A Beginner’s Guide to Dubai

Disclaimer: We are not promoting travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, please follow CDC and other appropriate guidelines if you choose to travel during the pandemic. We made the difficult choice to travel and reunite in a third country after nearly 11 months of separation. This will not be the appropriate choice for everyone, but we took all of the necessary precautions and made the decision we felt was best for us.

In this post we are going to recount a few of our favorite spots in Dubai (this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should get you started) as well our trip to the Hatta Mountains.

The Basics: UAE

Before we get started, here are a few basics to understand about traveling in the United Arab Emirates:

  • United Arab Emirates is made up of 7 individual emirates (including Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi) and each of these is distinct. Make sure you do a bit of research about local laws and customs in each of the emirates you plan on visiting.
  • UAE is known for being very safe due to strict enforcement of laws. For example:
    • There are regulations around purchasing alcohol.
    • Public displays of affection are not recommended.
    • COVID-19 precautions are strictly enforced.
  • Women traveling alone should always be aware of their surroundings while traveling – respecting local customs will limit attention. Dubai is a very cosmopolitan city and you will see all types of dress from burkas and hijabs to western clothes and shorts. That being said:
    • I would recommend carrying a scarf or cover-up in case you end up somewhere a bit more conservative.
    • Swimwear should be restricted to the beach and the pool. I felt comfortable in a basic American bikini, but only worn at the appropriate time.
Logistical Considerations & Getting to Dubai
  • There are currently COVID-19 restrictions in place, so utilize resources from your country to ensure it is safe to travel and you meet entry requirements
    • We found Emirates Airlines to be a great source for obtaining visas and additional information
  • Landing in Dubai – currently all international tourists need to enter to through Dubai
    • You can reach most of Dubai by metro from the airport or take a taxi/uber
    • Uber is more expensive than a taxi in Dubai. Traditional taxi rates are fair, and drivers use the meter, but sometimes cards won’t work in taxis so just ask before you get in.
  • Currency
    • Currency used is the Emirate Dihram abbreviated as AED
    • Having some cash is definitely useful, but most bigger stores will accept credit cards
    • ATMs are easy to find throughout Dubai
  • Weather – it’s going to be hot, and traveling in the winter is better (December). We traveled in October and it was already quite hot, but manageable. Just make sure to have plenty of water and try to stay out of direct sunlight. 
  • Cell phones and wifi – if you’re going to be in UAE for more than a week and your cell phone provider does not cover international travel, I would recommend purchasing a local SIM card. There are a lot of public wifi networks in UAE (both Dubai and RAK), but they require a local phone number to sign in. We did not purchase a SIM card when we were traveling in UAE, and if we went again we absolutely would.
    • Another note: many online calling services (WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger) do not work in UAE so make arrangements to text or email friends and family instead.

Dubai is very glamorous, and thus things can be costly. We were traveling on a budget so we stayed in an Airbnb near Dubai Marina, which was very convenient. We also opted for free activities, but there is plenty to do in Dubai if you’re looking to spend a bit more!

Our Favorite Attractions!

These were our favorite Dubai attractions (in no particular order):

The Beach! There are tons of beaches in Dubai. We went to Public Beach because we only had a few hours. If you’re planning on spending the day there and want to stay away from the crowds, it might be worth paying for access to a private beach.

  • Umm Suqeim Park and a bunch of (pricey) restaurants and smoothie stands are nearby. 
  • There is a public restroom
  • You can access this beach by bus, but all of the beaches are a bit far from the metro, so plan on doing a bit of walking or taking a taxi.

Al Fahidi – this is the older part of Dubai so you’ll notice tons of smaller shops, narrower streets, Indian food, old markets and a great view of the creek!

  • You can take a boat ride from the ferry station near the market
  • There is an old fort and several museums (these were not open when we visited)
  • Al Fahidi has a metro station, and historic Al Fahidi is easily accessible from here

Burj Khalifa – it would be difficult to visit Dubai and not at least take a photo by Burj Khalifa – it is quite a site.

  • You can go up in the building but it is expensive
  • If you visit Jumeirah Beach you’ll have a view of Burj Khalifa from there
Additional Attractions for Longer Itineraries

You can easily visit all of these sites in one day. We also explored Dubai Marina, as we were staying nearby, which was nice and not particularly touristy.

  1. Jumeirah Mosque – this is open to the public twice per day, be sure to dress appropriately 
  2. Souk Madinat Jumeirah  – if you’re interested in checking out a Middle Eastern style bazaar
  3. Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo 

There are countless tourist activities in Dubai, but we are hikers, so one of the day trips we took was to the Hatta Mountains.

Hatta Mountains

Quick Facts and Getting There:

  • The Hatta Mountains and Conservation area comprise Dubai’s largest National Park
  • The Hatta Mountains are about 1.5 hours from Dubai and 2 hours from Ras al Khaimah
  • You can take the bus from Dubai (E16 bus from Sabkha Bus Station)
  • You can also drive (we drove from RAK) – renting a car is quite affordable in UAE; just ensure that your license permits you to drive in UAE
  • Hatta Wadi Hub (the start of the trails) is also an adventure park with activities, lodging, and mountain biking
  • 32km of hiking trails of varying difficulty
  • Hatta also has a famous sign in the mountains modeled after the “Hollywood” sign

Trail Tips/What to Bring:

  • We hiked a loop on the easy and moderate trails that was about 7km, it’s pretty easy to adjust the distance based on your skill level
  • The trails here are very new and thus well marked and organized, however the end destinations of the routes are a bit hard to figure out from the map
  • There is not a clear summit or end point like there is at Jebel Jais
  • It will be hot, and you should bring plenty of water and snacks, but there are food carts and other supplies available at Hatta Wadi Hub

So there you have it – a short itinerary for Dubai which can easily be adjusted to a few days or a full week depending on your motivation. Another quick note: if you’re the type of person who likes to mail postcards,you will only find post offices in Dubai. There is also a post box at Terminal 3 of the airport if you want to mail your cards as you leave.

If you’re interested in extending your trip and spending more time in United Arab Emirates stay tuned for our next post about Ras al Khaimah!

Safe travels and à bientôt!

Siddhartha & Bethany

Published by Bethany Woodson

Just a couple of aspiring activists out here in the world trying to learn something.

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