Failaka Island, Kuwait

Photo: Hunny Alrohaif via flickr

Welcome to the longest continuously inhabited spot in Kuwait. The Mesopotamians first arrived around 2000 BC. They were followed by the Babylonians and the Greeks, the Characenes and the Christian Nestorians. More than 2,000 people lived here before the 2003 invasion of nearby Iraq, the first stage of the Iraq War. Then the Iraqis invaded. They mined the beaches and used the buildings, many historic, for target practice. Residents had no choice but to move to the mainland. They’ve only started to return.

Most of Kuwait, a country on the Arabian Peninsula, has a desert climate. It’s hot, barren, and hostile to animal and plant life. Failaka Island is a unique spot in the Persian Gulf. The 16-square-mile island lies only 20 kilometers northeast of Kuwait City, but it has a completely different ecosystem from the mainland. It’s known for its mild climate and fluctuating temperatures. Budding flowers surround the ancient archaeological sites each spring. Camels wander the rocky island. While the ability to go fishing, sailing, and swimming turned it into a popular escape from the capital’s high-rise buildings.

At least it was a holiday destination. But empty homes are now riddled with bullet holes. The destroyed sewage system hasn’t been fully repaired. Hidden mines still litter the rocky beaches. Plus the historic sites—the ruins of the Babylonian palace, the Hellenistic fort, the Characene station, and the Nestorian churches—weren’t protected for years.

So you’re rooting for Failaka Island’s comeback. You want to ride the ferry from Salmiya to Al-Zawr. Old dhows will await you in the port. You want to spend the morning safely exploring some of the most significant archaeological sites in the Persian Gulf. They stood frozen in time for centuries. Then, once the midday heat arrives, you want to head to the beach for watersports and waterfront cafes. Failaka Island will once again be a peaceful spot to escape the city. In the process, it can show the world how much of the region will need to be rebuilt.

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