Culture and Excitement In The Desert

Abu Dhabi is witnessing something of a cultural revival, with unique desert festivals gradually finding their way into the international media, and tourist attractions focusing on the country’s history and heritage rather than simply its luxury retail opportunities. Catch a flight and leave chilly Europe and head to the sun before the melt down of mid summer.

It was once known primarily for its year-round sunshine, great beaches and amazing shopping malls, tourists are now realising it has a lot more to offer. The cosmopolitan capital city may be mega modern, and it may offer more shopping opportunities than you could ever squeeze into a short break – but it would be a shame to miss some of the exciting sights outside of the city, in some of the surrounding desert oasis towns and cities.

There are regional museums showcasing past nomadic traditions as well as its trading, falconry, horse back riding and arts; restored mud fortresses are dotted about the landscape; and if archeaology is your thing, you can see the remains of an ancient underground irrigation system at Al-Ain oasis.

Liwa Date Festival

Every July celebrates the date in the prosperous oasis city of Liwa, in the Western region of Abu Dhabi. The lush oasis, which stretches for some 100km, is full of palm trees and has long offered a resting place for desert travellers. The trees produce an abundant harvest of prized palm dates, which have given rise to the annual celebration. It’s always been popular with locals, but now foreign visitors are starting to venture there to see the rows upon rows of prize dates, and to watch local craftspeople keeping alive old traditions such as basket weaving.

The Al Dhafra Camel Festival

Taking place in July in the Western region of Abu Dhabi, is another major event that is helping to revive Abu Dhabi’s cultural heritage. This event – the biggest camel festival in the world – can see up to 15,000 camels taking part in various contests, including a highly competitive Camel Beauty Contest. Celebrating the region’s pedigree camels, other festival activities include a photography competition which encourages participants to capture the beauty of camels and their relationships with humans. The event also reveals a lot about the Bedouin way of life, particularly the people’s hospitality and traditional crafts. You can browse stalls at a bazaar and a handicrafts market where craftspeople are making and selling their goods, and also see live Arab folklore music. The whole festival is a fantastic spectacle, revealing that the camel still has a very special place in the heart of true, traditional Arab culture.

With both these big events taking place in July, there’s plenty of time to find a cheap international flight and plan an Abu Dhabi cultural trip for 2012!