The United Arab Emirates consists of a federation of seven (magical) emirate states.
Each one is governed by royal families, while the family of Abu Dhabi holds the hereditary right to hold the title of President. The country as a whole still runs on eastern traditional beliefs and morals, which is very different from our western cultural upbringing.
The United Arab Emirates is a country of beauty and wonder. But there are definitely some things you need to know before traveling there.
Things to Know About the UAE
Do Your Research
The United Arab Emirates has got to be one of the most magical places I have ever traveled to. You need to spend the time before-hand, reading up about this country. Buy yourself a guide book, Insta-stalk the locations you're reading up about and decide where your trip is going to take you. Not all the best destinations are documented, so you will have to keep your eyes peeled while walking around the cities. You can seriously get lost with all the adventures there are to be had in the UAE.
The best time to visit is in between September and May, when the temperatures are low, although the rainfall is at its highest in February, and the peak summer season is between June and August.
Understand the Culture
Get familiar with the culture and etiquette in the UAE before you visit. Failing to plan around this will destroy your holiday.
Dress conservatively and cover up whenever you're in public. Covering your thighs, shoulders, chest and back. Be respectful of this. It is against the law to dress inappropriately, and the last thing you want to happen to you on your holiday is to get in trouble for dressing incorrectly. You may be asked to wear an abaya, a traditional full dress like cloak, when entering into religious areas or monuments.
Alcohol is illegal in some Emirates, so you will not be able to drink in restaurants in certain parts of the country. Please remember, you will be able to purchase alcohol in some supermarkets and 'secret' shabeen like liqueur stores, but it may not be allowed where you're heading. So double check before shopping.
The UAE has some of the worlds most intricate architecture and exquisite landmarks. Photograph everything. But please make sure your camera is not pointing towards any local woman. It's really not allowed. Also keep in mind that the culture frowns upon physical contact and PDA's are completely against the law so keep your space and no cuddling or kissing. Seriously.
Get the Equipment Ready
Make sure your camera is ready at all times - this place is full of surprises.
Have a shawl or jersey in your bag, just in case the nippy wind picks up. Always carry a pair of sunglasses and a scarf with you, in case of a sandstorm. And yes, you'll need a backpack, but I really suggest bringing along a small shoulder bag you can sling over your body to make sure all your personal belongings are safe while you browse the market places and souqs.
Keep your passport with you when traveling between Emirates, as you will need it to check into any hotel or possibly use it to visit tourist attractions.
The local currency is the United Arab Emirates Dirham. The exchange rate is around USD 0,27* to the AED, EUR 0.23* to the AED and ZAR 3.40* to the AED. Although American Dollars are accepted in most places, I would suggest having the local currency on you.
The easiest way to get around the cities is by taxi. Each Emirate has a different colour-branded taxi. Each state has different travel rates, and inter-emirate traveling can be expensive, so rather opt for a bus trip there. The Dubai Metro train and tram systems are fantastic – on time, cost efficient, clean and safe. The only problem is – the main metro system only runs in Dubai city centre so you will have to travel to the stations via taxi, or walk.
Technically, there is no ‘national cuisine’ as such for the country. The United Arab Emirates is a mixing pot of taste so be determined to experience everything while you're traveling there. Arabian cuisine is inspired by the traditions of neighboring countries and the multicultural residency of the country. You'll find a lot of Lebanese and Turkish style foods, as well as some American favourites, with a little Eastern twist.
Traveling from South Africa?
Fly to Dubai International Airport DXB, for between R6 500* – R12 500* (return) from Cape Town or Johannesburg, depending on the season. A 30 day tourist visa for South African passport holders can be applied for a week before traveling, costing around R1 500*, or directly through Emirates Airlines if you are flying with them. No visa required for Qatar should you catch a connecting flight there, as long as you are planning to stay in the airport.
Need more information regarding visiting a Muslim country? See what the UAE Embassy says.
Disclaimer: *Monetary values are bound to change over time.