Early History. Stone Age man chose to inhabit from 4500BC the springtime grasslands at the estuary waters on the northern shores of Kuwait Bay, rich in silt from the mighty river systems of southern Iraq, making for abundant marine life. Dilmun also built a large town on Failaka Island, the remains of which form some of the best structural evidence of Bronze Age life in the world.
The Greeks on Failaka Island. Alexander the Great called Failaka Island Ikaros, and a Hellenistic settlement thrived between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC. Ikaros became an important trading post on the route from Mesopotamia to India. There’s even less to show for the Christian community that settled among the ruins thereafter.
Growth of Kuwait City. Over time, Kuwait’s main settlements shifted from island to mainland. In AD 500 the area around Ras Khazimah, near Al-Jahra, was the main centre of population, and it took a further 1200 years for the center of activity to nudge along the bay to Kuwait City. 350 years ago, Kuwait City consisted of nothing more illustrious than a few Bedouin tents clustered around a storehouse-cum-fort. Like a tide, its population swelled in the intense summer heat as nomadic families drifted in from the bone-dry desert and then receded as the winter months stretched good grazing across the interior.
Permanent families living around the fort became able and prosperous traders. One such family, Al-Sabah, whose descendants now rule Kuwait, assumed responsibility for local law and order, and under their governance, the settlement grew quickly. By 1760, when the town’s first wall was built, the community consisted of merchant traders, with a dhow and ocean-going boon fleet of 800 vessels, and an internal trade, arising from the camel caravans plying the route from Baghdad and Damascus to the interior of the Arabian Peninsula.
British. By the early 19th century, pirates, Persians, various Arab tribes and the Ottomans sought control but Kuwait remained independent of them. The Kuwaitis and the British were natural allies in many regards. From the 1770s the British controlled the mail and Kuwait handled all the trans-shipments of textiles, rice, coffee, sugar, tobacco, spices, teak and mangrove to and from India, and played a pivotal role in the overland trade to the Mediterranean. The British helped to stop the piracy that threatened the seafaring trade, but were not in a position to repel the Ottomans. Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah al-Sabah, commonly known as Mubarak the Great (r 1896–1915), was deeply suspicious that Constantinople planned to annex Kuwait. Concerned that the emir was sympathetic towards the Ottomans, he killed him and installed himself as ruler. Crucially, in 1899, he signed an agreement with Britain: in exchange for the British navy’s protection, he promised not to give territory to, take support from or negotiate with any other foreign power without British consent. The Ottomans continued to claim sovereignty over Kuwait, but they were now in no position to enforce it. For Britain’s part, Prussia, the main ally and financial backer of Turkey, was kept out of the warm waters of “Aleppo in Syria. Kuwait, meanwhile, handled all the trans-shipments of textiles, rice, coffee, sugar, tobacco, spices, teak and mangrove to and from India, and played a pivotal role in the overland trade to the Mediterranean. The British helped to stop the piracy that threatened the seafaring trade, but were not in a position to repel the Ottoman incursions – that is until the most important figure in Kuwait’s modern history stepped onto the stage. Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah al-Sabah, commonly known as Mubarak the Great (r 1896–1915), was deeply suspicious that Constantinople planned to annex Kuwait. Concerned that the emir was sympathetic towards the Ottomans, he killed him, and installed himself as ruler. Crucially, in 1899, he signed an agreement with Britain: in exchange for the British navy’s protection, he promised not to give territory to, take support from or negotiate with any other foreign power without British consent. The Ottomans continued to claim sovereignty over Kuwait, but they were now in no position to enforce it. For Britain’s part, Prussia, the main ally and financial backer of Turkey, was kept out of the Gulf and trade continued.
Rags to Riches in the 20th Century. Mubarak the Great laid down the foundations of a modern state. Under his reign, government welfare programs provided for public schools and medical services. In 1912, postal and telegraphic services were established, and water-purification equipment was imported. Kuwait City numbered 35,000 people, with 3000 permanent residents, 500 shops and three schools, and nearly 700 pearling boats employing 10,000 men.
In the 1920s a new threat came from Bedouin Najd, the interior of Arabia. The warriors were commanded by Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman al-Saud (Ibn Saud), the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. He believed that Kuwait belonged to the new kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They also hurriedly constructed a new city wall. In 1923 the fighting ended with a British-brokered treaty under which Abdul Aziz recognized Kuwait’s independence, but at the price of two-thirds of the emirate’s territory.
The Great Depression that sunk the world into poverty coincided with the demise of Kuwait’s pearling industry as the market became flooded with Japanese cultured pearls. At the point when the future looked most dire for Kuwait, however, an oil concession was granted in 1934 to a US–British joint venture known as the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC). The first wells were sunk in 1936 and by 1938 it was obvious that Kuwait was virtually floating on oil. WWII forced KOC to suspend its operations, but when oil exports took off after the war, Kuwait’s economy was launched on an unimaginable trajectory of wealth.
In 1950, Sheikh Abdullah al-Salem al-Sabah (r 1950–65) became the first ‘oil sheikh’. His reign was not, however, marked by the kind of profligacy with which that term later came to be associated. As the country became wealthy, health care, education and the general standard of living improved dramatically. In 1949 Kuwait had only four doctors; by 1967 it had 400.
Independence. On 19 June 1961, Kuwait became an independent state and the obsolete agreement with Britain was dissolved by mutual consent. In an act of foreboding, the President of Iraq, Abdulkarim Qasim, immediately claimed Kuwait as Iraqi territory. British forces, later replaced by those of the Arab League (which Kuwait joined in 1963), faced down the challenge, but the precedent was not so easily overcome.
Elections for Kuwait’s first National Assembly were held in 1962. Although representatives of the country’s leading merchant families won the bulk of the seats, radicals had a toehold in the parliament from its inception. Despite the democratic nature of the constitution and the broad guarantees of freedoms and rights – including freedom of conscience, religion and press, and equality before the law – the radicals immediately began pressing for faster social change, and the country changed cabinets three times between 1963 and 1965. In August 1976 the cabinet resigned, claiming that the assembly had made day-to-day governance impossible, and the emir suspended the constitution and dissolved the assembly. It wasn’t until 1981 that the next elections were held, but then parliament was dissolved again in 1986. In December 1989 and January 1990 an extraordinary series of demonstrations took place calling for the restoration of the 1962 constitution and the reconvening of parliament.
The Invasion by Iraq. Despite these political and economic tensions, by early 1990 the country’s economic prospects looked bright, particularly with an end to the eight-year Iran–Iraq war, during which time Kuwait had extended considerable support to Iraq. In light of this, the events that followed were all the more shocking to most people in the region. On 16 July 1990, Iraq sent a letter to the Arab League accusing Kuwait of exceeding its Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota and of stealing oil from the Iraqi portion of an oilfield straddling the border. The following day Iraqi president Saddam Hussein hinted at military action. The tanks came crashing over the border at 2am on 2 August and the Iraqi military was in Kuwait City before dawn. By noon they had reached the Saudi frontier. The Kuwaiti emir and his cabinet fled to Saudi Arabia.
On 8 August, Iraq annexed the emirate. Western countries, led by the USA, began to enforce a UN embargo on trade with Iraq, and in the months that followed more than half a million foreign troops amassed in Saudi Arabia. On 15 January, after a deadline given to Iraq to leave Kuwait had lapsed, Allied aircraft began a 5-week bombing campaign nicknamed ‘Desert Storm’. The Iraqi army quickly crumbled and on 26 February 1991, Allied forces arrived in Kuwait City to be greeted by jubilant crowds – and by clouds of acrid black smoke from oil wells torched by the retreating Iraqi army. Ignoring demands to retreat unarmed and on foot, a stalled convoy of Iraqi armored tanks, cars and trucks trying to ascend Mutla Ridge became the target of a ferocious Allied attack, nicknamed ‘the turkey shoot’.
Physical signs of the Iraqi invasion are hard to find in today’s Kuwait. Gleaming shopping malls, new hotels and four-lane highways are all evidence of Kuwait’s efforts to put the destruction behind it. However, the emotional scars have yet to be healed, particularly as hundreds of missing prisoners of war are yet to be accounted for, despite the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Kuwait After the Demise of Saddam Hussein. In March 2003 the Allied invasion of Iraq threw the country into paralyzing fear of a return to the bad old days of 1990, and it was only with the death of Saddam Hussein (he was hanged on 30 December 2006) that Kuwaitis have finally been able to sigh with relief. Without having to look over its shoulder constantly, Kuwait has lost no time in forging ahead with its ambitious plans, including that of attracting a greater number of regional tourists. The annual Hala Shopping Festival in February is proving a successful commercial venture, attracting visitors from across the region, and resorts offer R & R mostly to the international business community. More significantly, cross-border trade with Iraq (particularly of a military kind) has helped fuel the economic boom of this decade, a boom barely impacted by the global recession.
Today. Relationship with Iraq. It’s not possible to talk about Kuwait as it is today without factoring in its strategic importance at the oil-rich end of the Gulf. Half the explanation for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was oil, but it also represents a vital piece of coast that for centuries has provided settlement, trade and a strategic staging post.
4500 years ago, Falaika Island belonged to the great Dilmun empire, based in Bahrain, 2300 years ago, it was owned by the ancient Greeks, attracted to one of only two natural harbours in the Gulf; 25 years ago, it was occupied by the Iraqis and until recently, the US military camped out on the island.
The Iraqi invasion still lurks under the national consciousness and visible reminders of the war remain to this day, not least in museums of commemoration. Despite this, there’s little ostensible animosity between Kuwaitis and Iraqis. In fact, a good deal of sympathy passes between the two as Iraq continues to pay a heavy price for former conflicts.
The Arab Spring & Quest for Reform. The respected Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah, died in 2006, leaving Crown Prince Sheikh Sa’ad al-Sabah at the helm, but poor health led to Sa’ad’s abdication and he died in May 2008. The prime minister, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, took over.
Under Kuwait’s 1962 constitution, the emir is the head of state, but the prime minister recommends cabinet appointments for the emir’s approval, usually reserving key portfolios (such as the interior, and foreign affairs and defense) for other members of the ruling family.
In the Arab Spring of 2011, youth activists targeted the prime minister and his cabinet for removal amid allegations of corruption and he was forced out of office in late 2011. Opposition groups were joined in their discontent by the bidoon , stateless Arabs who demanded citizenship, jobs and benefits afforded to Kuwaiti nationals. A year later, electoral reform prompted even more widespread protest and the elections of December 2012 were boycotted by Sunni Islamists, certain tribal groups and youth groups, resulting in a larger representation of Shiites in the National Assembly.
Nascent Democracy. Kuwait has an elected National Assembly, the role of which is only just beginning to live up to the hopes of those who support a more Western-style democracy. The powers of the emir, crown prince and cabinet are tempered by the increasingly vociferous 50 members of the Assembly, which must approve the national budget and can question cabinet members. That said, the emir has the power to dissolve the assembly whenever he pleases (and he has done so five times since 2006), but is required by the constitution to hold new elections within 90 days of any such dissolution (a requirement that, historically, has not always been honored).
In May 2005, after years of campaigning, women were at last enfranchised and permitted to run for parliament and in 2009 four women were elected to the National Assembly – a move viewed by many as a sign of a new era of transparent government. Despite the reticence of hard-line clerics and traditional tribal leaders, women now hold positions of importance in both private and public sectors.
The country’s parliament is still viewed with some scepticism as it is considered to stall rather than achieve reforms, but slowly and surely democracy is developing.
Economic Challenges and Strengths. During the late 1970s Kuwait’s stock exchange (the first in the Gulf) was among the top 10 in the world, but a decade later the price of oil collapsed together with a not entirely legal parallel financial market, leaving hundreds of people bankrupt. The scandal left behind US$90 billion in worthless post-dated cheques and a mess that the Kuwaiti government is still trying to sort out. The invasion of the 1990s was an unmitigated financial disaster and the country is still paying back its military debts, while trying not to count the cost of rebuilding the country. As such, it is remarkable to see how spectacularly the economy has bounced back over the past decade.
With the country home to 10% of the world’s oil reserves, oil and oil-related products naturally dominate the economy and, with more than 100 years’ worth of remaining oil, the need to diversify has not been as urgent as it has been in neighboring countries. Tourism, for example, is a negligible part of the economy.
Given its enormous wealth in natural resources, boosted by the discovery in March 2006 of 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the country has been able to buffer the economic turbulence of the recent global recession. Indeed, large-scale construction projects across the city continue unabated.
PEOPLE & SOCIETY
The National Psyche. It’s easy to imagine that recent events have fashioned a suspicious and bitter mind-set among Kuwaitis: young Kuwaiti men (together with family heirlooms) snatched from homes; national treasures ripped from the nation’s museum; the Kuwait Towers used for target practice – these and countless other horrors marked the Iraqi invasion. And then there was the almost as agonising threat of the same occurring only a decade later.
Despite the trauma, it is a credit to the national temperament that life in Kuwait is characterized not by suspicion and bitterness but by affable handshakes, courteous business meetings and spending sprees in the capital.
Of course, Kuwaitis haven’t forgotten the invasion; indeed, in the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of memorials and plaques appearing around the city as if, since the demise of Saddam, people are daring to look back and place the event in a historical context at last, rather than trying to forget about the possibility of a repeat occurrence.
Kuwaitis are an ambitious and sophisticated people, determined to grasp the commercial opportunities that the 21st century has laid at the doorstep of their continuing wealth.
Lifestyle. In common with the rest of the Gulf, Kuwaiti people value privacy and family intimacy at home, while enjoying the company of guests outside. In many instances, ‘outside’ is the best description of traditional hospitality: while female guests are invited into the house, men are often entertained in tents with lavish striped canopies made luxurious with cushions and carpets on the doorstep.
Some Kuwaitis blame the war for a weakening of traditional values: theft, fraudulent practice, a growing drug problem, higher rates of divorce and incidents of suicidal driving have all increased. With a cradle-to-grave welfare system, where 94% of Kuwaiti nationals are ‘employed’ in government positions, and an economy that has run ahead faster than the culture has been able to accommodate, many Kuwaitis feel their society has become cosseted and indulgent, leaving the younger generation with too much time on their hands to wander off course.
Life in Kuwait has changed out of all recognition in the past decade: women work, couples hold hands in public, taboo subjects find expression, and people spend money and raise debts. Indeed, the galloping pace of change is proving a divisive factor in a country of traditionally conservative people.
Population. The last census, at the end of 2007, put Kuwait’s population at 3.4 million. Of these, about 31% are Kuwaitis, many of Bedouin ancestry, and the remaining 69% are expats. After liberation, the government announced that it would never again allow Kuwaitis to become a minority in their own country, implying a target population of about 1.7 million. With an unquenchable desire for servants and drivers, and an equal antipathy for manual labor, it is unlikely the Kuwaitis will achieve this target any time soon.
There are small inland communities but, to all intents and purposes, Kuwait is a coastal city-state. A generation of young men are missing after the Iraqi invasion.
Multiculturalism. The origin of the non-Kuwaiti population has changed considerably in the last two decades. Before the Iraqi invasion, 90% of the expat population was from Arab countries, with large volumes of Egyptian laborers, Iranian professionals and over a million Palestinian refugees who arrived after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Since the invasion, Arab nationalities make up less than 15% of the expat population, with large numbers of Palestinians, in particular, being forced to return to their country of origin. As Yasser Arafat was widely regarded as a supporter of the invasion, all Palestinians were tarred with the same brush; some were even court martialed on charges of collaboration.
Today Kuwait resembles other parts of the Gulf in its mix of mainly Indian and Filipino immigrants. Alas, a two-tier society appears to have developed wherein some immigrant workers (Filipino maids, in particular) are subject to virtual slave labor. Talk to many Pakistani or Indian traders, taxi drivers, pump attendants or restaurant workers, however, and they evince a warmth towards the country that is somewhat surprising to the Western bystander. In comparison with other countries in the region, Kuwait has a relatively small Western expat population, working almost exclusively in higher-paid professions.
Religion. Most Kuwaitis are Sunni Muslims, though there is a substantial Shiite minority. During the 1980s there was considerable tension, mostly inspired by Iran, between the two communities, a worry that has returned with sectarian violence over the border in Iraq.
Before the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait was still governed by a strict code of conduct, steered by a devout following of Islam. The invasion shook belief in all kinds of areas, including religious observance. Materialism is beginning to exert as strong an influence on the young as religion used to affect the customs and manners of their Bedouin or seafaring ancestors. Kuwaiti society certainly can’t be described as permissive, but the veil in many areas of social exchange is discernibly slipping.
A tolerance towards other religions is evinced through the provision of services at Coptic, Anglican, Evangelical and Orthodox churches in Kuwait City. Kuwait is the only Gulf country to have a strong relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Land. Kuwait is not the most well-endowed patch of earth – the interior consists of a mostly flat, gravelly plain with little or no ground water. Its saving grace is the grassy fringe that greens up late in the spring, providing rich grazing for the few remaining Bedu who keep livestock. The only other geographic feature of any note in a country that measures 185km from north to south and 208km from east to west is Mutla Ridge, just north of Kuwait City. The coast has dunes, marshes and salt depressions around Kuwait Bay and an oasis in Al-Jahra.
Of the nine offshore islands, the largest is Bubiyan Island, while Failaka Island is the most historic.
Wildlife. The anticlockwise flow of Gulf currents favors Kuwait’s shoreline by carrying nutrients from the freshwater marshes of Shatt al-Arab and the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates in southern Iraq. The result is a rich and diverse coastline, with an abundance of marine life that even the poisoning of spilt oil has failed to destroy.
Animals. Myriad species of fish frequent the fishermen’s nets along Kuwait Bay. Crabs tunnel in the mud flats near Doha Village, surviving in extreme temperatures and aerating the mud. Teals, lesser-crested terns and huge nesting colonies of Socotra cormorants and flamingos share the coastline.
Inland, birds of prey, kestrel and the short-toed eagle, roam the escarpments. The desert comes alive at night with rare sightings of caracal, and hedgehog, big-eared fennecs – the smallest canines in the world – and jerboas, which gain all the liquid they need from the plants and insects they eat. It is easier to spot the dhobs, a monitor lizard with a spiny tail, popular as a barbecue snack. No Arab desert is the same without the dung beetle or the scorpion.
In terms of endangered species, the oryx and gazelle are regionally extinct through hunting. The desert wolf has made something of a comeback.
Plants. After the winter rains, corridors of purple-flowered heliotrope and assorted wild flowers bloom everywhere. Of the 400 plant species in Kuwait, one of the most common is the bright-green rimth and the red-flowered al-awsaj, both a favorite of grazing camels. In spring, truffles sprout through the cracked ground in desert wadis, a remnant of the long-extinct Arabian River delta.
Many kilometers of black mangrove roots and beds of seagrass have been lost to oil spillage. These precious and endangered species help to stabilize and extend the country’s shoreline, and their damage has been devastating.
National Parks. Larger than the state of Bahrain, the 863 sq km nature reserve on the northern end of Bubiyan Island is home to many species of birds and animals. Comprised of marshland and creeks, it is a haven for waders. It was heavily mined during the Gulf War and the causeway destroyed. The future could be just as alarming with a port and residential complex planned for the southern part of the island.
Environmental Issues. While Kuwait shares many of the same environmental concerns as its Gulf neighbors, it has also had to contend with the extraordinary circumstances inflicted by war. The environmental damage caused by the war occurred on an unprecedented scale. On 20 January 1991, the third day of the war, Iraqi forces opened the valves at Kuwait’s Mina al-Ahmadi Sea Island Terminal, intentionally releasing millions of liters of oil into the Gulf. The resulting oil slick was 64km wide and 160km long. Between six and eight million barrels of oil are thought to have been released, at least twice as much as in any previous oil spill. At least 460km of coastline, most of it in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, was affected, with devastating consequences for the region’s cormorants, migratory birds, dolphins, fish, turtles and large areas of mangrove. The systematic torching of 699 of the emirate’s oil wells contributed to the disaster. By the time the war ended, nearly every well was burning. At a conservative estimate, at least two million barrels of oil per day were lost – equivalent to about 5% of the total daily world consumption. One to two million tons of carbon dioxide streamed into the air daily, resulting in a cloud that turned day into night across the country. Like the slick, the fires devastated wildlife throughout the region, but they also had a direct impact on public health. Black, greasy rain caused by the fires was reported as far away as India, and the incidence of asthma increased in the Gulf region. Of the slick, a million barrels of crude oil was recovered and reused. The fires were extinguished in eight months. 65 million barrels of oil, spilt in 300 oil lakes covering around 50 sq km of desert, using composting and bioventing, more than 4000 cubic metres of contaminated soil were treated.
A thorough clean-up by Pakistani and Bangladeshi troops, and removal of unexploded ordnance, means that Kuwaitis can enjoy ritual camping without fear of danger. But it is now the campers who are threatening the environment with discarded rubbish and heavy use of delicate grazing lands. Garbage and oil dumping cause polluted seas.
There are few options for budget travellers in Kuwait but some good value choices in the midrange category.
The northern shore of Kuwait Bay is a popular camping spot with locals from October to April. Alternatively, there are some good places to camp on the coast near the Saudi Arabian border. This isn’t camping on a budget, mind: a 4WD is necessary to find a suitable spot.
Most activities are either organized, or take place, in Kuwait City.
For swimming outside of Kuwait City, there are many public beaches along the coast, particularly to the south. One-piece swimsuits for women are encouraged.
Fishing and boating are offered to visitors by Kuwait Offshore Sailing Association. Camel racing takes place just outside Al-Jahra.
Pearling in the Arabian Gulf by Saif Marzooq al-Shamlan – an interesting collection of memoirs and interviews on Kuwait’s pearling industry.
Women in Kuwait by Haya al-Mughni – paints a clear and illuminating picture of the lives and roles of Kuwaiti women, as well as society’s attitudes towards them.
Traditions & Culture by Sheikha Altaf al-Sabah – a beautifully produced coffee-table book, with excellent photographs depicting old Kuwait, its people and traditional culture.
Welcome Visitors’ Guide to Kuwait published by the Ministry of Information – updated regularly and includes lovely photos.
Days of Fear by John Levin – the definitive work in English on the Iraqi invasion. Levin, an Australian long-term resident of Kuwait, lived through the Iraqi occupation.
No alcohol or pork-related products permitted in the country.
FOOD & DRINK
Kuwait is a dry state where the consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden. Penalties if caught in possession of alcohol or appearing under the influence of alcohol are high. If you happen to be a hip-flask traveller, make sure you tip the contents away before arriving at the airport.
Traffic Accidents. Kuwait has one of the highest road accident rates in the world and one-third of all deaths in Kuwait are driving-related. As such, it’s hard to recommend driving in Kuwait unless you’re confident of holding your own in the face of sheer lunacy. A police sign at traffic lights speaks volumes: ‘Crossing the red signal leads to death or prison’.
Discarded Ordinance Although the country has now been cleared of mines after the Gulf War, you should still remember not to pick up any unfamiliar object in the desert and to stick to established tracks.
Pro-democracy protests, rumbled for 2 years after the Arab Spring of 2011. As such, there is no reason for tourists to avoid the country.
Women travellers may find the increased attention from men in Kuwait a nuisance. From being tailgated while driving to being followed around shopping centers, expat women are frequently the targets of young men’s harmless but irritating fun. Despite dressing conservatively, refusing to respond to approaches and avoiding eye contact with men, it’s still hard to avoid attracting unwanted attention.
Generally, if the situation becomes uncomfortable, the best way to defuse it is to stop being an object and become a foreign person: this can be accomplished by turning towards the men in question, giving them a firm but frosty greeting (all the better in Arabic) and offering the right hand for shaking. Ask the offending parties where they come from and to which family they belong. This is usually so unexpected and traumatizing for these men that the threat disappears.
GETTING THERE & AWAY
Air. Kuwait International (www.dgca.gov.kw) is due for an upgrade. Visas are obtained from a counter on the upper storey of the airport (take a ticket and wait in line), before descending to passport control and baggage claim.
Kuwait’s national carrier is Kuwait Airways (www.kuwait-airways.com) which flies to many destinations in the Middle East, Europe (including London, Paris and Frankfurt), Asia and the USA. It has an excellent safety record and is reliable and punctual.
Kuwait also has a no-frills, private carrier called Jazeera Airways (www.jazeeraairways.com) with flights to 30 destinations within the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
Border Crossings. Kuwait has borders with Iraq (currently closed to visitors) and Saudi Arabia. The crossings with Saudi Arabia are at Al-Nuwaisib (for Dammam) and Al-Salmy (for Riyadh). You must have a valid visa for Saudi Arabia or a transit visa, an onward ticket and a visa for your next destination beyond Saudi’s borders before you can cross the border. You cannot obtain these at the border.
Bus. Kuwait Public Transport Company (www.kptc.com.kw) operates comfortable, modern buses to a number of different destinations beyond Kuwait’s borders. Buses also operate between Kuwait and Cairo, via Aqaba in Jordan and Nuweiba in Egypt. Agents specializing in these tickets (the trip takes about two days) are located in the area around the main bus station.
Modern, air-con buses, operated by the Saudi bus company Saptco (www.saptco.com.sa) and handled in Kuwait by Kuwait & Gulf Transport Company, travel between Kuwait and Dammam (Saudi Arabia). The trip takes six hours.
Car & Motorcycle. For those planning on driving through Saudi Arabia, a three-day transit visa is required.
Sea. The Combined Shipping Company (www.cscq8.com) operates a return service twice a week from Kuwait’s Shuwaikh Port to the Iranian port of Bushehr. (www.irantravelingcenter.com).
Speedboat services leave from Shuwaikh Port for Manama (five hours) in Bahrain. The easiest way to book tickets for these services is through one of the city travel agents.
Nuzha Touristic Enterprises (www.nuzhatours.com) runs charter trips to Manama and Doha but this is not likely to be a cheap way of getting to those countries.
Sea. Kuwait Public Transport Company Ferries go to Failaka Island from Kuwait City. Nuzha Touristic Enterprises (Click here) run half- and whole-day boat trips.
Bus. Kuwait has a cheap and extensive local bus system but it’s designed for the convenience of local residents rather than for visiting tourists. The routes therefore don’t often coincide with the places of tourist interest. Nonetheless, if a 10-minute walk either side of the bus stop isn’t a problem, pick up a bus timetable from the main bus station in the city center or from inside the bus.
Most bus routes are operated by Kuwait Public Transport Company, which has comfortable, air-conditioned vehicles. Intercity trips cost just a few fils per ride. Route 101 runs from the main bus station in the city centre to Al-Ahmadi and Fahaheel. Route 103 goes to Al-Jahra. The Citybus (www.transportkuwait.com/citybus.html) alternative follows KPTC routes but doesn’t always go the full nine yards; a route map can be obtained from the bus – by which time it may be too late! Better still, you can check the routes on the website. Both services are used primarily by lower-income workers travelling to their place of work.
Car and Motorcycle. If you have an International Driving Permit (IDP), or a license and residence permit from another Gulf country, driving in Kuwait is possible, without any further paperwork, for the duration of your visa. Fair warning is given of the dangers of driving on Kuwait’s roads.
Taxi. Taxis are a useful and popular way of getting around, though they are comparatively expensive when travelling outside the city area, when costs can increase to KD10 per hour. If you want to do some exploring around Kuwait by taxi, it’s better to agree on a half- or full-day rate in advance.”