Imagine a place where immense buildings adjoin the desert, where oases meet the world's largest shopping centers, where there are dromedaries as well as Formula 1 races, where present and future passages juxtapose. Does this sound crazy? Yet everything is in the United Arab Emirates, a land of contrast. Moreover, Emiratis have found a formula that summarizes this very well: "An ancient people in a new country".
We spent two months in the country from January to February. Since my parents live there, we were board and lodging and we were able to enjoy all that the country has to offer (especially before the backpacker and tight budget!). But do not worry, we have taken note of all the little tricks to share them with you.
Country info :
ID card :
Capital : Abu Dhabi
Currency : United Emirates Dirham
Language : Arabic (but English is omnipresent)
Leader : Khalifa ben Zayed Al Nahyan (emir Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates)
Religion : Islam
Time difference (from France) : +2h (summer)/ + 3h (winter)
The United Arab Emirates (or UAE to go faster) lived mainly from the pearl trade, qwhich they harvested several meters deep by freediving (you can imagine how many incidents this caused). The country was then under the English Protectorate until « black gold », brought them to Independence in 1971 ! the whole country as we know it today was built in only 45 years! But now that we have visited it does not really surprise us, because it seems to be in permanent work. There is work everywhere and all the time. In addition, they build so fast that it looks like it’s built at night!
The country is seeking to become more and more important, and to be at the forefront everywhere. We didn’t find many traditional places, there are many tourist replicas that often lack authenticity.
UAE are made up o 7 emirates : Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Sharjah, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al Khainah and Oumm al Qaïwaïn.
There are semi-desert landscapes, or even desert landscapes dotted here and there with towns more or less large. You will see that the changes are quite brutal, since as soon as one leaves the city, one falls directly on long roads surrounded by sand or rocks.
More than the majority of the Emirati wears the traditional outfits of the country. For your personal culture: the long white outfit of men is called « dishdasha » or « kandoura », for women the long black outfit is an « abaya ».
Surprisingly, Emiratis are a minority in their country. ndeed, between 80% and 90% of the population is made up of expatriates. The vast majority are Pakistanis, Indians, Filipinos and represent the workforce of the country. And the least that can be said is that the United Arab Emirates don’t lack it, they have managed to find work for everyone, every little thing has someone associated with it: putting gas, clearing tables, putting errands in bags, keeping the toilets clean (no problem there ! You can pose your butt without fear !). Anyway, to live here, you must have the work visa that goes with it ! That's why there are no pensioners (foreigners) in the country.
United Arab Emirates are among the most important producers and exporters of oil. What gives a good standard of living in the country, life is more expensive but the wages are higher and the absence of tax makes certain things inexpensive (especially fuel of course!)
We have seen that the country is beginning to think about after-oil, and has been seeking for several years to diversify its income. This goes a long way through tourism, especially in Dubai which seeks to become the ultimate destination of luxury tourism. Sport also has a great place in the country, whether traditional or modern, they host and organize many events.
However, despite this apparent wealth, it’s a country that imports almost everything, even water. Because the local water has to be desalted which in addition to being expensive and not very green, gives it a taste not very good !
Getting there :
Preparing your trip :
A passport is sufficient (for the French) as long as it is still valid 6 months after the return. Without a visa, you can stay for 90 days so three months (and this is valid for most of the countries in Europe)..
There are two airports: Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
An Israeli stamp in your passport may pose a problem or even prevent you from entering the country (it’s almost certain). In order to avoid any problems, it’s necessary to redo your passport before departure if it includes this stamp.
Also to see with the Jordanian tampons but we are not sur, so check before.>
What is the best season to go to UAE ? :
The best season to go is judged between ovember and April, because in the summer it is an oven: 50 °. Besides, since it is so hot, you will not see anyone outside, all sheltered in air-conditioned places. Many activities such as dune bashing are canceled or completely infernal with such heat.
The winter turns between 25 ° and 30 °, but it can fall lower, especially at night. In any case, we enjoyed our little sweaters more than once! The wind can be quite fierce, especially when it brings the sand with it!
But rest assured, you can enjoy everything fully, some pools are even heated for the most chilly! And no matter the season, you will find air-conditioned bus shelters.
To know :
- Provide an adapter, as these are 3-pin plugs Anglo-Saxon styles.
- No drug is tolerated ! Yes, really no, even a small joint will not pass. Tip: don’t smell on you when you fly, otherwise it is the search for the lucky ones! (No it was not us! We were just told it!) So really, forget it.
- English is omnipresent, everything is translated: panels, menus, etc ... They all speak (more or less well) English. So don’t worry, no need to speak Arabic to come to the Emirates.
- Avoid drinking alcohol in public spaces and even less if you’re driving. There is a 0 tolerance in this area, accident or not.
- We're going to jail quite easily there. It’s a country with many bans, so respect them to avoid being behind bars (However, each one have its objectives, we don’t forbidden anything to you ! Know that if it ever happens to you, a conversion to Islam Reduce your pain ;) )
- Weekend is Friday and Saturday. Some things close (administrative buildings, banks, some little shops, etc.) but otherwise almost everything remains open.
- It’s a very safe country, for women too. Everything is controlled (Huge system of video surveillance, so any stupidity made was surely filmed ...). You'll see bags, laptops, ... left here and there without fear of theft. We can say that it’s a pleasure not to have to look around. The only danger - not to mention the heat - is the road! (For more information read the section « Getting Around »)
- A dirty car is poorly viewed, even if it's hard to keep them clean with all the sand, you must at least try! You will find a lot of car washers in the malls for few dirhams, they will wash the car while you do your shopping and you will thus avoid the fine.
- The perfume is primordial in the country, the shops all seem very luxurious indeed. And it can be said that this is not a discreet fragrance, you will feel it when you arrive at the airport. In other words, stink is not very popular.
(To be sure to be well prepared, go take a look at « What to do and not to do abroad? - United Arab Emirates ».)
Little bonus : Look at the license plates of cars, the smaller the number, the closer the person is to the reigning family! For our part, we came across the number 7 !
In all the hotels that we did, the cleanliness is impeccable, the rooms are great and spacious. Nothing to complain about in any case, especially as many services are offered: gym, swimming pool, tennis, etc. The breakfast is in addition, but is often in the form of an all-you-can-eat buffet.
There is no camping ground in the country. Afterwards it is always possible to camp as soon as you leave the cities !
We had looked a few Airbnb out of curiosity, and many were more expensive than the hotels !
What budget to sleep in UAE ? :
We were lucky to stay with my parents, so we had no problem, because even when moving, they were paying for the hotel. We could see that prices were climbing fast. Count an average of about 200-400Dhs (~60-100€) for a good hotel. As they like luxury, this does not necessarily help to restrict the budget! The price also varies a lot from the place, especially in Dubai where the neighborhoods are thematic.
The service is so nice, they are very smiling and caring of guests. You are often welcomed with a refreshing drink such as fruit juice or tea if you arrive in the evening.
There is no UAE specialty in the country except dates (common to many Arab countries), and dromedary meat, but they’re rarely found. So we don’t have a lot « depaysement » in this level, we find all the cuisines of the world. You can easily eat for a budget of 40-60Dhs (10-15€) in most restaurants, count more expensive for very trendy and luxurious places of course.
Restaurants are often in hotels and malls.
You can eat at any time until 11 pm as the service is continuous, and the prices vary a lot from one to the other. It’s easy to eat for not too expensive as soon as you move away from the centers with strong activities.
Brunch, the weekend is very appreciated, so a lot of hotels make offers for an all-you-can-eat buffet. (The most impressive is the Emirates Palace.)
They love a lot picnic too, you will see a lot in the parks, but be careful to find out, sometimes the parks are open only for women or for men !
Food Trucks are very commun and cheaper than some restaurants! You can find all the tastes: vegetarian, healthy, burger, pizza, sweet, ... What to delight everyone.
Starbuck is very present here, so the most addicted can easily find their drink.
Tap water is poorly recommended because it is not very good in every sense of the term (as described above, it is desalinated water). There are therefore many large bottles of water.
As for alcohol, the sale is controlled. The bars are almost always in the hotels. And you can’t buy them out if you are not a resident, because it takes a sort of license to go to the specialty shops. You must be 21 to drink! (You will often be asked for ID so take it with you!)
During Ramadan it is forbidden to drink, eat, and smoke in the street even for non-Muslims. Besides, you will see that everything is closed in this period until sunset where there, the restaurants are full !
Getting around :
How to get around in UAE ? :
By walking : Almost nobody walks ! Even in winter when it is less hot. We were horned so many times by taxis (their way of asking if we needed them) that we lost the account. It was a bit annoying in the long run, especially since it seemed crazy for them to want to walk. It’s a very common thought in the country, you will find few stairs, but lots of elevators and escalators! Afterwards, it is not really designed for pedestrians: there are roads everywhere (4 lanes!), Roundabouts etc ... It’s mainly cars that dominate. So walkers get ready!
By bus : Some buses connect Abu Dhabi - Dubai, but it's quite hard! We did it once and we almost spent the day in the transport time to seek, wait, move, etc ... It is the stops that are the hardest to find and not necessarily in strategic places! The journey takes 2 hours to connect the two big cities (a little more than by car). Normally the bus costs only 20Dhs (~5€), but if you add taxis to get to the station depending on where you are, and / or the subway increases the budget !
By metro : Only in Dubai, some lines are very loooong, but it’s outside, you can take advantage of it to see the city from a new angle. There is a special wagon for women, even if you don’t have the risk of being tickled, it’s especially during peak periods to avoid contacts too close !
In order to take the bus or the metro, you have to go to a ticket office to give you a card on which you put money that allows you to make this or that trip (prices can quickly increase if it is your only means of travel). In any case, it has been found that there is a real weakness of public transport.
By taxi : Surely the best way to travel. They’re cheap especially thanks to the low price of fuel. Be careful however if you take it from or to the airport the price increases up to 10 €. Each city has a different taxi color, and there are also taxis only for women completely pink (hello clichés).
Rent a car : There is always the option to rent a car, but let's be honest: they're crazy on the road. For the more anxious, we don’t advise you, the flashing is more than optional, sudden changes of track, fish tails, horns, all this is common. Here at the slightest accident, police is called, because only they make the accident report.And as in all countries: abroad, you are a stranger: you will always be wrong. Yes, even if it is the other who has cuts you off.
A driver's license and a bank card are enough to rent a car. An international license is always good but not mandatory. Accounted for about 175Dhs (~45€) per day for a small car. Pay attention to the supplements for rentals in airports or even if there is a second driver.
Our advice: if you only want to visit Abu Dhabi or Dubai, you don’t need a car, but it’s essential to visit the other emirates. But be careful and attentive !
Femal travel :
Rest assured: No, you will not have to wear the veil. Yes, you have the right to drive. Yes, it is a safe country even for a single woman.
Don’t rely too much on what you hear, what you will be told and what you think you know about women and Islam. Obviously they have certain rules as we have seen, but it’s not at all the country where women are degraded. We saw many gallant actions performed by the man towards his companion and never lack of respect.
As you have been told earlier, a suitable outfit is always more suitable, but you will surely see Western women a little limit in their clothes, that doesn’t mean that it is well-seen, on the contrary, it will be considered disrespectful, but they will be too polite to say anything.
To summarize, girls, the Emirates are a safe destination so no worries, go for it and enjoy it !