Now that the weather is warming up the idea of escaping to an offshore island has great appeal. Around 16km offshore, a visit to Failaka Island is a welcome respite from the city at any time of the year, especially in early spring when there are no crowds and seas are calm.
The attraction for many is the island’s undeveloped nature, its laid back charm and of course, it has a unique appeal for history buffs due to its important archeological sites, which can be entered for a nominal entrance fee.
The existence of Failaka has been documented in ancient annals since 2BC, but most importantly it also was known to the Ancient Greeks as the island of Ikaros. Local and international archeologists on the island are still active in the cool months and have unearthed remains dating back to the Bronze Age, Dilmun civilization.
When the archeological dig first started in the late 1950s Failaka town was a rustic harbour with a thriving fishing community, small wooden boats filled the long beaches and dhows sailed offshore. That changed after the brutal Iraqi invasion in 1990 when, like the rest of Kuwait, the island was occupied and many of its buildings destroyed.
The war drove most young families to relocate on the mainland and left in its wake, a stream of destruction that is visible today. Visitors can see razed village schools and an out-of-town graveyard for rusting military hardware, visited by many tours. We took permission to enter the ruins of one local school with a guide; it had been left untouched like a wartime film set, school books lay scattered across what was left of, burnt-out classrooms. (Great care must be taken on entering due to the piles of rubble still littering the place).
Group trips work out to be much more cost effective way to explore; a group of up to twenty people can consider hiring a large luxury cruiser from Ikarus Tours, based opposite Starbuck’s at Marina Crescent in Salmiya. The same agency books small water taxis plying between Failaka and Salmiya. Whatever size boat, just be sure to check the tides with the agency a day prior, in case the departure times change.
Overnight stays can be booked through the town’s only hotel. If you fancy a more ‘local’ experience, the hotel offers accommodation in newly refurbished ‘heritage houses’. These two-story, mud-built terraced houses look straight out of Greece: painted white, with small courtyards and bright green doors and window frames. The hotel serves meals, and for larger groups a private buffet may be possible if booked well in advance.
Though there are a few amusements for kids, such as a boating lake and horse riding centre, it is important to go with little expectations. Failaka cannot offer any of the sophisticated malls or entertainment outlets of the city. The attractions it does have are all low-key, but part of the fun is in the exploring the small town and seeing a glimpse of Kuwait’s past.
The hotel can arrange hire of a driver and minibus, which makes it easier to reach the outlying archeological site and the site of the military vehicles. In the cooler season, with the right permission, it may be possible to visit a local camel farm, where a camel ride and some freshly produced camel milk might be on offer.
A trip to Failaka works best with careful advance planning but it’s worth it and the local people are warm and welcoming, besides anything else there is a charm here quite unlike anywhere else.
Visit the Ikarus Tours ferry booking office on Marina Crescent (opposite Starbucks) Transit times depending on tides. Tel. 22244767 open 8am-11pm (see Facebook)
Accommodation, meals and transport:
Contact Failaka Heritage Village Hotel, www.heritagevillagefailaka.com
Tel 22244988, 22244978, 22244767, or 67074004
Useful links: www.kuwaitarchaeology.org
All information and contacts are correct at the time of writing