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United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai)

Great Destination:

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Evidence at Sharjah suggests human occupation of the UAE dates back to 85,000 B.C.
  • The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 1,716.5 feet, became the world’s tallest structure when inaugurated in 2010.
  • Dubai boasts the world’s largest gold market with around 11 tons of gold on site at any time.
  • UAE has the highest life expectancy in the Arab world (72.2 years for men, 75.6 for women).
  • Foreigners account for 80% of the UAE’s population.

A study in contrasts

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a single country on the northeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, formed by the union of seven sheikhdoms. Each sheikh governs autonomously, but the seven cooperate on economics, defense and foreign affairs.

The desert country has a coastline on both the Persian Gulf (aka Arabian Gulf) and the Gulf of Oman. The Hajar Mountains are a backbone running through the country and providing variety to a landscape that otherwise features quite a lot of sand.

Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, and Dubai are the best known of the sheikhdoms. The other five are Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. Four have oil: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Sharjah.

The country is rich from oil production, but looking ahead, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in particular, have undertaken development to support an economy that doesn’t depend on finite oil supplies. They are focused on commerce and tourism.

The society, meanwhile, is consistently Islamic, keeping to traditions for food, drink, dress styles and religious observances, while accommodating a huge diversity in its population — four of five residents are foreigners. Western tourists, especially women traveling alone, will be more comfortable in the UAE than in most countries of the region.

As may already be clear, the UAE is a land of contrasts. Visitors can ascend the world’s tallest building or shop in some of the world’s largest shopping malls.

Available recreational activities include all sorts of water sports — from diving to whitewater rafting — and fun on the sand, which includes sand skiing and driving up and down some steep dunes.

For those who want to capture more of Arabic and desert traditions, choices include a camel trek, visiting one of a handful of heritage villages or strolling among the remaining houses in Dubai that have wind towers.  In addition, shopping may include bargaining for gold jewelry and carpets. Relaxation may mean watching a belly dance program or smoking a hubble-bubble pipe (shisha) in a shisha cafe.

The country offers something for each personality type, but it still appeals most to the more venturesome.

Things to do for Venturers

  • In Abu Dhabi, practice your skills at the manmade whitewater rafting, kayaking and surf facility in the foothills of the Jebel Hafeet heights.
  • Smoke a shisha (hubble-bubble pipe) at a shisha cafe.
  • Wakeboarding and waterskiing are options in UAE waters. So are jet skiing, parasailing and scuba diving (to reefs or shipwrecks).
  • Participate in a camel trek into the desert.
  • Get a good look at Dubai from the world’s highest outdoor observation deck, 124 floors above the ground at Burj Khalifa. The elevator travels almost 100 feet per second. (You also can get the views from an inside space surrounded by glass walls.)
  • Sign on for a desert safari and ride in a 4X4 up and down sand dunes. Take lessons in desert driving. Or, drive a dune buggy.

Things to do for Centrics

  • At the Arabian Nights Village in Abu Dhabi’s interior, overnight in accommodations based on traditional styles, as follows: Beit Al Barr, mud houses of the desert; Beit Al Bahr, houses of Emirati sea dwellers, which are made from palm fronds, and Beit Shaar, woven tents.
  • Watch horse racing in Sharjah or at several other tracks in the UAE.
  • Visit the Arabian Wildlife Park on Sir Bani Yas Island. Kayak through the lagoons on the island, too. Or, check out the birds at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in the city of Dubai.
  • Go skiing on sand, a sport that is quite reasonably called sand skiing. Or, ski on snow at the indoor Ski Dubai.
  • Take a speedboat tour of Abu Dhabi’s coastline.
  • Take a day trip to Hatta village in Dubai to see restored traditional houses and other buildings. The associated Hatta Heritage Village is a reconstruction designed to provide more insights into older lifestyles. The village is in the mountains and hence cooler than Dubai at sea level.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Shop for just about anything at any of several very very large malls in the United Arab Emirates. Shop at the Dubai airport, too.
  • Also, shop — and bargain — for gold at the famed Gold Souk in Dubai, or for carpets in other souks.
  • Cool off and learn a few things at the Dubai Museum, housed in the restored Al Fahidi Fort. Near the fort, visit the Bastakiya district, distinguished by narrow lanes and tall wind towers, typical of old Dubai.  The wind towers were a cooling system for houses.
  • See a belly dancing show and demonstrations of henna painting.
  • Cruise the waters off Abu Dhabi aboard a traditional pearling dhow, drink Arabic coffee and learn about the lives of Emirati forebears who made a living diving for pearls.
  • Take to the water in the evening, too, for a dinner cruise on an Arabian dhow.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing at www.visitdubai.com and choose your language if necessary; consult Visit Abu Dhabi at http://visitabudhabi.ae and choose your language if necessary; and consult the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority at http://sharjahmydestination.ae/en-us