July 06, 2023

Escaping The City For A Day’s Adventure in Zekreet

Qatar's capital Doha is a city jam-packed full of beautiful buildings, stunning architecture, and heaps of exciting things to see and do. But, even with the multitude of green spaces dotted around the capital, the manicured beaches and spectacular ocean views along the urban sprawl's coastline, sometimes you feel the need to escape the city limits and find a haven away from the 24-hour hustle and bustle.

Fortunately, Qatar is a small country - only 160 km from north to south and 90 km at its widest point, east to west. To put that into perspective: the Qatari Peninsula landmass is on a par with the petite Caribbean island Jamaica and the tiny South American Falkland Islands; even the Bahamas is bigger than Qatar. So, heading out of the city for a day isn't a huge undertaking. Within an hour's drive, you can leave the city's hubbub behind and find yourself in the sand dunes of the south, at the mangrove forests lining the east coast, the wild beaches to the west of the country, or the ancient heritage sites to the north. One area we particularly love for an out-of-town getaway is the Zekreet Peninsula - a relatively barren desert landscape but with a surprisingly wide range of things to do and see.

So, if you are looking for somewhere to take a break from the animated commotion of city life, a chance to take in some nature and relax, or if you're new to Qatar and excited to explore further than the capital, then Zekreet is the perfect place to start. Luckily, we've put together a guide to spending a day on the peninsula to help you make the most of your adventures:

The Zekreet Peninsula (also known as Abrouq)

Around an hour's drive north-west from Doha along the Dukhan Highway, the Zekreet Peninsula protrudes outwards from Qatar's thumb-like shape into the surrounding Persian Gulf. The landscape is mostly a flat, stony desertscape interspersed with eroded limestone landforms that rise from the low-lying ground, small oases of trees, bushes and plants, and a rugged coastline. The peninsula is part of the UNESCO Al Reem Biosphere Reserve, a protected area of unique natural importance.

From Zekreet Village, at the start of the peninsula, to the tip of the tiny protruding landmass is only about 20 km, but across this small area of stony barren land, you will find virgin beaches, archaeological sites, a mystery village, art sculptures, lunar-like rock formations and a host of wildlife - more than enough to take up a day's exploring…

Zekreet Village to Richard Serra’s East-West/West-East Sculpture

Image: Davor Flam/Shutterstock.com

If you start your day on the peninsula at Zekreet Village, it's a great jump-off point to begin your day's adventure. While the village of Zekreet is mainly a small habitation for local workers, it is worth stopping at the restored Heritage Mosque and 1950s Imam's House to get a snapshot of traditional Qatari village-style architecture. A three-minute drive north of the village from the mosque are some 18th-century fort ruins. The fort remains, claimed to have been built by a pirate ruler of Qatar, outline a quadrangle shape with a circular watch tower in each corner. The fort was most likely created to protect the shallow coastal area, which would have been used as a port for trading goods.

Having explored the fort, your next port of call is to find the American artist Richard Serra's desert art installation - four colossal steel plates standing vertically and in a line across the barren plains. However, despite the tallest plates being 55 ft above the ground, it's not necessarily a straightforward job - an ode to how isolating the desert can be!

From the fort ruins, head north for around 15 minutes before following a dirt track on the left. The sculpture lies another few minutes to the east. If you have a GPS, better to enter the following coordinates to guide you to your destination - N25 31.019' / E050 51.948'.

Serra's East-West/West-East sculpture stands in a long valley stretching towards the sea between two eroded gypsum escarpments. Despite the region's variable topography, Serra manages to align the four slabs perfectly in height and distance between one another along a one-kilometre route. The result is that each slab dwarfs the next when viewed at a distance, but in reality, they are all the same size. The slabs are in stark contrast to the surrounding desert and, designed to bring the landscape's enormity into sharp focus, give you the sensation of smallness compared to the vastness around you. It also provides some awesome photo opportunities!

One of the best views you can get of the slabs is from the top of the escarpments on either side. So, if you are up for a scramble to the top, you'll see impressive views of the desert, the sculpture and the sparkling sea in the distance.

Zekreet Mountain Valley

Image: Sanjay JS/Shutterstock.com

Whether you scale the hills around the East-West sculpture or not, head north next (on reaching the end of the road away from the sculpture and towards the sea) to Zekreet Mountain Valley. Here you will have another opportunity to admire the rock formations that make up a large proportion of the peninsula landscape and maybe even venture to the top of these hills and plateaus along the way.

'Mountain' is probably a little over-ambitious to describe the hills in Zekreet Mountain Valley, but the topography is striking and almost lunar-like. The long valley is bounded on both sides by high limestone escarpments, with their distinct sedimentary layers revealed after centuries of erosion. With the sea at one end and the desert stretching away from the other, the valley is relatively isolated, and the eerie silence only adds to the feeling you get of being on an alien planet.

The deep valleys and surrounding hills in Zekreet Mountain Valley provide plenty of hiking and climbing opportunities. Also, keep your eyes open; this area - formed under the sea - is a perfect place to try and spot fossils.

Film City and the Desert Mushrooms

Image: Hasan Zaidi/Shutterstock.com

From Mountain Valley, your next destination is a mystery city at the heart of the peninsula alongside an oasis of desert trees and shrubs. Seemingly devoid of life and built in the traditional Arabian style, you would be forgiven for thinking you had come across an ancient village inexplicably abandoned. However, Film City, a fortified little town of sand-coloured buildings with flat roofs, a mosque, and bespeckled with palm trees, is, as its name suggests, a faux city explicitly built for filming. Apparently, this film location was the home to a Qatari soap opera cast and crew, but the details are a mystery.

Heading north from Mountain Valley, Film City is relatively easy to find if you veer towards the centre of the landmass and keep your eyes open for the turrets of the city walls and the minaret of the mosque sticking up from the desert. Once there, the gates are usually opened and manned by the security guard/caretaker, who is happy to allow guests to wander around the town streets and rooftop walkways. You can easily spend an hour exploring and taking some very instagrammable pictures.

Speaking of instagrammable shots, a few kilometres northwest of Film City, you can find some fabulous mushroom-like limestone rock formations, which make for some very aesthetic and artful photographs. The mushroom rocks, pillars of rock topped with a wider platform, can thank the wind for their unusual shape. The wind, over time, carves into the softer rock layers underneath a harder surface layer, leaving the seemingly impossible top-heavy shapes we see today.

Wild Beaches of the North and Ras Abrouq

Image: Keena Ithar/Shutterstock.com

The Zekreet Peninsula is bordered by coastline on every side, so it has multiple beach locations to visit. However, if you head further north and west around the coast from the mushroom rocks to north Zekreet and Ras Abrouq (the most northerly point), the beaches in this parcel of land are outstanding. Isolated and windswept, with shallow, warm and crystal clear waters and beaches ranging from soft golden sand to coarse sand and rocky outcrops, these beaches are stunningly beautiful. Backed by rocky cliffs, miles of barren desert and distinct rock formations, you could easily imagine that you have the world to yourself.

When you're not busy enjoying the silence, Zekreets beaches are great for spending the afternoon paddling in the sea, exploring the rock cliffs for fossils, the rock pools for living creatures, swimming, snorkelling, and fishing and even some windsurfing if that's your bag. Whatever, the area with its shallow waters is safe for kids, quiet and relaxing for parents and full of adventure.

If you want to extend your time in Zekreet from a day to the full 24 hours, why not stay on the beach into the evening and spend the night camping? Bring a tent and something to make a BBQ and prepare to watch a remarkable sunset, sunrise, and the stunning night sky as all the stars come out to play with no light pollution to hide them.

Other Activities

Image: Cog2019/Shutterstock.com

Aside from the above, Zekreet is a great place to spot wildlife, native and migratory. From wading plovers by the sea, crested larks, rock thrushes, shrikes and distinctive hoopoes with their orange, black and white feathers and fluffy crest to flamingos and the impressive fish hunting osprey, there are numerous birds to watch. You can also keep an eye out for various lizards and snakes (including the false cobra), camels, oryx, gazelles, wild deer and ostrich.

You can even try a spot of climbing while in the region. Climbers groups have set up climbing routes in some of the higher escarpments east of Richard Serra's artwork. There are between ten and twenty-five established routes, with crags from 10 -15 m in height and ranging in technical difficulty from 4c to 6b. Over the years, Qatar's climbing community has provided top rope bolting for each route. So, if you have your own climbing ropes, belay device, harness, and shoes, there's nothing to stop you from getting started.

Things to Remember

Zekreet is best explored in a 4x4 as the terrain is rocky and can be very bumpy and unpredictable. Having a GPS and a fully charged phone is also a wise move. Take plenty of water and food, and fill up with petrol before you go, as there are no shops or petrol stations beyond the main road and the city of Dukhan. Likewise, take sun cream and a sunshade if you intend to be on the beach for any length of time, and if you plan to camp or bbq, take fuel for the bbq with you as you won't find much for lighting a fire in the desert. And finally, don't forget your camera or phone to take pictures; Zekreet is a photographer's heaven!

Main image: Keena Ithar/Shutterstock.com

Published: August 09, 2022
Last updated: July 06, 2023
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