Camping in Qatar
Written by Fran Gillespie
For thousands of years, camping was a way of life for the Bedouin of Qatar as the tribes moved lightly across the landscape, following herds of camels, sheep, and goats to their favourite grazing grounds. There’s little trace left today of this ancient lifestyle except for the tent rings: ovals of rocks which once weighted the edges of the Bayt Al Sha'er, the ‘house of hair’.
Today, constant sunshine and some idyllic locations make camping a popular activity during the cooler months between October and April. There are three very different ways in which people can take to the desert life. New residents in Qatar, and those on a short visit to the country, often prefer to go with a tour company, which will whisk you on a thrilling switchback ride over the dunes down to the picturesque inland lagoon in the south of Qatar, accommodate you in a luxurious, colourfully woven tent, lay on sumptuous meals featuring traditional cuisine, and even include a camel ride!
Many locals prefer to set up semi-permanent winter camps along the coast where family and friends can be comfortably entertained. These fenced camps, the equivalent of the ‘weekend cottage’ in Europe and the USA, are licensed by the government, and have water tanks, generators, and all the comforts of home, including electric lighting, air conditioning, and television! Accommodation is not only in large white canvas tents, but also caravans and trailers, and fishing is a popular weekend activity.
There’s a third way of enjoying life under the stars, and that’s to take along your own tent and, like the Bedouin of old, be mobile. Because of the warm, dry temperatures, pitching a tent in Qatar involves much less preparation and equipment than it does in other countries, and best of all, there is no worry about security. You can choose between beaches on the north-eastern or western coasts, or even an island! And if you crave absolute peace and quiet, the best place to go is away from the coast, among the spectacular limestone plateaux that lie amid the gravel plains in the centre of the country. In the winter these are home to many beautiful flowering plants including brown lilies, and asphodel.
The Ras Abrouq peninsula, north of Dukhan on the east coast, is a great place to set up camp. The landscape of golden sand and shining white limestone mesas, sculpted into strange shapes by the wind, looks onto shallow seas which are ideal for swimming as there are no inshore currents. But it’s always advisable to wear shoes while swimming off coasts where there are rocks in the water, and stonefish may lurk among them.
We often camp here, and recently an Arabian red fox has taken to joining us in the evenings, waiting patiently just out of the circle of firelight until everyone turns in, when it ventures out to collect the scraps we leave for it.
Other animals to be seen here include Ethiopian hedgehogs, small jumping ‘kangaroo mice’ – called jerboas – and sand gazelle which have been re-introduced into Qatar and are flourishing in the Ras Abrouq National Park. If you are lucky you may
At Khor al Adaid, the inland sea which is an hour’s drive south of Mesaieed, majestic golden dunes line the coast. On the far side spectacular pink cliffs rise above the turquoise water, and ospreys nest on rocky stacks in the sea. Four-wheel drive vehicles are essential for this trip.
At the other end of the country lies Umm Tais National Park. Flat, sandy beaches are ideal for camping, and the area is popular at weekends with kite-surfers. The coastline is studded with interesting archaeological sites – ruined villages and old forts. A few kilometres to the west lie the remains of the great pearling and trading city of Al Zubara, now under excavation.
Just offshore at Umm Tais is a complex of small islands, reachable by vehicle at low tide, which are home to a rare colony of living stromatolites, the most ancient form of life on earth. Hawksbill turtles come to nest on the islands, and mangrove forests shelter many species of nesting birds.
Camping at the Inland Sea (Khor al Adaid)
Qatar Inbound Tours Desert Safari. After collecting you from your hotel between 2.30pm and 3pm, this tour will take you on a dune-bashing drive down to the Inland Sea, with stops for a camel ride and photo opportunities. Swim in the clear water at your destination, or try sand skiing.
The camp is equipped with carpeted Bedouin-style tents, and separate toilet and shower facilities. You’ll be served Arabic coffee and dates after a buffet BBQ dinner. Then it’s time to try a whiff or two of a shisha [hubbly bubbly] pipe! After breakfast the next day, departure is at 8.30am.
Arabian Night in the Desert
Pick-up time from your hotel is around 2pm. The journey south to the Inland Sea includes a brief stop at the Sealine Beach Resort. After deflating the tyres to prepare the vehicle the drivers head off, and you can choose between a fast and bumpy ride over the dunes or a smoother route. Two stops are made for photography, and once at the camp you can enjoy swimming, sand surfing, or a game of beach volleyball. After a BBQ buffet meal, relax and enjoy gazing at the brilliant stars in the cool of the evening. Return to Doha after breakfast is by noon the next day.