When in Dubai

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The author tries a camel ride. Pictures: Supplied
The author tries a camel ride. Pictures: Supplied

The Manhattan of the Middle East, Dubai offers breath-taking sights and awe-inspiring experiences for the millions of tourists who visit the city. Sponsored by the government of Dubai and its Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Lubabalo Ngcukana explored the desert city.

I never knew a place like Dubai really existed until I visited the famous United Arab Emirates (UAE) city in mid-November last year and found adventure, glitz and glamour, and the incredible innovations and experiences the desert city has to offer. And, with its modern architecture and engineering, Dubai is the ultimate holiday-maker’s dream paradise.

It’s winter in the UAE, but it’s averaging 30 degrees Celsius and the weather is mostly humid and sunny. I really don’t want to imagine how hot it gets in summer, but I am told it can go up to 48 degrees Celsius in July.

Situated on the Persian Gulf coast of the UAE, the cosmopolitan city is a destination of choice for millions of tourists from around the globe annually.

It is no wonder that Dubai International Airport is one of the busiest in the world, with its state-of-the-art facilities and breathtaking design.

Our debut in Dubai

On our first day in Dubai we arrive at the five-star V Hotel to freshen up and have breakfast before hitting the road for downtown and the older part of the city.

This is where you find the gold and spice souks (marketplaces or bazaars) in what is probably one of the busiest areas of the old part of the city, known as Deira. You can negotiate a good deal at one of the over 300 jewellery stores, find the best organic spices or try out traditional Emirati garments.

Dubai has a long list of attractions, many of which I did not get to see over the five days I was there. But one of the wonders I did manage to see was the manufactured Palm Island. I never thought this was possible, but in Dubai they construct not only sophisticated high towers, but also islands and a water lake that runs throughout the city – all of this in a desert.

Some of the 4/4 SUVs taking part in the Desert Saf

“Anything is possible here in Dubai,” says Mohammed Fawzy, an Egyptian national who acted as our tour guide during the trip.

Seeing an aerial view of Palm Island, also known as Palm Jumeirah, from a helicopter was incredible, and I couldn’t believe just how humans could create something so big and beautiful on top of the sea. It’s no wonder the island forms part of the most famous residential area in Dubai – the Jumeirah – and covers 52 square metres in the middle of the Arabian Gulf.

And more islands are in the process of being built, which are planned to be bigger than the beautiful Palm Island. Just another “Wow!” moment in Dubai. Its residents are ever-busy constructing something new and unique, everywhere and every day.

The world’s tallest tower

But what is a visit to Dubai without seeing the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the tallest building in the whole world? And, while seeing it is one thing, being inside it is a completely different experience altogether.

After going through a security check, we are led to the elevator and, after a few minutes, we are standing inside the lift and heading up to the 124th floor. All we can hear is soft music and we can’t even feel the lift moving. In exactly 60 seconds – while we are still mulling over whether the lift is actually moving – we arrive at the top floor of the Burj Khalifa.

The view of the city from up there is nothing short of magical. I haven’t seen anything like it before. Suddenly, all the skyscrapers we have been admiring all this time are small buildings and, even though they are tall in their own right, we are now in the Burj Khalifa and it does not get taller than this. And, to top it all, we’re not even at the summit of the building – as tourists we can only go as high as floors 124 and 125 of the 154-storey building.

On both floors there are several educational facilities, including stores, photo studios and an exhibition which shows the timeline of the construction of the Burj Khalifa, starting from 2004 and going to its completion in 2010. From the top of this amazing building, one can appreciate the real beauty that is Dubai; you can see everything from the new to the old in the city, and from the lake to the historic sites of what is undoubtedly one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.

Some of the 4/4 SUVs taking part in the Desert Saf

Walking on air

And for those who can’t visit the Burj Khalifa because tickets are sold out, the Dubai Frame is used as an alternative for tourists who want an aerial view of the city. And, my word, is it gorgeous. It is literally taken from the concept of a picture frame, only it is the biggest frame I have ever seen. The Frame is made of two identical towers next to each other and a connecting bridge. The structure is 150 metres from the ground. I didn’t think I was afraid of heights until I went up the Frame. I mean, I was at the Burj Khalifa, which is 828m high for God’s sake, so what good is a mere 150m-tall building? But then again, whereas we were on solid ground in the Burj Khalifa, the transparent glass of the Frame’s connecting bridge is a whole other experience and from way up there you can see the ground beneath your feet. Scary stuff! It took me a few minutes to get used to walking “in the air” on the transparent glass bridge.

Not surprisingly, English is widely spoken in Dubai, owing to the high number of foreign nationals who live there. According to Fawzy, expats make up 82% of the population, while locals make up the remaining 18%.

An excursion I would highly recommend for anyone visiting the city is to the Dubai Parks and Resorts theme parks situated just a few kilometres from Abu Dhabi. There you will find some of the most memorable world-class theme parks, including a water park offering over 100 rides and various shows and attractions. The La Perle by Dragone, a live spectacle that unfolds amid 2.7 million litres of water, is guaranteed to leave you in absolute awe at the magnificent artistry and stunt work.

With so many sights and activities around the city, Dubai is definitely a tourist destination I would wholeheartedly recommend for both the adventurous and more laidback of travellers.

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