|Currency||Qatari riyal (QAR)|
|Population||1,903,447 (2013 est.)|
|Electricity||240V/50Hz (UK plug)|
Occupying a small peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf is Qatar, (Arabic: قطر; pronounced kut-ar) a rich Arab state to the north of Saudi Arabia, east of Bahrain and west of the United Arab Emirates.
Many come to the Middle East seeking the mystic, traditional life of the Bedouins, wandering the desert with their life belongings on a camel's back. Although tradition is still an important part of the Qatari ethos, the country has well-and-truly moved into the twenty-first century with the piercing glass skyscrapers of Doha, a booming trade sector and a newly-found place in international diplomacy.
- Doha - capital
- Al Khor - northern city with a population of some 36,000, close to Ras Laffan LNG (liquified natural gas) terminal
- Al Ruwais
- Al Shahaniyah
- Al Wakrah
- Mesaieed - Industrial township,to the south of Doha, about 25 Km from Wakra .
- Umm Salal Mohammed
- Khor Al Udeid - translating to 'inland sea', it is a region of rolling dunes and high revving engines. Many tourists and locals alike enjoy racing up and down the seemingly endless sand dunes. There are a variety of tourism companies that will give you a guided tour of the region, often complete with a traditional Arab meal and campfire.
- Zubarah - the ruins of a deserted city and a fort built in 1938 by Sheikh Abdu'llah bin Qasim Al-Thani
Qatar has the world's third-largest natural-gas reserves, behind only Russia and Iran. Its oil reserves are similar in size to those of the United States of America but will last much longer due to production levels being only one-sixth the rate of that country. By most accounts its people are the wealthiest in the world.
Due to its Al Jazeera TV satellite networks broadcasting throughout the globe in Arabic and English, it is hugely influential in an otherwise very conservative region.
There is evidence that shows the Qatar peninsula had been inhabited by Bedouin and Canaanite tribes from as early as 4000 BCE. While the museum houses a variety of artifacts including spearheads and pieces of pottery, there is little left of the structures that may have once existed. The Al-Jassassiya rock carvings north of Doha give some idea of how these tribes may have lived. More recently, some sandstone buildings and mosques were discovered, piquing the interest of archaeologists as they seek to discover what still lays beneath the sand.
Emerging out of ancient history, Qatar was dominated by various Western and Eastern empires. The Holy Jihad used the peninsula as a trading post and military port, until the Portuguese were able to extend their rule over the region. Neighbouring Bahrain eventually annexed the peninsula, until rebel movements and British intervention again made Qatar independent. Under pressure, Qatar became a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1871 before becoming a British protectorate at the close of World War I. After a brief stint as part of the United Arab Emirates, independence was declared from Britain peacefully in 1971.
Since these times, Qatar has transformed itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for its pearling industry into an independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues, which enable Qatar to have the highest GDP per capita in the world. Qatar has become deeply involved in world affairs under the royal family, offering support in peacekeeping missions and UN-mandated wars such as that in the Gulf in 1991. Qatar also plays host to various world conferences, including those of the World Trade Organisation, the UN Climate Convention and various mediation bodies. It leaped onto the world stage with the development of the popular Al Jazeera news network and expansion of Qatar Airways to most of the world's continents, and is rapidly gaining interest among foreigners as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup after already holding the Asian Games in 2006.
Qatar is an absolute monarchy headed by the emir, who is from the Al-Thani family. The government is Qatar is run like a family business and there is no place for values. A large number of workers from other Asian countries are exploited in slave-like conditions to build an image for the tiny country. As in most other countries in the region calls for reform and more democracy on the one hand and a rising islamist movement calling for a "purer" (i.e. more conservative) interpretation of the Qur'an and Islam on the other hand are a major factor in domestic politics.
Oil is a cornerstone of the Qatari economy; it used to account for more than 30% of GDP, roughly 80% of export earnings and 58% of government revenues. Proven oil reserves of 15 billion barrels should ensure continued output at current levels for at least the next 20 years. Oil and gas have given Qatar the highest GDP per capita by most studies. Qatar's proved reserves of natural gas exceed 7 trillion cubic metres, more than 11% of the world's total, making it the third largest reserve in the world. Production and export of natural gas are becoming increasingly important. Qatar manages to post very high surpluses each year, and escaped the Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed.
In addition to the energy sector, Qatar also exports petrochemicals, cement and steel. Doha has a rapidly growing financial sector that is cementing itself as one of the centres of trade and finance within the Middle East. The Qatari government has also outlined its plan to boost tourism and media businesses on the peninsula, creating new sectors to further increase Qatar's profile. In addition, many foreign universities have set up outposts in Qatar, transforming Qatar into one of the main education hubs of the Middle East.
|Daily highs (°C)||21.9||23.6||27.6||32.6||38.5||41.0||41.9||41.3||39.3||35.4||29.5||24.0|
|Nightly lows (°C)||12.1||13.4||16.7||20.8||25.3||27.7||29.4||29.0||26.4||22.7||18.4||13.9|
The climate of Qatar can be described as arid and unforgiving. In the summer, which runs from May through to September, the days are characterised by intense and humid heat, averaging 35°C but not unknown to peak at 50°C. In the winter, October to April, the days are much more bearable at about 20-25°C, with a nice cool evening down to around 15°C. If the heat is to be avoided, the best months to visit would be December through January.
Rainfall and storms in Qatar are extremely rare, forcing locals to retrieve water from newly-constructed desalination plants. However, huge sandstorms that envelop the peninsula are common in the summertime. These can be hazardous if not under shelter, and will descend the country into darkness as it blots out the hot sun above. There may also be disruptions to transportation and other services.
- Allen J. Fromherz, Qatar: A Modern History.
- Abdul Aziz Al Mahmoud, The Corsair. A debut novel about 19th-century piracy in the Persian Gulf, and the very first novel by a Qatari author.
- Sophia Al-Maria, The Girl Who Fell to Earth: A Memoir. Written by a Qatari-American based in Doha, this is an entertaining account of a childhood spent trying to bridge the divide between Bedouin and American cultures.
Qatar issues a 30 day visa on arrival at Doha's airport to citizens of Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA and Vatican City. The price is QR 100, with payment by credit card accepted. These visas can be extended once for another 30 days (QR 100) at the 24-hour Airport Immigration Office (in a building near the Oryx Rotana Hotel). . Overstaying a tourist visa incurs penalties of QR 200 per day.
For other nationalities, visa procedures can be complicated, as you will need a guarantor on the Qatari side; either a company or a government entity. Additionally, Qatari embassies, unlike those of most other countries, are not entitled to issue visas, so someone within Qatar will have to file the application for you.
4 to 5-star hotels offer full visa service, for a price, if you book a room with them for the duration of your stay. Qatar Airways can also arrange a hotel and visa for you.
For stays longer than 30 days, visas must be arranged by having a sponsor, which can be a business, government entity or possibly a hotel. Unmarried women under the age of 35 will have a difficult time in procuring a visa for a lengthy stay, as the government fears that they may stay in Qatar to work as prostitutes.
Entry by air into Qatar has boomed in the last decade. State-owned flag carrier Qatar Airways has secured a huge network of flights operating out of its hub in Doha to 124 destinations. Other major airlines also serve the airport, usually running a route between Doha and their own hub in the base country.
A taxi fare from the airport has a default tariff of QR 25.
The only land route to Qatar is from/through Saudi Arabia. Unless you are a citizen of one of the GCC countries, it is fairly difficult to obtain a Saudi visa. Tourism often closes at short notice for extended periods of time, and the visas are both confusing and costly. If you plan on driving from the UAE, Bahrain and other Gulf countries to Qatar through Saudi Arabia, you will need a Saudi transit visa in advance and documents proving your onward journey. There are future plans for a major bridge to link Qatar with neighbouring Bahrain, although these are constantly delayed.
Even if you do manage to obtain a Saudi visa, travel by car is not recommended. The roads between Qatar and other major cities/countries are poor. If you are travelling during the day, be cautious of speeding cars and trucks. Always wear your seat belt and do not speed over 50 mph (80 km/h). Travelling at night is risking your life, with poor visibility and semi-suicidal drivers.
You can travel to Qatar by bus from/through Saudi Arabia, there are fixed bus routes, within Qatar, although mostly used by men only. However, customs can take up to 4 hours especially at night. You will not be treated nearly as well as if you fly into Doha. Flying in costs only slightly more than a bus ticket.
Public transport comes in three forms in Qatar: buses, taxis and limousines, all of which are owned by government-owned Mowasalat (Karwa) apart from some private limousine companies.
The bus service began in October 2005. Ticketing is handled using a Karwa Smartcard, which comes in three flavours:
- Smartcard Classic - Initial fee of QR30 with QR20 credit included. Journey prices vary, costing QR2.50 for a short ride. You must tap-in when you get on the bus, and tap-off when you get off to avoid a default QR30 penalty. Can be purchased in various retailers as listed on the Karwa website, but not on board buses.
- Smartcard 24 Limited - An initial fee of QR10 allows 2 trips on the bus (one return trip) within 24 hours of first tapping-in. You only need to tap-in, and should not tap-off. Can be bought on board the bus for travel in Greater Doha only.
- Smartcard 24 Unlimited - An initial fee of QR20 gives the user unlimited travel throughout Qatar within 24 hours of first tapping-in. Again, there is no necessity to tap-off. Can be bought aboard the bus.
A large number of routes criss-cross the country, with the network stretching north to Al Khor, west to Dukhan, and as far south as Mesaieed. A somewhat complicated map can be viewed on the Mowasalat website. Timetable and ticketing information can be obtained by calling +974 4436 6053.
By taxi or limousine
The government-owned Mowasalat also runs the taxi and limousine service. The taxis are easily spotted due to their uniform light blue colour with a maroon top. The initial fare on the meter is QR 4, with an extra QR 1.20 per kilometre within Doha and QR 1.80 anywhere outside the capital. A trip to or from the airport has a single tariff of QR 25. To ensure you are not scammed, some precautions should be noted:
- For journeys within Doha the tariff should be set to '1', and those at night or outside of Doha should be set to '0'.
- Check the meter is not tampered; signs of a tampered meter include tape and strips of paper around the outside.
- By law, if a driver refuses to use the meter, the ride should be free.
- There are occasional reports of unruly drivers locking the taxi doors or refusing to open the trunk until extra payment is made. If such an occurrence happens to you, attempt to leave the car. If not possible, calling the police on 999 should cause the driver to become very cooperative.
The demand for taxis exceeds the supply and waiting times can vary greatly. Attempting to obtain one during morning business hours requires at least 24 hours notice, although even in practice this is unreliable, as the scheduled taxi often doesn't show up. At other times, it may take 90 minutes or more to get an on-call taxi, and hailing one on the street may be impossible much of the time. The only places where you are guaranteed to find a taxi are major malls, the airport and international hotels.
Taxis can be booked and summoned by calling +974 4458 8888.
An alternative to taxis and buses would be to use a limousine service, which will send an unmarked limo car to your location. They are basically expensive, but luxurious taxis with an initial fee of QR 20, but do not always feature a meter.
Occasionally, a local driver may offer you a lift if they see you waiting on the side of the road. It is customary to offer some money at the end, though usually they will refuse to take it. A driver offering a lift will slow down and flash their headlights at you; they can be summoned with a wave in response. Although the practice is safe, it is not advisable for solo women.
You can hire a car with local car rental companies. Plenty of them are located near the airport and Doha city centre, or else ask your hotel for some advice.
Arabic is the official language of Qatar, with the Gulf dialect being particularly common. As Qatar was a British protectorate, and due to considerable globalisation, English is the most common second language. Most locals will be able to converse in basic English, acting as a 'lingua franca' among the various nationalities. However, some foreign workers may not understand either of these languages, and only rely on their native tongue. You may encounter foreign labourers speaking diverse languages such as Afrikaans, Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog and Thai. While you can get by just fine in Qatar with only English under your belt, your hosts and any other locals you may meet will be very impressed and appreciative if you can recite a few basic Arabic phrases.
For a comparatively small peninsula in the Middle East, there is quite a lot to see in Qatar.
The history-seeker will not be disappointed, with an assortment of ruins, cave art and museums to keep the mind wandering. Most famous is the archaeological site of Zubarah, where there are the remains of what was once a thriving port city. An early 20th century fort on the site still stands as a museum, a testament to a bygone era. The Al-Jassassiya rock carvings in north-eastern Qatar are a remarkable site of 900 petroglyphs that are believed to date back to ancient tribes who inhabited the peninsula during the 15th century BCE.
A number of forts and towers exist around the country; most of them have also been restored as museums. The Barzan Towers stand at the edge of the town of Umm Salal Mohammed, erected to safeguard the country's rainwater basin. Another defensive watchtower stands in Al Khor. The popular Al Koot Fort is located in the heart of the capital Doha, with a wide variety of traditional handicrafts within. Others structures include Marwab Fort, Al Thughab Fort, Al Shaghab Fort, Al Rakiyat Fort, Al Wajbah Fort and the ruins of Al Yussoufiya Fort, Umm Al Maa Fort and Al Ghuwair Castle.
While the National Museum is currently closed for renovations, there are a number of other museums across the country that specialise in history. The Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum in Al Shahaniya is the Sheikh's collection of relics, artefacts and art from Qatar, the Middle East and around the world.
Culture and tradition
Nature and the land
- The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
- Souq Waqif : the traditional old marketplace of Qatar. Has many good restaurants, especially at night time. Also sells many national products - bargaining is recommended.
- The Pearl : a man-made island connected to Doha by a bridge. You can find a big variety of restaurants and shops, mainly in the high range.
- Villaggio Mall: a spectacular Venetian style shopping mall with a canal and gondolas as well. A huge variety of shops from casual to luxury.
- Mathaf : The Arab museum of modern art
- Katara : Cultural village which is home to many international and Arab restaurants, a beautiful beach, and holds many cultural events. Definitely a place to see.
- Aqua park : Aquatic Funfair.
The national currency is the Qatari riyal (QAR). The riyal is pegged to the US dollar at the rate of QR 3.64 to US $1. One riyal is divided into 100 dirham, with 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 dirham coin denominations. The riyal is available in 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 banknote denominations.
It is fairly straightforward to change major world currencies within Qatar, along with the currencies of Bahrain, Saudia Arabia and the UAE. Rates are fairly similar between banks and moneychangers, with a large concentration of moneychangers near the Gold Souq of Doha. Banks are abundant across Doha, with branches in the larger cities as well. Travellers cheques are accepted by the major banks.
City Centre is currently the largest mall in Qatar and has many stores to choose from. Other malls include Landmark (includes a Marks & Spencer store), Hyatt Plaza, The Mall, Royal Plaza and Villagio.
Blue Salon has huge sales twice a year where you can pick up Armani, Valentino and Cerutti suits for half price. There are many things to buy here but be wary of cheap pearls that have a high possibility of being fake. The many skilled tailors in Qatar make it a good place to have clothes made-to-fit.
The souqs in the centre of Doha also have a lot to offer, although the goods are usually of cheaper quality than those of the malls. Prices are usually negotiable, so practice your bargaining skills. Souq Waqif (The Standing Souk) is the most interesting of the souqs; it was recently renovated to look as it did 50 or 60 years ago. You can buy anything from a turban to a pot large enough to cook a baby camel in!
A great activity for tourists is simply to experience the nation's tradition. The traditional Qatari way of life was simple: Bedouin nomads wandering the desert with their camels, and fisherman scouring the ocean floor for pearls to trade. While these two lifestyles are mostly extinct on the peninsula, the government has taken some measures to preserve their traditions for future generations to experience.
Many tour companies run desert expeditions by both four-wheel drive and camel. Some may just be for the day, while others can go for up to a week with trekkers camping overnight in a Bedouin tent. The one day "dune-bashing" tours simply involve speeding over the desert's endless dunes in a Landcruiser.
The pearling tradition has existed as far back as 2000 BCE, when Mesopotamian records speak of shining "fish eyes" imported from the Gulf region. While the industry went bust after the discovery of oil, a large festival is held each year to celebrate the tradition. The Qatar Marine Festival in Doha often includes a huge sea expedition by various dhow boats to find oyster beds on the ocean floor. Other activities at the festival include a musical performance, a seal show, a sandsculptor's expedition and a water, light and sound show.
Many companies offer shipwreck diving for tourists, which can be organised from Doha. Popular diving sites include the man-made Old Club Reef and New Club Reef just out of Messaied, Qapco Reef, the M.O. Shipwreck and the Al Sharque Shipwreck.
Other popular watersports include kite-surfing, driving jet-skis, surfing and chartered fishing expeditions.
Qatar has seemingly endless options for food, much of it excellent. If you would like European cuisine in a fancy setting, visit a hotel like the Ramada or the Marriott, both of which also offer excellent sushi and the choice of having alcoholic drinks with your meal (the only restaurants in town that can do this are in the major hotels), but at a steep price. Authentic and delicious Indian and Pakistani food is found throughout the city, ranging from family-oriented places to very basic eateries catering to the Indian and Pakistani workers. You may attract some curious stares in the worker eateries, but the management will almost always be extremely welcoming, and the food is very inexpensive.
Middle Eastern cuisine is everywhere as well, and in many forms—kebabs, breads, hummus, the list goes on. It can be purchased on the cheap from a take-out (many of which look quite unimpressive, but serve awesome food) or from a fancier place, like the wonderful Layali (near Chili's in the 'Cholesterol Corner' area) that serves gourmet Lebanese food and has hookahs with flavored tobacco. Refined Persian cuisine is available for reasonable prices in the royally appointed Ras Al-Nasa`a Restaurant on the Corniche (don't miss the cathedral-like rest rooms).
Don't be afraid to venture into the Souqs looking for a meal; it will be a unique experience in an authentic setting, and although some of the places you see may look rundown, that's just the area in general, and the food will be probably be quite good. Be advised that many of the restaurants in the Souqs (as well as the shops) shut down during the afternoon hours. If you are in a funny kind of mood, you can try a McArabia—McDonald's Middle Eastern sandwich available only in the region.
There is one liquor store, Qatar Distribution Centre, in Doha. To purchase things there, you must have a license that can only be obtained by having a written letter of permission from your employer. You can only get a license when you have obtained your residency permit and you will need to get a letter from your employer confirming your salary in addition to paying a deposit for QR1000. The selection is good and is like any alcohol selection of a large supermarket in the West. Prices are reasonable although not cheap. Alcoholic beverages are available in the restaurants and bars of the major hotels, although they are pricey. Be aware, driving under the influence and public intoxication carry heavy penalties, including deportation, so be responsible. As far as non-alcoholic drinks go, be sure to hit some of the Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants and juice stalls. They whip up some tasty and exotic fruit juice combinations that really hit the spot.
It is forbidden to bring alcohol in to the country as a tourist; at Doha airport customs xray bags and will confiscate any bottles of alcoholic drink. They will issue a receipt valid for 2 weeks to reclaim the alcohol on exit from the country.
Hotel prices are on the rise in Qatar, and you can expect to pay as much as US$100 for an ordinary double room in a mid-range hotel. Budget accommodation does not seem to exist in Doha. The only hostel is very hard to find; even the taxi drivers at the airport may have to talk it over! It costs 100 Qatari Riyals per night if you don't have YHA membership, QR90 if you do.
Education City is a new project in Doha funded by the Qatari Government through the Qatar Foundation. It is the home to Qatar Academy, the Learning Centre, the Academic Bridge Program (similar to a college prep school), as well as branch campuses of Texas A&M University (Engineering) , Weill Cornell Medical College (Medical) , Virginia Commonwealth University (Arts and Communication), Carnegie Mellon University (Business and Computer Science), Georgetown University (School of Foreign Service), and the latest addition to the fold, Northwestern University (Journalism)  and Faculty of Islamic Studies [www.qfis.edu.qa] all located in Education City to the east of Doha in the Rayyan area.
In addition to this Education City is home to the Qatar Science and Technology Park, one of the only places in the Middle East undertaking research and development initiatives. The location of so many academics and students is very appealing for research focused organisations.
The College of the North Atlantic (based in Newfoundland, Canada), also maintains a campus in Doha in the northern section of the city, near the local Qatar University. The University of Calgary (Nursing) is also in Qatar.
And on the second semester of the 2012-2013 the Supreme Council Of Education will start E-learning
The work day starts quite early in Qatar. Do not be surprised by 7AM meetings!
In the summer, many small stores and Arab businesses will be open from 8AM-12PM and 4PM-8PM. During the "siesta", most people return home to escape the oppressive heat.
The emergency phone number for police, ambulance or fire department is 999.
Qatar is a significant contrast from the surrounding region, with no war, no conflict and minimal crime.
Western women travelling on their own sometimes experience staring from local men, along with other unwanted curiosity. However, this is more of an annoyance than a threat, and Qatar officials deal harshly with any complaint of harassment. If you want to fit in better with the locals and attract less stares, a long, black cloak and headscarf worn by local women called the abaya can be purchased at a variety of places in Doha.
Travelling on the roads is probably the largest danger to your wellbeing. Although being safer than most other Asian and Middle Eastern drivers, Qataris often ignore road rules and are intolerant of pedestrians attempting to cross the road. Be safe when walking near or over major highways.
Dust storms and sandstorms are another major issue, being common throughout the dry summer. These natural events can shroud the country in darkness and cause severe respiratory issues. If a sandstorm is approaching, immediately seek shelter or wear a facemask.
Drink lots of bottled water! No matter how much you drink, you should drink more. Likewise, take proper precautions for the sun, including clothing that covers your skin and sunscreen.
Respect the Islamic beliefs of Qataris and Bedouins: While there is no legal requirement to wear the hijab, women shouldn't wear tube tops and skimpy outfits, although there is no strict rule and women are free to dress as they feel. It is absolutely acceptable for any nationality to wear the traditional Qatari clothes, the thobe.
If you're dining with a Qatari, don't expose the bottoms of your feet to him/her. Don't eat with your left hand either, since the left hand is seen as the 'dirty hand'. Similarly, don't attempt to shake hands or hand a package with your left hand.
If your Qatari friend insists on buying you something—a meal or a gift—let him! Qataris are extremely hospitable, and typically there are no strings attached. It is generally a custom to argue for the bill.
- Gulf Times newspaper
- The Peninsula newspaper
- I Love Qatar Community News
- Al Watan Arabic newspaper
- Qatar Tribune
- Marhaba Magazine
When calling from abroad, the country code of Qatar is 974. There are no city or area codes. When calling overseas while within Qatar, the international access code is usually 0. Qatari phone numbers now have eight digits. Previously, they contained seven, but this was changed by the government regulator in 2010. If you encounter a number with only seven digits, you can still use it by repeating the first digit. For example, a phone number that previously began with '3' would now start with '33'.
Previously, Qtel, a government-owned company, held a monopoly over telecommunications in the country. Although this changed in 2006 when the Emir allowed new companies to be formed, competition is still weak with only two major operators:
- Ooredoo (formerly Qtel) - the "Hala" prepaid starter pack costs QR 50 with QR 25 of initial credit. International calls to most countries costs QR 0.66/minute. Has overall better coverage than Vodafone.
- Vodafone Qatar - prepaid sim packs start from QR 60 with an initial credit of QR 35. International calls to most countries costs QR 0.66/minute.
Qatar has a fairly efficient postal system run by Q-Post. There are dozens of post offices scattered across Doha, along with branches in many major cities. It costs QR 2.50 to send a standard postcard to most Western countries. The price drops down to QR 1 to 1.50 when sending a postcard domestically or to most nations within the Middle East and North Africa. Sending parcels can get costly, being counted per kilogram and by distance. A full list of rates and branch locations can be found on the Q-Post website.
Addresses on international letters and postcards should be formatted as:
- Name of recipient
- House number and street name
- City, Postal code