Dubai is a city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture and a lively nightlife scene. Burj Khalifa, an 830m-tall tower, dominates the skyscraper-filled skyline. At its foot lies Dubai Fountain, with jets and lights choreographed to music. On artificial islands just offshore is Atlantis, The Palm, a resort with water and marine-animal parks.
Since the explosion of the oil industry, the UAE and its major cities have experienced unfathomable wealth. Today, Dubai is the commercial center of the country, with plenty of awesome landmarks to explore. The world’s tallest structure, Burj Khalifa, is located in Downtown Dubai. Not far away are the Burj al-Arab seven-star hotel and the Palm Islands. The capital city, Abu Dhabi, is only a short distance away, but radiates its own identity. The gleaming city is home to water parks, shopping malls, the Khalifa Park, a stunning corniche, and the UAE’s largest religious icon, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Travel is possible between the two cities via taxi or coach.
The peak tourist season of the UAE is between October and March, when the climate is the most pleasant. The UAE is an expensive place to visit any time of year, but prices increase during these months, especially during the December and January holiday period.
Even though the weather can be somewhat uncomfortable, the UAE still welcomes thousands of visitors in April, May and September. Temperatures are not overly uncomfortable and cheaper accommodation and flights are appealing.
Currency: The United Arab Emirates dirham (Dhs, AED)
Official language: Arabic, English
The first Europeans to arrive in the Gulf States were the Spanish in the 16th century. Eventually, the entire region was heavily influenced by colonial powers, but by the 1700’s, Britain was the most powerful force. In 1820, the sheikhdoms signed a treaty with the British government, known as the Trucial Sheikhdoms Treaty. Britain would protect them granted they would not give up land for or do business with any foreign governments without prior consent.
The treaty provided added protection for the pearling industry, which was the primary source of income for locals along the coast where piracy was rampant. Both World Wars, global economic depression and the discovery of Japanese cultured pearls saw the decline of the industry, but visitors can still see what life was like during this period at the Shindagha District (Bur Dubai, Dubai, UAE).
In the late 1950’s and early ‘60s, the Gulf’s oil industry began to take off. With the rapid decline of the pearling industry over the first half of the 20th century, the discovery of oil along the coast couldn’t have come at a better time for the struggling emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The first oil exports came out of Abu Dhabi in 1962, leading to increased UAE infrastructure and a better quality of life for the locals.
By the 1960’s, Britain decided to pull out of its treaty with the Trucial sheikhdoms. The seven sheikhdoms plus Bahrain and Qatar attempted to form a union before British protection expired in December 1971. However, disagreements led to a disintegration of the group. Qatar and Bahrain both became independent nations, while Dubai and Abu Dhabi joined five other emirates and on December 2, 1971, the UAE was born.
Since then, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have experienced incredible growth, both financially and socially. Over the last few decades, the UAE has not only become the center of the Middle East’s tourism, but has led the way in expanding its economy into ventures away from oil and natural gas. The Dubai National Museum (Al Fahidi Fort, Dubai) is a wonderful attraction that takes visitors on a journey through the city’s history, from pearl village to modern metropolis.
The UAE began as simple pearling villages, but has evolved into one of the most multicultural societies in the world. The population is predominantly Islamic and therefore many laws are respected. Emirati women wear a full-body abaya according to Islamic practices. Pork is not common, and in Sharjah, alcohol is prohibited. Nevertheless, in most parts of the UAE, tourists will find a liberal stance on Islamic culture. Alcohol can be purchased at licensed venues (mostly inside hotels), but outside of these, a permit must be obtained in advance. A strict dress code is also observed and wearing anything too revealing in public is frowned upon.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) experiences two distinct seasons. Between the months of June, July and August, the weather can be almost unbearable due to soaring temperatures upwards of 122°F, although the average is around 104°F. Even though only a small amount of rain falls on the UAE, the summer experiences a very humid climate.
The cooler months, which run from October through March, are much more pleasant with temperatures hovering around 85°F. The skies remain sunny throughout the season and travelers will find the weather extremely comfortable.
Most of the rainfall, which is only about five inches on average, comes down in short bursts of heavy downpours during late summer. The highlands can see up to 13 inches and the cities and towns are prone to flooding during these times. Violent dust storms can also be a problem. Tourists are advised to stay indoors when one is approaching, as they can severely affect visibility and lead to health problems.
Nationals of countries requiring a prearranged UAE visa can now apply and pay for their visas online through emirates.com. If you are travelling to or stopping over in Dubai with Emirates, you can submit an application and receive your UAE visa entirely online – without having to submit your passport for stamping.
Taxis are relatively cheap in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but are only available in the cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, with most destinations reached for just a few dollars thanks to the low price of oil. After 10:00 p.m. some cabs add a surcharge of a few dollars, but this still won’t break the budget. National Taxi (+671-4-327-4666) is the main company offering services in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Metro Taxis (+671-4-267-3222) are also reliable.
To rent a car in the UAE, an International Driver’s License is required. If you only have a national driver’s license, a local automobile association can transfer your details for a fee. Airports and major cities have plenty of rental agencies, including some of the world’s leading companies. However, be aware that drivers often hold no regard to the rules of the road. Locals commonly speed, run red lights and don’t use turn signals. As a result, the UAE holds the third-highest death toll for car accidents in the world.
Water taxis are only available in Dubai. Tourists can catch a ferry across the Dubai Creek to visit destinations like Deira. Waterbuses and cheap abra ferries are mainly used by locals, but it is possible to rent an abra for a half or full-day tour.
The major cities of the UAE have their own public bus systems. Abu Dhabi’s main station is found on Hazaa Bin Zayed Road, where both intra-city and inter-city routes originate. The buses cost as little as a few dirham for a day pass. Sharjah only has a small network operated by the local authorities, but Dubai’s is much more extensive and requires a Nol card to ride. Gold Souk Market and Al Ghubaiba are the two largest stations in the emirate.
Trains are only found in Dubai and the Dubai Metro is serviced by two lines. The Red Line travels along the coast, connecting the inner city with several landmarks, including the airport. The Green Line runs through the center of the city. Within the next few years, purple and blue lines will extend the system even further.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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