United Arab Emirates

To many travellers, the United Arab Emirates mean just one thing: a stopover. It’s a place to endure rather than to enjoy; somewhere to touch down in, scoot through, and take off from ASAP. Truth is however, those who consider the country little more than a proverbial pit stop are missing out. Beyond Abu Dhabi’s skyline and in between Dubai’s shopping malls, a whole range of real world adventures await. Hop atop a camel for a lope along desert dunes…or charter a chopper. Break bread with Bedouins…or dine with the fishes in a restaurant aquarium. Tour an old spice market…or withdraw gold bars at vending machines. This is ancient Arabia with an open cheque book.

United Arab Emirates Tours & Travel

All our United Arab Emirates trips

USD $365
CAD $445
AUD $470
EUR €295
GBP £240
NZD $495
ZAR R5,390
The stunning desert oasis is home to shopping, opulence, a building over half a kilometre tall and islands shaped...
USD $360
CAD $435
AUD $460
EUR €295
GBP £235
NZD $495
ZAR R5,277
The capital of Abu Dhabi is the perfect introduction to the United Arab Emirates. Discover the history of this new...

About United Arab Emirates

At a glance

Capital city: Abu Dhabi (population 363,432)
Population: 4.6 million
Language: Arabic
Electricity: Type C (European 2-pin) Type D (Old British 3-pin) Type G (Irish/British 3-pin)
Dialing code: +971

Best time to visit United Arab Emirates

Simply put, the UAE is hot. Very hot. Year-round, daytime temperatures rarely drop below 25.C, and, during summer, roar well into the forties. November to March are the cooler – though by no means cool – months, when tempering sea breezes drift in from the coast. Don’t be too put-off by the prospect of travelling during summer though (July to August), as the cities are covered and air-conditioned.

History and government


Very few countries have had as dramatic turnabouts in their fortunes as the UAE. Prior to the discovery of the region’s vast petroleum and gas reserves in 1958, the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula was a conglomeration of ‘Trucial States’ heavily dependent on a fated pearling industry and British protection against neighbouring powerhouses.

In what was an unusual move given the recent discovery of the 'black gold', 1968 saw Britain decide that the area was no longer worth protecting. The British naval forces withdrew in 1971, and, as Iran and Saudi Arabia quickly started laying claim to Emirati territory, the seven sheikdoms realized they’d stand a better chance by banding together. Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain (and eventually Ras al-Khaimah) all promptly signed into a union called the United Arab Emirates, electing Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan as president. The federation is governed by hereditary monarchies, and things have been peaceful, and prosperous, ever since.

Top Picks

Top 5 Ways to keep cool in the Emirates

1. Diving
2. For all its obsession with urbanity, the Emirates is still very much a coastal nation. The country encompasses 650 kms of coastline; plenty of which is warm waters and white sands shaded by palm trees. Better yet, not far from shore sit an abundance of colourful coral reefs teeming with fish. Head out for a snorkel in Sandy Beach, Fujairah, or delve a little deeper still on a diving expedition.
3. Flyboards
4. No, those photos you’ve seen of people being propelled skywards by two jets of water aren’t the work of Photoshop – that’s the work of flyboarding. And the UAE is as good a place to give it a shot as any. Sign up for a session and give flight to those long-suppressed Astro Boy fantasies.
5. Indoors ski resort
6. Ok, Whistler it ain’t, but being able to hit the slopes inside a shopping mall – let alone in the Arabian Peninsula – is still an impressive feat. Located in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, Ski Dubai is an indoor ski resort that includes runs, jumps, rails, lifts, and the world’s very first black diamond run.
7. Desert ice café
8. No matter what the temperature’s doing outside, things are always well chilly inside at Dubai’s Chillout lounge. With the cooling system set at minus six degrees, this restaurant/cafe is the place to rug up in thermals and sip a hot chocolate while moaning about the cold.
9. Dubai surf pool
10. The swell doesn’t roll in all that often in this corner of the globe, but it is possible to score surf in the UAE. Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach is the best bet, but a far more reliable one is Abu Dhabi’s Wadi Adventure park, where the waves are guaranteed no matter what the conditions are doing. Not only that though

they’ll be whatever type of waves you want. Lefts? Rights? Three foot? Six? Simply rock up at the booth, tell the man at the controls, and the barrels start when you tell them to.

FAQs on United Arab Emirates

Most hotels and restaurants add service charges to their bill. At those that don’t, a tip is always appreciated (particularly by migrant workers).
Internet access – be it at cyber cafes or through Wi-Fi – is readily available throughout the UAE. Websites deemed culturally or religiously offensive are blocked however, as are VoIP telephone systems such as Skype.
Yes. Coverage is excellent throughout the UAE and roaming agreements are in place with most international phone carriers.
Public toilets in places frequented by Westerners are generally of the Western-style, sit-down variety. Beyond the cities, squat-style toilets are more common (although these are gradually making way for the Western type).
Cappuccino – 15.85 AED
Three-course meals for two at a Mid-range restaurant – 150 AED
Imported 0.33 litre bottle of beer from a shop – 25.05 AED
Technically yes, as the tap water is desalinated seawater. People have reported feeling ill from it before however – supposedly because of the hygiene (or lack thereof) of the tank – so filtered water is a safer option.
Yes. All the major cards are widely accepted, though you’ll usually need to pay cash in taxis.
ATMs are easily found in the UAE’s urban areas. Most accept Switch, Maestro, Cirrus, Union Pay, Visa and MasterCard.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of your trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance

Health and Safety

Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:

From Australia?

Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

From New Zealand?

Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

From Canada?

Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/

From US?

Go to: http://travel.state.gov/

From UK?

Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

The World Health Organisation

also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/

Responsible Travel

United Arab Emirates Travel Tips

Top responsible travel tips for United Arab Emirates

1. 1. Be considerate of Emirati customs, traditions, religion and culture.

2. 2. The UAE is a country it’s best to dress modestly and respectfully in. Women should ensure they’re covered to the shoulders and knees, while men should steer clear of shorts and singlets. Be sure to remove shoes when entering places of worship.

3. 3. Be conservative in engagements with members of the opposite sex. Even fleeting glances or interactions can be interpreted as bearing flirtatious overtones. Refrain from public displays of affection: people have been arrested for kissing or embracing in public. Homosexuality is illegal, so same-sex couples should exert extra caution.

4. 4. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. The tap water in the UAE is desalinated seawater, so technically it is safe to drink; though the cleanliness of the tank from which it comes can be a health factor. It’s cheapest, safest and greenest to refill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water.

5. 5. With the exception, of Sharjah, all the Emirates permit non-Muslims’ consumption of alcohol in designated areas (typically hotel restaurants and bars). Outside of designated areas and private residences, it’s illegal to drink alcohol. Liquor can be legally purchased from bottle shops (identifiable by their blacked out windows).

6. 6. During the month of Ramadan it is illegal to eat, drink and/or smoke in public (even for non-Muslims). Fines for violating this law are hefty and people have been imprisoned. Do your daytime feasting, drinking and smoking out of sight of those abstaining.

7. 7. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.

8. 8. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it. Most Emiratis speak English, but a few simple greetings in Arabic are bound to be appreciated.

9. 9. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals. For a while it was in vogue within some Emirati circles to have a cheetah or lion for a pet. Don’t buy yourself a cheetah or lion for a pet.

10. 10. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.

Further reading

Recommended reading

Title Author
Beyond Dubai: Seeking Lost Cities in the Emirates David Millar
From Rags to Riches: a Story of Abu DhabiMohammed Al-Fahim
In a Fertile Desert; Modern Writing from the United Arab EmiratesDenys Johnson-Davies