The country which until 10 years ago had just a few tourist is now taking the lead in a race to become the hotspot in the Middle East.
Qatar is growing at an incredibly fast pace. Every day new skyscrapers are rising up and whole cities get transformed every month. It´s difficult to imagine what the country will look like in a decade or two. However, Qatar is not this futuristic dystopia where visitors have to spend their days inside air-conditioned facilities and swim at man-made beaches. The country has way more to offer and the true identity of Qatar lies behind that stereotypical luxury and extravagance we often hear about.
Tasting the flavors of the souq
Not as mad and exhausting as the Souq in Istanbul or Marrakesh, the Souq Waqif, located in the heart of Doha, is the best place to get a first glimpse of how the simple life in Qatar goes. Colorful pashminas and the fresh aroma of tea and spices indicate an unknown path to follow, on which visitors don´t know where to look first and getting lost is part of the adventure.
There are no fancy restaurants, luxury hotels or expensive cars. Still, this is the place where locals and visitors from all social classes come to feel the energy of the city at night.
The souq is also the place for tasting new flavors. Vendors from all over the world prepare meals with the freshest ingredients and based on their most traditional recipe. Indian delicacies persuading you with the smell of curries and spices, East Asian flavors of sweet and sour and traditional delights representing the distinctive and exquisite taste of Arabic cuisine. A souq is simply a Mecca for traditional cuisine lovers.
Observing the city of the future
Doha´s skyline amazes at day or night and a trip to Qatar is not over until you walk along the bay. See how magnificent skyscrapers with all possible forms and shapes rise up the closer you approach. Doha is designed for the future and although you won´t find the tallest building in the world here, Doha is a step ahead in contemporary architecture and design.
Insider Tip: Want to get a glimpse of Doha´s skyline from the top and at the same time do something unique? The Shangri La Hotel in Doha offers Yoga at the hotel´s helipad. However, the event does not happen very often, spots are limited, and tickets must be purchased in advance.
Listening to the melodies of nature
Qatar is a country to close your eyes for a moment and listen to life buzzing around you. In each part of the country the atmosphere will be completely different and just listening to your surroundings becomes a whole different journey.
Mornings in Doha are hectic and loud. Cranes moving around and vehicles traveling constantly from one place to another are part of the experience. Still, not far from the coastline you can have a whole different feeling. A dhow cruise takes you along the sea and without losing the view of the city, the melodies become calm and the sounds of the ocean take you back in time.
On the other side of the country, the majestic and enchanting sand dunes isolate you completely and the Al Thakira mangrove forest takes you straight to the heart of nature.
Getting in touch with yourself
Visiting the dunes of Qatar was one of my highlights in this country. A magical new world completely remote from civilization, the dunes can bring up a sense of adventure and excitement, but at the same time calm you down and relax you.
Feeling the warm sand under your feet while walking barefoot or simply watching the sun go down at the end of the day are some of the activities visitors can do in this area if they decide to stay overnight.
Breath in the fresh air of the Gulf
Travelling eastwards through the desert you will smell the ocean before you see it. Qatar´s sand dunes turn abruptly into beaches facing the Indian Ocean. It´s the place where two different worlds collide and your senses can´t follow up on what is happening around you. Landscapes, colors and scents change from one moment to another – an experience that can´t be fully captured in a photograph.
Most people see Qatar as the country which is trying to compete with the Western world and become the center of attention. However, this is a country which steps up to become a mega state and at the same time keeps its traditions and cultural background at the core.
Before you go: Qatar has been facing controversies over the past couple of years and with the 2017 Saudi-led blockade, it´s difficult to add Qatar to your itinerary if you are traveling around the Arabic Peninsula. Still, Qatar Airways connects the West and the East with a first-class service and a stop over in Qatar could be the perfect opportunity to experience this country with your own eyes.
Need to know:
Qatar is not the place for public transportation or even walking. Transportation is limited and walking lanes are practically non-existent in many areas. Renting a car is a good choice if you are planning to go out of the city. However, tour companies and taxis offer excellent alternatives if you don´t have a driver’s license or would rather not rent a vehicle.
As in most Muslim countries, alcohol is restricted. Qatar serves alcohol only in 5-star hotels. Prices are a little more expensive in comparison to the European standard and during the weekends it is possible to find a western clubbing scene inside hotels and resorts.
If you are visiting Qatar during Ramadan take into consideration that the habits of the whole country will change. Non-Muslims are expected to follow all the restrictions (no eating/drinking, no dancing, music, among others) and weather can be very dry and hot.