Whoever said “Life’s a beach” might have been talking about Qatar. The lone, level sands of this Gulf Emirate stretch from one coast to the other with little between but for the occasional decaying mud-built fort.

It’s hot here: the mean temperature between May and September is a toasty 40°. As a consequence there’s not much greenery about, although the name of the capital, Doha, means “big tree” in the local dialect. The big tree is long gone but there is no need for others in this gleaming metropolis to die of thirst: like Dubai Qatar has a liberal attitude towards alcohol consumption and practically all hotels have bars.

This liberal outlook is fostered by the cosmopolitan make-up of Doha’s population: most are expatriates working in the oil industry or associated businesses. They have plenty of money to spend and there is no dearth of options when it comes to spending it. City Centre Doha is the largest shopping mall in the Middle East. More typical of the region are the numerous souqs where visitors can hone their haggling skills. Everything from gold through to perfumes and textiles can be acquired here as well electrical goods and even camping equipment.

Camping equipment might be appropriate for any itinerary that sees the travellers venture out of the city and into the interior of the country. Safari holidays that concentrate exclusively on the dunes and isolated lagoons are quite unusual but there are plenty of providers of four wheel drive, one-day excursions. The symbol of Qatar is the oryx, an elegant antelope whose silhouette gave birth to the myth of the unicorn. Anyone keeping their eyes peeled out in the wastes has a fair chance of seeing one.

Holidays with a focus on water are a good way of cooling off in a desert country. Qatar has seeded two artificial reefs for scuba diving and there are many operators offering fishing trips or sightseeing cruises too.


Mark Lauterwein