One of seven states of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has transformed from a quiet port into a destination brimming with novel structures and amazing malls alongside traditional attractions such as safaris in olden deserts.
The Burj Al Arab hotel, which is built in the shape of a sail, stands proudly by the coast as a symbol of this change. Other significant structures include the enormous entertainment complex known as Dubailand and The World, a group of man-made islands in the shape of the continents of the earth.
Dubai has established itself as the holiday capital of the Middle East with a range of leisure choices that includes championship golf courses, art galleries, Jumeirah Beach and the Dubai Museum. Visitors can also try some unique experiences such as camel riding, sand skiing or sand boarding, sail onboard a traditional dhow and go dune bashing or four wheel driving amidst sand dunes.
The high temperatures make the white sand beaches and thrilling water parks a natural option for holidaymakers, but remember to bring along sun block. The water parks offer excitement with high water slides and rides like the Wild Wadi Water Park on Jumeirah beach, and Aquaventure, which is part of luxury resort Atlantis The Palm.
The Dubai Mall draws shoppers with swanky shops such as Galeries Lafayette, Bloomingdale’s, Hermes and Prada. The mall houses an Olympic-sized ice rink and once you’ve had your fill of shopping, wonder through the marvel that is the Dubai Aquarium. The Mall of the Emirates not only features international names with brands such as Marc Jacobs and labels like H&M, it also has an indoor ski resort with ski runs of varying difficulty and a snow park.
For old style shopping with local flavour, make a bold venture into the souks or outdoor markets found along the banks of the Dubai Creek. The unique smell, sounds and sights of the souks can be experienced in the Deira old quarters.
The shops lining the alleyways offer everything from exotic spices and gold to fabrics in diverse colours and a range of prices. The wonderful part of wondering through these souks is that they are a living entity and not set up for tourists during the shopping season.
The merchants are friendly and relaxed and do not pressure you into buying their wares. In fact, they are patient and glad to explain what they have to offer. Bargaining is part of the fun and if you are not accustomed to haggling, the shopkeepers will walk you through it.
For a tour of the city, climb aboard the abra water taxi and ride across the Dubai Creek to the Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort, regarded as the oldest building in the city. The dioramas on display here illustrate the lives of the people in olden days and show how far the emirate has progressed.
An elegant way to take in the sights is to cruise the Creek aboard the Bateaux Dubai which presents a fine dining gourmet experience on board while you view the city lights come alive at night from the interior of the glass enclosed vessel.
For something rugged, try a desert safari in a four-wheel drive vehicle amidst the sand dunes that extend across the salt flats of the Gulf coast. The escorted safaris range from half-day trips to overnight camping excursions with BBQ dinner.
A typical desert camp is all the more enjoyable accompanied by activities such as sand surfing, sand boarding and getting henna tattoos, wrapping up with a delicious buffet dinner of local cuisine on mats and low tables with entertainment in the form of a belly dance performance under the stars.
Get caught up in the excitement of a camel race with the unforgettable sight of the lanky animals ridden by young jockeys being urged towards the finishing line by their trainers keeping pace alongside in 4WD vehicles.
A camel ride can be arranged and is not as intimidating as it appears. Just follow the guide’s instructions, lean back and get into sync with the side-to-side gait of these gangly creatures. The grounds have a carnival atmosphere with merchants hawking rugs, beads, blankets and multi-coloured camel accessories spread out on the ground.
While the weather is sunny all year round, November to April are the milder months. Dubai city has a metro transit system that runs along the busy main street known as Sheikh Zayed Road, which is close to key shopping, recreational and entertainment facilities. Weekends in the Muslim world are on Friday and Saturday.
Article written for www.natastravel.com