Fort Zubara © Kakashi [Van Wilder]
The barren peninsula of Qatar extends into the Persian Gulf, bordered on the landward end by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Its area may be very small, but the independent emirate is exceedingly wealthy, with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, thanks to its oil and gas resources.
For most of the 20th century Qatar was a British protectorate, gaining independence in 1971, after which it became embroiled in territorial disputes with its neighbours and suffered civil strife, with the Emir being ousted by his son in a coup.
In 1989 the country started issuing tourist visas, heralding a new era of opening its doors to visitors. Tourism, despite the establishment of glitzy hotels, has still to take off in a big way, hampered as it is by the risky security situation in the Middle East. The perception still is that Qatar labours under a high threat of indiscriminate terrorist attacks against western visitors. However, with the awarding of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to Qatar, the country is in the process of overhauling these perceptions, as it prepares to invigorate its tourist infrastructure and begin to welcome foreign visitors on a mass scale.
Whether visiting Qatar for business or pleasure, most travellers use the capital Doha as their base. Formerly a quaint and busy pearl fishing village, Doha is today one of the most important cities, and a major trading centre, in the Middle East. It has a large British and American expatriate population (the Al Udeid air base was headquarters for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003), which has moulded the city into an interesting blend of eastern and western culture and architecture.
Tourists tend to spend their time on the Doha Corniche, a palm-fringed public promenade that extends for four miles (7km) along the seafront, lined with five and six-star resort hotels, restaurants, shops, beaches and recreational areas. A short boat ride from the Corniche is Palm Tree Island, a great escape full of fun family amenities and a first-class seafood restaurant. Doha also has its equivalent of Disney World: the Kingdom of Aladdin Theme Park is in the West Bay area. A major attraction for visitors is shopping, whether it is in traditional markets (souqs) or the plethora of massive ultra-modern malls that fill the city centre.
Those wanting to explore outside the city can undertake excursions to interesting towns, fishing villages, beautiful beaches, camel races, luxury resorts and the Almaha Sanctuary at Shahaniya, where the near-extinct Arabian Oryx is being protected. The Oryx is the origin of the legend of the unicorn, and is Qatar's national symbol, flying high on the tails of Qatar Airways jetliners.
Whether it is learning to haggle at the souqs, fine-tuning your dune driving skills, relaxing on the beach or marvelling at the wonders of the Arabian world in one of its cities' museums, Qatar has something on offer for every traveller. Qatar is a shopper's dream, while business travellers will find it equally exciting as Doha is fast making its mark as a regional business hub. With a great selection of amusement parks and the Qatar Zoo, kids will marvel at the many wonders Qatar has to offer. Qatar is the perfect destination for travellers who enjoy their creature-comforts but also crave adventure and some excitement during their travels. A trip to Qatar offers travellers relaxing beaches, world-class shopping, exotic markets and endless vistas of gorgeous, shimmering dunes.
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