Half-term holidays: 11 quarantine-free destinations within five hours of the UAE

Oman’s mountains, the Seychelles' islands and Uganda’s safaris are all options for October travel

Schools in the UAE will take a break next week, with half-term holidays set to start on October 17 for many pupils across the country. And with the UAE declaring a holiday for the public and private sectors on October 21, it looks like people will be gearing up for some time off.

This year, many families missed out on summer holidays because of the Covid-19 pandemic, so taking a short break might be one way to find your travel feet again.

However, trip planning is now a bit more complicated than simply booking your flight and hotel. You also need to consider any coronavirus travel restrictions in place at your destination, and the entry rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers, including children.

But just because it’s a bit more complicated, doesn’t mean it isn't doable. If you are thinking of taking a holiday, here are 11 places with easy-to-navigate travel restrictions and flight times of no more than five hours from the UAE, making them a good choice for a short break.

If you’re happier not travelling during the pandemic, there’s plenty to see and do right here in the UAE, too, from visiting Expo 2020 Dubai to adventuring in Ras Al Khaimah or enjoying a staycation among Abu Dhabi’s natural mangroves.

1. Oman

Why go? For an international getaway that is super-close to home, Oman is once again an option. The sultanate has reopened to vaccinated travellers with no quarantine, meaning Muscat’s old town and corniche, Salalah's green hills and the dramatic Hajar Mountains are once again ready to be explored.

In the capital, enjoy the meandering coastline and the bustle of Mutrah Souq, then unwind at one of several luxury hotels, including The Chedi Muscat or the W Muscat. Head to Nizwa to see the historic fort, or onwards to Mussanah, a coastal resort town with a laid-back vibe.

The limestone peaks of Jebel Akhdar are some of the highest points in Oman, and there are some stunning resorts here offering amazing craggy views, stargazing experiences and beautiful temperatures in October. Try the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort for pure mountaintop luxury. Or head south to Salalah, where you can spot dolphins, visit the frankincense museum and enjoy the thriving marine life in the Gulf of Oman.

How long does it take to get there? If you fly, it takes a little over an hour to get to Muscat from Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Fairs with Etihad Airways start at Dh1,451 ($395) from the capital or go with Oman Air from Dubai for Dh1,455. If you want to drive, it's about a four-hour trip to Muscat from Dubai, depending on traffic and border control queues. Not all checkpoints are open to tourists at this stage, and you still need to be vaccinated and have a negative PCR test to pass land crossings.

What do I need to do before I go? Oman is open to travellers who are fully vaccinated. Visitors must have received both doses of a recognised vaccine at least 14 days before travelling. Passengers must also upload their vaccine certificate and PCR test certificate, both containing QR codes, on Oman's travel authorisation system before embarking upon a trip. Find out more about travelling to and from Oman here.

2. Cyprus

Why go? The Mediterranean island is welcoming tourists and is brimming with timeless archaeological sites, glorious coastal cities and pristine beaches. On the west of the island, the Paphos district has the longest coastline in the country with beaches all along its length. The forests of Tilliria are criss-crossed with trails and dotted with picnic sites and Paphos town is also worth a visit with its numerous bars, restaurants and hotels nestled alongside historical remains, some of which have been granted Unesco heritage status.

Visiting in October will give you the chance to catch the end of Cyprus's summer season, which is the ideal time for a walking holiday or cycling through the mountains. Days are warm, with cooler evenings and the summer crowds have thinned out, so you’ll be able to explore the island’s delights hassle-free.

How long does it take to get there? If flying from Dubai with Emirates, travellers are looking at a flight time of about four hours. Fares start at about Dh2,000.

What do I need to do before travelling? The UAE is currently listed as orange by Cypriot authorities, which means vaccinated travellers don’t need to take a PCR test before flying there. Unvaccinated holidaymakers are welcome, but must have a PCR test at least 72 hours before travel; children under 12 are exempt from testing. All travellers must apply for permission to enter at least 24 hours before travelling, via the Cyprus Flight Pass.

3. Egypt

Tourists visit the Colossi of Memnon, the ruins of two stone statues that guarded the mortuary temple built for Pharaoh Amenhotep III, in Luxor, Egypt November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Why go? Sand-covered tombs, ancient pyramids, the Nile River and bustling souqs await in Egypt. The coastal cities offer a laid-back escape, with the marine life in Egypt's Red Sea well worth exploring, or go for chill-out vibes in Dahab before returning to the capital to take in the mesmerising chaos of Cairo.

For an immersive journey through history, head to Luxor. This Unesco World Heritage-listed city is divided by the Nile river and home to several temples and tombs, including those belonging to famous pharaohs such as Tutankhamun and Hatshepsut that can be found at the base of the West Bank's Theban Mountains.

October is a good time to visit as there’s still plenty of sunshine, but the weather is slightly cooler so exploring ancient temples, trekking cobbled streets or visiting the Great Sphinx of Giza will be much more comfortable.

How long does it take to get there? Several airlines operate between the UAE and Egypt. Flight times average about three and a half hours to the Egyptian capital, and the lowest fares available this half-term start from Dh943 with Air Arabia Abu Dhabi.

What do I need to do before travelling? Unvaccinated travellers landing in Egypt will need to show negative PCR test results issued no more than 72 hours before departure; however, children under 6 are exempt from testing. Vaccinated travellers are also exempt from this preflight testing. All travellers to Egypt must also fill in a health declaration form that will be distributed to passengers via their airline.

4. Georgia

Why go? For autumnal colours and cooler climes, Georgia in October is a great choice. Known for its mountains, ancient cities and rich culture, not to mention its delicious cuisine, Georgia enjoys milder temperatures from September to November.

Visitors can expect a distinct departure from the UAE weather with rain showers, puddles, falling leaves, pumpkins and more. In the capital of Tbilisi, get lost in the Old City, visit sulphur bathhouses and try the towering zip-line that runs for 270 metres above the National Botanical Garden of Georgia.

How long does it take to get there? Your best bet for getting to Georgia is to fly from Dubai. Flydubai has direct flights to Tbilisi from Dh1,255 ,and you can expect a flight time of three and a half hours.

What do I need to do before travelling? Georgia is open to vaccinated travellers from the UAE with no need for any extra tests. Unvaccinated tourists must have a Covid-19 PCR test taken no later than 72 hours before arrival, and will need to take a follow-up test on day 3. All visitors must also complete this application form.

5. Maldives

Why go? Tropical islands, swaying palm trees, clear waters and pristine shorelines – Maldives ticks pretty much every bucket-list requirement when it comes to holidays.

October is the wettest month in this Indian Ocean hotspot, so only go if you don’t mind some tropical rain showers and high humidity. However, it is also the last month of Maldives's surfing season and the last time in the year you are guaranteed good sightings of whale sharks and manta rays. The country’s one-resort-per-island set-up also makes it a good pick for a socially distanced stay.

How long does it take to get there? It's a swift four-hour flight to Male, the capital of the Maldives, from the UAE. Flydubai has flights from Dubai to Male from Dh3,281; Emirates fares start from Dh3,566; and from Abu Dhabi you can fly with Etihad for Dh3,500.

From the Maldivian capital your journey time depends on where you are staying – some resorts are accessible via a short speedboat ride, others involve longer seaplane trips. Most resorts will arrange transfers for you, although these will often be at an additional cost.

What do I need to do before travelling? Tourists flying to the Maldives need a negative PCR test result, taken no more than 96 hours before travel. However, if you're staying in any of the islands and resorts where at least 90 per cent of the population has been vaccinated, you might be exempt from needing a negative PCR test before travelling – check with your resort before you go. Only babies under age 1 are exempt from the general testing rules and all travellers must complete a Traveller Health Declaration form at least 24 hours before travel.

6. Jordan

Why go? Home to Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Jordan boasts amazing natural landscapes and ancient archaeological sites, coupled with warm Bedouin hospitality.

Spend a few days in the capital Amman, a hub for arts and culture and a foodies' delight, and then head to the red-stone city of Petra – Jordan's gem and the ancient seat of the Nabataean Kingdom. Stay with locals in the desert of Wadi Rum, trekking across Mars-like landscapes, or go stargazing at the Dana Biosphere Reserve, then head to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, where floating in the water is effortless.

In the south, explore Aqaba's new water park, the largest in the country and where October temperatures remain warm enough to take a dip in the sea.

How long does it take to get there? Royal Jordanian has direct flights from Dubai to Amman from Dh1,300 this half-term, or fly with Etihad from Abu Dhabi with economy fares from Dh1,479. Flight times are only three and a half hours.

What do I need to do before travelling? All travellers flying to Jordan need to complete this declaration form. Tourists also need a negative PCR test, taken no more than 72 hours before arriving in the country. Vaccinated travellers who were immunised in select countries, including the UAE, do not need to take a PCR test before travelling if they’ve completed the full course of a recognised vaccination. Tourists must also have insurance that covers any Covid-19 medical treatment.

7. Turkey

Why go? The land where East meets West has reopened to travellers and offers a historically rich destination packed with delicious food, mountain peaks and stunning coastlines, not to mention the thriving metropolis of Istanbul – the world's only megacity straddling two continents.

Given its size and transcontinental geography, there’s different weather around the country in October, but most parts of Turkey continue to enjoy warm temperatures and some sunshine. Head to the southern Mediterranean coast for the best beach breaks, or explore the sprawling streets of Istanbul where you’ll have sunshine mixed with cooler evening climes. If you’re a fan of the UAE’s Address Hotels, you can book a stay in the newly opened Address Istanbul.

How long does it take to get there? Four and a half hours will get you to Istanbul's new airport from the UAE. Go with flydubai from Dubai for Dh1,629, or fly with the UAE's national airline – Etihad's return fares to Istanbul start from Dh1,610.

What do I need to do before travelling? Travellers need to fill an information form at least 72 hours before flying to Turkey. You can find it here. Vaccinated travellers who have received their final dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 days before arriving in Turkey do not need to submit PCR test results.

Unvaccinated travellers must show a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours or a rapid antigen test performed within 48 hours. Children under 11 are exempt from testing. Travellers from Brazil, South Africa, Nepal and Sri Lanka cannot fly to Turkey at this time.

8. The Seychelles

Why go? Comprising more than 100 islands in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles beckons anyone who appreciates some of the world's most beautiful beaches, boulder-strewn landscapes, giant tortoises and Unesco heritage sites.

With highs of 30 degrees and seven hours of sunshine a day in October, the archipelago also thrills water babies thanks to its pristine marine life and untouched underwater world. This month is technically the start of the rainy season, but do not let that put you off – there’s nothing quite like a few tropical rain showers to bring out the lush greenery of the islands.

If you make it to Praslin island, don’t miss a visit to Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve, one of only two places in the world where the coco de mer or sea coconut plant grows.

How long does it take to get there? From the UAE to the Seychellois capital of Mahe, the flight time is four and a half hours. From Abu Dhabi, fly with Etihad with fares from Dh2,820. From Dubai, Emirates will also get you there, but fares start from Dh3,232.

What do I need to do before travelling? Negative PCR tests taken a maximum of 72 hours before departure are necessary for all visitors including infants and children, regardless of vaccination status. Travellers must also have valid health insurance to cover potential Covid-19-related costs such as isolation, quarantine and treatment.

No visa is required for entry into the Seychelles, but each tourist must apply for permission to visit through the Health Travel Authorisation platform at seychelles.govtas.com, at a cost of €10 ($12) per person.

9. Uganda

Why go? If you're seeking adventure travel, then consider jetting off to Uganda this half term. The "Pearl of Africa" offers wildlife safaris where you can spot all of the "Big Five" as well as more than 1,000 different bird species. Then there’s the cherished mountain gorillas who live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, accessible only via strictly regulated trekking tours.

If you would rather be on the water, there’s canoeing, cruising, rafting and kayaking options across the Nile, Lake Victoria basin and plenty of other rivers and wetlands. And if you want to escape it all, head to the unexplored northern tip of the country to enjoy untouched wilderness in lesser-known parks such as Kidepo.

In October, the rains are beginning to return, but there’s still plenty of wildlife on show and temperatures remain pleasant.

How long does it take to get there? It’s exactly five hours from Dubai to Entebbe with Uganda Airlines, which has just launched a new direct flight to Dubai. Economy fares start from Dh1,450.

What do I need to do before travelling? Vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers can fly to Uganda. You’ll need a negative Covid-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before flying, and this also applies to all children over age 3. On arrival in Uganda, there will be another PCR test requirement at your own expense, at a cost of $65.

10. Bahrain

Why go? If you want a few days away, then neighbouring Bahrain is a nice pick for a change of scenery. As well as a super short flight, the kingdom offers a laid-back vibe, plenty of luxury resorts and a healthy dose of culture.

Check in to The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain where you’ll have access to a private beach, lagoon and marina or enjoy a stay at Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, where you can unwind with hydrotherapy treatments. The Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay commands its own private island or try boutique-style hotel The Merchant House, where you’ll find a huge collection of artworks and a library of more than 1,000 books.

For a little bit of culture, take a guided tour at Al Fateh Grand Mosque and step back in time at Bahrain Fort. Don’t miss a visit to the Bahrain National Museum, the largest and oldest public museum in the country, which has some nice interactive exhibits. If you’re a seafood fan, La Perle at the Novotel Al Dana Resort is worth a visit for dinner and the bohemian neighbourhood of Adliya is also worth a wander.

How long does it take to get there? The flight to Bahrain from Dubai and Abu Dhabi takes a little more than an hour. Emirates, flydubai, Gulf Air and Etihad all fly to the kingdom with regular connections, but if you’re looking to save money and can travel light, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi’s basic fares over half-term start from just Dh220 – perfect for a couple of nights away from home.

What do you need to do before you go? As long as you’re fully vaccinated and received the last dose of your vaccine at least 10 days before you travel, you can fly to Bahrain without quarantine. The UAE’s Al Hosn App is accepted as proof of your vaccine. You’ll have to undergo an on-arrival Covid-19 test at the airport, which will set you back Dh330, but children under 6 are exempt.

11. Armenia

Tourists visit Geghard monastery, some 40kms from Yerevan on October 6, 2017.


 / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

Why go? If you're craving fresh air, rich history and endless adventure, then landlocked Armenia is a good pick. The fact it's a wallet-friendly destination is an added bonus.

October is one of the best times to visit Armenia thanks to autumnal vibes, mild temperatures and an abundance of freshly harvested local produce. Temperatures hover around the low 20s and it's also a dry month, with plenty of blue skies and sunshine.

In Yerevan, wander neoclassical squares lined with cafeterias and wide boulevards under the shadow of Mount Ararat. Take a cable-car tour, visit the national parks, go boating on Lake Sevan and spend time at the museums and memorials to learn more about the country’s haunting history.

How long does it take to get there? It's a short three-hour flight from Dubai to Yerevan and low-cost airline flydubai will get you there this half-term from Dh1,062 in economy class.

What do I need to do before travelling? Travellers need to show a negative Covid-19 PCR test certificate issued no more than 72 hours prior to arrival. Children also need to be tested unless they are younger than 11 months. Vaccinated travellers are exempt from testing and can instead present proof of vaccination. The second dose of the vaccine must have been administered at least 14 days before arrival.

Updated: October 12th 2021, 12:21 PM