Overnight Camping in Qatar
It’s easy to get caught up in the bright lights, heavy traffic and luxe life that Doha has to offer. But out in the desert, away from Doha’s dazzling skyline is a whole other world of starry skies, sandy beaches and a warm and relaxing seaside—perfect for an overnight camping trip with the family.
Elaine Woollard and her husband have been camping every year since they moved to Qatar eight years ago. Their children, Fred (5) and Samantha (4) have been camping since they were babies. Woollard says, “It’s just great to see the kids spend time outdoors and making their own fun. Sadly most of our camping crew has left Qatar recently, but we have many happy memories of the kids playing ‘Secret Seven,’ making dens and trying to persuade the dog to eat the wonderful dinner of sticks they had prepared for him.”
You may not think that Qatar has much to offer in regards to “the Great Outdoors,” but don’t let the dust and dreary sand of the city put you off. And now, October through April, is the best time to go camping in Qatar—the weather is more agreeable and the jellyfish are gone (mostly).
“Great,” you may be thinking, “but where should we camp and what do we need to bring?”
Where to camp
In Qatar, you have two basic choices for camping: offroad or sedan-friendly campsites. Amr Elaoiby is a co-founder of Qatar Offroaders, a community group of dune-driving enthusiasts. Although the group’s focus is on driving, camping goes hand-in-hand with a day-long dune-bashing excursion. Here is Elaoiby’s list of places to camp in Qatar:
Sedan camping spots—accessible by all cars
- Wakrah North
Shallow water, crowded
- Wakrah Family Beach
Fenced beach area for families, toilets and kids' playground, shallow water, crowded on weekends
- Umm Bab Family Beach
Fenced beach area for families, toilets and kids' playground, shallow water, very private
- Dukhan Family Beach
Park away from the beach, usually crowded on weekends
- Zekreet Village
Shallow water, flat beach, good for camping, empty with some cars passing near you
- Fuwairit North
Camp next to turtle area, soft sand, good beach, usually crowded on weekends
Soft sand, good beach, crowded
- Sealine North
Somewhat dirty beach, good water but filled with jellyfish, always crowded
Offroad camping spots—you’ll need a 4x4 to get to these
- Ras Al Burooq
Camp between cliffs, amazing scenery, very private, near Zekreet coast guard
- Fuwairit South
Camp at the far right side of Fuwairit beach after the turtle spot, soft sand and possible mud, usually crowded on weekends
- Fuwairit Cliffs
Camp on the left side of the turtle spot, includes driving on cliffs and rocks, semi-private
- Sealine South
Good beach, good water, not many campers, but a lot of cars will be passing by
- Southwest Inland Sea
Good beach, amazing water in Qatar, it’s secluded location keeps it from getting crowded despite it being a well-known camping spot
- Southeast Inland Sea
Good beach, best swimming water in Qatar, overlooking Saudi mountains on the other side of the water less than 1 km away
- North Inland Sea
Good beach, amazing water, possible jellyfish depending on the season, famous camping and fishing spot, usually empty
Picking a spot
When picking a camping spot, consider the depth of the water. Shallow water is great for little ones who just want to splash, but older and stronger swimmers may appreciate water that’s a little deeper.
Millie Hyde-Smith and her husband have been in Qatar for nine and a half years. Although they camped for years before they had kids, they have been overnight camping as a family with their daughters, Bella (6) and Beatrix (4) for the past few years. Zekreet is their choice camp location, with plenty of shallow water, rock pools and climbing for the kids.
They typically only camp for one day but last winter they did a two-night trip and Hyde-Smith said it was their best trip ever and much more relaxing. “We went for an early morning family walk to the old film set, just beautiful at 7am,” she says. “We will definitely be doing two nights again, though it takes a bit of organising and we only just had enough food!”
It’s also important to pay attention to tide lines—you wouldn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to find the tide washing you away. If the sand is dark or brown, then steer clear, according to Elaoiby, this is a “subkah,” a salt-flat that will likely fill with water once the tide comes in.
The “Woolygreaves” Family, as Woollard calls them, also prefers camping in Zekreet as it gets less 4x4 traffic than other spots like the Inland Sea. If you’re camping in a busy area, keep an eye out for lots of tire tracks—as those indicate a common pathway for other cars. At night, other vehicles might not be able to see your campsite, especially if you camp too close to a dune, so do your best to camp away from high-traffic areas.
What to pack
When it comes to packing for your trip, Hyde-Smith has a few suggestions. “Borrow a tent to see if you like it before buying all the equipment. Go with a seasoned camper or get good coordinates,” she says. “Remember, when camping in Qatar you need to take everything as very few places are anywhere near a shop, or even other people. My special tip is a small brush for the tent—no one likes to sleep in sand and kids seem to spray sand everywhere.”
When selecting a tent, Woollard recommends buying big. “If there’s four of you, buy a six-man tent,” she says. “Four-men tents are very small.” She also suggests buying your gear from Carrefour and Géant. “No need for expensive camping equipment from Go Sports or anywhere. Because of all the sand, it usually doesn’t last much more than a season anyway,” she says.
Depending on your children’s ages, you likely won’t need to bring many toys. The kids will likely have enough to entertain themselves between the sand and sea and depending on where you camp, there may be good areas for climbing. Paulien Bay and her husband have been living and camping in Qatar for 11 years. They have two children, Antonio (7) and Katalina (5). When they camp out in Zekreet or Fuwairat, they sometimes bring along their paddleboards, so they can explore the water further out from shore. “It’s a great way to see sting rays, turtles and other fish,” Bay says.
What to eat
Water should be the first thing on your list. Camping in Qatar tends to be quite far off the beaten path, away from grocery stores and mini-marts, so make sure you are well prepared before heading out. Elaoiby recommends bringing six litres of water for each person for each day.
Otherwise, meals can be whatever you like that travels well and doesn’t require too much prep—although it’s best to do as much prep at home as possible. As Hyde-Smith says, “You don't want to be cooking all day.”
To keep cooking time to a minimum, she brings ready-made lunches like pasta salad or mezze. For dinner, they used to barbecue marinated fish, kebabs and prawns, but recently they’ve gotten into traditional camp foods like sausage, beans and jacket potatoes baked in the fire, which she claims is the best type of food by far. For breakfast, they stick to croissants and bacon sandwiches and, as Hyde-Smith insists, “a strong cup of tea.”
Woollard says that for her family, “Breakfast is inevitably pastries. Dinner can be anything—from a fairly elaborate dinner to sausages and burgers. [Once] we camped at Christmas and did a full Christmas dinner (with chicken not turkey).”
Meanwhile Bay prefers to easy-to-prepare meals like steak and salad for her and her husband with hot dogs or chicken for their kids. She also makes veggie packs for snacks and soujouk, a spicy sausage, for the grill. Of course, she says, you can’t forget marshmallows for roasting, but her secret recipe is roasted bananas with chocolate. To make these great campfire treats, Bay says, lay the banana on its side in the skin and slice along the inside curve and stuff pieces of chocolate inside then just grill until soft. Make sure you don’t cut through the bottom otherwise the chocolate will just drip out.
Water is your biggest safety net when camping in the desert. Despite the fact that Qatar is not that large, don’t let that fool you into a false sense of security. You can still get lost in the desert and with the occasional spot without cell coverage, there’s a small chance that you could get stuck for awhile. In case you do get stuck, it’s wise to pack some extra non-perishables for the car like granola bars, crisps, anything that can last a few days without needing to be cooled.
While Qatar certainly has wildlife, indeed there are no bears or wolves or any large predators to be concerned about. In fact, the only “wildlife” you’ll need to watch out for are crazy dune-bashing drivers—and that’s only if you head out towards the Inland Sea. If you plan to venture out into the dunes, you may want to consider attaching reflectors or reflective strips to your tent so late-drivers can better see your campsite.
If you do decide to go 4x4 camping, Elaoiby has some tips for a safe trip through the desert:
Check your car before you head out.
Make sure your car is in good enough condition for a desert trek. Deflate your tires so that you have better traction on the sand. An ideal tire pressure is around 15 psi for most scenarios but this can vary depending on the car and terrain—you’ll have to use your judgement if you think you need more or less air, but be careful not to go too low (less than 10 psi for most vehicles) or you’ll risk damaging your rims or tires. Check your fluid levels and make sure you have a full tank of gas. If you don’t have a pump to re-inflate your tires when you’re ready to head home, the shop just outside the entrance to Sealine resort will inflate your tires for a small fee.
Never go into the desert without a backup.
If you can’t travel in a group (at least two cars) then pick an easy route and make sure someone knows where you are going. Dedicated offroaders may want to invest in a GPS device and a satellite phone, but Elaoiby says that they aren’t required; your mobile phone’s GPS will be sufficient in most cases, so make sure it’s fully charged.
Follow the tracks.
If you’re hesitant about a route, follow tracks from other cars. If they’ve made it through, there’s a better chance that you will be too.
The worst thing you can do coming down the side of dune in your 4x4, is brake. Braking increases your chance of flipping or getting stuck on a high traffic dune.
Know who to call.
If you get stuck, you could put on your hazards, but Elaoiby cautions against this as there’s no guarantee that the people who stop for you know how to help and they could end up making things worse. Instead, call the police, (999) or the Fazat Mawater rescue team (+974 7710-9999, +974 5581-6060, +974 3334-4622).
An overnight camping trip is a great way for the whole family to unplug and unwind. “Make the most of the winter weather and go as much as you can,” Hyde-Smith says. “Before you know it, it’s hot again and you have to wait another four to five months. It’s a unique Qatar experience so try it at least once whilst you are here. And of course, take your litter home (or at least to the nearest desert bin/skip).”