Itching to pack your bags without eating into your savings? These countries are emerging as popular holiday destinations for travellers wanting to find value for money
While going on holiday is a luxury many of us love to treat ourselves to, it can take its toll on our wallets.
From pricey airfare to costly tours, accommodation and insurance, jetting off somewhere certainly doesn’t come cheap despite the advent of travel agencies, flight comparison websites and boarding options like Airbnb.
But that’s no reason to hold off your vacation plans, as there are countries that have recently emerged as affordable options for those travelling from the UAE.
These destinations are great for both short and long term holidays thanks to the UAE’s central location, making them all the more attractive for those planning to temporarily escape the capital’s hustle and bustle.
What to expect: With a fusion of influences rooted in Persian, Greek and Russian cultures, Georgia’s city of Tbilisi is a sight to behold for travellers fond of old architectural wonders that have withstood the test of time. The ideal months to visit are
mid-May to mid-October.
What to explore: The city is filled with ancient cathedrals including Sioni and Sameba, and medieval structures such as the Paliashvili Opera Theatre, Narikala Fortress and Georgian National Museum. Most attractions are free to visit and accessible by foot.
Wander through the backstreets and get lost in the maze of decrepit yet charming houses to gain a real feel of the city’s character.
The Dry Bridge Flea Market will take you back in time where local merchants are selling antique items and relics from the Soviet Union era; feel free to haggle.
If you have time, venture 20km north to visit the lush city of Mtskheta for a chance to see old churches like the Jvari Monastery and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. If you find the guided tours too expensive, you can opt to take the marshrutka mini bus taxis from Tbilisi for GEL 1 per person or a regular taxi for around GEL 20.
Where to stay: Hotel Orion Econom has rates below AED 100 per night.
Exchange rate: AED 1 = GEL 0.65. Flights from AED 1,800 with Gulf Air. For more information, including visas, visit: mfa.gov.ge
Best for: history buffs
What to expect: Sandwiched between Asia and Europe is this country with a rich ancient heritage and long history of conflict. Around 301 AD, Armenia became the first country in the world to embrace Christianity as its official religion, explaining the many churches and cathedrals that remain standing to this day. Years of rule by Ottoman, Iranian and Russian empires have also left lingering influence not just on structures but the overall culture as well. The best time to visit is from March to June.
What to explore: The capital, Yerevan, boasts ancient neoclassical style structures. Visit the Yerevan Opera Theatre; the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Museum for a glimpse of the country’s turbulent past; Victory Park, where the iconic Mother Armenia statue stands; and the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, which houses a collection of early documents from literature and history to philosophy and art.
Located outside the city is the Monastery of Geghard, a UNESCO World Heritage site carved out of the cliffs and renowned for its elegant stone works. It’s best to explore by foot although taking the bus or trolley bus will only cost AMD 100.
Where to stay: SD Hotel with rates under AED 100.
Exchange rate: AED 1 = AMD 130. Flights from AED 1,050 with flydubai. For more information, including visas, visit: uae.mfa.am
What to expect: Another former Soviet occupied territory, this mountainous country blends cultures from Turkey, Russia and Iran. The country’s capital, Baku, is also regarded as the industrial, political and cultural capital of Azerbaijan. Much like its closest neighbours, Armenia and Georgia, the country is home to people from various ethnicities, lending an eclectic mix of traditions to the nation’s cultural fabric. The best months to visit are May to September.
What to explore: The UNESCO World Heritage site Shirvanshah’s Palace was built in the 15th century, making it one of the country’s oldest standing buildings.
Climb to the top of the old Maiden Tower for a great view of Baku.
A visit to the History Museum offers a nostalgic trip through the country’s past with ancient artefacts including coins, items from the military and popular local figures, human bones and tombs.
If there’s still time, check out the mud volcanoes, Gobustan National Park – renowned for its rocks drawings from 40,000 years ago – and the City Park for a view of the Caspian Sea. If you prefer to take public transport, bus fare ranges from AZN 1 to AZN 10, depending on distance.
Where to stay: Safran Hotel offers from AED 130.
Exchange rate: AED 1 = AZN 0.46. Flights from AED 1,900 with Turkish Airlines. For more information, including visas, visit: abudhabi.mfa.gov.az
Best for: beach lovers
What to expect: This Tanzanian archipelago in East Africa is interestingly influenced by an array of cultures – Persian, European, Indian, Arab and Chinese – all of which shaped the island’s makeup, as we know it today. While renowned for its pristine beaches and watersports, Tanzania’s colourful past makes it an ideal holiday destination even for history buffs and those who prefer to venture off on foot. Good months to visit are from June to September.
What to explore: Soak in the paradise-like atmosphere at the beach, with the clear blue Indian Ocean making a photo worthy snapshot and providing a beautiful swimming spot.
For a dose of history, survey the narrow and winding alleyways of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Stone Town, which features canons and ancient forts. The houses and buildings – including elaborately crafted doors with Arabic references – from the nineteenth century are magnificent subjects if you’re into photography. The Anglican cathedral, meanwhile, is the former slave market, where tourists can take a trip back into the island’s past. A popular mode of transport is the dalla-dallas, mini buses that can cost less than TZS 2,500.
Where to stay: Warere Town House with rates from AED 200.
Exchange rate: AED 1 = TZS 610. Flights from AED 1,700 with Oman Air. For more information, including visas, visit: tanbizdubai.com
Best for: active types
What to expect: Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born here; that alone makes Nepal deserving of a spot in anyone’s must-see checklist. But it’s probably best known for its awe-inspiring temples and trekking, best conquered from March to April and October to November.
What to explore: Nepal’s trekking routes are a hit among novice and experienced climbers alike, with the Everest Base Camp and Manaslu being two of the most popular because of their unique routes.
Outside of hiking, the country is bursting with spots for nature lovers to enjoy: the Chitwan National Park, which is home to one-horned rhinos, Bengal tigers, elephants and various species of migratory birds; Bhote Koshi River for kayaking and rafting activities; and helicopter tours of Mount Everest.
When you’ve had your outdoor fix, don’t forget to visit top cultural spots including Pashupatinath Temple and the many temples in Patan town. Modes of transport include cycle-rickshaws for around NPR 96.
Where to stay: Kasthamandap Boutique Hotel offers rates as low as AED 150.
Exchange rate: AED 1 = NPR 27. Flights from AED 1,400 with Jet Airways. For more information, including visas, visit: ae.nepalembassy.gov.np
What to expect: This island country is known for being the home of ancient Dilmun society – regarded as one of the oldest civilisations in the Middle East. Like the UAE, Bahrain manages to stay true to its Arab roots while being open to other ideals as proven by its diverse demographics and progressive economy. Despite its small size and wealth, Bahrain is a cultural hub that offers a window into the region’s ancient traditions. October to April are good months to visit.
What to explore: Constructed around 1800, the ancient Beit Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa house showcases early dwellings typical of the Gulf region and pre-oil lifestyle. Similarly, the Bahrain National Museum houses prehistoric artefacts and archaeological finds from different eras. Want more? Check out the Bahrain National Theatre, a modern architectural beauty on the waterfront that is used for shows and performances. For some souvenir shopping, head down to the Manama Souq. Finally, check out the Al Fatih Mosque, the largest in the country, and the Sar Burial Chambers, excavated burial mounds of ancient settlers. Take the bus around the city with fares from 250 fils for a single ticket to 600 fils for a day pass.
Where to stay: Le Vondome offers rates around AED 110.
Exchange rate: AED 1 = BHD 0.102. Flights from AED 1,100 with Etihad. For more information, including visas, visit: visitbahrain.bh
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez