Qatar, a blend of tradition and modernity
You may have heard of Qatar, a nation on the Persian Gulf, in relation to events in the region over the years, but you probably don’t know much about it. Of the nearly 200 countries in the world, it is the only one whose name begins with a Q. It has a population of just under 3 million people, crammed into less than 4,500 square miles (about 7% of Wisconsin’s land area). Qatar is on a peninsula that juts into the Gulf, and has a land border with only one nation, Saudi Arabia. More than 80% of its population lives in the capital city, Doha. Only about 11% of the population actually holds Qatari citizenship; the rest are expatriates. Why do they live there? Besides the weather, it’s money: Qatar has the fourth-highest GDP per capita in the world, trailing only Luxembourg, Singapore and Ireland (Liechtenstein and Monaco may also be ahead of Qatar, depending on what list you look at). And finally, nobody outside the country really knows how to pronounce its name: like “cutter,” or “kah-tar”? Locals pronounce it like we do the word “guitar.” The name itself goes back to the Roman writer Pliny the Elder in the 1st century AD.
If you’re looking for an exotic place to visit, Qatar should be on your list. Travel Weekly recently took a look at it, calling Qatar a land “where cultural authenticity meets modernity; where the sand meets the sea; where people come together to experience unique offerings in culture, sports, business and family entertainment.” The official Qatari tourism site points visitors to its sumptuous beaches, art galleries, museums, and its traditional markets, known as “souks,” where visitors can explore labyrinthine alleys with a myriad of things to sample and buy, ranging from dates, honey and spices to perfumes, jewelry, textiles, even pets. Exotic entertainment and restaurants add to the ambience of Qatari souks, especially Souq Waqif in central Doha.
Adventurous travelers will seek out off-shore scuba diving, desert camel rides and off-road treks, shoreline tours aboard traditional Arab boats known as dhows, and even helicopter rides. Sports fans probably already know that Qatar will host this year’s FIFA World Cup, the international men’s soccer tournament that is the most-watched athletic event in the world.
Travelers should be mindful of local customs and cultural guideposts, as with any visit to a foreign country. At a Qatari dinner table, it is considered impolite to pass food with the left hand. Both men and women are advised to wear clothing that covers the shoulders and extends below the knees, although bathing suits can be worn at hotel pools and private beaches. Wellness has been a custom in Arab culture, and Qatar has a number of award-winning spas. Most residents of Qatar speak English, but learning a few words of Arabic is considered courteous. And female visitors may wish to experience another local custom: the henna, a temporary tattoo used to decorate women’s hands. Since Qatar is an officially Muslim country, there are restrictions on alcohol use for visitors.
Qatar has its own airline, and Qatar Airways is recognized as one of the best in the world, with ultra-modern comfort, award-winning cuisine, free WiFi and thousands of entertainment choices. The line offers flights from Minneapolis to Doha, but be prepared for a long one, about 24 hours in duration. Once you get there, though, it should be well worth it.
Interested in spicing up your 2022 or ’23 travel plans with a trip to exotic Qatar? Give us a call, and we’ll help you get there. The Middle East and Persian Gulf comprise one of the most exotic and interesting regions of the world, and you should definitely have it on your list of travel destinations.