Qatar is a beautiful peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf, to the north of Saudi Arabia, East of Bahrain and West of the Emirates. It is a country surrounded by water on three sides. It is approximately 240kms from north to south, and less than 160 kms wide. Qatar has a rich and vibrant history - a history that can be traced back as far as 4000 BC. Throughout the centuries, the fishing and pearling trades have established Qatar as an important port in the Gulf. With the expansion and growth of its oil and gas industry, the port and the country maintain their international importance.
The Al-Thani family began its rule of Qatar in the 18th century and still today you can see the positive influences this family has on the growth and development of Qatar. When the present Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, came to power in 1995, he brought a modern and positive approach that transformed the country into an ideal host for major sporting events and international conferences, as well as a luxurious tourist destination. This clean and pristine environment offers visitors ideal conditions to completely unwind and enjoy their time in Qatar.
This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc as these are subjected to change with without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.
Best time to go:Qatar benefits from year-round sunshine, with temperatures ranging from 25ºC to 45ºC in summer. The best months to enjoy Qatar's pleasant weather are between October and May.The climate is typical of hot and arid desert lands, pleasant in winter and extremely hot in summer. Maximum temperature in July and August can exceed 50°C and humidity is highest during these months.The temperature also falls heavily after sunset in the desert, where winds can be bitingly cold.
Visa: All countries require a valid passport (with minimum 6 months validity). Qatar issues a visa on arrival at Doha's airport to New Zealand passport holders at a cost of QR 105.00 (US$ 28) and valid for a 30-days stay. Contact your local embassy, or consulate for the most up-to-date visa requirements, or check with your travel agent.
Qatar is the home of Al Jazeera, the popular and controversial Arabic satellite television network.
Currency: Riyal is the currency of Qatar. Qatari Riyal (QR) is divided into 100 dirhams. Notes come in QR1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 denominations. Dirham coins are no longer used, although prices are sometimes quoted in riyal and dirhams and then rounded up or down to the nearest riyal. ATM machines accept cards. Credit cards are accepted in most department stores, hotels, restaurants and in the gold souks (markets). Some outdoor souks may not accept credit cards.
Health: Watch what you eat and drink. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, drink bottled water and avoid under-cooked food and unwashed fruit and vegetables, particularly outside of hotels and resorts.
Emergency medical treatment is excellent but can be expensive.
New Zealanders travelling to Qatar should have comprehensive medical and travel insurance policies in place before travelling to Qatar.
Vaccinations are not compulsory. Please consult your doctor for recommendations.
Medication available over the counter or by prescription in New Zealand may be illegal or considered a controlled substance in Qatar. You should carry a copy of your prescription, a letter from your doctor and carry all medication in its original packaging. This applies while you are taking medication which is detectable in your system.
We strongly advise that all New Zealand travellers check the latest travel advice on the New Zealand Government Safe Travel site.
Qatar cultivates less than 1% of its land, imports 90% of its food, and has only 2 days’ worth of water reserves.
Food and Drinks:Qatar has seemingly endless options for food, much of it excellent. Middle Eastern cuisine is everywhere as well, and in many forms—kebabs, breads, hummus, the list goes on. Don't be afraid to venture into the Souks 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 Souks (as well as the shops) shut down during the afternoon hours.
While Arabian cuisine is based on the traditional foods of the nomadic tribes "who ate what they could carry “ Qatari cuisine is based on the traditional foods of just about anywhere and everywhere! In keeping with its historic status as an international entrance, Qatar takes an international approach to eating out. Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Thai flavours mingle with those of Italy, France, the Mediterranean, Mexican and beyond. However, no visitor should miss the chance to sample local specialties. Supremely fresh fish and seafood from the Arabian Gulf is an obvious choice, with lobster, crab, shrimp, tuna, kingfish and red snapper topping the list of favourites. Meat dishes tend to be based on lamb, slow-cooked and served with a variety of side dishes.
Common Arabian specialties include hummus, tabbouleh (chopped parsley, mint and crushed wheat); ghuzi (a whole roast lamb served on a bed of rice with pine-nuts), koussamahsi (stuffed courgettes), and shawarma, grilled slivers of lamb or chicken, wrapped with salad in a pocket of Arab bread. Qatari specialties include matchbous (spiced lamb with rice), hareis (slow-cooked wheat and lamb) and seafood served with delicately-seasoned rice. Favourite desserts include a type of bread pudding called Umm Ali (literally, Mother of Ali), a sweet cheesecake with a cream topping, known as eshasaraya (bread of the harem), and mehalabiya, a pudding made with pistachios and rose-water.
It is forbidden to bring alcohol in to the country as a tourist; at Doha airport customs x-ray 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. Alcoholic beverages are available in the restaurants and bars of the major hotels, although pricey. As far as non-alcoholic drinks go, be sure and 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.
The Qatari’s favourite food is roast camel, by all accounts roasted on a BBQ is the best option.
Safety and Security: Like in any other part of the world, a few precautions need to be taken to avoid any problem. Please do not leave your bags unattended at any time. Please use safe deposit in your hotel room or reception to keep your money or valuables including passport. When you leave the room, it is recommended that you lock your suitcase. It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport including the visa page.
Transparency International has listed Qatar as the #1 least corrupt nation in the Middle East
Clothing: Men and women should dress modestly as a courtesy to both Qataris and Muslims. Swimsuits and beachwear is acceptable at the hotel beaches (don’t forget sunscreen), but it is not appropriate to expose the body in other public areas. Topless sunbathing is definitely taboo. Tops should cover the shoulders and upper arms, and skirts or shorts should fall to or below the knee. Women are not obliged to cover their hair. Visitors should be thoughtful of their clothing particularly in the Holy Month of Ramadan, or when in traditional areas.
The extreme heat and high humidity in summer means lightweight fibres are advisable. Covering up susceptible parts of your body while outside, will also prevent sunburn. However, a jumper or wrap may be needed inside hotels and restaurants, as the air conditioning can be fierce. Wintertime can be chilly, especially in the evenings, and there is also a chance of rain, so coats and closed shoes will be useful.
Language: Arabic is the official and main language, but English is widely spoken in every part of the country. Despite most Qatari people speaking fluent English, they feel honoured to see their guests speaking a few words in Arabic.
Qatar is home to at least 180 nationalities
Gratuities:A service charge of 10% is usually added to hotel and restaurant bills in Qatar, in which cash tipping is not necessary. However if there is no service charge a 10% tip is appreciated. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip, but it is good to round off the amount due.
Airport Tax: QR20 Departure tax, usually included in ticket price.
It is more expensive to buy a McDonald’s than to fill up your car.
Internet: All telecommunications services in Qatar are provided by the government-owned Qatar Public Telecommunications Corporation (Q-Tel). There are numerous internet cafes in Doha.
Telephone: Qatar’s country code is + 974 from New Zealand. While calling New Zealand from Qatar, you will need to dial +64…. The country is well covered by the Q-Tel GSM900/1800 mobile phone network. The Q-Tel website provides details of the options available, including pre-paid services.
Unemployment in Qatar is estimated to be around 0.4 percent.
Time Difference: Qatar is 9 hours behind New Zealand from April to September and 10 hours behind from October to March.
Photography: Ask if you can take a photograph. While in general you shouldn't take a photograph of a woman, there are circumstances when it seems to be acceptable, and women who do not mind. An example might be of a woman demonstrating traditional activities at the Heritage Village. Many of the older women object to being photographed. Do not photograph official buildings without permission. Equally, avoid sensitive sites or pictures that include members of police or armed forces.
The largest Sports Dome in the World is located in Qatar.
Electricity: Qatar's electrical current is 240/50 (volts/hz) and will require an international plug adaptor.Few Hotels have adapters available which you could borrow free of charge during your stay but it might be a good idea to carry one from home. Please visit this website for more information on plugs:http://kropla.com/electric2.htm
Religion: Qatar is predominantly Islamic although all religions are practised. While accustomed to Western ways, you should try to be respectful while here. This means Islamic conventions are best respected - Women and men should make an effort to cover their legs and arms.It is regarded as disrespectful to show affection publicly. Be discreet when drinking alcohol.
During Ramadan -- the month of fasting -- travellers should avoid eating, drinking, smoking or even chew gum during the daytime.
Customs: 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.
Sites of Interest :
Most travellers just visit Doha when coming to Qatar. Doha is of course not the only place of interest in the country! There is much more to be seen... like the cities of Al Wakra, Al Ruwais, Umm Salal Mohammed, Al Khor with its picturesque harbour and spectacular beaches. Other places to see include Khor Al Udaid - the Inland Sea surrounded by sand dunes, old forts of Al Zubara - Al Thughb - Al Wajbah or the Alshahaniya Camels Race Track.
Doha History: The city of Doha was founded in 1850 as Al-Bida. The city was made capital of the British protectorate of Qatar in 1916, and remained so when, in 1971, the nation won independence. Britain decided to withdraw from the Arabian Gulf area at this time. Qatar then adopted a provisional constitution declaring itself an independent Arab country with an official religion of Islam, using Shari’ah as the prime source of legislation and Traditional Arabic as an official language. Al Thani family formally became the ruling dynasty.
Take time to discover this ever changing city. See Al Bida Park, The Corniche, Al Koot Fort, the Museum of Islamic Arts, the National Museum, Souk Waqif, the Spiral Mosque or Pearl of Qatar island. Doha has a lot to offer.
Al –Corniche: The visual highlight of Doha is Al-Corniche, a long seaside promenade that curves around Doha Bay and affords pretty views of Palm Tree Island and the city's skyscrapers. In the afternoons you will see plenty of locals strolling along the Corniche, often trying to get out of the way of the odd crazy Western ex-pat on rollerblades. It's also a good place for jogging. Cycling is prohibited. If you're looking to have the scenery all to yourself, go on a Friday morning. Come here in the late afternoon and gather in the numerous grass areas or parks (Al-Rumaila Park) to play with kids or to play soccer, which Qataris are passionate about.
Souk Waqif: Souk Waqif is one of the most popular attractions in Doha and a visit not to be missed. Located in the heart of Doha, it is an ancient market where bedouintribes people once traded their meat, camel milk, wool, for goods not available to them in the desert. Things have changed and nomadic Bedouins have now deserted the place. However Souk Waqif is still a buoyant, popular market. Qataris shop here for spices, herbs, perfumes, incense (used as a sign of hospitality within the Qatari private homes), traditional clothes, shisha pots and pipes and camel blankets. Souk Waqif was redesigned in 2004 but the atmosphere of old days is still there. Visitors will find restaurants and coffee shops to taste traditional Qatari & Middle East food.
Museum of Islamic Arts: The MIA (Museum of Islamic Arts) is one of the prominent tourist attractions in Doha. The museum features an amazing priceless collection of masterpieces (manuscripts, ceramics, ivory, wood and metalwork, precious stones, jewellery) dating from 7th to 19th century. As well as gallery the museum has a library, study, restaurant, hanging gardens and water garden with fountain. Visitors can admire the unique architecture of the Museum with its multiple angular volumes playing with sunlight and the amazing 45 metre wall of glass offering breathtaking views over the blue waters of the Gulf. The building was designed by famous architect I. M. Pei (Louvre Museum Pyramid, China Bank Tower in Hong Kong, Washington DC National Gallery of Art).
Spiral Mosque- Islamic Centre: In a few short years the spiral mosque of the KassemDarwishFakhroo Islamic Centre has become one of Doha's most famous landmarks. This is not a traditional Qatari mosque but a replica of the Great Mosque of Al-Mutawwakil in Samarra in Iraq. It is located in Souks area, a stone’s throw from Corniche Street. The spiral minaret dominating the old city is lit at night.
The Pearl of Qatar:The Pearl of Qatar is an artificial island created east of the West Bay shoreline a few kilometers north of Doha City centre. This talked about project has now come true and the first marinas have been fully completed and opened to public. You can find a big variety of restaurants and shops, mainly in the high range.
Clock Tower: Located next to the Grand Mosque, this old clock tower features Arabic numerals on its face. The tower is also located on a hill, and as such offers some wonderful views of the Corniche.
Doha Zoo: Located near the Sports City complex, the Doha Zoo features a variety of animals, including the Oryx, Qatar's national animal.
Jungle Zone: Offers 3500 sq m of animal-themed children's attractions. Qatar's most popular indoor theme park located at Hyatt Plaza, near Khalifa Stadium in the booming city of Doha, offers fun and excitement for kids and family-alike to enjoy.
Villages & Cities: Al Wakra - Umm Salal Mohammed, Al Khor
Al Wakra: Located South of Doha, Al Wakra was once a pearling and fishing village. It has now become a small city of 30,000 people but the historic harbour remains where the dhows (local boats) are lined up waiting for the night to come to go fishing. Other attractions are the small district where old Islamic style houses can still be seen.
Umm Salal Mohammed: Located North of Doha, Umm Salal Mohammed is home of a remarkable fort and one of Qatar's most famous landmark: Barzan Tower.
Al Khor: A famous picturesque fishing village where traditional dhows have not been replaced by modern speed boats. Al Khor Museum nestling in a small fortress is a visit not to be missed to better understand the long and rich history of the region.
Qatar's Forts: Al Zubara - Al Thughb - Al Wajbah
Al Zubara: Built in 1938, this ochre coloured fort is the most impressive of the country. It is located 100kms northwest of Doha in the middle of the desert with nothing around except ruins of the old town of Al Zubara.
Al Thughb: Located 15 kms from Al Zubara, Al Thughb Fort is a typical Qatari desert fort of rectangular shape with four corner watchtowers.
Al Wajbah: Located 15 kms west from Doha is one of the oldest forts in Qatar. It was built in 1882.
Inland Sea & Desert
The Inland sea is a must see when visiting Qatar. It’s vast turquoise waters are in the middle of the desert, surrounded by sand dunes and connected to the Persian Gulf by a narrow channel. The Inland Sea is a very popular week-end destination for Qataris but tourists should be aware of the challenge of driving through the dunes. We offer guided tours and 4x4 chauffeur driven services from Doha.
Al Shahaniya: Camel races & Al Maha Sanctuary
Al Shahaniya is 25 kms northwest of Doha. It is home of the most famous and the largest Camel racetrack in Qatar - A must see if visiting the country during racing season (Half day tours can be organized from Doha). The most popular and prestigious Camel Race is held here in April: Emir GCC Camel Race. Al Shahaniya is also home of the Al Maha Sanctuary a reserve for Oryx (Qatar's national symbol).
Al Shahaneya- Located 57 kms away from Doha on the road to Dukhan. Al Shahaneya is private nature conservation farm that features various animals from the local environment. A great destination for a family day to relax under the trees and enjoy wildlife with a barbecue Arabic meal