Qatar Desert header

Qatar is a flat and desert peninsula sticking out of Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf. It is now a well-known airline hub and millions of people find themelves in Qatar for a stopover. But how many of them actually get out of the airport?

I took the opportunity to visit Qatar twice during a very long stopovers on my way to Asia.

Choosing flights with very long stops enabling me to get out and visit (think at least 20 hours) is something I try doing as much as I can. Each time, I rented a car at the airport for a very affordable price (and as you can guess, petrol costs nothing there). This is in my opinion the best option to visit Qatar free and easy, if like me you want to see Qatar beyond its capital city, Doha. Of course, you can also opt for organized tours in the desert as well. I haven’t tried them personally but they are probably worth trying.

I wrote this article to share my little explorations of the Qatar desert with my rented car, so it can give you a bit of inspiration if you are planning to do the same. I will first talk about experience visiting Qatar, and then list 3 spots you can visit on your own in the desert.

My Experience Discovering The Qatar Desert

First Qatar Desert Road Trip

It is no secret that Qatar is a desert country but I hadn’t realized to what extent. It’s easy to find pictures of deserts from around the world, featuring giant sand dunes, or small mountain ranges… you know, that kind of things. At least, there is SOMETHING.

On my first trip, I drove across the peninsula to a small town called Dukhan. On the way, all around, the immensity of the desert. NOTHING. I believe if there was a highway on the Moon or Mars, the landscape wouldn’t look that much different! It is quite striking to drive in such an emptiness. If you ignore the electricity poles and cable regularly crossing the desert, most of the time all you will see is an endless flat landscape, with nothing but sand and stones.

Temperature forecast, in May: 41°C (106°F), in Doha (on the coast), and in the shade. The thing is, you are in the desert, and there is not shade.

I wanted to see how it would feel to tackle the desert of Qatar, I was served! The heat was absolutely overwhelming, at the very limit of the unbearable. My car of course had air conditioning, making the temperature bearable but already very hot. At the second you turn it off, your car becomes an oven.

When I was out walking in the desert, after 10 minutes I would start feeling that my body won’t take it anymore very soon, and I would rush back to the car for some life-saving air conditioning. I would sit there for a while, drenched with sweat, mouth wide open breathing loudly as if I had just run a marathon.

In any case, it is certainly not the kind of landscape you see everyday. So I found it interesting to experience it. I have an endless curiosity for the whole world, and the empty landscapes of Qatar also deserve to be discovered!

Qatar Sealine Desert

Second Qatar Desert Road Trip

A year after my first experience of the desert of Qatar totally melting under the hot sun, I decided to go again! I must be insane. But this time we are in March and the weather is very pleasant! Warm without being too hot.

During my first visit of Qatar, I had discovered an overwhelmingly empty flat desert of rocks and sand. On my second road trip, I chose to drive south. South of the city of Mesaieed, the landscape gets more interesting.

This experience was more pleasant than the first one. The view over the endless dune fields at sunset remains a wonderful memory. And again, in March, the temperature was warm but not hot, just perfect.

Bottom line: if you plan to visit Qatar (or any country around the Gulf), go in winter! Please, avoid the summer. Even if you think you like heat, I like heat too. But this kind of heat, is not fun at all. Don’t even try going in spring, it’s just almost as bad as in summer (remember my first experience was in May…). Traveling between say, October and March, will give you the most pleasant and comfortable experience.

3 Places To Visit in The Qatar Desert

Singing Sand Dunes

Don’t imagine the glorious dunes of the Namib Desert, these are more modest. However, judging by their name, you can tell they are special. They are called like that because when certain wind, temperature and humidity conditions are met, the flowing sand would produce a low pitched vibration and sound, called the singing of the dune. Unfortunately when I was there the dunes were not singing!

Once again, I felt like I was exploring some remote planet. On the ground, only strange white stones that you can see in the panorama above, mixed with orange sand. And all around, there is nothing. As I was trying to climb one of the dunes, I stopped for a minute, my feet half buried in the sand.

The sand was so hot that after a few seconds it was starting to burn my feet through my shoes and socks! What astounded me was seeing some very healthy and green plants living there, the roots growing in this burning hot sand. Nature is amazing.

I have rarely felt so much hostility in any place I have been to. You find yourself so isolated, the heat is so extreme, the lack of shelter of any kind (except your car) feels so intimidating , that you realize that if anything goes wrong, you can be in a life-threatening situation very quickly. Luckily my car worked just fine!

VIRTUAL TOUR – Singing Sand Dunes

Find yourself lost in the emptiness of the Qatari Desert, in a Martian landscape! (1 panorama).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Rock Formations of Zekreet

You can choose to take the Dukhan Highway and drive across the country to the Zekreet Peninsula. The region is famous for its strange rock formations in the middle of the desert, on the west coast of Qatar.

Some rocks have the shape of a mushroom. They are often small plateaus made of a harder rock that was not eroded, unlike the desert around.

This area itself is a small peninsula that you can easily explore if you have a 4-Wheel Drive. The road going into the peninsula is really bad and I didn’t want to risk my car (I didn’t have a 4WD), so I chose to not drive too far. But already when you reach the area you will inevitably notice that the landscape is changing.

If you do go further into this landscape, you can visit a spot called “Film City”, where a replica Arabic village has been built. You can find more information about it here.

 

Qatar Zekreet

VIRTUAL TOUR – Zekreet Rock Formations

Walk among the strange rocks of Zekreet (1 panorama).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Sealine Beach & Sand Dunes

If you follow the road heading south from Doha, you will first pass the towns of Al Wakrah and Mesaieed. After that, you will notice that the landscape is slowly changing to become more sandy. At some point, you will reach the end of the road at a hotel, the Sealine Beach Resort.

At this point, the Qatar desert is the kind of majestic desert we all love, with quite impressive giant sand dunes bordering the seashore. Around the bigger dunes, some shrubs catch the flying sand to form smaller dunes.

The dunes are a cool playground for the Qatari people who love to feel the power of their 4-wheel drive cars speeding like crazy on the sand.

I didn’t have any 4WD but it was just as thrilling to explore these dune on foot, climbing the tallest ones, and enjoy the panoramic view around. I got there on a late afternoon, and the light gradually turning orange on the vast desert landscape remains until today a beautiful memory.

If you are on an organized tour if you are skilled enough to drive a 4WD in the dunes (but I do recommend to hire a local driver), you can push further south to visit the Inland Sea.

The Inland Sea is one of the top natural destinations of Qatar, and it is said that it is one of the rare places in the world where sand dunes directly meet the sea.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Sand Dunes Near Sealine Beach

Explore the landscapes of southern Qatar and the vastness of the desert (2 panoramas).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Wrapping Up

Of course, these are just my modest explorations that I did during long stopovers. There is much more than these 3 spots to see in the Qatar Desert, but if like me you are just there for a day and just want to go around independantly, it can give you some ideas.

I feel Qatar is underestimated country. I came across many people who told me there is nothing there. I disagree. It make not be as obvious as tourism heavyweights like Thailand, the US or Italy. But if you take the time to research a little, you will see that there is anough to see to keep you busy for a few days, at least.

I do hope I will be able to visit Qatar a third time, this time staying several days, and really explore the whole country. If you have the opportunity to do so, don’t hesitate, just go!

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