Best time to go: November – April
Best for: Shopping
From the timeless tranquility of the desert to the lively bustle of the souk, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offers a kaleidoscope of attractions for visitors. In recent years, the country has rocketed to the forefront of the international tourism stakes.
Go haggling in Dubai`s famous souks, magnets for those in search of gold and jewellery bargains, and also for photographers or those who just want to experience the sights, smells and hubbub. Experience off-road driving in the desert – vehicles are for hire either with or without guides. Numerous operators offer desert driving trips.
Take your golf bag – Dubai is one of the world`s top golfing destinations. Venues like the Emirates Golf Club regularly host top international competitions, and others are dotted around the UAE. You can even try your hand at sand golf. Sun yourself on Dubai`s superb white sandy beaches. Much of the long expanse of Jumeirah Beach in Dubai is dominated by luxury hotels and their facilities but there is a good stretch of public beach available.
If you`re travelling with kids, take them to the Magic Planet children`s centre in the Deira City shopping mall, or to Dubai`s Wonderland family fun park, which offers a wide range of watery attractions for the youngsters.
Capital: Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Currency: UAE Dirham (AED)
Language: Arabic. English is widely understood.
Dialling code from SA: + 971
Time Zone: UTC/GMT +4 hours (2 hours ahead of South Africa)
Side of the Road: Right
Plugs: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs are widespread.
Drinking Water: Mains water in hotels and towns is safe to drink, but is provided due to desalination therefore visitors may preferred bottled water.
Health: There are adequate and well-equipped medical facilities, however visitors are required to pay for these services. Comprehensive health insurance is recommended.
Customs: United Arab Emirates is a liberal Islamic country and foreign women can dress as they like, but should dress more conservatively when out in public areas (shoulders and knees covered). Swimwear should be reserved for the beach. Public displays of affection should be avoided. Respect to religious customs should also be shown during the month of Ramadan. [Note: in Sharjah, women are not allowed to wear bathing suits in public]
Local Offences / Laws: Homosexuality and adultery are illegal. Non-married couples are not allowed to share hotel rooms, although this is rarely enforced. Eating, drinking and smoking in public during Ramadan is prohibited during daylight hours (visitors are excluded from this but should do so in private). Drug trafficking carries severe penalties (certain medications are banned; please check before travelling with over-the-counter or prescription medication).
Travel Tips / Warnings: If you are travelling with medication, it should be noted that certain medications are not allowed in the country even with a prescription. Avoid photographing Muslim women and do not photograph airports, docks, telecommunications equipment, government buildings, military and industrial installations.
Duty Free: The following items may be imported into the United Arab Emirates without incurring customs duty:
• 400 cigarettes and 50 cigars and 500g of tobacco.
• 4L of wine or spirits or 24 cans of beer.
• Goods to the value of AED3,000.
Prohibited Imports: Narcotics, goods from boycotted countries (eg Israel), ivory, rhino horn, gambling devices, original engravings, prints or sculptures, any immoral publications or media contradicting Islamic teachings, counterfeit currency, and cooked or homemade food. If you are planning to carry medication into the country, check with your embassy in advance, as some common, over-the-counter medicines that are freely available elsewhere in the world are prohibited in the UAE. Penalties are severe – you could go to prison if you’re caught.