Kuwait

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Introduction to Kuwait

Kuwait is your prototypical oil-rich state, and travellers looking for a relaxed entry into the Muslim world can look forward to wandering around mosques, souks and other sandy traces of bygone Bedouin days. Behind the glitz of open opulence lies a deep sense of traditional values and warm Arabian hospitality.

When Iraqi troops were driven out in early 1991 and reconstruction work began in the ruins of Kuwait City, the government became obsessed with meticulously re-creating the country's pre-invasion appearance - right down to the pink marble steps at the entrance to the city's leading five-star hotel.

Full country name: The State of Kuwait

Area: 17,800 sq km

Population: 2.2 million

People: Kuwaiti (45%), other Arab (35%), Asian (9%)

Language: Arabic, English

Religion: Muslim (85%), Christian, Hindu

GDP: US$43.7 billion

GDP per capita: US$22,700

Annual Growth: 3%

Inflation: 1%

Major Industries: Petroleum, petrochemicals, desalination

Major Trading Partners: Japan, India, US

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Everyone except nationals of other Gulf States needs a visa to enter Kuwait. Kuwait has recently changed its visa entry requirements so that many countries can now obtain visas on arrival. There are currently 34 countries on this list so please check your consular information to see if this is possible. Other countries will need to arrange a visa prior to arrival. If your passport contains an Israeli stamp, you will be refused entry to Kuwait.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +3

Dialling Code: 965

Electricity: 240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Just about everything that can close will close on a Muslim holiday, so it's important to know when they fall. Kuwait's religious holidays follow the Muslim lunar calendar, so the corresponding dates of the western calendar vary each year. Major events include Ramadan, the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting (which ends in January or December through 2002); Eid Al-Fitr, the three day festival of feasting that marks the end of Ramadan; Ghadir- Khom, which commemorates the day that the Prophet Mohammed appointed Emam Ali his successor; and Rabi-ol-Avval, the birthday of Mohammed. Liberation Day on 26 February is not an official holiday but everyone seems to treat it as one.

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Best time to Visit

The best time to visit Kuwait is in May or October - right before or right after summer, when the temperatures are civilised.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Kuwaiti Dinar

Meals

Budget: KD1-2

Mid-range: KD2-4

High: KD4-5

Deluxe: KD5+

Lodging

Budget: KD12-20

Mid-range: KD20-40

High: KD40-55

Deluxe: KD55+

Kuwait is expensive. A rock-bottom budget starts around US$65 a day, and you're likely to find yourself spending more than that. Mid-range tastes require more in the neighbourhood of US$80 a day; top-end tastes tally up to US$175 and more.

For a country with a highly sophisticated financial system, Kuwait can be a remarkably frustrating place to change money. Banks charge excessive commissions and moneychangers often refuse to change travellers' cheques. The bright spot is that credit cards are widely accepted.

Tipping is only expected in fancier restaurants. Know, however, that the service charge added to your bill in such places goes into the till, not to the wait staff. Bargaining is not common except in souks (bazaars).

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Attractions

Kuwait City

In the years since liberation, Kuwait City has developed into a remarkably easygoing place, though not without a price. During the occupation, Iraqis systematically looted the museum. Today, the Kuwait Towers have become city's main landmark, the largest of the three standing a lofty 187m (615ft).

The National Museum, once the pride of Kuwait and its centrepiece, used to house the Al-Sabah collection, one of the most important collections of Islamic art in the world. Having cleaned out the building, the Iraqis smashed everything they could and then set what was left on fire.

Al-Ahmadi

Al-Ahmadi is about 20km (12mi) south of Kuwait City. Built to house Kuwait's oil industry in the 1940s and 50s, Al-Ahmadi was named for the then emir, Shaikh Ahmed. It remains, to a great extent, the private preserve of the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC).

Worth a quick tour, the Oil Display Centre is a small, well-organised and rather self-congratulatory introduction to KOC and the oil business. If you're not a fossil fuel fan, Al-Ahmadi also has a small, pleasant public garden that deserves a visit.

Failaka Island

Kuwait's main archaeological site, Failaka is definitely worth a visit, though it requires a bit of extra caution. The Iraqis turned Failaka into a heavily fortified base and filled the area with mines. Failaka's history goes back to the Bronze Age Dilmun civilisation, then centred in Bahrain.

The Greeks arrived in the 4th century BC in the form of a garrison sent by Nearchus, one of Alexander the Great's admirals. Previously a minor settlement, it was as the Greek town of Ikaros that the settlement became a real city with a temple centrepiece.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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