Kuwait City


October 3rd - 6th, 2023

I had a short three day visit to Kuwait before my trip to Saudi Arabia. I flew directly from Munich to Kuwait City. Most European citizens can enter Kuwait on an e-visa, which you can apply online a few days before the trip.

Kuwait has a total population of 4 million, but only 33% of those are Kuwaiti citizens. A full two-thirds of the population are expats and foreign workers, with the biggest nationalities being Indian and Egyptian. The capital Kuwait City is a modern city full of skyscrapers, located next to a bay at the top of the Persian gulf.

On my first day had a half-day city tour booked though Viator. We started the tour at the Grand Mosque of Kuwait, which is a very impressive building. The enormous and richly decorated main hall can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers. The mosque was constructed in the early 80s and did not suffer any significant damage during the Iraqi occupation and the gulf war. You can only visit the mosque with a guide. But the local guides are very good, speak perfect English and tell you a lot about the Muslim faith and Kuwait.

Kuwait is by no means a fully democratic country, but it is a bit more democratic and freer than the other gulf states and most of the Arab countries. While the government and the prime minister are appointed by the Emir, Kuwait does have a freely elected parliament, which exercises a certain amount of checks and balances over the government, and in a couple of cases has forced the replacement of the prime minister. Kuwait is also ranked as the best Arab country for gender equality.

The Kuwait Towers, completed in 1979, are not only the symbol of the city with a great viewing platform, they are also part of the country's water storage system. Kuwait has no rivers or lakes, and water supply has always been a significant issue. Prior to the discovery of oil, water was brought in daily by boat from neighboring Iraq. Today, most of the water is produced by desalination and stored all over the city in huge water towers, which together hold enough fresh water to supply the country for a year.

The view from the Kuwait Towers at night.

Kuwait city was founded as a fishing village in 1613, and slowly developed into a port city and an important trading hub for goods between India and the Arabian peninsula. This is the fishing boat harbor with the central bank tower in the background.

The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway is a 36 km long causeway crossing Kuwait Bay and one of the longest in the world. It is estimated to have cost $3 billion and is part of China's Belt and Road initiative.

It was 39 degrees here in early October, which is considered cool autumn weather in Kuwait, as summer temperatures can reach an unfathomable 55 degrees (that's 131 Fahrenheit). As a result life mostly happens indoors, like in some of the huge shopping malls. The Avenues is one of the largest shopping malls in the world. It's really more of an indoor city, than just a mall.

Apparently February is the best month to visit Kuwait, not only because of the cooler temperatures, but also because there are events going on the whole months in preparation for the country's independence day celebration at the end of February. Kuwait was never a fully colonized, but it became a British protectorate under the Anglo-Kuwaiti agreement of 1899. The country only achieved full independence in 1961. Today, Kuwait is one of the richest countries in the world, as the economy is dominated by the enormous wealth created by the fact that this small country sits on top of the world's second largest oil field. Unlike the UAE, Qatar or Saudi Arabia however, Kuwait does not seem to make much of an effort to diversify the economy away from oil and gas. One place worth seeing, in order to to learn more about the oil industry in Kuwait is the Kuwait Oil Company Ahmad Al-Jaber Oil and Gas Exhibition. It is located about a 30 minute taxi ride south of the city. You have to book your visit online in advance to receive a very interesting guided tour, where you learn about the geology of the region, drilling techniques and some great demonstration of how much oil the country produces every day.

The exhibition also included a short but moving video about the efforts to extinguish the burning oil wells in 1991. During the first gulf war the retreating Iraqi army set almost 700 oil wells on fire as part of a scorched earth policy. This was one of the worst environmental disasters in the world, and it was initially estimated that it could take up to 7 years to extinguish all of the fires. However, in a heroic effort, teams from around the world, led by a team of firefighters from Texas managed to extinguish all fires in a space of 9 months.

Kuwait is certainly not a major tourist destination, but it was an interesting stop-over place for a few days. I left Kuwait on a direct flight to Riyahd the following day.

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