Beaches

The coast of Qatar is an almost-continuous line of sandy beaches with pockets of limestone pavement. As pretty as it looks, the sea can be very shallow, making it almost impossible to swim at low tide. There are some good beaches, however, at Sealine Beach Resort near Mesaieed and near Al Ghariya Resort (check it's not turtle-nesting season). The nearest public-access beach close to Doha is at Katara. None of the wild beaches have visitor facilities, and lack of shade is a problem in the summer.

Don't Miss: Falconry

Falconry is an ancient art that dates at least from the 7th century BC. The first falconer, according to tradition, was a violent king of Persia who was so entranced by the grace and beauty of a falcon on the hunt that he had the bird captured so he could learn from it. What he learned, as the legend goes, changed him into a calm and wise ruler.

It is no easy task to train a bird of prey. The Bedouin, falconers par excellence, traditionally net their falcons (usually saker or peregrine) during their migration, using pigeons as bait. They train the birds through complex schedules of sleep deprivation and sparse feeding, retain them for as long as it takes to harvest fresh meat, and then set them free again at the onset of summer. Despite the rigorous training regimen, animal-welfare groups tend to focus on the falcons' prey (namely the rights and wrongs of hunting other animals using falcons) rather than the welfare of the falcons themselves.

It is estimated that 2000 falcons are still employed on the Arabian Peninsula each year. Today, birds are typically bred and ‘imprinted’ from hatchlings to create a bond that lasts a lifetime. Sporting achievement is measured not by the number of quarry caught but by the skill of the catch – and by the wisdom of leaving enough prey for tomorrow.

To get a measure of Qatar's falconry culture, visit the Falcon Souq where the elegant birds sit on perches in each store with leather helmets on. There are often buyers haggling over the price of a bird, and craftsmen building falcon accessories by hand. Shop owners might be able to tell you about falcon events taking place in Qatar, but these are usually ad hoc. Next door to the souq is the Falcon Hospital, where injured birds are cared for. When the hospital is not busy, staff are happy to show guests around.