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Enjoying the view from the Wild Wadi waterslide in Dubai.

Destination Mini Guide: Dubai

By Nadia Ali

Why go?

Dubai is unlike any middle-eastern holiday you will ever take. It is not somewhere you have to worry about visiting due to political unrest or crime situation. In fact, Dubai is a luxurious city destination offering a contrast of east meets west, where the traditional and modern blend in harmony.

When to go

The best time to visit is during the cooler time of the year. This is from October to May where the average temperature is about 24C. However, during June to September when most people tend to vacation the temperature is extremely hot but then everywhere is air-conditioned so you have to limit your outside activities.

How to get there

Dubai is one of seven emirates that belong to the United Arab Emirates located in the Middle East. About 80 airlines land daily at the Dubai International Airport, so getting here is not hard.
Read Dubai hotel reviews

Getting around

The most common way of getting around is by taxi. They are recognizable by their cream colored cars. You can always ask your hotel to arrange a taxi for you as many of them have transport for their guests.

You can also rent a car provided you present a valid passport, driving license, are over 21 years of age and have two passport sized photos. The rates are comparable with standard rental rates and the companies offer the full range of cars and SUV's for your convenience.

The road network is excellent, but be warned that the driving is somewhat erratic.

Best Attraction

The Dubai World Cup (dubaiworldcup.com) is the best attraction drawing spectators and riders from the international world. It is the world's richest horse race with steaks running into the millions. As an annual event it is held at Nad al Sheba racetrack and is graced by the ruler of Dubai's presence.

The Wild Wadi Water Park (wildwadi.com) is a wonderful water park located near the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. It features numerous rides and is accessible for all with an entrance fee of less than US$30 per adult, US$25 per child.

Most unusual attraction

Camel racing wins hands down. It is a popular traditional sport in the Emirates and takes place on customized racetracks during the cooler months of October to April in Al Wathba, which is about 45km east of Abu Dhabi and the Nad al-Sheba racetrack that is just outside Dubai. It is free to the public and can be viewed on Thursday and Friday mornings from 8am-2pm, but don't expect the race to finish quickly as camels tend to be unhurried in their loping style of running. Racing heats are run during this period that culminates in an annual race festival held in Al Wathba with competitors from all around the world. There is even a camel-racing federation.


Best activities/tour

"Dunes dinner" is one of the best activities. It begins by driving your four-wheeled drive land cruiser (part of the tour) across the dunes of the desert to the east of Dubai. Here you can ride camels or be seated in an already pitched Arabian tent where you are treated to a BBQ dinner under the stars in the open desert with entertainment by a mystical belly dancer. The tours can be arranged at various tour operators found in Dubai and average a cost of US$75 per person.

The unique silouette of the Burj Al Arab Hotel on the coastline of Dubai.

Best lodging

Burj Al Arab Hotel Jumeirah Beach Road, P.O. Box 74147, Dubai Tel: +971 4 301 7777. By far the best and most expensive lodging located in Jumeirah Beach. The hotel itself is built in the shape of a huge sail and sits majestically on its own artificial island. Choose from one of the 202 rooms with a starting price of US$660 per night.

Al Khaleej Palace Hotel, Maktoum Street, P.O. Box 3720, Deira Dubai, Tel: +971 4 223 1000. Located in the heart of Dubai near the shops, and business and yet still only 10 minutes from the airport. There are 108 air-conditioned rooms to choose from with a starting price of US$110 per night.

The Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Road, P.O. Box 11416, Dubai Tel: +971 4 348 0000. For a great hotel on Jumeirah Beach this is it. The hotel itself is architecturally designed to resemble a break wave. It comprises of 618 rooms with water sports, gym facilities, playground pool. The prices begin at US$170 for a deluxe room.

The Jebel Ali hotel and Golf Resort, P.O. Box 9255, Dubai. Tel: +971 4 883 6000
For golf enthusiasts try this hotel located on 128 acres that includes a nine-hole par 36 golf course. With pools, water sports, sporting facilities and it's own mariner. There are 408 rooms staring at US$80 per night.

Best eats

Al Mansour Dhow 04 205-7333 is an actual floating restaurant moored in Dubai. You can make reservations to dine and cruise for a two-hour ride. The menu is Arabic with hummus, falafel and makboo.

Chinese Kitchen 394-3864 Serves up tasty Chinese cuisine such as sweet & sour, wantons, squid and garlic sauce.

Planet Hollywood 324-4777 For some American food you can find something your palate is more familiar with. Try the penne chicken broccoli pasta and Caesar salad.

Nina 04 339 9999 For some authentic Indian food and décor come to Nina's. Located in the Royal Mirage Jumeirah Beach hotel just outside Dubai this restaurant will you're your taste buds exploding in excitement with such menu favorites as yogurt, potato and tomato puri with tamarind chutney.


Best shopping

There are no taxes to be paid on anything bought in Dubai, which makes this a great place to shop. All of the designer names can be found here as well as luxurious, sprawling malls such as the Bur Juman Centre, the Wafi Shopping Mall, the Oasis Centre and even the Deira City Centre.

For the best bargains head straight to the south side of the creek where the "souk" or marketplace is. Here you will find everything from Arabic spices to precious stones. It is a rich, colorful place with small winding walkways bustling with business.

Money and communication

The local currency is the UAE Durham (AED) it is made up of 100 fils.
Coins are in denominations of AED 1, 50 fils, 25 fils, 10 fils and 5 fils.
Notes are in denominations of AED 5, 10, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000.
The dirham is roughly worth 27 cents US (2003 rate)

Most of the international banks are present in Dubai with banking hours from Sat-Wed 8am-1pm, (main branches open 4.30pm-6.30pm) On Thursday banks are open half day only from 8am-midday.

Payphones are located everywhere but most accept phone-cards rather than coins.
Using the phone from Dubai to an international number you need to use:
The prefix + 971 + 4 + number
For numbers within Dubai the prefix is 04 + number


Find more information on getting to Dubai at Dubai.com Dubai hotels

Other important things to know about Dubai

§ English is spoken quite fluently even though Arabic is the official language.
§ It has the largest free trade zone in the Middle East
§ The currency used is UAE Dirham loosely converted they are
§ Dubai is 3885 Sq. Km,
§ Population 456,600.
§ The religion is Islam
§ The time zone is GMT +4
§ A service charge of 10% is already included in your bill at hotels and restaurants.
§ Friday most businesses stay closed as it is the day of Friday prayers (Jumu'ah)
§ Do not photograph Muslim women; it is regarded as being disrespectful
§ It is impolite to eat, drink or smoke in public during Ramadhan

Photo Credits:Jumeirah International

Nadia Ali is a freelance writer whose work has been published by Northstar Travel Media, Time Out London and International Living and GoNOMAD.
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