Doha skyline © Francisco Anzola
The stark desert peninsula of Qatar extends into the Persian Gulf, bordered on the landward end by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Its area may be small, but the independent emirate is exceedingly wealthy, with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, thanks to its oil and gas resources.
Whether visiting Qatar for business or pleasure, most travellers use the stylish capital, Doha, as their base. Formerly a quaint and busy pearl fishing village, Doha is today one of the most important cities in the Middle East due mainly to its power as a major trading centre. It has a large British and American expatriate population (the Al Udeid air base was headquarters for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003), which has moulded the city into an interesting blend of eastern and western culture and architecture.
Tourists tend to spend their time on the Doha Corniche, a palm-fringed public promenade that extends for four miles (7km) along the seafront, lined with five and six-star resort hotels, restaurants, shops, beaches and recreational areas. Although there is some adventure to be found in the glittering sands beyond Doha, the biggest draw card of Qatar for visitors is shopping, whether it is in the exotic traditional markets (souqs) or the plethora of massive ultra-modern malls that fill the city centre. In addition to this impressive retail offering Doha is fast becoming a sought after destination for foodies, with a sophisticated fine-dining scene.
Those wanting to explore outside the city can undertake excursions to interesting little towns, fishing villages, beautiful beaches, camel racing events, luxury resorts and the Al Maha Sanctuary at Shahaniya, where the near-extinct Arabian Oryx is being protected. The Oryx is thought to be the origin of the legend of the unicorn, and is Qatar's national symbol, flying high on the tails of Qatar Airways jetliners.
Whether it is learning to haggle at the souqs, fine-tuning your dune driving skills, relaxing on the beach, or marvelling at the wonders of the Arabian world in one of the many museums, Qatar has something for every traveller. The country is a shopper's dream, while business travellers will find it equally exciting as Doha is fast making its mark as a regional business hub.