My last long distance trip was in 2016, when I visited Chile, but since then I have only been able to do short trips in Europe. This was due to a combination of work and the COVID-19 pandemic so it feels great to be on another travel adventure after far too long.
Not only am I heading back to Africa, but I will be travelling across a part of the continent that has been on my to-do list for over a decade since my last overland trip to Africa. In 2002 I spent a month in Namibia before spending a few weeks travelling through Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda in 2009. Since returning from that trip I have wanted to connect the two areas together so when an opportunity to travel between the regions came about, on a trip that spends more time in Zimbabwe than others, I jumped at the chance.
I’ll be spending a couple of days in Zanzibar before travelling to the mainland where I’ll begin the overland portion of my trip through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe before finishing at the magnificent Victoria Falls.
Flying to Doha with Qatar Airways
The journey started at Heathrow Airport this morning which seems to be experiencing a higher level of chaos than normal, as the world begins to open up after two years. I left my airport hotel, which was less than 5 minutes from the terminal, more than 3 hours before my flight having already checked in online. I thought that this would be enough time but the queue to drop bags was so long, and the process was so slow, that the gate was preparing to open by the time that I got through security.
I booked my flights to Africa with an extra day, in case of problems, but as an aviation enthusiast this is a flight I definitely didn’t want to miss since my seat was on the top deck of the A380 – something that had been on my to-do list for a long time.
In the end, the flight was delayed to allow for the problems at check-in and security which meant that it finally left 2 hours late. This meant more time to enjoy being on the top deck of the A380 – plus I had an exit row, so had plenty of room to stretch out – but the delay made me a bit nervous as I had a transit tour of Doha booked during my layover and I was at risk of missing it.
Luckily we caught up some time in the air but I was still very nervous.
A transit tour of Doha
An increasing number of airports are offering transit tours for people who have long layovers and they can be a great way to see a new city. I did one in Istanbul on my way to Uzbekistan back in 2015 so was excited that they were available in Doha since I had never visited Qatar before.
If you want to do a transit tour of Doha then it is recommended that you book online in advance to guarantee availability. You also need to arrive at the tour desk two hours before time of the tour in order to check in, get all of the paperwork done, and leave time for immigration and security.
Luckily the transit process at Doha airport was very quick, so even though my flight arrived late so I arrived at the tour desk with 10 minutes to spare.
Just over an hour later it was time to proceed outside, with the help of the staff from the tour desk. There were only two people on our departure including myself and so the process was very fast. We were through security, and had our visas issued, within minutes. Coincidentally the other person on the tour was doing the same journey but in reverse – he had departed Tanzania and was on a layover before going to the UK!
Even though there were only two of us, which our guide said was rare, we still had a regular sized coach so there was lots of room to spread out. It also gave us a chance to chat to our guide a lot and it felt almost like a private tour.
The first stop on the tour was the Souq Waqif, where our guide took us on a tour which showed us the various spices and traditional goods that could be purchased. We were also shown a falcon store, which is very typical of this part of the world, where each bird sells for thousands of Euros.
We had some time to explore on our own following the tour. There were lots of cafes and market stalls where you could grab a coffee or some local goods but, since we didn’t have long here, I spent the time just walking around, soaking up the atmosphere and taking photos, before returning to the coach.
The second stop on the tour was The Corniche, which is a 7km long promenade that is the highlight of the waterfront area of Doha. We had some time to explore the area, take some photos, and look at the countdown clock for the 2022 World Cup while enjoying the view of the Central Business District across the waterfront.
The views were great, and I’m sure that they would have been even better during the day.
Our final stop on the city tour was the Katara Cultural Village which is a popular attraction containing theatres, concert halls, galleries, restaurants, and more.
We had a quick tour of the area, including the popular amphitheatre, before taking a buggy ride past the mosque to the shopping area. We had 20 minutes to walk around, and take in the atmosphere, before it was time to head back to the airport although almost everything was closing by the time we arrived so exploring was all that you could really do.
Returning to Doha Airport
I enjoyed the tour of the city but feel that it should have departed 30 minutes earlier as everything was closing as we arrived, and an earlier time would have meant enjoying everything that little bit more. However, this was only supposed to be a quick taster visit of the city while in transit. I am glad that I did the tour in the evening, however, as Qatar can be oppressively hot.
Passport control at Doha Airport was quick and efficient, and the staff were extremely friendly which was a nice change. Security, unfortunately, were the exact opposite and they decided to exert their authority by ripping open my plastic bag of liquids before accusing me of wanting to set fire to the plane due to bringing hand gel with me – the same hand gel that everybody is recommended to keep with them at all times during COVID and which is available everywhere at the airport.
After a bit of arguing I was finally allowed to keep my liquids, which had been allowed through Heathrow Airport anyway, but with a destroyed plastic bag. Luckily I have a spare one in my main luggage which I can use for my return flights.
My flight to Zanzibar is delayed by 90 minutes so I made use of the showers in the terminal to freshen up, and before heading to the gate. The showers were expensive, I think almost GBP20, but I feel so relaxed now and I’m ready for my night flight.
This flight is going to be another first for me as I will be flying on a Boeing 787 for the first time which, as an aviation enthusiast, I am excited about.
Next Stop, Zanzibar!