The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven
emirates on the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula, at the
entrance to the Persian Gulf. It has coastlines on the Gulf
of Oman and the Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia to the west
and southwest, and Oman to the southeast and also on the eastern
tip of the Musandam Peninsula as well as an Omani enclave within
its borders. It is a country rich in history and culture and
an easy starting point for travels in the Middle East.
- Abu Dhabi - The capital of the UAE
- Ajman - The smallest emirate, One
of the budget destinations.
- Al Ain - Inland and close to the
Omani bordertown of Buraimi, Al Ain comprises a triangle between
the proper cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
- Dubai - The most common entry point
for travelers, it is the transport and commerce center of
- Sharjah - A more budget destination,
dusty and chaotic in places but with some charms.
The United Arab Emirates is a modern and dynamic country. To some,
it is an advanced and clean country, to others a tourist "Disneyland"
For most Western tourists, the UAE offers an environment
that is extremely familiar. The malls are extraordinarily modern,
filled with virtually any product available in the West (save
sexually explicit material; movies are censored, as are, to some
extent, magazines). Alcohol is widely available at many restaurants
and bars in Dubai and in the tourist hotels of every other emirate
save Sharjah. However, you must obtain a liquor license (US$50)
in order to buy a full bottle at a liquor store. The liquor license
is proof that the bearer is a non-Muslim. A passport will not
suffice. However, you can purchase liquor duty-free at the airport
to bring into the UAE.
The roads and other public facilities are modern
if, at times, extremely crowded. Supermarkets offer a vast assortment
of products from the U.S. and Europe, mainly from the U.K., along
with, of course, local and regional items. Major international
chains such as Ikea and Carrefour have a presence and fast-food
chains (nearly all from the U.S.) such as McDonald's or KFC operate
widely. On the other hand, there are still crowded traditional
souks filled with products from around the world, rug stores,
or other traditional areas. These can be hard to find for the
average traveler, as the malls tend to gain an overwhelming amount
of attention. (Please note that contrary to what is printed in
guidebooks, the souks in Abu Dhabi were torn down in 2006 and
no longer exist. The souks in Dubai are still wonderful to explore,
The Emirates is a federation of seven emirates, and as a result
the rulers--or Sheikhs (pronounced: "shake")--of each
emirate can radically affect the way of life in his respective
Emirate. For example, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum of
Dubai is very modern, so Dubai is forward-thinking and modern.
The ruling sheikhs of Ajman and Sharjah are more conservative,
thus the rules are more strict concerning religion, alcohol, drugs
and general living conditions.
The country is extraordinarily dry, getting only a few days of
rain a year. Despite that, Emiratis use water at an alarming rate:
there are broad swaths of grass in the major public parks, for
example, and landscaping can be extensive in the resorts or other
public places. A visitor is not restricted in water use in any
way. The weather from late October through mid-March is quite
pleasant, with high temperatures ranging from the upper-20s C
(mid-80s F) to lows in the mid-teens C (low 60s F). It is almost
always sunny. In the summer, the temperatures soar it is
widely suspected that the officially reported temperatures are
"tweaked" to cut off the true summer highs, which can
reach 50 C, or around 120 F, or higher!
The population is incredibly diverse. Only some 20% of the population
of the Emirates is from the Emirates; the rest come from the Subcontinent--India,
Pakistan, or Bangladesh (some 50%); other parts of Asia, particularly
the Philippines, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka (another perhaps 15%);
and "Western" countries (UK, Europe, Australia, USA,
South Africa)(5-6%), with the remainder from everywhere else.
On any given day in, say, Dubai or Sharjah, you can see people
from every continent and every social class. With this diversity,
one of the few unifying factors is language, and consequently
nearly everyone speaks some version of English. Nearly all road
or other information signs are in English, and the language is
widely spoken, particularly in the hospitality industry. On the
other hand, there are elements that would be jarring for overseas
travelers, such as fully veiled women.
The official language is Arabic, but it is safe to say that the
majority of the population doesn't speak it (Iranian, Indian,
Asian and Western expatriates are more numerous than Arabs in
Dubai, and usually have very limited knowledge of Arabic). English
is the lingua franca.
Other languages widely spoken in the UAE include
Farsi (Persian), Hindi/Urdu (Hindustani), Malayalam, and Tagalog
(Filipino). Most people possess at least a basic command of English,
though it is not uncommon to meet people whose English is limited.
In Dubai, most shops, hotels, and commercial businesses
conduct business in English. Generally speaking, Arabic is spoken
by government departments and the police; however, in Abu Dhabi
and in the Northern Emirates, Arabic is much more widely spoken.
One of the main focuses of tourist life (other than shopping)
is the beach. The waters of the UAE, although definitely more
cloudy in recent years due to heavy coastal construction, are
still, for those from less torrid climes, remarkably warm, clean,
and beautiful. There are long stretches of white-sand beaches,
ranging from completely undeveloped to highly touristed (even
in cities like Dubai). The snorkeling and diving can be magnificent,
especially along the eastern (Indian Ocean) coast. Vast swaths
of desert stretch to the south of the major urban areas, offering
dramatic views and terrifying rides in fast-driven safaris. The
mountains are dramatic, steep rocky crags, and a visit to them
(for example, the town of Hatta) is well rewarded with amazing
views. Women wearing bathing suits will draw unwanted attention
at the public beaches; it is advisable to pay for a one-day entry
pass to a private beach at a hotel.
Ski Dubai in Dubai Emirates Mall opened in December
2005. It is the world's third largest indoor ski slope, measuring
400 meters and using 6000 tons of snow. Ski Dubai resort is the
first UAE indoor ski slope to open (www.skidubai.com), although
others are planned. No equipment is needed--skis/snowboards, snowsuits,
boots and socks are all included in the price (the socks are disposable).
You may want to buy a cheap pair of glove liners and a hat from
their souvenir store.
The Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open
an indoor ski slope as well in 2007 - 2008. A ski slope in Ra's
al Khaimah is also in the works.