A desert state on the Arabian Peninsula, you haven’t been able to avoid hearing about Qatar, as World Cup expert picks fly in from every other country.
But Qatar is a unique destination where it pays to be prepared before traveling.
Qatar is a rich country with unique art, culture, history, and ancient traditions like falconry, camel racing, and traditional dhows. But it is also rapidly modernizing and has a sparkling modern skyline with high luxury restaurants, hotels, and shopping.
The desert here looks painted from a fairytale, though the human rights record in Qatar is anything but, which has made this a controversial destination to visit, and even more reason for you to know a few things before you decide to go.
Things To Know Before Traveling to Qatar
When to Travel
When to travel is an important decision when visiting Qatar, both in terms of weather, and religious seasons.
October to May are generally the best time to visit weather wise, because the weather is pleasent enough to be outside. Otherwise you may find it’s excruciatingly hot.
This is an islamic country, so you do have to also consider the holy month of Ramadan, which is when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset.
If you’re visiting during Ramadan, you’ll find it difficult during the day to find food, as it’s frowned upon to eat or drink during the day. Visitors have a certain level of tolerance though restuarants are largely closed.
Keep in mind too that the weekend here falls on Fridays and Saturdays. Friday is a holy day, so the workweek starts from Sunday and goes up to Thursday.
Have Cash in Qatari Riyal
The Qatari riyal is the name of the currency used in Qatar, which is a major thing you should know before visiting. The quote is closely correlated to the US dollar and is pegged to it. In general, 3.64 Qatari riyals are equal to 1 US dollar.
Foreign currencies are not accepted in Qatar, and while foreign credit cards are widely accepted in bigger stores, many small local places will only accept cash, especially if you plan to visit the Souqs.
Regardless of whether you’re visiting the Souqs or using it for World Cup picks, we recommend having cash during your visit. The notes comes in 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 which they call riyal and there are coins of 25 & 50 as well which they call it Dirhams.
ATMs are located in major shopping malls, some Souqs, hotels and on the street. As in any country, take sensible precautions when handling cash and credit cards in public or at cash machines.
How You Dress is Important
Qatar is a Muslim country, and while you won’t get stopped in the street for being in shorts and a tank top, as Qataris are very tolerant of visitors, we highly advise that you dress modestly.
There’s no problem when you’re at the pool at the hotel to wear a bikini or short swimsuit, but when you’re everywhere else, it’s important to cover your shoulders and knees, especially when visiting traditional attractions.
How You Drink is Important
Alcohol is legal in Qatar, but only in places that are authorized, so you’ll need to plan out your restaurant visits if you want to cool off with a beer.
Drinking is permitted in some hotels’ bars and eateries, though because alcohol is banned from unlicensed premises, you won’t find it in the grocery store, and you can’t drink in public places. Nor can you act intoxicated in public.
For devoted Muslims in Qatar, Friday prayers end as Friday brunch begins, a relatively recent tradition. One of these lavish, all-you-can-eat events is offered by dozens of the city’s hotel-based restaurants (with an all-you-can-drink add-on), and it typically lasts for three hours starting at noon.
If you’re thirsty, it’s a fantastic deal for Qatar, but don’t anticipate much change from AU$ 200 per person with alcohol included. Local favorites include Spice Market at the W Doha Hotel & Residences and Nobu Doha at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha.
Human Rights Considerations in Qatar
Qatar is considered one of the safest countries in the world for tourism, however there are some significant Government policies to keep in mind when choosing how and where to spend your money.
One of the biggest controversies around the World Cup were that migrant workers were forced to endure labour abuses and struggled to change jobs freely.
And there is a significant curtailment of freedom of expression in Qatar, where both women and LGBTI people continue to face discrimination in law and practice. Same-sex relationships are a crime in Qatar, punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment.
Qatar is more tolerant towards tourists, however in October 2020, 13 Australian women on board a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Sydney were asked to leave their aircraft before being escorted to ambulances for forced genital checks, supposedly carried out as staff tried to find the mother of a baby abandoned at the airport.
Qatar is currently in the spotlight on a global scale. The nation has invested heavily in tourism to accommodate everyone visiting based on World Cup predictions’ attendance.
There are a huge range of things to do in Qatar that will inevitably make for an incredible vacation. However it’s a country you do need to research prior to travel, to plan out your stay accordingly, and which institutions you support with your tourist dollar.