This past April I had the privilege of traveling to Qatar with the Qatar Tourism Authority. Not only was I thrilled to explore a new country, but I was also excited to return to a region of the world very near and dear to my heart. I first traveled to the Middle East as an undergraduate when I completed a semester abroad in Amman, Jordan, traveling throughout the country and the region. Now I had the opportunity to travel to the Gulf to experience the growing luxury travel industry.
I began my journey out of Boston Logan International Airport aboard Qatar Airways, flying directly to Doha. The airline has multiple gateways in the U.S. making the 12 hour flight an easy trip. I was blown away by the airline service – I was lucky enough to sit in business class but the economy seats were still plenty spacious and the cabin crew was excellent. I highly recommend the airline not only for travel to Qatar, but for travel all over the globe. Doha is a strategic and excellent stopover destination – perfect for a few hours spent in Hamad International Airport or a few days exploring the city before continuing on your journey.
I had just three full days on the ground – all spent at the fabulous Ritz Carlton Hotel in the West Bay area of Doha. The Ritz provided comfortable rooms, a beautiful pool, great food, and above all, fabulous service. I also visited other stunning properties such as the Shangri-La in Doha and the Regency Desert Camp on the Inland Sea. Each property has its strengths, but there is truly no bad place to stay in this thriving and growing city.
Throughout my three days I saw the majority of Doha, going to the Museum of Islamic Art, visiting the Katara Cultural village, shopping in the traditional Souq Waqif, and even dining at an international food festival. However, the highlight of the trip was most certainly the desert safari. After eating breakfast one morning, our group split into 4×4 vehicles and drove out of the city into the desert. While the city of Doha is bustling and loud with new skyscrapers constantly being constructed, a short 15 minute drive out of the city provides absolute tranquility. The landscape of the Qatari desert is truly unique – it is one of only two places in the world where the desert meets the sea. I can only imagine the beauty of the desert at night, looking out across the vast red sand, watching as it meets the sea under a sky of stars.
Despite the beautiful scenery, the next part of our journey was certainly not tranquil. After a quick camel ride through the desert, we got back in our cars, let the air out of the tires, and started driving through the large sand dunes. I opted for the fastest of the cars, weaving and diving across giant mountains of sand at high speeds. At one point, we stopped and got out of the car to glance across the Persian Gulf to see the coast line of Saudi Arabia. It was quite an experience being so close to a country so secluded from Western tourists like myself.
After our drive, we stopped at the Regency Desert Camp situated on the Inland Sea for a delicious Arabic style barbecue. I was treated to delicious grilled meat with spices, traditional hummus and tabbouleh, and rice. We got to hang around camp for a while, dipping our toes in the warm water and relaxing by the beach cabanas or in the traditional majlis.
After just a few short days, I had to depart this beautiful country that quickly began to feel like home. While Qatar may seem tiny and does not offer the same lavishness as its neighbor Dubai, it is a special place with its own unique culture and is not to be missed. It is clear that it is quickly growing and transforming, partly in preparation for the World Cup to be hosted in Doha in 2022, but also due to its thriving economy and many tourist attractions.
I am pleasantly surprised every time I travel to the Middle East. The world I grew up in was shaped by this region, but not by the welcoming, peaceful Middle East as I now know it to be. As a child I was surrounded by images of the conflicts in the region – from September 11th to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then later in life, by the civil wars and turmoil created by the Arab Spring. Traveling to this part of the world and learning more about the language and culture has challenged the image I grew up with and has led me to the most important passion of my life. I have discovered a complex culture, diverse in its views, but yet that shares a similar hospitality and openness to all who visit. I have felt nothing but at peace in my travels to this beautiful region and would recommend it to all – I am most certainly looking forward to the next time I get to go back!