United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates is a fascinating country that combines past and present, high-tech modernity and man-made islands, sand and sea. It is a country of contrasts, of interesting nature, of desert and sea, of skyscrapers and big cities. People of different nationalities live here, but they are all very open, friendly and independent. Welcome to the UAE, the country is waiting impatiently for you!
United Arab Emirates on a map
Geographical location of the country
The UAE is located in the northeast of the Arabian Peninsula and is bordered by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman of the Indian Ocean.
The country is bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman, and is only 50 kilometres from Qatar. The country has an area of 83 thousand square kilometres, which is comparable to the size of Portugal. At the same time, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is the largest, occupying 85% of the territory.
The Rub al-Khali Desert, one of the largest in the world, is roughly the same size. No wonder there are no natural rivers or lakes.
Dangers for tourists
The Emirates are considered one of the safest places in the world for tourists. Due to the strictness of Islamic laws, there is almost no street crime. In addition, thousands of CCTV cameras watch the citizens’ every move. So it is not the criminals that pose the greatest risk to tourists, but the local laws. If they are broken unwittingly, they can be punished severely. Therefore, travelling to the UAE, you must be aware of the rules of behaviour in the Arabian state.
The country’s traffic is heavy, but the drivers are very disciplined. This is connected to the abundance of cameras and high fines for breaking the rules.
However, the main danger of the Emirates is the climate. It is not just hot here, it is monstrously hot, especially in summer. The temperature can get up to 45C, which can cause sunstroke and burns. Walking around on city streets and lounging on beaches is problematic during the day.
Another danger is poisonous animals. There are plenty of snakes and scorpions, which are not uncommon on beaches and in the private sector of towns. The carefree tourist may also face dangers in the water. Sea snakes, poisonous jellyfish and hedgehogs can be found here. The most dangerous jellyfish visit the Emirates in the autumn, September and October.
The UAE is ranked 60th safest country in the world, which seems surprising, but this is probably down to terrorist threats. Not long ago, an Abu Dhabi bombing killed two people. A little later, two rockets were fired towards the Emirates from war-torn Yemen. Fortunately, the missiles were shot down on approach.
For some reason there is a widespread belief among tourists that because the UAE is a Muslim country, the holidays here are exclusively religious. This is not the case. Of course, the Muslim holidays are the most important ones for the UAE residents, but there are also national holidays that are tied to important dates in the history of the Emirates.
The Flag Day, Memorial Day and the Establishment of the Federation are national holidays. There are also New Year’s Eve celebrations. The major religious holidays include Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, and many others.
In recent years, many Christian holidays, such as Easter, Christmas and Halloween, have been increasingly celebrated.
The country celebrates all holidays in a merry and lavish way. People dress up in their best clothes, walk around the streets, rejoice and congratulate each other. There are bound to be celebratory concerts, dance shows and more.
Dubai is also known as a venue for major jazz and film festivals.
Things to do in the UAE
When imagining the Emirates, many people see a vast, very hot desert and a narrow strip of green along the sea. It seems that apart from the beaches, there is no entertainment. But this is a delusion. If you visit the country, you will see that there is a lot of entertainment for all tastes.
- Beach holidays. The country has a lot of beautiful beaches with fine sand. Surprisingly, the colour of the sand can vary in each of the emirates. Somewhere it is the usual white, in the other place it is red or yellow.
- Diving and surfing. The Arabian Gulf is not as rich in coral reefs as the Red Sea, but it’s still excellent for snorkelling and enjoying the underwater life. The Gulf of Oman is ideal for surfers and yachtsmen, as it often has strong winds and high waves.
- Amusement parks and water parks. The best place for a family holiday is the luxury theme parks. Wonderland, for instance, one of the biggest amusement parks in the Middle East. There you can go on the most dangerous rides or have a great time at the huge water park.
- A ski resort. Surprisingly, in the heart of the hot desert, the city of Dubai has already had a real ski resort for several years. But this resort is under a roof. A huge snowy peak rises to a height of 85 meters, it has 5 pistes of varying difficulty, freestyle zone. The resort covers 3 square kilometres.
- Zipline. For those who like to tickle their nerves, the city’s longest zipline, located in Dubai, is ideal. The 170 metre long 1 kilometre descent is an unforgettable experience.
- Desert Safari. This attraction has long been a trademark of the Emirates. Tourists enjoy riding over the sand dunes on buggies, jeeps, quad bikes.
- Burj Khalifa. One cannot visit the UAE and not climb the highest building on the planet. The height of this skyscraper is 828 meters. From the observation deck located on the 125th floor offers spectacular views of Dubai and its environs.
- Museum Visits. On Saadiyat Island near Abu Dhabi, the tourist is sure to be drawn to the Louvre, the local art museum. Much like the Louvre in Paris, it features works by great past masters, and the building itself covers an area of 24 square kilometres. Nearby are two other popular museums, the Solomon Heggenheim and the Sheikh Zayd Museums.
- Shopping Festival. Everyone has of course heard about the high cost of the Emirates, the more surprising is the fact that here you can get bargains on brand-name items. From July to September, the famous Dubai Shopping Festival takes place, with discounts of up to 75%.
- Ethnic festivals. There are several interesting festivals that will introduce visitors to the life and customs of the Bedouin, the indigenous people of the Emirates. One of the most famous is Al Dhafra. You can watch camel racing, falconry and take part in cooking classes.
What’s important to know about the Emirates
If you are planning to visit the UAE, here are some of the most important things to know:
Arabic is the official language of the country, spoken by over 300 million people in the world and 9 million in the Emirates.
Furthermore, English is widely spoken in the country by a large percentage of the population. Also, commonly spoken languages are Hindi, Pashto, Persian, and a few others.
At the moment, the Emirates have a population of just under 10 million people. Of these, the indigenous population is a distinct minority, just over 10%. The rest of the population are immigrants who have come from India, Pakistan, Egypt, the Philippines and many other poor countries.
Almost 90% of the population lives in the cities.
For more facts about the Arabs, their personality and the local colour scheme, have a look at this article.
The national currency is the Dirham, which is divided into 100 Fils.
The dirham was adopted as the single currency for all emirates in 1973. Before that time, the Qatari riyal and the Bahraini dinar were used in the country.
The dirham is a stable currency; its exchange rate against the dollar has remained roughly at the same level for many years. Therefore, you may either take dollars with you and pay in dollars, which are widely accepted in many boutiques and hotels, or exchange them for dirhams.
The majority of the country’s population follows Sunni Islam. It is the official religion of the UAE. Muslims account for 85% of the total number of believers.
There are also many Hindus and Buddhists. In recent years, the Emirates’ Christian community has also been expanding. In 2011, the first Orthodox church was built in Sharjah.
The Emirates has a hot and arid subtropical climate. There are 355 days of sunshine a year and rainfall is rare rather than the norm.
Summer is the hottest time in the country. Temperatures often rise above 40 degrees. In August, temperatures of over 45 degrees have been recorded on several occasions. There is hardly any rainfall in the summer. Therefore, summer is not a good time to visit the Emirates.
Winter is the coolest time of year, but even in January the temperature rarely drops below +28 degrees. In February and March, it sometimes rains.
The Fujairah Emirate, on the coast of the Gulf of Oman, stands out a little. It has an overall cooler climate, largely influenced by the monsoons. As a result, it can take heavy downpours even during the summer in Fujairah.
The average sea water temperature in the Arabian Gulf off the coast of the Emirates is +26 degrees Celsius. The water temperature in the Gulf of Oman is about the same.
- The water temperature in winter, December to January: +23 to +26 degrees Celsius.
- Water temperature in spring, March to May: +23 to +29 degrees Celsius.
- Water temperature in summer, June to July: +31 to +34 degrees Celsius.
- Water temperature in autumn, September to November: +32 to +28 degrees Celsius.
The UAE is situated in a fairly peaceful seismic area, on the ancient Arabian Plate, so earthquakes are rarely to be expected here. Nevertheless, earthquakes shake the Emirates regularly. There is no contradiction; the inhabitants of the country feel the aftershocks of strong earthquakes in Iran, Syria and other tectonically troubled states of the region.
However, such minor fluctuations do not pose a threat to 7-magnitude skyscrapers.
There are no destructive storms or tsunamis in the Persian Gulf, although the potential for such a catastrophe is taken into account by scientists. There are no active volcanoes in the region, no high mountains threatening avalanches and rockfalls, and no forests that could burn.
In fact, sandstorms are the only natural disaster that regularly alarms residents. These cataclysms are very difficult to predict and sweep in suddenly, carrying hundreds of tonnes of sand.
Similarly, flooding is not uncommon in the Emirate of Fujairah, following catastrophic downpours.
You can read about the most devastating disasters in the Emirates’ history in this article.
The UAE is a federal state comprising seven emirates. Each of them is an absolute monarchy, ruled by an Emir. The President of the UAE is traditionally the Sheikh of the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi. However, the Emir of Dubai heads the government. An amusing incident has arisen in this country, where the position of president, elected in other states, is in fact hereditary.
The federation includes seven emirates. The largest of these is Abu Dhabi, which has a population of 2.9 million people. Dubai is slightly smaller, but is home to 3.2 million people. Then come the emirates of Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Al Fujairah, Umm Al Qaiwain and Ajman.
Major cities and resorts
Dubai is the largest city and resort in the country. It is home to some of the most stunning and expensive attractions in the UAE: the Burj Khalifa, the Sail Hotel, the man-made Peace Archipelago, and many others. Every year, more than 14 million tourists come here.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the entire country and the largest emirate. It is also home to many architectural gems and attractions, such as the largest mosque in the country, the Falling Tower, the Louvre Museum, and several others.
Sharjah is the capital of the emirate of the same name, which lies to the east of Dubai. It attracts tourists with its fabulous beaches and numerous museums. It lacks the luxury of Dubai, but it has many skyscrapers and interesting buildings.
Fujairah is a seaport on the Gulf of Oman. It attracts tourists with its beaches, picturesque mountain gorges and mineral springs. The largest carpet market in the region is situated here.
Symbols of the UAE
The Emirates is associated with petrodollars and luxuries which are conspicuous. It is this luxury that has become the most important symbol of the country.
Oil is the United Arab Emirates’ main source of wealth, which has turned what was once the poorest country into a prosperous one.
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest skyscraper on the planet. Its spire rises to a height of 828 meters and is visible from anywhere in the Emirate of Dubai. This skyscraper has repeatedly been the setting for numerous feature films.
Palm Jumeirah is an artificial island off the coast of Dubai, linked to the mainland by a 300 meters long bridge. Luxury hotels are located here.
The falcon is a bird that has played an important role in the country’s cultural traditions. Falconry is now banned for locals, but tourists are given the opportunity.
How to get to the Emirates
The majority of tourists arrive in the country via airports. There are 6 international airports, the largest being Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The country’s biggest airline Emirates is the fourth biggest in the world in terms of passenger traffic. It operates more than 3 thousand weekly flights to 80 countries on all continents. Foreign companies also fly to the Emirates.
Other means of transport, such as maritime and road transport, link the Emirates only with neighbouring countries in the region. Thus, a regular bus service operates between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and cruise ships visit ports on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
How much money to take with you
The Emirates are considered to be a very expensive country to live in, but tourists on an average budget should be able to afford a visit to the jewel of the Middle East.
The cost of tours for 7 days for two people in the Arab country starts at 2 thousand dollars. Depending on the prestige of the hotel and luxury rooms, the maximum price can exceed tens of thousands of dollars.
The following costs are waiting for tourists in the country itself:
- Meals: 300–400 dollars if eating in fast-food outlets and from 700 if eating in restaurants.
- Sightseeing: $50, many museums and places of interest can be visited practically free of charge, for a nominal fee.
- Water parks, entertainment, excursions: $250 – $500.
- Souvenirs: $100 to $300.
- Transportation: Depending on whether you take the underground, buses or taxis, you may have to pay between 20 and 50 dollars.
- Communications: $100.
Thus, taking into account the reserve amount for unforeseen expenses, a holiday in the Emirates for two will cost from 1000 to 2500 thousand dollars for 7 days. And of course, the maximum amount of a holiday can be obscenely high.
If you have already visited this country, please share your impressions in the comments. Please write a couple of words about what you liked best, what moments stay in memory forever, and what you would recommend to other tourists. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!