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United Arab Emirates

Photo © rscott1948

Travel Guide Middle East United Arab Emirates

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Introduction

The Corner

The Corner

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When the British decided to withdraw their dying imperial reaches from their Trucial states in the Middle East back in 1971, seven sovereign sheikhdoms banded together to form what became known as the United Arab Emirates. Oil handed the UAE a ticket into Modernia and the federation hopped aboard.

Wealth, as it often seems to do, has gone hand in hand with sky-rises. This is most noticeable at Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Dubai, especially, is a shiny assortment of modern buildings, beach resorts and golf courses. If you try hard you can still catch glimpses of the pre-oil days, but we recommend that you simply head to some of the other, poorer cities and towns if you want a more traditional experience. Al-Ain is a particular highlight: located on the border with Oman in the middle of the Buraimi Oasis, it makes for a fascinating trip into Bedouin life, where camel races are the hot entertainment and you can buy a sheep or two at an excellent price at the livestock souk.

The United Arab Emirates shares international borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia.

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Brief History

The earliest known human habitation in the UAE dated from the Neolithic period, 5500 BC. At this early stage, there is proof of interaction with the outside world, particularly with civilizations to the north in Persia.

Several places along the coast had important links with places like India during early history. The arrival of envoys from the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 630AD heralded the conversion of the region to Islam. After Muhammad's death, one of the major battles of the Ridda Wars was fought at Dibba, resulting in the defeat of the non-Muslims and the triumph of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. In 637, Julfar (today Ra's al-Khaimah) was used as a staging post for the conquest of Iran. Over many centuries, Julfar became a wealthy port and pearling center from which dhows traveled throughout the Indian Ocean. Portuguese expansion into the Indian Ocean in the early sixteenth century following Vasco da Gama's route of exploration saw them battle the Safavid Persia up the coast of the Persian Gulf. The Portuguese controlled the area for 150 years, in which they conquered the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula. Vasco da Gama was helped by Ahmad Ibn Majid, a navigator and cartographer from Julfar, to find the route of spices from Asia.

During the 16th century, portions of the nation came under the direct influence of the Ottoman Empire. Thereafter the region was known to the British as the "Pirate Coast", as raiders based there harassed the shipping industry despite both European and Arab navies patrolling the area from the 17th century into the 19th century. Primarily in reaction to the ambitions of other European countries, the United Kingdom and the Trucial Sheikhdoms established closer bonds in an 1892 treaty, similar to treaties entered into by the UK with other Persian Gulf principalities. The sheikhs agreed not to dispose of any territory except to the United Kingdom and not to enter into relationships with any foreign government other than the United Kingdom without its consent. In return, the British promised to protect the Trucial Coast from all aggression by sea and to help in case of land attack.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the first oil company teams carried out preliminary surveys and the first cargo of crude was exported from Abu Dhabi in 1962. As oil revenues increased, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, undertook a massive construction program, building schools, housing, hospitals and roads. When Dubai’s oil exports commenced in 1969, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the de facto ruler of Dubai, was also able to use oil revenues to improve the quality of life of his people. In 1955, the United Kingdom sided with Abu Dhabi in the latter's dispute with Oman over the Buraimi Oasis, another territory to the south. A 1974 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia would have settled the Abu Dhabi-Saudi border dispute; however, the agreement has yet to be ratified by the UAE government and is not recognised by the Saudi government. The border with Oman also remains officially unsettled, but the two governments agreed to delineate the border in May 1999.

When the British-Trucial Shaikhdoms treaty expired on December 1, 1971, they became fully independent. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai decided to form a union between their two emirates independently, prepare a constitution, then call the rulers of the other five emirates to a meeting and offer them the opportunity to join. It was also agreed between the two that the constitution be written by December 2, 1971. On that date, at the Dubai Guesthouse Palace, four other emirates agreed to enter into a union called the United Arab Emirates. Ras al-Khaimah joined later, in early 1972. Since the 1980s, Dubai and later many other places included another major source of income along with oil, namely tourism.

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Geography

The United Arab Emirates are located on the western side of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia. The country lies between 22°30' and 26°10' north latitude and between 51° and 56°25′ east longitude. It shares a 530-kilometre border with Saudi Arabia on the west, south, and southeast, and a 450-kilometre border with Oman on the southeast and northeast. The largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, accounts for 87% of the UAE's total area (67,340 square kilometres). The smallest emirate, Ajman, encompasses only 259 square kilometres. The UAE coast stretches for more than 650 kilometers along the southern shore of the Persian Gulf. Most of the coast consists of salt pans that extend far inland. The UAE also has a stretch of the Al Bāţinah coast of the Gulf of Oman, although the Musandam Peninsula, the very tip of Arabia by the Strait of Hormuz is an enclave of Oman within the UAE. South and west of Abu Dhabi, vast, rolling sand dunes merge into the Rub al-Khali ("Empty Quarter") of Saudi Arabia. The desert area of Abu Dhabi includes two important oases with adequate underground water for permanent settlements and cultivation. The extensive Liwa Oasis is in the south near the undefined border with Saudi Arabia. About 100 kilometres to the northeast of Liwa is the Al-Buraimi oasis, which extends on both sides of the Abu Dhabi-Oman border.

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Regions/Cities/Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of 7 emirates, each centered around a city.

The 7 emirates/main cities are:

Other important cities include:

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Sights and Activities

Liwa Oasis

Desert, Dubai

Desert, Dubai

© All Rights Reserved henkrup

Although much of the country is centred around tourism in and around the main cities/emirates, the most beautiful areas are found inland. The Liwa Oasis is in the far south of the country towards the border with Saudi Arabia and can be visited with your own transport or with overnight tours from Abu Dhabi, Dubai or other places. The desert here is very beautiful and consists of sand dunes which are part of the Empty Quarter, the largest unbroken sandy desert in the world. Although getting here is easy with a regular vehicle, you need a 4wd to get a bit off the beaten track. Still, whatever you choose, more remote than this is almost impossible in the United Arab Emirates.

Al Ain

Al Ain is the largest city not on the coastline of the country and is close to the border with Oman. It can easily be reached by buses from Dubai and Abu Dhabi among others and is called the Garden City of the United Arab Emirates. Attractions here include Jebel Hafeet, the second highest mountain of the country which top can be reached by car, the Camel Souq, the Al Ain Museum and Fort and the oasis itself with thousands of date palms.

Dubai

Burj Al Arab

Burj Al Arab

© All Rights Reserved neilcrespi

A visit to the United Arab Emirates without a visit to Dubai is a shame. This is one of the fastest growing areas anywhere in the world with buildings being erected at an enormous speed. Plans are even more ambitious with hundreds of high rise buildings to be added (including the highest building in the world) and thousands of islands in the form of the world or palms which are for the rich and famous only. Unfortunately, much of the old and original Dubai is hidden away in between, but can still be found in the old quarter of the city.

Burj al Arab

The Burj al Arab (Tower of Arabs) has become a landmark of Dubai since being finished in 1999 and is the fourth tallest hotel in the world. The very recognisable building is shaped to resemble the sail of a Dhow, a local fishing boat. The structure is 321 metres tall, and stands on an artificial island 280 metres away from the beach. It is connected to the mainland by a bridge. The building serves as a luxury hotel with 202 rooms. A hotel room is not cheap, with the cheapest room costing about a thousand US$ a night, and the Royal suite setting you back around US$28,000. If you want to arrive in style from the airport you can be picked up by a Rolls Royce or a helicopter. Although it's often labelled as a 7-star hotel, this star rating system is often the cause of debate.

Burj Khalifa

Officially opened on 4 January 2010, Burj Khalifa (Arabic: برج خليفة‎ "Khalifa Tower"), formerly known as Burj Dubai, took six years to complete. The tower is named after Khalifa bin Zayed, the current President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi. With a height of 828 metres (2716 feet), Burj Khalif is the tallest man-made structure in the world, topping the previous recordholder (Taipei 101) by a staggering 319 metres. It also is nicknamed "the Needle" and "The Tower of Bable". It has 168 floors, with the upper 30 to 40 floors being so small that they are useless, apart from storage room. Counting all the floors and the podium, it has 465,000 m² of surface space. In the skyscraper you will find 1,044 luxury appartments, 49 floors of offices and the 7-star Armani Hotel, with 160 rooms that are designed by Armani.
An observation deck, named At The Top, is located on Level 142 of the tower. Tickets for At The Top are available online and also from the reception at the lower ground level of The Dubai Mall, located within the building.

Jumeirah Beach

VIEW FROM THE BAR AT TEH TOP OF THE BURJ!

VIEW FROM THE BAR AT TEH TOP OF THE BURJ!

© All Rights Reserved dwalker66

Jumeirah Beach is the famous beach resort area about 15 kilometres south of the centre of Dubai. The Burj al Arab is located here, as well as the Jumeirah Beach hotel and the waterpark 'Wild Wadi'. There is also the Jumeirah Mosque, one of only a few mosques which is open for non-Islamic tourists, which has regular morning tours. In 2009, the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup was held here as well.

Other sights and activities

  • Ajman and Sharjah - 'budget' places and much quieter
  • Abu Dhabi - the capital, much less visited but still modern
  • Ferrari World is a newly opened theme park just outside Abu Dhabi. It is the world's largest indoor theme park and claims the world's fastest roller-coaster ride. Naturally enough the cars on this roller-coaster are Ferraris.

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Weather

Weather in the United Arab Emirates generally is warm to hot and dry. The hottest months are between June and September when temperatures can rise up to 45 °C degrees Celcius or even more. Humidity can be high as well, although this mainly applies to the coastal areas. In the interior, it may be even hotter but the dry air makes things much more comfortably. Still, the best time to visit are from October to April with warm and dry conditions, although some rainshowers are possible during the wintermonths. Temperatures are mostly between 22 °C and 27 °C during these months.

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Getting There

By Plane

The United Arab Emirates have several international airlines and international airports:

Etihad Airways provides bus coaches between Dubai and Abu Dhabi International Airport for Etihad customers. Taxis are available for transport into Abu Dhabi centre.
The current Abu Dhabi airport was built in the 70's and although unique in a quaint sort of way, it's showing it's age.
The new terminal 3 has opened in 2009 and should provide a better experience. A midfield terminal is under construction and is slated to open around 2012 and will be a world class international facility with a 22 million passenger per year capacity.

By Car

The United Arab Emirates have very excellent roads to and from Oman and Saudi Arabia, but crossing the border with the latter usually is not of any relevance to travellers. You will only do so if you can get a transit visa to cross Saudi Arabia towards for example Jordan. But only if you have prove there is no other way to get there. Having your own vehicle definitely helps. Crossings to Oman are straightforward though and usually hassle free.

By Bus

There are daily connections between Dubai and Muscat, the capital of Oman, taking around 4 to 5 hours.
Buses also go to a number of cities in Saudi Arabia, including Dammam, Jedday and Riyadh, and places further away like Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Cairo. You have to get transit visas to get on a bus, but currently foreigners outside the GCC countries (mainly Middle East) can not get one, unless they have their own transport (car) and prove it's not possible to get to your destination otherwise.

By Boat

Several ferries and fast catamarans travel between Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Destinations include Bandar Lengeh to Dubai , and Bandar Abbas to Dubai and Sharjah. Check the Iran Traveling Center for more details about schedules and prices.

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Getting Around

By Plane

There are no domestic flights.

By Train

Apart from a new metro system in Dubai, there are no regular train links above the ground.

By Car

Most of the country has perfect roads, but within cities it can be very busy and road behaviour can be a big nuisance as well, although most travellers won't have any trouble driving a regular car anywhere in the country.
There are numerous international and local companies offering rental cars at airports, resorts and in all cities. There is no need to rent a 4wd unless you want to go dune-bashing yourself.

By Bus

There are several bus companies offering at least one daily bus on most routes. All emirates are served, including frequent services between Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Dubai and Sharjah.

By Boat

Most travellers only take the watertaxi between Dubai and Deira, but other than that, services are either not useful, limited or just absent.

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Red Tape

Citizens of most industrialized countries as well as all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will receive a 60 day visa upon arrival in the United Arab Emirates. These include:

Australia, Andorra, Austria, Brunei, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom (including HK/China overseas passports), United States of America and the Vatican.

Visitors of many other countries can only get a visa when they visit on an organised tour or book hotels before they arrive.
Israeli citizens are banned by the UAE government from entering the country. However, as of 2008 Israeli visa stamps are quietly ignored.

Check the nearest UAE embassy/consulate for more information.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (AED). It is pegged to the U.S. Dollar at ~3.68 AED per USD and never varies which means that the AED and USD both float together against other world currencies. I assume this has to do with the USD being the benchmark currency in the purchase of oil.

U.S. greenbacks are sometimes accepted in the local economy, but it is best to exchange the money into AED upon arrival.

The Dirham comes in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 AED denominations. I suggest looking at the back of a bill before spending it because it has the more recognizable numerals rather than the Arabic numerals on the front which can be confusing. For example the "5" looks like a "0" and the "0" looks like a small dot which makes it easy to mistake a 5 for a fifty. There are metal coins, too: 1AED, 50 Fils, 20Fils and the rare 1 Fil, with a Fil being 1/100th of a Dirham.

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Language

The national language is Arabic, but many people speak English.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the country. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the United Arab Emirates. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B and rabies are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Malaria only occurs in a few mountainous regions (mainly the valleys) in the north of the country, but taking the regular precautions like using repellant and sleeping under a mosquito net should be enough, because chances are very slim.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafés are fairly common in the larger cities, and web censorship is at times odd, but rarely obtrusive. Free wifi is rolled out over the country, starting with Abu Dhabi en Dubai in 2014 and 2015, and many places like hotels, restaurants, bars and coffee places have free wifi as well.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country code is 971. Emergency numbers include 999 (police), 998 (ambulance) and 997 (fire), though the general 112 number can be used as well.

The mobile phone network uses the GSM technology and use is widespread. The format for dialing is: +971-#-### ####, where the first "#" designates the area code. Key area codes include Dubai (4), Sharjah (6) and Abu Dhabi (2). Calls to mobile phones use the operator's area codes: (50/56) for Etisalat and (55) for Du.

If you bring your own cellphone, be sure to switch off roaming to avoid high costs, or otherwise purchase a local SIM card from Du or Etisalat. You need your passport with valid visa to purchase the SIM card.

Post

Emirates Post provides services in the country. It's fairly affordable and reliable and many post offices keep long hours from Saturday to Thursday, usually from around 7:30am to 8:00pm or even a little later. Most are closed on Fridays, though some are open for a few hours. If you want to send packages internationally, you might want to use companies like DHL, TNT, FedEx or UPS, as they are fast, reliable and competitively priced. A good alternative is the country's own Empost UAE.

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Quick Facts

United Arab Emirates flag

Map of United Arab Emirates

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Capital
Abu Dhabi
Population
2,485,000
Government
Federation
Religions
Islam
Languages
Arabic
Calling Code
+971
Nationality
Local name
Al Imarat al Arabiyah al Muttahidah

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