The United Arab Emirates on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is a bit of an anathema in the Middle East. This union of seven sovereign sheikhdoms was formed when the British withdrew from the Gulf in 1971, and today it is a modern, trend-setting conglomeration of high-rise cities with state-of-the-art tourist infrastructure, magnificent beaches and a paradise of duty free shopping. Unlike other Arab states the UAE actually courts and encourages tourists, constantly adding and upgrading events and attractions to complement its renown as the shopping capital of the world.
The sun always shines on the UAE and its gleaming cities, the most popular of which is cosmopolitan, wealthy Dubai , which is characterized by a ten-mile long (16km) deep creek that forms a natural harbor. In Dubai resides the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone, which makes the city a must for shop-a-holics. A major attraction is the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and one of the most modern cities in the world. Visitors revel in large gardens and parks, green boulevards, sophisticated high-rise buildings, modern communication services and transport, international luxury hotels, rich shopping malls and cultural centers. The city’s airport ranks as one of the finest in the world.
Just in case travelers forget they are actually in Arabia , the UAE also offers a host of experiences and attractions that utilize it’s historic Bedouin heritage, including camel treks, henna tattoos, desert stargazing, 4×4 trips through sand dunes and cruises aboard a dhow. Hundreds of tour companies offer a variety of excursions and adventure packages to suit all tastes and persuasions.
The Emirates states are all Muslim, therefore alcohol is not served except in hotels. It is an offence to drink or be drunk in public and penalties are severe. Dress and behavior should be modest, particularly during the month of Ramadan when it is disrespectful to smoke, drink or eat in public between sunrise and sunset. Women’s clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs. Cohabiting, adultery and homosexual behavior are illegal in the UAE, and it is an offence to swear or make rude gestures, or show a public display of affection. In general, the country has a tolerant approach to Western visitors, but local laws and sensitivities should be respected.
Arabic is the official language but English is widely understood. In Dubai , you can also get by practicing your Farsi, the Persian language spoken in Iran . Urdu is spoken by the large number of Pakistani expatriates living in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.