The air is dry with the subtle hint of a breeze. It’s only mid-morning in late October, and yet the heat is creeping, increasing with a gradual intensity one can only come to experience in the midst of the desert. This morning’s itinerary features one standout activity: dune-bashing. The concept behind it is a simple one: driving through the sand dunes at varying speeds, adjusting to the rolling hills for what results in a thrilling ride.
We load up into a Toyota Highlander and make our way through the city—or whatever it is that has come to roughly resemble one. The drive down the highway is virtually unmarked, the path so unestablished that the GPS has yet to distinguish between road and desert. Here, in the heart of Qatar, we leave any semblance of modern-day civilization behind, as we drive through miles upon miles of construction zones, masked in thick, white sand and a fine layer of dust—a scene not too unfamiliar here, it being a natural result of the terrain and rapidly-growing infrastructure.
We arrive at the base camp, trailing behind an extended row of identical SUVs, all white, all speckled with a fine layer of dust. At the foot of the dunes, a flock of camels sit idyll with the promise of the quintessential desert-safari experience. Nearby, variations of the traditional Middle Eastern seating arrangement, known as majlis, offer a brief reprieve from the desert heat, each one more ornate and colorful than the next.
We embark on our adventure shortly after our designated driver lightly deflates the tires—a tactic employed to release air pressure, to make the ride more fluid and conducive to the terrain. We make our way through the dunes, speed increasing—I, sitting in the back of the SUV, can feel every bump and groove in an exaggerated dose. Consider it a more authentic version of a roller coaster. A highly-experienced driver is encouraged—ours has been dune-bashing for decades, and the level of expertise is evident. The exhilarating ride comes to an end as we near the Inland Sea, a remarkable natural reserve that stands in as one of Qatar’s biggest draws for tourists. If there were ever a way to get a truly unfiltered perspective of the desert, this would have to be it.
Qatar at a Glance
A mere 20 years ago, Qatar was land that pearl divers called home and where the Bedouin people roamed the deserts. In the past few decades, it has grown to become a nation with the highest GDP, and progress shows no signs of halting. While Doha remains the capital and major city of Qatar, a newer and more-sustainable sister city is currently being built directly adjacent.
Aside from providing more living quarters for the rapidly growing population (currently staggering around 2.6 million), the new city is being established to help assuage the bottleneck traffic issue, which has risen.
Read on to get the lowdown on the points of interest you’re not going to want to miss.
For the Wanderluster
Situated on the inlet of the Persian Gulf, across from the Saudi Arabian border, you’ll find Qatar’s famed inland sea, Khor al Adaid. The UNESCO-recognized natural reserve is one of very few spots in the world where the sea meets the heart of the desert. Coming fresh off your dune-bashing experience, seek refuge along the cooling waters that exudes serenity through its dynamic spectrum of blues.
Cool off at the Regency Sealine Camp, a waterfront accommodation set aside the Inland Sea, which marries a contemporary approach to lodging with a slew of traditional elements. The luxury desert camp is conveniently situated nearby the crystal clear waters of the sea, making for the ultimate escape.
For the Art and Design Lovers
Katara Cultural Village One of the newer draws of Doha, Katara was built as a reprieve for artists, in an effort to promote the artistic endeavors of the people. Various galleries, a forthcoming block of residences earmarked for artists, and even a mosque are a few of the newer structures that have been built within the village. The galleries are free to locals to view and even display their own works.
Taking the inevitable flatness of the desert landscape into consideration, artificial rolling hills were established in the village to provide the terrain with an element of depth. An amphitheater, which sits across the spanning 2.5 km bay, features an exterior built in traditional Roman architecture, yet the interior boasts an entirely Middle Eastern influence—one that beautifully combines the best of the two worlds.
For the Shoppers
Head over to the Souq Waqif, a beautifully modernized rendition of the classic souq, this outdoor market is one that’s filled with barrels of imported spices, handwoven textiles, garments, gold, and everything else in between. The labyrinth-esque format of the market promises hours of exploration, while the prospect of people-watching offers unlimited moments of discovery. Lined with cafes and restaurants at every turn and corner, the Souq Waqif is a journey for all the senses.
For the Erudite
Designed by I. M. Pei,—the mastermind architect whose repertoire includes Le Grand Louvre and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, to name a few—the remarkable architecture of the museum is reason enough to visit the site. Situated along the Doha Corniche, it boasts selected works in Islamic art, encompassing everything from paintings to ceramics, textiles, and jewelry.
National Museum of Qatar
Currently undergoing construction (though set to reopen in December 2018) the National Museum of Qatar stands in as a monument to the history of Qatar. The architecture is an inspired one, emulated to resemble a desert rose, and comes to stand in as a perimeter around the 20th century palace of Sheikh Abdullah Bin Jassim Al Thani.
For the Foodies
Cuisines spanning across a wide category of Middle Eastern influences come at aplenty, a natural result of the myriad of cultures that have come to call Doha home in recent years. Hop on a Doha Dhow Cruise—a wooden dhow boat typical to the Bedouin tradition. The cruise takes you around the Doha harbor and is outfitted with all the amenities to whip up an authentic feast you won’t want to miss out on.
While there is no shortage of hotels popping up on what only seems to be a monthly basis, take solace in the fact that finding a suitable lodging option is one you need not worry about. Whether you choose to be in the bustling city center or in the outskirts with a more lax vibe, Doha’s array of hotels come at aplenty.
Situated a little outside of the city center, Sharq’s biggest draw just may have to be its beachfront locale, which offers an array of water activities, massive pools, and a quintessential oasis-like feel.
Located in the heart of the city, the W is an undeniable hotspot, especially for the younger crowd, as well as the place to be on a Saturday night.
Stay in the heart and pulse of Doha for the ultimate, immersive experience. With the array of shops and restaurants nearby, it is one you won’t want to miss out on.
While Doha has been earmarked as a layover destination—its prime locale, which provides a reprieve for travelers making the long trek to Asia or Africa—it is becoming apparent that there is a whole lot more to the city than what a mere 24-hours of exploration would allow for.