Rewards of a stopover in Qatar

By Theodore Liebersfeld
This item appears on page 14 of the May 2018 issue.

Architectural marvels in Doha’s Al Dafna district. Photos by Theodore Liebersfeld
One image of Doha, Qatar, that sticks in my mind from my short visit in January 2018 is the huge sculpture of an oyster with its pearl — a popular photo spot. It serves as a reminder of Qatar’s origins as a collection of seaside villages devoted to fishing and pearl farming. 

Another image is the beautiful promenade known as the Doha Corniche. Still another is that of the dazzling skyscrapers packed into the central business district.

And then there is Souq Waqif, with Qatari women fully draped in flowing kaftans and wearing impenetrable hijabs covering their faces followed by handsome, traditionally dressed Qatari men pushing wheelbarrows to collect their purchases. 

For a recent visit to Sri Lanka, I flew on Qatar Airways. Homebound, I took advantage of the airline’s offer of a very inexpensive 2-night stopover in Doha, capital of the small peninsular nation of Qatar, which protrudes from the larger Arabian Peninsula.

I first became interested in using Qatar Airways when it kept popping up on booking engines as the cheapest alternative for making connections to Asia. 

In browsing their website, I came across a webpage that detailed their offers of free and inexpensive stopovers: www.qatarairways.com/en-us/offers/plus-qatar.html. The site also includes a page that lists the steps needed to take advantage of stopover offers and is where airline tickets and hotels can be booked for free or at reduced rates.

Later I came upon a related website, that of the airline’s subsidiary Discover Qatar (phone +974 4423 7940, discoverqatar.qatarairways.com/qa-en), giving more information and options. From this site, airport transfers and Doha city tours can be booked at cost-saving rates. 

A US citizen now can visit Qatar for up to 96 hours without even a transit visa. There is absolutely no red tape passing through Immigration at Doha’s Hamad International Airport if you have a US passport.

As for my 2-night stopover in Doha, I paid no additional airfare for it, and I had a choice of accommodation in several luxurious 4- and 5-star hotels at the unbelievable rate of $50 per night.

I chose to stay at Arumaila Boutique Hotel, one of the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels (www.souqwaqifresort.com), a collection of nine unique accommodations that share services and are close to one another at Souq Waqif.

Qanat Quartier in Doha’s Pearl-Qatar artificial island development.

Breakfast was not included, but I took advantage of the breakfast buffet offered at La Piazza in the nearby Al Bidda Hotel, another member of the Souq Waqif collection, for about $13.

Souq Waqif is an area of traditional markets dating back at least 100 years. Renovated in 2006, it conserves traditional Qatari architectural style, preserving an authentic feel for its commerce and culture. Included in the area is the Falcon Souq, the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital and the Gold Souq.

On the first day of my 2-day visit, I took a relatively comprehensive and inexpensive Doha city tour offered by Discover Qatar. The rate was QAR75 (near $21) per person, double, though, as a solo booking, I had to pay QAR150. Even at that double cost, it was an economical way to get an efficient overview of Doha. 

The first stop on the city tour was the Museum of Islamic Art. Even during our necessarily short visit, I was enthralled by the fabulous architecture inside the building and the artful displays of magnificent arts and crafts.

From there, we drove along the beautiful and peaceful Doha Corniche, eventually entering the Al Dafna District with its amazing collection of architectural wonders. The skyscrapers of Al Dafna are being constructed in direct competition with those in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a neighbor on the Arabian Peninsula.

Next was a visit to the Katara Cultural Village (where construction is ongoing), which reflects the country’s cultural and architectural heritage. 

Lastly, we were driven around Pearl-Qatar, an artificial island, including its Qanat Quartier, a colorful, Venice-like community.

For my second day in Qatar, I wanted to see more of what this small country had to offer outside of Doha, so I engaged the services of Siham Haleem (tourguides.viator.com/tour-guide-siham-haleem-187328.aspx) to escort me on his “North of Qatar” itinerary.

Siham proved to be an excellent, friendly and easy-to-understand private tour guide, and he was a fount of information about the customs, governmental-development plans and politics of the country.

He provided focused, informative commentary on the sites in the northern half of the country, including the fishing village of Al Khor, the mangroves of Al Thakhira, Al Zubarah Archaeological Site (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Al Jumail, an abandoned 19th-century fishing and pearling village.

This tour was expensive. After bargaining, I negotiated a price of $240, significantly less than the original asking price of $299. Siham’s published prices are per group (maximum of 10), and I understood that his expenses for mounting the tour for a solo traveler like me (car maintenance, gasoline, etc.) were basically the same as they would have been for a group.

Qatar Airways provides service to many world destinations, connecting in Doha. I think it is very worthwhile and economical to book a flight to a primary destination while taking advantage of a low-cost stopover package in Qatar. What you get is an exotic bonus visit to a destination that is a study in contrasts.

THEODORE LIEBERSFELD
Boynton Beach, FL


Bird market in Souq Waqif — Doha, Qatar.

Al Jumail, an abandoned 19th-century fishing village in Qatar.

Scene in the fishing village of Al Khor in northern Qatar.

The Pearl Monument in Doha, Qatar.