#MMGYTravels: Off-Road and On the Scene in Doha
The Trip: Hosting a press trip to Qatar
Miles Traveled: 13,388 miles
Destination Highlight: Shopping at Souq Waqif and drinking coffee in the cafe at the Museum of Islamic Art
The independent sovereign state of Qatar is about the size of New Jersey, so it is really easy to do and see a lot in a short time. Its capital, Doha, rests along a horseshoe-shaped bay on the Gulf. On one side is Old Doha, whose traditional low buildings slowly give way to reveal New Doha, a modern, glitzy cityscape where you’ll find the manmade island known as The Pearl. I recently hosted a press trip here; this was my guests’ first time to the Middle East, so it was a blast showing them around and discussing the rich Qatari culture and Bedouin traditions that I had become so familiar with in the last year.
I often begin my visits to Doha in the old part of the city, where pearl diving and fishing was the main livelihood well before oil was discovered. Souq Waqif, a meandering maze of shops selling everything from spices, perfume and hand-painted snow globes of traditional Qatari birdhouses to tourist tchotchkes like refrigerator magnets, is a great place to test your bargaining skills by haggling with the merchants.
The floor-to-ceiling windows of the I.M. Pei–designed Museum of Islamic Art look out upon the azure-blue gulf waters. Although the art collection containing pieces from across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia is small, it’s exhibited well and can be viewed in an hour, making this a must-see attraction.
Qatar is one of only two places in the world where the sea meets the desert, so no trip is complete without a refreshing swim in the Inland Sea. The only way to get there is in a 4X4 – the drivers love to give passengers a bit of a thrill by dune bashing (off-roading) across the dunes at full speed. So it’s best to buckle up, trust your driver and not get too concerned about your increasing heart rate. Most Qatari families spend their weekends camping during the fall and winter months. Downtime means moonlit barbecues, swimming, fishing and, when available, horse racing.
Make time to stop over and visit Qatar next time you find yourself Asia- or Africa-bound and experience true Arabic hospitality in the center of the Middle East.