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Dhow You Believe in Magic?

From Doha to Dubai and from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, a private dhow cruise is a must-do for the Middle East aesthete: transport from centuries ago and luxury for today.

They’ve navigated the seas of the East since before recorded history. The romantic dhows around the Arabian coast are a curious but convenient holiday excursion ranging from pleasant night cruises to exploring the blue fjords of Oman. From Qatar to Muscat, the dhow experience is a must-do for the Middle East aesthete.

An ancient, uniquely-designed Arab sailboat, the dhow dates back centuries upon centuries, and yet, in the Middle East, the tradition of the dhow remains alive, transformed from those early days of commerce to comfort.

Dubai’s Creek and Abu Dhabi’s Corniche

ABOVE: A short pleasure cruise in a traditional wooden dhow down Dubai Creek with a view of a mosque in the United Arab Emirates.

Experiencing a culture from the water can make a world of difference. Dhow cruise charters are available in abundance in the UAE, and their services are easily tailored to suit different travelers’ needs.

In Abu Dhabi, you can sail along the Corniche – the winding road that covers the full length of the northwest coast of the city – resplendent with its sweeping beaches and curving promenade, experiencing it all from the wonder of the water. From romantic candlelit dinners for two beneath the stars and cheerful afternoon lunches under a bright midday sun to watching the sinking sun behind a city skyline swirled in pink and gold – well, there are few better ways to enjoy the magic of Abu Dhabi than from a deluxe double-decker dhow.

ABOVE: The Corniche from a dhow in Abu Dhabi.

Dubai also offers a variety of luxury dhow expeditions, priding itself on cruises offered in true Bedouin style down Dubai Creek. As evening falls, the view of the city’s skyline and ambitious skyscrapers can be enjoyed along with an elegant, buffet-style meal. The experience calls back to a lost era of the dhow, combined, of course, with the ultra-modern charm of the UAE’s largest and most opulent city.

Bright Skylines in Doha

ABOVE: A night cruise against the backdrop of Doha’s skyline. Dhows await at the Doha Harbor for personalized trips.

If you’re talking Qatari dhows, you’re talking Doha. There’s a delightful array of dhow cruises for visitors to take advantage of in Qatar’s capital. The Doha Harbor features a selection of traditional, historic-looking boats – though the interiors are usually equipped with all the finest modern amenities – awaiting personalized charter.

Half-day cruises, water sports cruises, relaxing dinner-by-sunset cruises – you name it, they’ll cater to it. Sunset is the best time to head out on the water in your dhow. The main attraction, besides the setting desert sun, is of course the Doha Corniche, where passengers can marvel at the blue water in the day and at night the skyline is bright, stunning, and surprisingly peaceful.

Fjords of Oman

ABOVE: The fjords of Oman are blue and clear and ready for all manner of activities.

Hands down, Oman is home to the best dhow cruises in the Middle East, one of the few that get you away from the strip and into some spectacular natural scenery.

A trip to Oman’s “Norway of Arabia” on the Musandam Peninsula combines adventure, history, and natural scenic beauty. Here, dhow sail into the khors (fjords) along the coastline of northern Oman’s Musandam, known as the Fjordlands of Arabia.

A one-day trip involves more than one might think. Travelers can explore the khors in kayaks, with snorkels, or just floating in the crystal blue water. Later the trip involves traveling inland to the ancient villages dotting the coast. If you’re lucky, you might even catch some dolphins at play.

Some of the longer dhow tours will take guests further inland to spend a couple of nights in Khasab, an inspiring mix of history and scenery.

ABOVE: Dhows linger in the clear water of an Omani fjord.

The ocean seems so fascinatingly stark in the Middle East – especially in areas bounded by desert. Whether it’s romantic candlelight or snorkeling in the fjords, a dhow cruise combines ancient tradition with modern luxury. Sitting amongst the empty rocks on pristine, azure waters, it can feel like you’re on another planet. It’s the same planet, of course, but perhaps with a little more magic in it.