When I decided to cross off visiting Abu Dhabi on my bucket list, I started my research like any self-respecting woman would – I cued up Sex and the City 2 and took notes. Shop for shoes in a dimly lit souk—check. Ride a camel in the desert—check. Walk along the beach on the Arabian Gulf —check. Buy traditional khol eyeliner from above souk—check. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha’s decadent girls trip gave me plenty of inspiration and expectations. But reality set in because my Arabian adventure was going to be solo and I started worrying about what I could do alone—especially as a Black woman. Quickly my colleague Danielle Pointdujour put my nerves at ease when she told me of multitude of Black women jetting to the UAE for travel and career. She even did a story about it.
With my nerves put on hold, I packed my scarves and midi dresses and headed to the middle east for my solo Arabian adventure. First stop: Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi. Although the Andaz hotels are subsidized by the massive Hyatt Hotel Group, each Andaz feels uniquely local and that’s how they like it.
Bonus: this Andaz is the first in the middle east and its UAE charm can be felt seconds after stepping into the elevated lobby.
Formerly known as the “Leaning Tower of Abu Dhabi” due to its 18-degree tilt, the interior redesign marries well its modern structure with Arabian tradition. The newly-minted hotel’s earthy aesthetic centers around four Islamic pillars:
If these elements don’t jumpstart a passion for Emirati culture, then they surely will after a look through the PULSE guidebook. The one-of-a-kind book features striking photographs of hidden gems and off-the-beaten path attractions recommended by an array of guests and locals. While reading it in the lounge, I inspired to pay careful attention to Emirati’s honey varietals for their aromatic and healing abilities while visiting spice shops in souks. Taking notes, I sipped more Arabian coffee before leaving Andaz’s modern oasis.
Anytime I travel, immersing myself into culture is always a must when I travel. At the top of my Abu Dhabi list was visiting a mosque for an introductory lesson in Islam. I took a group tour of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is named after the founding father of the UAE. The mosque is one of the world’s largest mosques and carries inspiration from many Islamic countries (Morocco, Egypt, etc.) – a nod toward Zayed’s vision for Islamic diversity. The mosque spared no expense: its massive chandelier is an upside date palm with fronds made of jewels, and the prayer hall has the largest handmade carpet (my tour guide said it had two billion knots and it was made by women). Still, the most humbling aspect was learning only the Islamic names of God adorns its walls.
As the sun began setting, I joined a desert excursion tour with sand dune bashing – do not sit in the back of an SUV if you experience motion sickness – and camel riding. Admittedly, I felt this was a blatant appropriation of Emirati culture, but I discovered it’s a culture they are extremely proud of sharing. I was enthralled by the belly dancing and intricate beauty of henna painting.
Last on my culture list: visiting the Abu Dhabi’s Women’s Association, where Emirati arts and crafts are made and preserved. From weaving al sudu pieces to embroidering tunics, visitors can witness Emirati women keeping their culture alive. There’s even a small, modest exhibit showcasing their Bedouin roots and traditions in the welcome center and gift shop. Looking back on my experience there, I wish I had bought more gifts there because of their authenticity and knowing the proceeds went directly to the artisans. Before visiting the artisans, please dress modestly and ask for permission before snapping a picture.
Traveling to a country rich in tradition can feel like work as you navigate its cities hallowed streets and culture sites. After three days learning Abu Dhabi’s Arabian history, including a self-guided tour of the “Roads of Arabia—Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia” exhibit at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, I craved some good ole R&R.
I headed to the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas on Saadiyat Island, about a 10-minute drive from the Louvre. Within minutes of checking in, I dropped my bags (but not before eyeing the pool size tub) and headed immediately to its pillowy beach. Although the azure waters were a bit chilly for my toes, the sound of its waves and the bustling winds were an instant woosah.