The eyes of the world are on Qatar right now. In forty years, this small Gulf state has been catapulted from of the poorest countries in the region, to the richest (per capita) in the world. Large natural gas and oil resources have brought large wealth to the Qatari population, and the country is developing at breakneck speed, with everything from universities to shopping malls, five-star hotels and footy stadia – in preparation for the 2022 World Cup – are springing up among the desert scenery.
Qatar is much a city-state at present; 50% of the country's population live in and around the capital and most other towns are Qatari Oil compounds; unusual, quasi-communities built for foreign workers. There's stretches of pretty beach on the western coast, in places like Dukhan, and in the south of the country the spectacular dunes of Khor al-Adaid add a small natural beauty to the artifical charms of the city.
Traditional it may be, but the Qatari Emir is and a moderniser; the country is set to get its first elections in the autumn of 2013, and along with the iconic Museum of Islamic Art, the Katara Cultural Village and MATHAF – the city's Museum of Modern Art – are ensuring that Qatar has more in the way of culture than a quantity of its Emirate neighbours.
In spite of the astonishing wealth, Qatar remains a deeply traditional country – and it is this dichotomy that makes it such a fascinating place. On the surface, Doha looks like a small father to Dubai; gleaming international hotels, large malls and manmade sandy beaches. But Qatari culture has far more in common with its neighbour across the border, Saudi Arabia. International hotel bars may serve alcohol, but no Qatari females are allowed to enter them. Falconry and camel-racing are still the pastimes of choice for lots of Qataris – although shopping sprees in Chanel and Dior probably run a close third.
Qatar is the final land of have and have-nots. Rich Qataris drive around in the latest 4x4s, spending whole days in shopping malls purchasing Western designer labels, while large armies of immigrant workers live six to a room to build the glittering skyscrapers and work in poorly-paid roles as staff to expat workers and Qataris. Like Dubai, it's a melting pot of races and communities – all drawn by the lure of seemingly boundless money, and the chance for a better standard of living. How lots of of those who come to Qatar actually get to live their dreams is another query altogether. Vexed, contradictory, hypocritical and challenging, Qatar is never less than fascinating.
When To Go
From the month of June till September Qatar is extremely hot and intensely humid. The winter season is however much cooler and experiences frequent rainfalls. The spring and autumn seasons are by far the most pleasant and best for planning your holiday trip to the region.
- Check the latest travel advise to Qatar.
- Travelers should ensure their security arrangements are in order.
- Don't forget to take a pair of sunglasses and a hat.