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Tips for travelling to the Gulf

Early April I spent two weeks travelling through the Gulf states of Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Oman was the expected highlight, and I was happy that I allocated 10 days there. After having visited Bahrain in 2011 at the start of my RTW trip, I now have the Arab states of the Persian Gulf covered reasonably well (Saudi Arabia and Qatar can wait). Find below my Top Tips for Travelling to the Gulf states as a World Heritage Traveller.

Omani men wearing the dishdasha and kuma (cap)

1. This is easy comfort

These 3 countries are among the easiest that I have ever travelled in: they are friendly, clean, safe and efficient. They have good infrastructure (the Dubai metro is exemplary), and English is widely spoken. Large scale immigration has blessed them with Lebanese and Indian restaurants, adding lots of international flavour to the traditional cuisine of rice and chicken. For Kuwait and Oman most people will need a visa, but that can be arranged online beforehand.

2. Accept that the WHS are not its best sights

Looking at the general appreciation of the WHS in Oman and the UAE, they currently rank below 3 stars on average in our Community Ranking. Only Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn has a 3.25 out of 5. I do agree with this rating overall, but that does not mean everything is bland. The forts and aflaj of Oman are among its highlights, the examples chosen to represent them are a bit doubtful though. Bahla certainly isn’t the most interesting fort: better contenders are Rostaq or Jabreen (which I did not visit, but it features on the Omani Starbucks mug!). For the aflaj, I suggest Birkat Al-Mouz or Misfat Al Abrayeen. Other must see sights in the country include the Sultan Qaboos mosque in Muscat and the Wadi al-Shab.

Wadi al-Shab, natural highlight

3. Don’t expect much joie de vivre

As pretty and comfortable Oman is, there is something lacking: a certain liveliness or ‘joie de vivre’ which for example is omnipresent in Iran. It may be caused by the oppressive heat (already above 30 degrees all day during my visit in the first weeks of April) or the conservative society, but the Omani seem not go out much except for the occasional visit to a McDonalds restaurant in an airconditioned mall.

4. Visiting the Gulf isn’t as expensive as you would think

The high standard of living in these countries isn’t reflected in high prices, especially Oman is good value for money. The only thing is that you really need a car to cover ground, so that adds up to the costs. But fortunately gas costs little, entrance fees are often absent, good dinners can be had for 5-6 EUR and I had not trouble finding hotels in the 45-80 EUR a night price range. Flight prices from Europe are competitive as well.

Mausoleum of Mohammed Bin Ali in Dhofar

5. Add a bit of variation to your itinerary

I combined Oman with Kuwait and the UAE, and to me that combination gave the trip an edge beyond ‘just’ visiting Oman. Kuwait has a certain quirkiness and I would not have mind to stayed another night. The UAE are worth a visit when you’re in the area (but do not warrant a separate trip in itself in my opinion), and I enjoyed my day trips to Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.

Els - 2 May 2018

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