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Though its prosperous trade sector might be one of Qatar’s better-known claims to fame, there’s much more to the small country jutting out into the Persian Gulf — including a budding tourism industry with an itch for adventure.
One local favorite is dune bashing, where clients will hop in a four-wheel-drive vehicle that’ll feel more like a delightfully rowdy roller coaster than a typical car ride. Afterward, they can sandboard down those same ridges, then wind down to slumber beneath a pristine sky.
Dune BashingLike many of the diverse country’s inhabitants, Nevena Tabakova is an expat — it’s estimated that Qatari nationals only make up about 12 percent of the population. However, the Bulgaria-born Tabakova has worked for local tour operator Gulf Adventures for 15 years. She’s currently its chief marketing officer and calls Doha, the flourishing capital city of Qatar, home.
“You can’t visit Qatar without experiencing the breathtaking beauty of the desert, a short drive from Doha,” she said. “This desert trip gives you the thrill of ‘dune bashing’ — zooming over towering dunes with our experienced drivers — followed by time to chill next to the tranquil and unspoiled Inland Sea.”
Hot Hot Heat: Though visitors can enjoy sunshine and blue skies year-round in Qatar, the weather cools down to more pleasant temperatures from October through April.
SandboardingTaking on the director of marketing position at Four Seasons Hotel Doha may have been the initial reason Julian Crane moved to Qatar from Damascus, Syria (and prior to that, England), but it’s certainly not the only reason he has stayed. Crane and his family often visit the “Singing Sand Dunes,” located about 25 miles outside of Doha, where the nature of sand formations paired with the wind creates a low humming sound. And after enjoying the tunes, they love to shred — on a sandboard.
Dune bashing, or taking a thrilling ride in a four-wheel-drive vehicle all over desert sand dunes, is a popular excursion in Qatar. // © 2015 Gulf Adventures
After enjoying a traditional Arabic barbecue dinner, guests can retire to Bedouin-style tents for the night. // © 2015 Gulf Adventures
Much of Qatar’s adventure takes place in nearby sand dunes. // © 2015 Four Seasons Hotel Doha
Kids and adults can give sandboarding — riding a wakeboard or a similar board down the dunes — a try. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Gulf Adventures’ desert camp in the Inland Sea area // © 2015 Gulf Adventures
“Basically, sandboarding uses a wakeboard, except you don’t have a boat or rope to hold,” Crane said. “You find the highest peak of a sand dune, put your feet into the straps of the board, stand up with your knees bent and then let gravity do the rest.”
Geared for Success: Slather on the sunscreen, and wear closed-toe shoes, lightweight clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
CampingA self-proclaimed “experience junkie” and the founder of Chad Clark Travel Ventures, Chad Clark stopped in Doha for two days while en route to India in 2013. The short-but-sweet trip for the Phoenix, Ariz.-based Virtuoso travel agent turned out to be an “unexpected highlight,” as Clark quickly discovered an array of activities to fill up his schedule, including kite surfing, cruising in the harbor onboard a dhow (Arabic boat) and, his favorite, overnighting in the desert.
“I don’t think a dune-bashing experience is complete without spending a night in the desert in a Bedouin tent,” Clark said. “After you experience the dunes, enjoy a traditional barbecue dinner around the campfire — all under some of the most incredible stars you’ll ever see — before retiring to your tent for a very quiet and restful night.”
Work Up an Appetite: Traditional dinner fare in the desert is simple, straightforward and appetizing, with classic Arabic dishes such as lavash bread that’s fresh out of a clay oven, shawarma, hummus, mint labneh, fattoush and more.