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Exploring the Island of Pearls — Bahrain

Meaning ‘two seas’ in Arabic, the Kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 islands. The first thing that may come to mind is oil, but Bahrain’s original claim to fame were the beautiful pearls that are still considered a national treasure to this day.

Once the home of ancient civilisations and empires, the country has a rich history and an intriguing culture. This, combined with welcoming, friendly people make the country an experience you are sure to remember.

Known as ‘The Island of Pearls’, Bahrain was once the centre of the global pearling industry. Now, you can experience that yourself. Go diving for pearls in what is sure to be a unique adventure and the best part is; any pearl that you find, you can keep as a souvenir. Surely, that’s better than a t-shirt.

Here are 10 more cool things to do, to help you make the most of your voyage.

Spend a Day in Muharraq
Just one bridge away from the capital, Muharraq is the home of the Pearling Trail, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2012. Travel back in time and visit the old houses such as Al-Ghus House and Al-Jalahma House. Explore the markets of the Muharraq Souq and try some local delicacies. I recommend finishing off your day by watching the sunset over the Manama skyline at the port.

Try out the local food
There is no shortage of places to eat in Bahrain. The country offers a diverse array of cuisine for all kinds of foodies. Try a traditional Bahraini breakfast, which includes balaleet, egg and tomato, chickpeas and potatoes, all served with a traditional flat bread and kayak tea. For lunch, try the national dish, machboos (rice seasoned with a variety of spices, usually served with lamb, chicken or fish). Restaurants such as Haji’s Café in Manama offer both breakfast and lunch for a very reasonable price. For dinner, I recommend the shawarma/malghoom at Siraj Restaurant in Adliya. They also offer falafel as a vegetarian option.

Take in a millennia of history in just one day
The National Museum has nine main halls, showcasing the heritage of the Kingdom. It covers 6000 years of history, all the way from the Dilmun period to modern Bahrain. It contains burial mounds, ancient manuscripts, traditional clothes and other exhibits. Relax a bit at Darseen Café, then travel to Bahrain Fort, a short drive away. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, it is the oldest manmade structure in the country, estimated to have been built around 2200 BC. It was once the capital of the Dilmun Civilisation. I recommend it as a must for anyone visiting Bahrain, especially history lovers.

Explore the Souq in Manama
The Bab Al Bahrain is the gateway to the Manama Market. Explore the colourful alleyways, look around the hundreds of shops, which sell everything you might want. Enjoy the aroma of the spices in front of the stores. Good for budget shopping and offers a much cheaper alternative to the malls. I recommend trying the food from Aloo Basheer. Ask the locals and they will point you towards a little restaurant which has been in that very spot for 60 years. Try the samosa and the potato patties available in both spicy and mild.

Take a Desert tour
Spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of the capital and take a trip to the desert. Visit the first oil well in the region where the industry began. Visit the Tree of Life, that has survived for over 400 years without a steady water supply. Mentioned in the movie L.A Story (1991), Academy Award and Grammy Award winner Steve Martin, calls it one of the most mystical places on earth. Better yet, if you are visiting from December to February, rent a tent and spend a night camping the Bahraini way. Sit near a campfire and have a barbeque like most locals do whenever they spend the nights in the deserts of Sakhir.

See the Fauna
Visit the Al Areen Wildlife Park and Reserve to see both local and exotic animals. Enjoy the sights of different birds swimming and moving freely about in the Water Birds Park or visit the Wild Animal Complex and see the lions, tigers, and hyenas. Take a picture with a falcon and see these magnificent birds of prey up close. See the giraffes, zebras and ostriches running around freely. I also recommend the Royal Camel Farm, which is home to over 600 camels, all for bred for preservation. Fond of horses? Then visit one of the many riding centers and get the chance to ride the majestic Arabian horses. I recommend the Twin Palms Riding Centre.

Visit the Al Dar Island
Just a short ferry ride away from the main island, the islands offer a great change of pace for locals and tourists alike. You can rent beach cabanas for reasonable prices. The island offers warm, calm waters alongside water sports such as scuba diving and snorkeling. Book a dolphin watching tour and catch a glimpse of these playful creatures. In the mood for a beach party? Then visit on the weekend, where the DJ is blasting out music all night.

Pick a water park
In the mood to spend a whole day having fun with water? Then visit the Lost Paradise of Dilmun Waterpark. The park contains a spa pool, tube slides, raft slides, speed slides and other exciting rides. Need to relax for a while? There is also a sandy beach with artificial waves. Want something smaller? The Wahoo! Water Park, located in the middle of the capital, inside a mall no less. This is the first indoor waterpark in the entire Middle East, and despite being inside a mall, it is set over 15,000 square meters. It houses water slides, an artificial beach, and surfing. Yes, surfing.

Enjoy the night life
Everything comes to life when the sun goes down and there are many pubs and nightclubs in and around the capital for those love to party. Alcohol is permitted and sold in most of the clubs and hotels. If that isn’t your scene, then fear not. All the malls and shops are open until 10PM on weekdays and until midnights on weekends. I recommend a stroll in Adliya, which has become the home of art in Bahrain.

Join in the Festivities
There are festivals and events throughout the year on the island. There is the Spring of Culture Festival, held every year from February to April. This features theatre such as Shakespeare (in English), Art Exhibitions, Music and Concerts. Some headlining acts in the past included Andrea Bocelli, John Legend, El Divo and Rita Ora. There is also Gergaon, where children dress up in traditional clothes and go around houses asking for sweets, similar to Halloween. This includes a major event in Muharraq every year. The date changes every year according to the Islamic Calender, so check it out if you happen to be in the Kingdom then. If you had to pick just one however, I would recommend the National Day celebrations on 16th and 17th of December. During these days, the island comes to life in red, the national colour. There are also fireworks displays, music and dancing everywhere.

Have fun and do let me and the guy’s and gal’s at Travamigos know how you get on. We would love to hear about your experiences.

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