrival. Nationals of Canada do notrequire a visa for a maximum of 30 days. They can apply to extendtheir stay another 30 days.
Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months from thearrival date. Australians citizens do not require a visa for staysup to 30 days. They can apply to extend their stay for another 30days.
Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months from date ofarrival. South Africans citizens do not require a visa for stays upto 30 days. They can apply to extend their stay for another 30days.
Irish citizens must have a passport valid for six months fromthe arrival date. Nationals of Ireland do not require a visa for amaximim of 30 days. They can apply to extend their stay for another30 days.
United States citizens with a passport valid for six monthsbeyond date of arrival. No visa required for a maximum stay of 30days. Can apply to extend stay another 30 days.
Passports must be valid for a minimum of six months from thearrival date. New Zealanders do not require a visa for stays up to30 days. They can apply to extend their stay for another 30days.
Visitors should have tickets and documents for return or onwardtravel and sufficient funds to cover their stay. If on a touristvisa, visitors should have proof of confirmed hotel reservation andsufficient funds or a credit card. If holding a visa for Oman, anadditional visa for Qatar is not required (however, travellers arenot allowed to depart to a third country). All visitors staying inQatar for more than one month need to obtain a Residence Permitafter arrival. The government of Qatar does not accept temporarypassports. It is highly recommended that passports have at leastsix months validity remaining after your intended date of departurefrom your travel destination. Immigration officials often applydifferent rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.
No vaccinations are required for entry to Qatar, but it isrecommended that visitors be up to date with routine vaccinationslike MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria.Vaccinations are also recommended for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.Modern medical care and medicine is available in the big cities andmedical care is usually of a high standard in Doha. Doctors andhospitals generally expect immediate cash payment for medicalservices and treatment is expensive; it is advisable for travellersto hold comprehensive medical insurance.
A service charge of 10 percent is usually added to hotel andrestaurant bills in Qatar, in which case tipping is not necessary,although for exceptional service many people add a bit extra. Ifthere is no service charge, a 10 to 15 percent tip is appreciated.Taxi drivers do not expect a tip but it is polite to round up thefare.
Safety in Qatar is generally not an issue but the country, likemost in the Gulf Region, is rated as being under high threat ofindiscriminate terrorist attacks against western interests.Visitors should therefore be vigilant in public places. There is alow incidence of crime, but women are advised to take care whentravelling alone at night.
Qatar is an Islamic state, which prohibits drinking alcohol inpublic other than at licensed hotel restaurants and bars. Religiouscustoms should be respected, particularly during the month ofRamadan when eating, drinking, and smoking in public are forbiddenby Muslim Law. Intimacy between men and women in public can lead toarrest and homosexuality is illegal.
Visitors should dress modestly and respect local customs. Womenshould cover their shoulders and avoid wearing shorts or shortskirts. The right hand should be used for everything, includingeating and the giving and receiving of things, as the left isconsidered unclean. The import of pornographic material,non-Islamic religious material, alcohol, or pork products isstrictly prohibited.
Since a large portion of Qatar's population iscomprised of foreign nationals, you might find yourself dealingexclusively with other expats in a corporate milieu that you arefamiliar with. However, the following advice pertains to Arabicbusiness culture to help prepare westerners for that eventuality.It is important to bear in mind that Qatar is an Islamic countryand that visitors should always remain sensitive and respectful ofthe large influence that these religious beliefs have on ordinarysocial life.
The business culture of Qatar can be described as'typically Arabic', in that a great emphasis is placed on personalrelationships between business associates: Qatari businessmenprefer to do business with people they are familiar with and whothey feel they can trust.
For this reason, you will probably be required toengage the services of a local agent (or sponsor) in Qatar, who'llbe able to provide you with important introductions andrecommendations. The start of a professional relationship willoften be dedicated to getting to know each other and businessitself may be slow to start. Don't get impatient: long-term,personal business relationships in Qatar are certainly worth theinvestment of your time and energy.
The management style that predominates in Qatar isstrictly hierarchical. Decisions are made at the top level andclear, direct instructions are given to staff who are expected tofollow them to the letter. Note that it is unusual to hear the word'no' outright in Qatar. A more polite, indirect method of refusalis usually preferred.
Business etiquette in Qatar reflects the closerelationship between personal and professional life mentioned abovedespite the hierarchical structures. Use Arabic titles whereappropriate, such as Haji and Sheikh, to indicate your respect foryour associates. Make sure that when discussing business, you candeliver everything you promise: verbal commitments are treated assolemnly as written contracts in Qatar.
Business meetings in Qatar will most likely belengthy, and subject to numerous personal digressions, and perhapseven unexpected visitors. It is important to remain patient, evenif the meeting's agenda is abandoned - do not resort to hard-selltactics, as this may well be interpreted as aggression.
Do not publicly criticise or undermine anyassociates. If you feel the need to say something, do it inprivate. It is common to exchange business cards when meeting newassociates for the first time. Make sure your details are printedin Arabic on the reverse side of your card and always spend alittle time regarding someone else's card before putting itaway.
Business dress is smart, formal, and conservative,especially for women who must take care not to wear anything toorevealing. The official language of Qatar is Arabic, though Englishis widely spoken and widely understood in the business world.
Business hours are generally 7.30am (or 8am) to about6pm. Friday is a day of rest and most companies will also giveeither Thursday or Saturday off - international companies tend tofavour closure on Saturday.
The international access code for Qatar is +974. Hotels andcafes offering free wifi are widely available. As internationalroaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card canbe a cheaper option.
Travellers to Qatar do not have to pay duty on tobacco productsand perfume for personal use. Alcohol may not be imported under anycircumstances. Prohibited items include wild birds, without animport authorisation from Ministry of Agriculture and MunicipalAffairs (MMAA). Travellers are also prohibited from importingpork-related products and pornographic or sexually explicitmaterial.
Qatar Tourism Authority: www.qatartourism.gov.qa/en
Embassy of Qatar, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 2741600.
Embassy of Qatar, London, United Kingdom (also responsible forIreland): +44 (0)20 7493 2200.
Embassy of Qatar, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 241 4917.
Embassy of Qatar, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 4521700.
Embassy of Qatar, Canberra, Australia: +61 26152 8888.
Embassy of Qatar, Tokyo, Japan (responsible for New Zealand):+81 (3) 5475 0611.
United States Embassy, Doha: +974 4496 6000.
British Embassy, Doha: +974 4496 2000.
Canadian Embassy, Doha, Qatar: +974 4419 9000.
South African Embassy, Doha: +974 4485 7111.
Australian Embassy in Doha, Qatar: +974 4007 8500
Irish Embassy, Abu Dhabi (also responisible for Qatar): +971(0)2 495 8200.
New Zealand Embassy, Abu Dhabi (also responsible for Qatar):+971 2 441 1222.
Doha is home to Doha International Airport, Qatar's onlyinternational airport, served regularly by Qatar Airways and inclose proximity to the city. Doha also has an excellent roadnetwork with new highways being developed to further improve accessto the metropole.
There is an extensive bus system and good taxi services in placein and around the city, while plans for a metro system are alsounder way. Doha Port is located just off the Doha Corniche and alsoprovides access to the city.
Doha is a hugely dynamic city which takes its rangeof sightseeing attractions seriously. Shopping and eating out areextremely worthwhile activities in Doha, where ultramodern malls,glamorous restaurants, and bustling markets called souqs combine tooffer a melange of traditional and modern food and retailopportunities. A stroll along the Corniche (promenade) at sunset isanother must in Doha, allowing travellers to see the glitteringcoastal city at its best.
Doha has a range of museums and galleries offeringrespite from the desert heat, some of the most popular include theNational Museum and Doha Fort. The Ethnographic Museum and theswords and knives on display at the Weaponry Museum are equallyfascinating and offer visitors a glimpse into the history of thisproud country. The undisputed gem of Doha's cultural scene,however, is the Museum of Islamic Art.
Some enticing excursions out of the city are madepossible by numerous tour operators, with camel rides and racingevents and dune boarding good options to explore the stark beautyof the seemingly endless stretch of desert beyond Doha. There arealso some interesting smaller coastal cities and towns within easyreach, for those who want a taste of Qatar's more traditionalface.
On the way to Umm Said lies the town of Al Wakrah, boasting allthe charm of a seaside village. Located very close to Doha, AlWakrah has slowly become a suburb of the big city, but it washistorically independent and still retains its unique atmosphere.Local livelihood is still based on pearl diving and fishing in andaround the lovely and active harbour area.
The Al Wakrah Museum is not to be missed while in town,exhibiting traditional diving equipment, local handicrafts, andtreasured antiques. The local fish market is a good bet for freshseafood: visitors can select their catch and watch it being cookedand prepared for them.
The coastal city of Al Khor lies about 35 miles(57km) north of Doha, within easy reach for travellers wanting abreak from the big city. The Al Khor Museum is a double-storybuilding facing the seafront that houses anthropologicalexhibitions, as well as an excavation section displaying thenumerous archaeological discoveries made in the Al Khorvicinity.
Visitors will see artefacts dating back from theNeolithic and Bronze Ages, as well as exhibitions dealing with moremodern facets of Qatari culture, such as displays showcasing thearea's pearling and dhow-building industries. One of the mostinteresting exhibitions depicts the myth of Ghilan and Mae, whichrefers to the region's first female pirate.
A highly recommended tourist activity in Qatar, anexcursion to the Al Khor Museum makes for a wonderful introductionto the country's rich cultural history. The city is also home to anumber of interesting mosques and some lovely beaches.
Khor al Adaid, also spelled Khawr al Udayd, is abreathtaking and unique geographical area in the southeast ofQatar. The Inland Sea is a tidal lake nestled among thecrescent-shaped sand dunes. The shallow body of water has a narrowoutlet into the sea and many shore lobes.
It is situated along the border between Qatar andSaudi Arabia, with shores in both countries. The beaches on theQatar side have become popular with travellers, as have adventureactivities in the surrounding dunes.
As Khor Al Adaid is only accessible in 4x4 vehicles,this excursion is usually arranged through tour operators in Qatar.Tour operators offer a range of tours to the Inland Sea, includingovernight camps and activities like camel riding anddune-boarding.
Only drivers who are experienced in driving 4x4vehicles over dunes should attempt the trip without a tour guide.Even then, they are urged to exercise extreme caution and to lettheir hotel know where they are going and how long they expect tobe gone.