Where the Middle East comes to life
Article and photography by Daniel Smajovits
The sheer grandeur that is the Emirate of Dubai rushes through you during the 60 seconds it takes to climb to the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. In Dubai, everything is bigger, faster and more opulent than you could ever have imagined.
The crown jewel of the Arabian Desert, Dubai has emerged as a bastion for wealth, capitalism and adventure. Recently, we had the opportunity to spend five incredible days in the United Arab Emirates, sampling some of the best the country had to offer.
Many cities in one: where to stay?
Dubai is massive. Accommodations range from the most pedestrian to the world’s most expensive hotel, so choosing where to stay depends entirely on both your interests and budget. As our trip was a mix of adventure and relaxation, we divided our time between Diera, the Palm Jumeirah and the serenity of the Arabian Desert.
The Diera district takes visitors back to a time when Dubai was a tiny fishing village on the Persian Gulf. A short walk from most hotels lies the Al Fahidi Historic District where its narrow streets gives visitors a taste of the city prior to the oil boom. The adventure continues across Dubai Creek where a quick dhow (boat) ride will bring you to the famous gold souk (market), which is the origin of the city’s wealth and its nickname, The City of Gold.
We spent two nights at the Four Points by Sheraton Bur Dubai, a 15-minute walk from Al Fahidi and Dubai Creek. The modern, four-star hotel offers very spacious rooms, complete with modern amenities. The property boasts five restaurants, including a lavish international breakfast buffet, which is included in most rates. Complimentary valet parking as well as a 24-hour concierge is also included.
Nowadays, Diera is also the heart of Dubai’s growing Indian community, whom have settled in the Emirate due to the overwhelming demand for skilled labour. Overall, Indians represent more than 40 percent of the UAE population.
Considered one of the engineering wonders of the world and even visible from space, the Palm Jumeirah is an artificial archipelago that was built specifically to house some of the city’s best beaches, hotels and most opulent properties. While the Palm itself features hotels such as the Atlantis, Waldorf Astoria and St. Regis, we chose to stay at the brand new Aloft Palm Jumeirah as it provided a perfect mix of luxury and contemporary style at an affordable rate. The property maintains a private beach, complimentary valet parking and most rooms include an ample buffet breakfast. The Aloft proved to be an affordable gem on the Persian Gulf.
Built in the heart of the Arabian Desert, the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa can easily be considered one of the best hotels in the world. With only 42 guest rooms, each being a full suite which includes a private pool and deck, guests receive the royal treatment throughout their stay. Each night at the full-board hotel includes three five-star meals as well as two unique Arabian activities such as falconry, camel riding, a nature walk or a sunset drive in the desert. One night in the serenity of the desert will leave you relaxed, recharged and ready to continue your adventure.
Dubai’s food scene is arguably the world’s best and most diverse, featuring outposts of nearly all of the world’s most renowned chefs as well as every franchise from all corners of the globe. One of our favourites was Switch in the Dubai Mall as it offered a local spin on a traditional Mediterranean menu, including delicious dishes such as a Camel Burger and Halloumi Pasta. From Asian to French, Pier 7 in the Dubai Marina boasts seven unique restaurants, each with incredible views of the man-made canal, the largest in the world. For a unique experience, visit the Local House Restaurant in the Al Fahidi district and order a date-infused camel milkshake.
For first-timers, a Desert Safari is a must-do. We used Destination Insight for our adventure due to their stellar reputation online – and they did not disappoint. Each safari begins with a 30-minute dune bashing trek in the desert, which is broken up by an opportunity for pictures and sand boarding. Once your stomach settles down, guests then join other tours for an evening of traditional Arabian food, activities (shisha, camel riding and sandboarding) and entertainment.
We carved out one day for a trip to the United Arab Emirates’ capital of Abu Dhabi. Only an hour drive south, Abu Dhabi is Dubai’s conservative counterpart and a must-visit. While the Emirate is home to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, Abu Dhabi is also emerging as a go-to as well for excitement. If your visit does not coincide with the annual Formula 1 race, spend your afternoon at Ferrari World. Built in 2010, the theme park is perfect for families and thrill seekers, as among its 20+ rides is the world’s fastest roller coaster and a number of other stomach churning activities. For non-Ferrari buffs, across the street is Warner Bros. World, perfect for movie and television lovers. Both theme parks are located outside downtown Abu Dhabi on Yas Island, a destination in itself with hotels, shopping, golf courses and miles of beaches.
All visitors must spend at least one evening in the downtown core, which is anchored by the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. Aside from being the world’s largest retail space, the mall features a full-sized dinosaur skeleton, a skating rink and the world’s largest indoor aquarium. With 65 million visits per year, the mall has become a destination in itself. Located between the mall and the Burj Khalifa are the Dubai Fountains, home to the world’s largest choreographed fountain show. Performances take place every 30 minutes in the evening. Set aside one hour at the Burj Khalifa, where from the world’s highest observatory, you can take in breathtaking views of Dubai and its surroundings.
Like no other place else on earth, Dubai’s reputation precedes itself. After all, where else on earth could you spend your morning by the beach, go indoor skiing before lunch and spend your evening dining under the desert sky?