Great Qatar road trips
Camel rides, singing sands, world heritage, inspirational art and open roads Discuss this article
As much as we love Doha, sometimes we get an urge to escape. Call it what you want – a feeling, maybe even a calling. Sometimes that desire to jump in a car, crank up some road trip songs and hit the tarmac for somewhere new takes us over.
Whether you’re itching for a spontaneous morning drive or have time off work to plan an extended weekend getaway, we’ve compiled some of the best road trips from Doha. Prepare for all kinds of adventuring, because, on these routes, it’s just as much about the journey as it is the destination. Happy travels!
Listen to the sand dune’s song
When you’re less than 50km away from a natural phenomenon and a potentially blissful experience, you really should make the effort to go to see and, in this case, hear it. The ethereal whistles and haunting moans of a “singing sand dune” can only be heard in a handful of places around the world, so it is an experience you probably have never been able to have before. The low humming sounds and ghostly whispers can only occur when the sand is completely dry. If you can throw a sandboard or sledge in your car for the road trip do it because the sand needs to be moving to create the noise. Knock a mini landslide into the wind to hear the sound in a naturally occurring amphitheatre.
Distance from MIA: 48km.
Directions: Head out on Salwa Road towards Mesaieed and set GPS for 25.038891, 51.406010.
Not technically a sea, it is, nevertheless, an excellent getaway from the high-rise towers and busy roads of city life. As one of the more popular desert safari and camping locations in Qatar, you should not be surprised to see 4x4s pulling off-road for some dune bashing on the trip to the water’s edge. The dunes here are among the best adventure drives in the country and the inlet, which acts as a physical border with Saudi Arabia, offers up plenty of opportunities for entertainment. It is extra salty, making it a buoyant place for a dip and fishing. The sand dunes come right to the water’s edge and it is possible to spot turtles and dugongs in the area, as well as migratory birds. Tour companies visit the area, so if you don’t have your own off-road transport, it is a road trip you can take with an expert guide. Remember to clear up after yourself if you stay for a barbecue or overnight camp.
Distance from MIA: 85km.
Directions: Drive south towards Khor Al Adaid after taking the Mesaieed Road. If you hit Saudi Arabia, you’ve gone too far. Set GPS for 24.652441, 51.425384.
Go to the camel races
You’ve bought the tourist T-shirt, teddy and key ring. You may even have had a camel ride when you were feeling particularly touristy. To take your camel love from visitor to resident level, though, you really must drive out to the races. If horse racing is the sport of kings, then camel racing is a sheikh’s sport. An important part of the nation’s heritage, it remains popular today with the best racers changing hands for small fortunes. Exit the city limits to the Dukhan Highway towards, well, Dukhan, and you’ll see this camelicious village after 40km to 50km from central Doha. It isn’t the height of camel-racing season now, but you will still see plenty of animals being trained, wandering freely around and posing for brilliant photographs. You can’t call your Qatar experience complete without a visit to the races, which are surprisingly exciting sporting events, as well as your chance to spy hundreds of the graceful animal. What? We like camels, okay?
Distance from MIA: 43km.
Directions: Heading west out of the city, take Dukhan Road and follow the signs for Dukhan. About 60km west of the city, you’ll spot the stadium and stables, lodgings and facilities. Set GPS for 25.402316, 51.202485.
See the ancient art of Jebel Jassassiyeh
Doha continues to snap up art and exhibit interesting cultural works in the city centre museums. Perhaps the most important works, however, are carved on rocks about an hour north of the city. The petroglyphs of Jebel Jassassiyeh contain around 900 artworks believed to be dated from the Neolithic era. Despite being some of the best preserved ancient art in the world, they were only discovered 60 years ago and depict boats, scorpions, livestock and various patterns. While the thought-provoking carvings are accessible, you should make every effort to not touch or disturb the artworks.
Distance from MIA: 88km.
Directions: Drive north of the city, taking the roads towards Al Khor. After passing through it, follow the signs to Al Huwailah. Jebal Jassassiyeh is just before Al Huwailah. Set GPS for 25.951563, 51.405996.
Hunt for PokÉmon or try geocaching
About a year after the event, we can all surely agree the planet lost its head for a while. It became impossible to open a newspaper or go online without reading about record-breaking mobile augmented reality game Pokémon Go. Players were leaving jobs to hunt imaginary beasts, people were seen swarming towards anywhere that claimed a rare Pokémon sighting, and everybody with a smartphone and a pair of running shoes convinced themselves they were part of a global fitness trend. It is fair to say many of the hundreds of millions of players have since abandoned it. No matter what we say, however, around the world, and in Qatar, it remains a good source of inspiration if you want to go out, but are not sure where. Fill up your car with a tank of petrol, hand the phone to a passenger and drive in the direction the Pokémon take you. More random treasure hunt fun can be had with community exploring activities such as geocaching, which retains a cult interest in Doha.
Pokémon Go is available for Android or iPhone. For more information about geocaching, visit www.geocaching.com.
Paddle the Al Khor Mangroves
You don’t need to travel far out of Doha to discover an entirely different Qatar. Drive north out of the city and, within an hour, you will be at Al Khor, and just a little outside of the settlement is a lush expanse of vegetation. Flamingos and other birdlife and an array of trees and plants call this home, and it is a peaceful retreat, the sort a road trip should always reveal. The best way to explore the mangroves is by kayak, with several tour operators and specialists offering equipment hire and guided trips, such as AquaSports Qatar (www.aquasportsqatar.com).
Distance from MIA: 63km.
Directions: Drive to Al Khor and follow signs to Al Thakhira. Go past the turning for Al Khor community and go right at the RasGas roundabout. Continue to the sign for Flower Each Spring Camp and turn onto the dirt track. Go straight until you see a raised path on the right. If you reach the camp, you have gone too far. Set GPS for 25.687005, 51.554555.
Witness heritage at Al Zubara Fort
Make no mistake, this historic fort and the surrounding area being recognised as an UNESCO World Heritage site is a big deal. It puts it on a par with attractions around the world, such as The Great Wall of China, the Acropolis in Athens, the Taj Mahal, Petra in Jordan and The Tower of London, which all have the same status. The fort itself was built in 1938 and used by the armed forces until around 30 years ago. Now, it is a museum housing pottery and archaeology exhibits. The building itself is the main attraction, though, as are the striking views from the battlements.
Distance from MIA: 105km.
Directions: Follow the highway north from Doha for about 100km. The fort is located at the intersection of the road from Doha and the road to Al Ruweis. Set GPS for 25.976918, 51.045442.
Wander around abandoned fishing villages
If you wanted the exact same experience you always have, then you don’t need a road trip. Stay where you are and enjoy yourself. If, on the other hand, you want to see, hear, smell and do something different, take to the roads and set off on one of Doha’s longest weekend road trips. Al Ruwais at is the northernmost tip of Qatar and is little more than a sleepy fishing village. Nearby are three abandoned fishing villages, Al Jemail, Al Khuwair and Al Areesh. The abandoned ruins and remains can still be seen. At any one of them, you can get a real feel for how Qatar was in yesteryear.
Distance from MIA: 117km.
Directions: Take the road north from Doha for around 90km, following the signs for Al Ruweis. Set GPS for 26.068579, 51.084018.
Try kitesurfing at Fuwairit Beach
You have to admire a beach that closes down for a few months because it is a turtle nesting ground. From April to August, accessibility may be limited while our shell-backed friends do their thing. Make it onto the sands out of season and you will be treated to one of the best beaches in Qatar. Taking a dip in the Gulf, enjoying the quiet or bonfires on the beach are all good options. For a road trip with extra adventure you can make the most of the sea breeze and relatively fewer judging eyes to learn to kiteboard (it could be embarrassing at first). A cross between surfing and parachute jumping, it is an athletic and enjoyable sport for adrenaline-inclined weekenders. Contact adventure sports company Blue Pearl (www.clubbluepearl.com/qkite) for prices and timings of classes.
Distance from MIA: 93km.
Directions: Off Al Shamal Road, 100km north of Doha. Set GPS for 26.019814, 51.379373.
Out of town staycation at Sealine Beach
Qatar isn’t a very big country. At some point, you will have to accept road trips might not take you on an epic journey like America’s Route 66. The drive down to Sealine Beach takes you just far enough out of town that it feels like an escape, while still being close enough for comfort. For a very Doha interpretation of a road trip, check in and spend the night at the Sealine Beach Resort. Great water sports and clear waters are usually enough to drag visitors down the Mesaieed Road, south of Qatar. You can hop on a jet ski or a banana boat, give flyboarding a go, play a few rounds of tennis, get a football game going, shoot some hoops or even go dune bashing in the surrounding desert. Could you want anything more from a road trip?
Distance from MIA: 58km.
Directions: Take the Al Wakra Road south past Hamad International Airport. Move onto the Mesaieed Road before passing oil refineries and industrial areas to the resort on the Sealine Bach Road. Set GPS for 24.861623, 51.514519.
Safari on Sir Bani Yas Island
If local drives and weekend excursions are not enough to satisfy your road trip needs, you need to get international with your intentions. Despite the fact that flying is measurably more convenient and quicker by far, road trip fanatics have hundreds of miles of open road to get to the UAE. It involves dipping into Saudi Arabia for a few hours, and watching the fuel gauge and maps more carefully than you usually would, but if you’re prepared to figure it out, you will see parts of Arabia and the vast desert not normally seen. Visas and passports with valid transport documentation are required, which can admittedly be difficult to get, so you can’t just do this on a whim, but it is a cross-border journey to remember if ever the mood takes you.
Distance from MIA: 370km.
Directions: This is an epic journey that is going to take in three countries and careful planning. Sit down with a map and make sure you know what you’re doing and where you’re going. Set GPS for 24.18610, 52.62584.
See sculptures in the sands of Bir Zekreet
Prepare to be stunned. The fascinating limestone formations are Qatar’s version of the Grand Canyon. The unique limestone cliff formations offer unusual surroundings for a desert camping excursion, and with a bit of exploration – and a four-wheel drive – you can easily discover secluded coves and beaches to set up camp. We’ve been big fans of the unique desert surroundings for years, but, since artist Richard Serra’s sculpture East-West/West-East was unveiled, it has become a breathtaking marriage of stunning scenery and provocative art. You need to see this. This landscape-busting art spans more than a kilometre and comprises four steel plates, each upwards of fourteen metres tall.
Distance from MIA: 89km.
Directions: Head west out of the city past Al Shahaniya and take the signposted turn-off about 10km before Dukhan. Set GPS for 25.517088, 50.870984.
Don’t have a car? Don’t worry!
If you’re keen to explore but don’t have your own vehicle, you could always hire one. Most of the major car hire companies operate out of the airport (including Europcar, Avis and Hertz), but there are also independent firms offering great deals. Check out Strong Rent A Car, which has everything from compact vehicles for a city runaround to SUVs for longer drives.
Main office: Haloul Road, Abu Hamour, www.strongrentacar.com (4436 5622). Other locations: Hamad International Airport; The Westin Doha Hotel & Spa; Radisson Blu Doha.
Time Out Doha,