“I dream of going there one day” was the most consistent response I received from relatives and friends when I told them I’d be traveling to Dubai to attend a youth conference.
At first I was baffled. I mean, I never viewed Dubai as the ideal tourist destination and this is largely because of my strong regionalist pride. But, as I dug deeper, I realized why a trip to the pearl of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had become what millennials consider “goals”.
Dubai is like Times Square and Las Vegas on steroids; minus the gambling and strip clubs. A once parched desert had now become the epitome of western capitalism with a brooding futuristic cityscape comparable to those in a sinister video game.
The city is a melting pot of diverse ethnicities and Arab intellectual and artistic creativity. Approximately 96 percent of the residents there are expatriates of over 100 different nationalities. With its luxurious features, it’s easy to understand why only the middle and upper class can afford to visit Dubai; or so many think.
In four days I was able to organize my trip, part of which was sponsored by the organizers of the event. A visa is required for Guyanese to enter the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These can be processed by one of the airlines once you book your flight with them. The visa processing fee in total was roughly US$500 – US$270 of which is refunded after you leave the country. Mine was processed by Emirates Airline which had one of the cheapest return fares to Dubai from New York – US$875.
What was surprising was the fact that a 27-hour return trip to the Middle East was cheaper than a return flight to New York from Guyana.
Once you arrive there, it’s not difficult to recognize that you are in one of the strangest parts of the world. I mean, not often will you see a 2016 model Mercedes Benz working as an Uber Taxi. Or the fact that WIFI is accessible from the road.
Regimented palm trees line the roadways before you begin to see skyscrapers appearing in clusters throughout the city. Architecturally, the buildings are fascinating, but their true beauty is shown at nights when silhouetted against the matte black sky.
Dubai had literally risen from the desert within the last three decades. Consolidation of foreign skills coupled with visionary leadership had transformed a desolate geographic space into the commercial hub of the Arab world.
Hotels are perhaps the most common enterprise occupying highly valued plots of land in the city, given that Dubai is one of the top three most ideal tourist destinations in the world. Of course the hotel prices vary depending on the level of comfort, luxury and services offered.
I stayed at a three-star hotel – Rove City Centre – which in my estimation is almost comparable to Pegasus Guyana. Unbelievably, the cost run as low as 1818 Dirham (US$495) for six nights for a single person if you book in early January. The prices can climb though, depending on the time of year. And in case you’re wondering, buffet-style breakfast is included in that cost.
Traveling around the city is no problem at all. Uber taxis are easily accessible, and so are road taxis which operate systematically at every major commercial centre. There is also a metro train which even the inexperienced can use.
A 15-minute drive from Rove Hotel to Dubai Mall – the largest in the world – would probably cost 30 Dirham (US$8). If you think US$8 is too expensive, you’d begin to reconsider that once you arrive at the mall.
The visuals are unbelievable. You are greeted by a mega-mall which cannot be explored in a single day. The mall boasts stores of some of the most exotic and expensive brands on the planet. It houses one of the world’s largest indoor aquarium and has next to it, a lake which has daily water shows for tourists. The water show, which lasts roughly 15 minutes, is an artistic display of water emerging from pipes in the lake, at different pressures, creating a firework effect. I supposed it is facilitated by a highly computerized system.
But this is not the only thing will amaze you. A few hundred meters away stands the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa – a multi-purpose structure which peaks at 381m. The scenery is one which cannot be adequately described using words. The only regret one can possibly have there is not having a good enough camera to capture every moment.
But for me, the most incredible experience to share in Dubai is the Desert Safari. Again the prices for these vary from 25 Dirham (US$7) to 2000 Dirham (US$545) depending on a number of factors such as mode of transportation, and amenities. Assuming one does not have their own transportation, they would probably opt for the 70 Dirham (US$20) package which provides transportation to and from the Desert and camp site.
Pick up is at 15:00hrs prompt, from where the 45 minutes journey to the desert begins. There is a pit-stop at a local shop just before you venture into the actual desert. Here, you can purchase snacks, souvenirs, or traditional Arabian clothing. The keffiyeh or kufiya which is a traditional Middle Eastern headdress fashioned from a square scarf usually made of cotton, is the most bought item.
The Safari then begins with dune bashing. Several stops are made to allow you to take photos and absorb the warmth of the Middle Eastern desert. You are able to see the sun set where the desert kisses the sky. It is a scene which will momentarily have you believing that you are in a movie. But reality will soon step in as you continue the dune bashing.
You are then taken to one of 20+ camp sites in the middle of the desert where you enjoy the culture of the UAE through food, belly dancing and folklore. You’d be happy to know that drinks, snacks and buffet-style dinner are all free. But it doesn’t end there. You are provided with the experience of sand boarding, riding a camel and for the ladies, henna design, all at no cost.
Souvenirs which are on sale are relatively inexpensive. You can purchase a 15” glass replica of the Burj Khalifa for 25 Dirham (US$7) while other souvenirs are much cheaper.
More than likely you will not be satisfied after this, since your research would have shown that Dubai is more than the Desert Safari and Dubai Mall. What the city stands out for is its architecture, and so, a trip to Dubai cannot be completed without a city tour. These are available for as low as 35 Dirham ($US$9.5) if you are in a group of 30. But chances are, you won’t be, so the price you would have to pay is 90 Dirham (US$24.5) – still an unbelievably low amount for a tour package.
The tour starts from Dubai museum that is located near AL Fahidi fort which was built in 1800. You are provided with the opportunity to explore the rich history of this ancient city, before the tour stops at the magnificent Jumeirah Mosque. This place of worship is literally a shining example of contemporary Islamic architecture.
Then, the tour stops at Jumeirah Public Beach and Burj Al Arab – another of the world’s tallest and most luxurious building. The journey continues and stops for you to see exotic palm island and Atlantis hotel in the crescent of the island. A few other stops are made, allowing you to see places of interest which have helped to elevate the status of UAE and Dubai on the world map. It then ends at the Dubai mall.
Having returned to the hotel from a long but most eventful day, I began contemplating if services like these were offered in other parts of the world, how incredibly high the cost would be.
But my mind was soon redirected to what was before me and how incredible such an experience would be for the average Guyanese. I began doing the math and realized that Dubai is not a destination many should only dream of; it is one which many can actually visit once they are constructive in how they approach life. All it takes is a little saving and planning and you’ll be boasting of your trip to one of the most luxurious cities in the world.