Dubai to Abu Dhabi, How To Vacation In The UAE
My first trip to the Middle East was one of the most memorable. I couldn't pass up sand-dune bashing and gazing at one-of-kind architecture, or enjoying the orange and pink sunsets on the beach, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has plenty to explore and appreciate. I'll break down a bit of history, what to expect before visiting, and how my friend and I spent the week.
History and Economic Growth
The UAE is a small country sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Oman next to the Persian Gulf. There are seven states that make up the ferderation, they include: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, Fujairah, and Ras Al Khaimah.
One of the most known regions of the country--the city of Dubai. Many people associate it with shiny skyscrapers, massive shopping centers, and the lives of the rich and famous, a glitzy and glamorous place to be. But it's so much more than that. In fact, Dubai was a completely different place to live 60 years ago. Back in the 1950s, the economy survived as a fishing port and relied on pearl exports. It wasn't until 1962, when oil was discovered, that the city of Dubai really began to create its own wealth and evolve their identity.
Today, nearly 3.5 million people live in the "City of Gold" and is the home to a number of international corporations. Hotels, restaurants, and the tourism industries are booming! It was actually how I was able to take a trip there, my friend's family works for two major hotels and was stationed in Dubai for a couple of years. We were fortunate to stay with them during our week long vacation.
According to recent data, roughly 87 percent of the entire UAE population are those from other countries, meaning, local emiratis are "minorities in their own country."
Planning Your Trip
The best time of year to travel to Dubai and Abu Dhabi is around October - March when temperatures are between 75-95 degrees Fahrenheit (peak season). Try to book as early as three months in advance. My ticket set me back about 1,000 dollars. If you have a credit card that offers benefits such as miles or cash back rewards, this is the time to use it.
Where To Stay
For this trip, I was able to stay with my friend's family. But if I wasn't able to, I would have used Kayak, Hopper, or Airbnb (many offer entire apartments/condos in downtown for less than 100 dollars per night). Unless you're looking for luxury, like staying at the Burj Al Arab for a whopping 1,200 bucks a night, I personally would find ways to save a much as possible using those sites.
What To Pack
It depends on what you plan to do during your time, but in general:
Comfortable walking shoes
A shawl of some sort to be able to protect yourself from the sun
A headscarf, just in case you need it. You don't have to cover your hair, unless you're visiting a place of worship, or otherwise requested.
Outside of the essentials:
Dresses should cover your legs and most of your arms, and be somewhat loose-fitting, light layers work best.
Leave the short shorts at home and opt for linen or gaucho style pants.
No clothing that is too revealing or see-through.
The UAE does have a dress code in certain areas, you can find more specifics on their government site. Above all else, tourists should be respectful of Islamic values, laws apply to you, too!
I will list a few major points but you can find more information here.
Kissing and hugging in public is not acceptable, holding hands is but should be kept at a minimum.
"Noise disruptions, bad language, making obscene gestures and showing disrespect in any way to the UAE, its leaders or religion are all forbidden and may land you in legal trouble and deportation."
If you are entering the UAE under the influence of alcohol, you run the risk of being arrested.
Public intoxication is not tolerated.
"Photography of certain government buildings and military installations is not allowed. Photographing aircraft and plane spotting are illegal."
Ask for permission before taking photos of people.
There's a lot more to read into so I would suggest visiting the the U.S. Department of State site.
Careem - It's a ride-sharing, delivery, and an everything else app. "Careem was established in July 2012, and was acquired by Uber in 2020."
Metro- The trains operate every day until midnight or 1 a.m., you will need a card to load your credits on as well. Visit Dubai's site says, "The metro system is divided into seven zones across the city, and fares are calculated based on the number of zones passed."
Taxis - You can reserve these 24 hours in advance, if you would like.
Women's Taxis- This was something I have never heard of prior. When I stepped out of the airport, there was a man hailing taxis for those arriving and he had me go ahead of all the men and pointed me to the direction of a pink taxi. These taxis are exclusively for women and families, according to the transportation site, the idea is to provide safer transfer.
We had about five full days of exploring, so we couldn't waste any time. I made sure that any activities that needed to be paid in advanced or scheduled, I did so months before to secure a spot. Here are a few must-sees and dos!
Visit Souks in Deira
Deira is an older part of the city that has a vast number of souks (markets) ranging from spices, perfumes, textiles, and gold jewelry, to trinkets and home decor. The prices are pretty reasonable but you have room to negotiate prices. Many languages are spoken here, so, you'll surely find a salesperson who can speak more than one. We met one seller who knew seven, he said it had to learn because the amount of tourists who come through.
Ride the Abra
These small wooden boats carry shoppers across the creek from Deira to Bur Dubai. The ride itself costs about a quarter, or one dirham. You can choose to either be taken across or have a longer more leisurely ride. It made traveling easy and fun!
Sightsee in downtown Dubai
We woke up early for a tour of the Burj Khalifa's observation deck and to visit to the aquarium (about 100 bucks for two tickets for both activities), since next door is Dubai Mall. It was worth taking a peek but we were more interested to seeing the rest of the city.
Relax by the Beach
As I mentioned, my friend's uncle and aunt both work for hotels, so we were able to spend some time at a private beach, eat some food, and just take in the warm weather. We also went to Jumeirah Beach, and a couple of others free to the public. Visit Dubai also has a more detailed list. Just remember that once you step out of the beach area, cover up.
Walk through La Mer
This part of town was electric, so much energy, yet so casual! La Mer had dozens of eateries, shops, and modern street art that filled the area, and it was right on the edge of the beach. It was the perfect spot for dessert.
One of my favorite all-day activities was our adventure out in the desert! This tour included,
dune bashing, camel safari, sand-boarding, dinner, fire show, and belly dancing. You start in the afternoon and it goes into the evening. Hookah lounge areas and small souks are also on site.
After spending some time in Dubai, we headed to Abu Dhabi to indulge in art and learn more about Islamic practices.
We took the bus to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (virtual tour is within the link). Before being able to walk into the grounds, you are brought to a large tent where staff hands you appropriate clothing to wear. My friend and I were provided with abayas (traditional robes) and were asked to take our shoes off and place them in a holding center.
During the day or at night, the site is beyond beautiful. It’s reported that more than 3,000 artists contributed to mosque. "The mosque’s architects were British, Italian and Emirati, with design ideas borrowed from parts of Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan and Egypt, among other Islamic countries." It cost around $545 million dollars and it took 12 years to complete.
The mosque also holds the world record of the largest hand-woven carpet. The details of each room, window, and doorway had me in awe.
While roaming the halls, we met and befriended another tourist, Catherine. She was solo traveling from Russia. This is what I love about exploring new places, you have the chance to connect with people from all over. Catherine ended up coming with us to our next stop, The Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The Louvre's website says they have a collected that "includes pieces from the Middle East and the West... painting, sculpture, tapestry, goldwork, paper collage, etc., the Louvre Abu Dhabi also features a photography collection and works from the decorative arts..."
We arrived with fairly short window of time so we made the best of it! One cool part of the museum was the large outdoor hall that connected to other parts of the exhibition. At the time right time before sunset, light enters into this intricate roof that creates bokeh light effects throughout the area.
The last day our of trip was pretty low-key, we saw light show at night displayed on the windows of the Burj Khalifa, and had a nice farewell dinner with her family. Being in the UAE was completely different compared to other countries I’ve visited. Getting outside what you’re accustomed to is a good thing! You’re learning absorbing such valuable teachings. I think we both left the trip with having a better understanding of the culture, and a ton of stories to share.
Looking to visit Dubai or Abu Dhabi at some point? What are you looking forward to? Share your thoughts!