Renowned for affluence, oil, world-class architecture and proximity to the desert, Dubai boasts some big tick-list items requisite to many travellers. With first class shopping experiences, soaring skyscrapers and inimitable desert safaris - all doused in idyllic year-round temperatures - it seems a dream destination.
However, it may not be on the travel horizons of backpackers or those with generally meagre budgets: it’s a destination that oozes opulence and luxury, and the associated price tag is indicative of said status. There are some budget options, but they’re sparse.
Money aside, here are a few reasons to consider visiting the city surrounded eternally by sea, sand and sun.
Ideal Climate Year-Round
As an Arabian region located in the Middle East, Dubai’s climate is hot and dry. Whether visiting in summer or winter, chances are there will be blue skies and t-shirt-friendly weather (which is tolerated in the United Arab Emirates, when donned by foreigners). Summer does see the temperature increase to sweltering 40 degrees Celsius, but wintertime sees it drop as low as 25. Unlike its equatorial Asian counterparts, humidity is not on the agenda, which makes tolerating the high summer values easier. It’s perfect for working on a tan, visiting key attractions without an umbrella, going to the beach or simply lounging by a pool. I was on a solo backpacker meagre budget, so I spent many of my hours walking, which was tolerable sans humidity.
Sky Scraper Appreciation
Home to the illustrious Burj Khalifa, an opportunity exists to stand on top of the world (unless you’ve summited Everest). Standing at a height of 828 metres, it can be seen from almost anywhere in Duabi (up to five kilometres away) and is still considered the world’s tallest building (as at 2018). It’s comprised of restaurants, offices and an Armani hotel, all of which are spread over 169 floors. It’s a definite tick-list item when visiting the towering desert city. I visited the viewing deck on level 148 during dusk and was witness to a glorious panorama as the skyline’s sparkle evolved in step with the stars of the night sky.
World Class Shopping
Dubai knows only one size: gigantic. It seems there are no limits as, not only is it home to the world’s largest building, it boasts Dubai Mall, the largest department store on the face of Mother Earth. It covers an area comparable to 50 football fields, and also houses the largest aquarium in the world. There’s something to whet everyone’s shopping appetite, titillate thirsty tastebuds and entertain those of lesser years who maintain short attention spans. To escape the heat, I passed half a day inside, languorously traipsing from one store to the next, with an extended hiatus for lunch. I barely scratched the surface.
Proximity to The Desert
To truly appreciate the ingenuity of the city’s developers, integral to a Dubai visit is a sojourn in the desert. A hop, step and a jump away from the buzzing CBD are golden sands, best seen and experienced in a jeep or, even better, on top of four small quad bike wheels (transport arranged by most hotel providers as part of a tour package). Drivers whip you around the sand dunes, teetering on the edge of drops, before dipping down slippery slopes and reascending. It’s a vertigo-inducing whirlwind, a flurry of excitement and an experience not to be missed. Even better than sliding over the sand is watching as it evolves, from honey gold to deep crimson, under the fading light of the golden orb. Follow this with delectable fare at a traditional-style Bedouin camp, feasting and watching dancers under the unadulterated night sky, then you have a recipe for the ideal Dubai experience. I personally enjoyed the adrenaline-fuelled sand dune exploration, more so than the Bedouin show.
Journeying through History
The mention of Dubai doesn’t conjure imagery of indigenous people fishing and living simply off the land. Yet, it’s the region’s reality, at least pre-oil discovery. Drop by Dubai Museum to take walk through a mock-up Bedouin residence, as well as ships, boats and other paraphernalia, all of which are linked to the country’s origins. It was a fascinating picture, a stark contrast, a striking juxtaposition to the wealth and glamour of contemporary Dubai.
Splash out at a Souk
With a meagre backpacker budget, I didn’t visit the Souk Market by Jumeirah Beach to indulge my inner-shopper: prices are high, especially compared to other traditional markets throughout the city. However, the Arabian design left me speechless, as did the souk’s vicinity to Burj Al Arab, the city’s finest architectural masterpiece. Although no purchases were made, purposeless meandering through stalls with variegated accoutrements followed by a splash in balmy waters at nearby Jumeirah Beach lured me into vacation mode and left me idle a while.
Sadly, unless you pre-book a night of opulent indulgence at Burj Al Arab (at several thousand dollars a night) and arrive in a Rolls-Royce (and nothing else), then visiting the architectural chef d’oeuvre is not possible. For photography fanatics, iconic shots (other than out of a helicopter) can be taken from the restaurant section of Souk Market or from the beach.
As a traveller who thrives on authenticity and the opportunity to embrace traditional life untainted by the tawdry tenets of tourism, I found Dubai a little disappointing. At face value, the attractions abovementioned were entertaining, but I decided to treat my stay as a vacation en route to a more intriguing foreign destination. Dubai, to me, is a little superficial, a glitzy veneer sans depth. Once I realised the purpose of my visit – to stop, unwind and have a break following a volunteer stint in Tanzania as a nurse, I enjoyed myself. For me personally, I don’t think it could ever be a place in which to have authentic experiential travel encounters.
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The author stayed at Novotel World Trade Centre Dubai.
Consult the following websites for up to date information regarding prices and availability of accommodation in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai:
The currency utilised in Dubai is the Arab Emirate Dirham. Please refer to the following website for current and up to date exchange rates: