The 5th-century Greek historian Herodotus identified the seafaring Canaanites as the original inhabitants of Qatar. Spearheads, pottery shards, burial mounds near Umm Salal Mohammed and the rock carvings of Jebel Jassassiyeh show the early inhabitation of Qatar to be from 4000 BC, but the Peninsula has surprisingly little to show for its ancient lineage. The famous ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy includes ‘Katara’ in his map of the Arab world.
History as a Living Inheritance. The history of Qatar is the history of the Bedouin, who traversed a land ‘taking only memories, and leaving only footprints’, footprints that are dusted away by frequent sandstorms. As such, history in Qatar is easier to spot in the living rather than the dead, for example, by the racing of camels at Al-Shahaniya, the trading of falcons in Doha’s souqs, the hospitality towards guests in the coffeehouses of the city, and the building of camps (albeit with TV aerials and 4WDs) in the sand dunes of Khor al-Adaid.
Documents indicate that Qatar played an important role in the early spread of Islam through the assembling of a naval fleet used to transport the warriors of the Holy Jihad.
Even the Portuguese, who left forts in every country in the Gulf, bequeathed only hearsay to Qatar’s coast line. The Turks helped drive out the Portuguese in the 16th century and Qatar remained under the nominal rule of the Ottoman Empire (and the practical governance of local sheikhs) for more than four centuries, but little evidence was left. Indeed, what is remarkable about the history of Qatar is not what has been left behind but the almost magical erasure of any visible sign of 6000 years of its human evolution.
Al-Thani Family Dynasty and the British. Al-Khalifa (the current ruling family of Bahrain) controlled much of the Peninsula until the arrival, in the mid-18th century, of the charismatic Al-Thani family, which remains in power to this day. Al-Thani is a branch of the ancient Tamim tribe of central Arabia. Originally they were nomadic Bedu, but the region’s sparse vegetation led them to settle in the Peninsula’s coastal areas around Zubara, where they fished and dived for pearls. The first Al-Thani emir, Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani, established his capital at Al-Bida in the mid-19th century, thereby laying the foundations of modern Doha.
Sheikh Mohammed strengthened his position against other local tribes by signing a treaty with the British in 1867. In 1872 the second Al-Thani emir, Jasim, signed a treaty with the Turks allowing them to build a garrison in Doha (Doha Fort). The Turks were expelled under the third Al-Thani emir, Sheikh Abdullah (the emir who lived in the palace that now houses the National Museum), after Turkey entered WWI on the opposite side to Britain. Thereafter, the British guaranteed Qatar’s protection in exchange for a promise that the ruler would not deal with other foreign powers without British permission – an agreement that endured until independence was proclaimed on 1 September 1971.
Rags to Oil Riches. Qatar’s history from WWI to the end of the 20th century reads rather like a fairy tale. Life in Qatar, even before the collapse of the pearl market in the 1930s, was marked by widespread poverty, malnutrition and disease. The arrival of oil prospectors and the establishment in 1935 of Petroleum Development Qatar, a forerunner of today’s state-run Qatar General Petroleum Corporation (QGPC), signaled the beginning of a brave new world, even though WWII delayed production of oil for another 10 years.
Although not huge in comparative terms, the oil revenue instantly turned the tiny, impoverished population into one of the richest per capita countries in the world. Qatar’s first school opened in 1952 and a full-scale hospital followed in 1959, marking the beginning of long-term investment in the country’s modernization. Most of these improvements occurred under the leadership not of Sheikh Abdullah’s son Ali, nor his grandson Ahmed, but under that of his nephew Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, who, over a period of 15 years, ran many of the country’s ministries, including foreign affairs, oil and the police.
On 22 February 1972 Khalifa ousted his politically apathetic kinsmen in a palace coup. Astutely, one of his first gestures was to crack down on the extravagance of the royal household. Celebrating the stability that his reign and increasing oil prices brought to Qatar. Sheikh Khalifa invested in Qatar, particularly in terms of developing an all-encompassing welfare state that provides free education and healthcare, job opportunities in the public sector and generous pensions for Qatari nationals.
Benign Dictatorship. Since June 1995 when Sheikh Khalifa al-Thani was replaced as emir by his son Hamad in a bloodless coup, Qatar has tried to court friendship with odd bedfellows – allowing American troops to launch its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from Qatar, for example, while courting the Taliban and Hamas. Equally, it has been quick to side with rebels against authoritarian regimes (for example in calling for the resignation of President Assad in Syria) while failing to implement democratic reform at home.
This dichotomous approach to international and domestic affairs has attracted consternation among Arab League members and is viewed with apparent exasperation from the West. But when a country has the world’s largest gas fields and is consistently among the world’s three richest countries in per capita terms, there’s little appetite for rocking the boat by pointing out such inconsistencies.
Besides, the lack of democracy in Qatar has not proved too much of an issue among the native population. In 2011, Qatar was notable among regional neighbors for the lack of Arab Spring protests despite having no elected representatives in government and despite the key government posts being occupied by members of the emir’s family. This is not to say there has been no political reform. Since assuming power, the emir has accelerated the modernization of the country through encouraging education and training (in which women comprise the majority of university students), investing in independent media, and opening the country to tourism.
Punching Above its Weight. When Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt, visited Qatar in 2000 he commented, in reference to the coverage of Al-Jazeera news channels: “All this noise is coming out of this little matchbox!” Emboldened by extraordinary wealth, Qatar is far bigger in terms of influence in the region than its small size (geographically and in population) would suggest.
Today. On National Day, 3 September, the country flutters with the maroon-and-white national flag, symbolizing the bloodshed of past conflicts (particularly those of the latter half of the 19th century) and subsequent peace. Over the past two decades, Qatar has earned a reputation as one of the most politically stable countries in the region and enjoys international confidence in its ability to host successful high-level events. In 2001 Qatar hosted the World Trade Organization Conference and the 15th Asian Games in 2006. In 2022 it will host the FIFA World Cup.
Qatar is a member of many international organizations such as the UN, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Arab League, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Within the space of 80 years, Qatar has emerged from the virtual anonymity of its past to become a regional force to be reckoned with. Monuments to that achievement are symbolically in the country’s modern infrastructure and its social welfare programs. But also, perhaps for the first time in its history, they’re also found in a tangible sense, by the growing ring of magnificent buildings that grace Doha’s corniche, and in the high-profile events the country hosts.
AL-JAZEERA TV – What Makes Al-Jazeera so Unique?
One of the ‘blossoms’ produced by the freedom of the press in Qatar in 1995 was the establishment of Al-Jazeera Independent Satellite TV Channel in November 1996. Free from censorship or government control, it offered regional audiences a rare opportunity for debate and independent opinion, and opened up an alternative perspective on regional issues for the world at large. Its call-in shows were particularly revolutionary, airing controversies not usually open for discussion in the autocratic Gulf countries.
Al-Jazeera, which means ‘The Island’ in English, was launched as an Arabic news and current affairs satellite TV channel, funded with a grant from the Emir of Qatar. It has been subsidized by the emir on a year-by-year basis since, despite the airing of criticism towards his own government. The station was originally staffed by many former members of the BBC World service, whose Saudi-based Arabic language TV station collapsed under Saudi censorship; a close relationship with the BBC continues to this day.
The station has always been viewed with suspicion by ruling parties across the Arab world: its website notes one occasion in the early days (on 27 January 1999), when the Algerian government pulled the plug on the capital’s electricity supply to prevent the population from hearing a live debate that alleged Algerian military collusion in a series of massacres. Critics closer to home accuse Al-Jazeera of boosting audience ratings through sensational coverage.
International Significance. Al-Jazeera only became internationally significant after the September 11 attacks on New York in 2001. The station broadcast video statements by Osama bin Laden (incidentally earning the station $20,000 per minute in resale fees) and other Al-Qaeda leaders who defended the attacks. The US government accused the station of a propaganda campaign on behalf of the terrorists; however, the footage was broadcast by the station without comment and later parts of the same tapes were shown by Western media channels without attracting condemnation. Al-Jazeera continued to air challenging debate during the Afghanistan conflict, bringing into sharp focus the devastating impact of war on the lives of ordinary people. In 2003 it hired its first English-language journalist, Afshin Rattansi, from the BBC’s Today Program. It has since been accused by American sources of sustaining an anti-American campaign, something the channel denies.
Al-Jazeera has earned its spurs on the frontline of journalism and is today the most widely watched news channel in the Middle East. In November 2006 a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week news channel called Al-Jazeera English was launched and it currently broadcasts to more than 260 million households in more than 130 countries, making it one of the most widely watched channels in the world. It has won many international awards for risk-taking journalism both on TV and through its website (www.aljazeera.net in Arabic and aljazeera.net/english – with 20 million visits every month, one of the most frequented websites in the world), launched in January 2001. In 2012 Al-Jazeera won the prestigious Royal Television Society Award for news channel of the year.
Unafraid of controversy, the stated aim of Al-Jazeera is to seek the truth through contextual objectivity (in as much, of course, as that is ever possible): ‘Truth will be the force that will drive us to raise thorny issues, to seize every opportunity for exclusive reporting’. For many Western governments at least, that’s proving to be an unexpected thorn among the first blossoms of democracy.
PEOPLE AND SOCIETY
The National Psyche. Watching 4WDs racing over the sand dunes, attached to trailers holding sand buggies and skis, it’s clear that this is a very rich country. Back in the 1970s it wasn’t uncommon to see a brand-new Mercedes-Benz, with 22-carat gold badge and no number plate, squealing through the streets, having just been handed over to a potential customer on approval. Such enormous wealth delivered to the young, who had little or no recollection of the hardships of life before the riches of oil, came at a price calculable in terms of the arrogance of the nouveau riche; their unwillingness to work; a military staffed by officers but no privates; and jobs half started but not seen through.
Times have changed, however. The evident wealth of modern Doha is built now not on money alone but on education and the growing confidence of Qatari professionals. Not all of Doha is as glittering as the new West Bay developments may indicate and behind the flush of wealth is a realization that sustainability of the country’s achievements depends on commitment and effort. This growing work ethic among Qatari nationals is evidenced by their involvement in the new industries, in the health and education sectors and at grass-roots level in the shopping malls, resorts and sports facilities. This represents a much more robust legacy for the country’s future than petrodollars alone.
Lifestyle. Despite its significant neighbor, Saudi Arabia, with which it shares a religion (the Wahhabi sect of Islam) as well as a border, Qatar has managed to steer a remarkably independent course, seeking ties with Iran, for example, and even more contentiously with Israel in the 1990s.
Qataris aim to be equally as independent in society: while observant of a conservative form of Islam, Qataris are not afraid of extending hospitality to those of a different mind; while it is still unusual to see Qataris drinking alcohol, there is a tolerance of visitors who do; and while men and women are discreetly dressed, there’s no harassment of the disrespectful tourist. Wahhabism does not preclude women working outside the home or driving but it does forbid any activity that may incite illicit relationships between men and women. In Qatar, unlike in Saudi Arabia, driving and working are not considered areas of likely temptation. Most significant is Qatar’s press, which has enjoyed complete freedom of expression since 1995, resulting in one of the most exceptional media phenomena of modern times – Al-Jazeera Independent Satellite TV Channel.
Family life, at the heart of most Arab societies, is equally so in Qatar. Despite a high divorce rate, the country manages to reflect the espousal of Western materialism while paradoxically retaining something of the Bedouin simplicity of life: the day can stop for tea with a stranger; the emergency exit on a plane is spread with prayer carpet; and a business dinner may be rejected in favor of kebabs with friends.”
Multiculturalism. An arriving visitor will be stamped into the country by a Qatari, but thereafter they could be forgiven for thinking they had stepped into another country – or at least pockets of many. There are car-hire attendants from Pakistan, shopkeepers from India, nightclub entertainers from the Philippines, and Brits turning pink in the afternoon sun during a day off from the oil and gas industries. Forming only a quarter of the population of their own country, Qatari men are recognizable in the multiethnic crowd by their impeccable white thobe (floor-length shirt-dress), gutra (white headdress) and long, black-tasselled agal (head rope); women by their narrow-eyed yashmak (veil).
The broadmindedness of an otherwise conservative nation stems not only from interaction with the thousands of immigrant workers who have helped build the country, but also from the fact that so many Qataris have travelled or studied abroad. Alas, that broadmindedness doesn’t always translate into fair treatment of the immigrant population, many of whom continue to be treated as second-class citizens.
Although the rapid modernization of Qatar has encouraged a certain Westernization of culture, some distinctive elements of traditional cultural expression remain, particularly in terms of music and dance, as evident during Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr or social occasions, such as weddings. With its Bedouin inheritance, only a specialist is likely to pick up the nuances that distinguish Qatar’s music or dance from that of other Gulf States, but numerous events throughout the country make Qatar one of the easier places to encounter these art forms.
Crafts. The traditional Bedouin skill of weaving for carpets, tents, rugs and curtains was practised by modern Qataris until only about two decades ago, when machinery and cheap imports shut down the industry. Carpet wool, however, is still often prepared in the traditional way. The wool is washed and soaked in lemon juice and a crystalline mixture to remove impurities and oil, boiled for about 10 hours, dried in the sun and then dyed (often with imported dyes from India and other Gulf States). Goat hair is still used to make tents (particularly the black tents with white stripes, which are now seen more readily in the garden of a wealthy villa than in the interior). Camel hair, plaited using two hands, one foot and a strangely shaped piece of wood, is used for ropes and bags. A form of basket weaving, called al-safaf (using palm leaves and cane) is still practiced in the villages.
Jewellery making is a craft that continues to thrive: while the traditional Bedouin pieces of silver and stone are now difficult to find, expert local goldsmiths and jewellers engage in centuries-old practices of sword decoration and bridal ornamentation. The burda (traditional Qatari cloak) is still worn in Qatar and the cuffs and sleeves are decorated by hand, using thin gold and silver threads.”
The Land. One would expect the area of a country to be finite. Not so in Qatar, where extensive reclamation programs keep adding a square kilometer or two to the total. The Qatar peninsula is generally given as 11,586 sq km, about 160km long and 55km to 80km wide, and includes 700km of shallow coastline. It includes one or two islands, but not the neighboring Hawar Islands, which were a bone of contention until the oil-rich islands were awarded to Bahrain. While Qatar is mostly flat, the oil-drilling area of Jebel Dukhan reaches a height of 75m.
The sand dunes to the south of the country, especially around the inland sea at Khor al-Adaid, are particularly appealing. Much of the interior, however, is marked by gravel-covered plains. This kind of desert may look completely featureless but it’s worth a closer look: rain water collects in duhlans (crevices), giving rise intermittently to exquisite little flowering plants. Roses even bloom in the desert, though not of the floral kind: below the sabkha (salt flats that lie below sea level), gypsum forms into rosettes, some measuring 8in to 10in across. Stone mushrooms and yardangs, weathered out of the limestone escarpment near Bir Zekreet, offer a geography lesson in desert landscape.
Wildlife. A passion for hunting, traditionally with falcon or saluki (a Bedouin hunting dog), has marked Qatar’s relationship with birds (particularly the tasty bustard) and mammals, with the double consequence that there is little wildlife left. The Qataris are the first to admit this and are most eager to remedy the situation. Gazelle, oryx (Qatar’s national animal) and Arabian ibex are all locally extinct, but ambitious breeding programs aim to reintroduce the animals into the wild. A herd of oryx can be seen, by permit only or while on a tour, at a private reserve near Al-Shahaniya. There are also protected areas, north of Al-Khor, for the endangered green turtle, which nests on the shore.
Altogether easier to spot, a rich and diverse number of birds (waders, ospreys, cormorants, curlews, flamingos, larks and hawks) frequent the coastal marshes and the offshore islands. A golf course may seem an unlikely birding venue, but the lush oasis of Doha Golf Club occasionally attracts the glorious golden oriole and crested crane. The mangrove plantations north of Al-Khor are another good place to get the binoculars out.
A dusting of rain or dew in the colder months and a dried-up wadi (river bed) can be transformed into a hub of activity: the trumpets of Lycium shawii and the orchid-like Indigofera intricata are two recently classified plant species that have surprised botanists.
Environmental Issues. Qatar is now 2m higher than it was 400 years ago thanks to ‘geological uplift’, a phenomenon where movements in the Earth’s crust push the bedrock up. As a result, the underground water table sinks, or at least becomes more difficult to access. In Qatar, uplift has resulted in increasing aridity and sparseness of vegetation. This, combined with encroaching areas of sand and sabkha, has given environmentalists much to be concerned about.
Qatar’s mangrove wetlands, which provide a breeding ground for waders and crustaceans such as shrimps, are threatened by the multiple hazards of grazing camels, oil seepages and land reclamation. Various projects are afoot to protect this important coastal habitat, including the replanting of mangroves north of Al-Khor, but there are no official nature reserves as yet. Several privately owned projects, such as Al Wabra Preserve (www.qatarvisitor.com and search for ‘Al Wabra’), help protect endangered species.
Qatar’s main sights are all within day trip distance of the capital. As a result, most visitors stay in the large selection of hotels available in Doha and neighboring West Bay and West Bay Lagoon.
Qatar has accommodation to fit most pockets, although travellers will find it difficult to find single/double rooms for less than QR350/450 per night. Doha has a good, modern hostel, costing QR240 per night with linen provided: check www.hihostels.com/dba/hostels for details.
Many of the cheaper hotels near Souq Waqif are in areas condemned for redevelopment in the near future, but they will relocate to the area behind the National Museum.
Midrange accommodation usually implies a carpet, minibar, satellite TV and view of something other than an internal stairwell.
Qatar has some of the world’s best top-end accommodation, including resorts. Most offer weekend (Friday-Saturday) specials and other deals in association with selected airlines.
‘Wild camping’ is possible in some parts of the country but you will need to be self-sufficient and preferably have a 4WD to gain access to beaches or sand dunes. Basic camping equipment is available from Carrefour in City Centre-Doha.
Beaches. The coast of Qatar is almost a continuous line of sandy beaches with pockets of limestone pavement. As pretty as it looks, the sea is very shallow, making it almost impossible to swim. There are some good beaches, however, at the top resorts in Doha, at the Sealine Beach Resort near Mesaieed and Al-Ghariya Resort. The nearest public-access beach close to Doha is at Katara. None of the wild beaches have facilities, and shade is a problem in the summer.
Sand Sports. The sand is beginning to attract people to Qatar in the same way that the snow draws the crowds elsewhere, with sand skiing, quad-bike racing and sand-dune driving all becoming popular sports, though largely for those with their own equipment. The Sealine Beach Resort, south of Mesaieed, is the best place for these activities, offering quad bikes and helpful assistance if you get stuck in the dunes. Spectator Sports. Qatar is the sporting capital of the region. For details on any of the sporting fixtures hosted in Doha, visit Qatar Marhaba (www.qatarmarhaba.com) and search for sports. Most events – including Qatar ExxonMobil Tennis Open, Sail the Gulf Regatta, the Emir’s Sword horse race, Moto GP and Emir’s Cup camel race – are clustered into the first half of the year.
Qatar, by David Chadock, revised in 2006, is the definitive illustrated reference to Qatar.
Arabian Time Machine: Self-Portrait of an Oil State , by Helga Graham (if you can find a copy), is an interesting collection of interviews with Qataris about their lives and traditions, before and after the oil boom.
Qatari Women Past and Present , by Abeer Abu Said, explains the changing and traditional roles of women in Qatar.
Qatar – Enchantment of the World, by Byron Augustin, gives a recent overall view of life in Qatar.
FOOD & DRINK
In a country that adheres to the rigorous Wahhabi sect of Islam, which enjoins strict codes of conduct, it may come as some surprise to discover that alcohol is available in many top-end hotel bars. A cynic might point to the increasing number of international sporting and commercial events being held in the country, for which the availability of a bar is a major consideration. But whether permitted for pragmatic reasons or through tolerance, alcohol should be consumed discreetly and public displays of drunkenness should be avoided at all costs.
Breaking the law can have severe consequences. For more information consult your embassy.
The currency of Qatar is the Qatari riyal (QR). One riyal is divided into 100 dirhams. Coins are worth 25 or 50 dirhams, and notes come in one, five, 10, 50, 100 and 500 denominations. The Qatari riyal is fully convertible.
ATMs & Credit Cards. All major credit and debit cards are accepted in large shops. Visa (Plus & Electron), MasterCard and Cirrus are accepted at ATMs at HSBC, the Qatar National Bank and the Commercial Bank of Qatar, which also accepts American Express (Amex) and Diners Club cards.
Moneychangers. Currencies from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are easy to buy and sell at banks and moneychangers. Travellers cheques can be changed at all major banks and the larger moneychangers. Moneychangers can be found around the Gold Souq area of central Doha. There is little difference in exchange rates between banks and moneychangers.
Tipping & Bargaining. A service charge is usually added to restaurant (and top-end hotel) bills. Local custom does not require that you leave a tip and, although it is certainly appreciated, there is a danger of escalating the habit to the detriment of the workers involved (some establishments reduce wages in anticipation of tips that may or may not be forthcoming). It is therefore recommended that local custom is followed, unless exceptional service or assistance warrants an exceptional gesture.
Bargaining is expected in the souqs and, although Western-style shopping centres have fixed prices, it’s still worth asking for a discount in boutiques and smaller shops.
Qataris love their ‘siesta’, and Doha resembles a ghost town in the early afternoon. These opening hours prevail through in the early afternoon. These opening hours prevail throughout Qatar.
Banks 7.30am to 1pm Sunday to Thursday.
Government offices 7am to 2pm Sunday to Thursday.
Internet cafes 7am to midnight.
Post offices 7am to 8pm Sunday to Thursday, 8am to 11am and 5pm to 8pm Saturday.
Restaurants 11.30am to 1.30pm and 5.30pm to midnight Saturday to Thursday, 5pm to midnight Friday.
Shopping centres 10am to 10pm Saturday to Thursday, 4pm to midnight Friday.
Shops 8.30am to 12.30pm and 4pm to 9pm Saturday to Thursday, 4.30pm to 9pm Friday.
The country code for Qatar is 974. There are no specific area or city codes. The international access code (to call abroad from Qatar) is 0.
All communications services are provided by Qtel (www.qtel.com.qa). Local calls are free, except from the blue-and-white Qtel phone booths that charge a nominal fee. Phone cards (which come in denominations of QR10, QR30 and QR50) are available in bookshops and supermarkets around Doha and can be used for direct international dialing.
The cost of an International Direct Dial call is cheaper between 7pm and 7am, all day Friday and on holidays. At peak times international calls cost around just QR2 per minute.
Directory enquiries can be contacted on 180. Call 150 for international inquiries.
Mobile Phones. Qtel operates a prepaid GSM mobile phone service called Hala Plus. Cards in a variety of denominations are widely available in shops.
TRAVELLERS WITH DISABILITIES
Little provision has been made in Qatar for travellers with disabilities, although the new resorts have tried to make accommodation wheelchair accessible. The corniche area of Doha and the new malls are easily accessed, but many of the other sights and souqs are not.
All nationalities need a visa to enter Qatar. Around 33 nationalities can obtain a two-week, single-entry visa on arrival. Visit the government website (www.moi.gov.qa) and search the ‘Visitor Gateway’ section to be sure of the latest information.
To avoid being turned back from a lengthy queue, fill out the application card (in piles on top of the visa counter) before you reach the visa counter.
Payment is by credit card only. You can buy an eCash card from QNB at the arrivals hall at Qatar International Airport which acts as a credit card for the prepaid sum.
Multi-entry tourist and business visas are applied for through a Qatari embassy or consulate. Three passport-sized photos, an application form filled out in triplicate and a letter from the hosting company is required. These visas are issued within 24 hours.
Visa extensions valid for two weeks can be obtained through your hotel or a travel agent.
Charges for overstaying are high.
Qatar is a safe place for women to travel and women can move about freely, without any of the restrictions that are often experienced in other parts of the region. Harassment of women is not looked upon kindly by officials. Dressing conservatively (especially covering shoulders and knees) is not only respectful of local sensibilities but brings less unwanted stares.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Air. Doha International Airport ( 44 656 666; www.dohaairport.com) is 2.5km from the city center.
The national carrier Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com; Al-Matar St) has daily direct services from London to Doha, and several direct flights a week from Paris, Munich, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and from most cities in the Middle East. Qatar is also serviced by several major airlines: British Airways flies direct from London to Doha daily, KLM flies direct from Amsterdam, while Emirates flies to Doha from most major hubs via Dubai. There is no airport departure tax.
Airlines Flying to/from Qatar:
British Airways (www.ba.com) Heathrow Airport, London
EgyptAir (www.egyptair.com.eg) Cairo
Emirates (www.emirates.com) Dubai
Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) Abu Dhabi
Gulf Air (www.gulfairco.com) Manama
Kuwait Air (www.kuwait-airways.com) Kuwait City
Oman Air (www.omanair.aero) Muscat
Saudi Arabian Airlines (www.saudiairlines.com) Jeddah
Border Crossings. Residents of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can drive across the Qatar-Saudi border, providing they have insurance for both countries. Bear in mind that if you want to travel from Qatar, you must have a Saudi visa (or transit visa) in advance.
Friendship Causeway. Relations between Qatar and its neighbor, Bahrain, have not always been the best. Shared royal family has been a bone of contention for one thing and it was only relatively recently the two countries stopped haggling over ownership of the Hawar Islands. Driven by a growing sense of community within the Gulf region, however, and with a shared mission to attract higher volumes of tourists, the two countries have at last put their differences aside. As if consolidating the friendlier relations, work is scheduled to begin on a 40km road link between Qatar and Bahrain. It will take over four years to complete and will involve multiple bridges supported on reclaimed land, similar to King Fahd Causeway that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. When complete, it will form the longest fixed link across water in the world.
Bus. From Doha, Saudi Arabian Public Transport Co (Saptco; www.saptco.com.sa) has daily buses (from QR 50 to QR150 depending on destination) to Dammam with onward connections to Amman (Jordan); Manama (approximately five hours); Abu Dhabi (six hours) and Dubai (seven hours); and Kuwait (approximately 10 hours). All routes can be booked online. Departures are from the central bus station in Doha. You must have a valid transit visa for Saudi Arabia in advance, and an onward ticket and visa for your next destination beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders.
Bus. The public bus system operates from the central Al Ghanim Bus Station with air-conditioned bus services to Al-Khor, Al-Wakara and Masaieed among other destinations.
Car and Motorcycle. If you’re driving around Doha, you’ll discover that roundabouts are very common, treated like camel-race tracks and often redundant in practice. Finding the right way out of Doha can also be difficult: if you’re heading south towards Al-Wakrah or Mesaieed, take the airport road (Al-Matar St); the main road to all points north is 22 February St (north from Al-Rayyan Rd); and to the west, continue along Al-Rayyan Rd.
Numerous petrol stations are located around Doha but there are few along the highways.
Authorities are strict with anyone caught speeding, not wearing a seat belt or not carrying a driving license: heavy on-the-spot fines are handed out freely.
Don’t even think about drink driving.
Hire. A visitor can rent a car with a driving license from home – but only within seven days of arriving in Qatar (although expats resident in other GCC countries can drive for up to three months). After seven days, a temporary driving license must be obtained, issued by the Traffic License Office. It lasts for the duration of your visa and rental agencies can arrange this for you.
The minimum rental period for all car-hire agencies is 24 hours and drivers must be at least 21 years old. The cost of a 4WD can be very high; an ordinary car is perfectly suitable for reaching all places with the exception of Khor al-Adaid. A 4WD is essential, however, for those wanting to explore the interior in greater depth or wishing to camp on a remote beach.
Taxi. The easiest way to catch a taxi is to ask your hotel to arrange one, although technically you can wave one down from the side of the road. To visit most sights outside Doha, it’s better to hire a car or arrange transport with a tour company as it usually works out considerably cheaper and it saves long waits for return transport.