Archaeological Sites Near Manama
For archaeology students with a keen imagination, two temple sites near Manama are worth a visit, ideally on a guided tour, which can be arranged through the Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority (www.btea.bh or www.visitbahrain.bh). There is no public transport to get here, but both sites are signposted along Budaiya Hwy from Manama (but not if you’re driving in the other direction), and are close to the village of Bani Jamrah. The village is famous for textile weaving, and workshops sell hand-loomed cloth.
Barbar Temple, complex of three temples, was probably dedicated to Enki (the god of wisdom and sweet water) or maybe his son Enki. They were built around a freshwater spring and date back to the 2nd and 3rd millennium BC.
Tiny Ad Diraz Temple, dating from the 3rd millennium BC, is as raw an archaeological site as any student is likely to see, and given it resembles a few stumps guarded by crude wire fencing, imagination is key.
Worth a Trip: Wildlife on Hawar Islands
Approximately 50km southeast of Bahrain Island, close to the Qatari border, the largely uninhabited Hawar Islands are home to some of the rarest wildlife in the Gulf region. This collection of 36 islands, most of which are little more than banks of sand and shingle, was declared a protected area and nature reserve in 1996.
The islands and their surrounding waters are home to a host of endangered animals, birds and marine life, supported by the wetlands, mudflats and abundant sea grass meadows. Marine species include the endangered Indo-pacific humpbacked dolphin, green sea turtle and dugong, while on land you might see marshfrogs, rat snakes and the prehistoric-looking dhub (spiny tailed lizard), which can grow up to 76cm in length. The largest island, Jazirat Hawar (or just Hawar), is home to introduced Arabian gazelles and oryx.
Birdlife on the Hawars includes the world's largest colony of Socotra cormorants, a vulnerable species. These are frequently seen wings out, basking in the sun, on the numerous smaller islands of sand that disappear at high tide. The Hawars are on a migratory route, which sees hoopoes, swallows, wheaters, various gulls, scops owls and even the colourful European bee-eater pass through. On Sawad Al Janibiyah, where thousands of birds congregate throughout the year, look out for the western reef heron, ospreys and varieties of tern.
Jazirat Hawar, the only inhabited island in the archipelago, is almost entirely undeveloped, except for a police garrison and the Hawar Beach Hotel, a small resort under the management of the Southern Tourism Company, which also runs the boat to and from Bahrain. Once on the island, visitors must stay on the resort site unless embarking on an organised bus, 4WD or mountain-bike tour. While the lack of independence may feel restrictive, wildlife enthusiasts will thoroughly appreciate these exploratory tours that virtually guarantee sightings of the island's stunning wildlife. The hotel can also organise kayaking to nearby islands, as well as snorkelling in the shallows off the coast.
A boat leaves daily at 8am from Durrat Marina in the south of Bahrain, returning from Hawar at 4pm. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Hawar Island Reservations Offices. Note: day trips are restricted to Fridays and Saturdays and must be booked well in advance.