Hawar Island, Bahrain

Photo: Rudolph Jouber [CC BY-SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Rudolph Jouber [CC BY-SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
For years, Bahrain has been touted as the next big travel destination. “The island of golden smiles” was named an Arab Capital of Culture, and then its capital the Capital of Arab Tourism, just a few years ago. But the Middle Eastern country’s human rights record is abysmal. Protesters, women, and journalists haven’t felt safe since the monarchy started punishing people who are believed to have taken part in the Arab Spring. New hotels are supposed to make you forget that.

The Hawar Islands sit in the Gulf of Bahrain. The 16 islands are actually much closer to the mainland of Qatar than Bahrain. Most of the islands are uninhabited. Bedouin tribes arrived in the early 19th century, though they didn’t create permanent settlements. Fishermen and prisoners were the only people on the islands for years. They were greatly outnumbered by Socotra cormorants and flamingos, Arabian oryx and sand gazelles.

Then, while UNESCO considered giving the islands protected status as the home of endangered species, a resort was built on Hawar Island, the largest of the islands. The resort was enlarged, changed hands, and even closed for a while. Its lack of success hasn’t deterred investors, though. A new eco-resort—which will bring at least three resorts, hundreds of villas, a research center, a market, and the restoration of an old mosque to the island’s northern coast—is now in the works.

The development makes it sound like the Hawar Islands will become an amazing destination. You can already picture yourself staying at the wellness resort, swimming with dugongs, learning about the threatened cormorants, and strolling through the market to buy handmade souvenirs. If Bahrain’s government gets its act together, that is. Until the rights of the country’s citizens are fully protected, Bahrain’s new resorts will hopefully remain empty. While the country will have to stay on your travel wish list.

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