A totally unknown country, apart from the fact it was invaded by its neighbour in 1990, Kuwait is a land full of mysteries that few people try or can unveil.
|Kuwait City's skyline seen from the Corniche|
It’s a place so out of the ordinary, that its native people are a minority. Heirs to one of the world’s most ancient civilization, today with a strong and conservative Muslim tradition, very rich due to the discovery of the black gold in the 20th century.
Although the population was severely scarred by Iraq’s invasion twenty something years ago, today there are no signs of it. What you will see is a very prosper country, with high-rises, wide avenues packed with sports cars, Kuwaitis living a reality others would only dream of, and no tourists.
One of the reasons why very few people visit Kuwait is because it only offers business or visitor (not tourist) visas, for which you need an invitation letter from the company or the local inviting you. Some four and five star hotels are also able to help you with the visa, but must stay with them. Visitors from 35 countries, including the EU, the USA, Canada and Australia may get a visa on arrival – I’ll be writing about it in more details on another post.
The Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah is the Head of State. He is in power since 2006 and in 2012 he dissolved the parliament, after it demanded more independence as a consequence of the Arab Spring, which didn’t reach the country.
As one would imagine, the whole country is a desert, bathed by the Arabian Gulf. What’s interesting is that, despite its more than 10,000 square miles, Kuwait is practically a city-State, since apart from the capital, Kuwait City, there are only a handful of villages in the desert.
|Kuwait City's Grand Mosque (source: Aware Centre)|
Kuwait City has beautiful greenish-blue beaches that are far from its counterparts in Ipanema or Santa Monica. They’re very quiet, only with one or another Kuwaiti swimming or driving a jet-ski. The city has a few interesting attractions, like the National Museum and the souk (Arab market), where you can sit and watch people haggling.
The city also has its fair share of shopping malls, very common in the Arabian Gulf, due to the intense heat outdoors.
|The Kuwait Towers, the country's most famous landmark|
As I mentioned, Kuwaitis are minority in their own country (45% of the population) and foreigners do the jobs (rich) locals won’t do. The majority of them are Arabs from other countries (Egypt mainly, Yemen, Lebanon) and Filipinos, who do the low skilled jobs, followed by Americans and Europeans, who working as doctors, engineers and at multinationals.
Many people are surprised by how strong the Kuwaiti Dinar (KD or KWD), the local currency, is. In the beginning of June KD1 would buy USD3,60, €2,70, £2,30. As a result, the cost of living is high, and for us travellers, hotels are very expensive, even what would be considered "budget" ones. Hostels are non-existent.
With only one city, expensive and with mostly shopping malls as main attraction, you must be asking why on earth I visited Kuwait. Why?... I’m afraid my answer to this question is more philosophical than objective. Obviously there are other countries in the region, like Oman, with many more attractions than Kuwait, and I agree that that given the choice, you should visit them first. But if you’re one of those lucky people whose job will send you to Kuwait, don’t think twice. Go!