As fans arrive in Qatar, they are understandably in vacation mode as they eagerly await the prospect of a World Cup in the desert.
But where to stay in a country that is geographically located on a peninsula smaller than Connecticut and is the smallest World Cup host in history?
The accommodation rush is likely to intensify given that Qatar is expected to host around 1.5 million fans during the month-long tournament, which begins on November 20.
Jimmy and Kennis Leung were among the very first fans to arrive at the Fan Village Cabins Free Zone, one of the largest venues available for supporters, checking in on Thursday.
“They built this in a desert,” Jimmy told CNN Sport, as he scanned his accommodation space, which impressed him.
“It’s too expensive to stay in a hotel or AirBnB in Doha, so this was a great option.”
The Free Zone fan village is about a 20-minute metro ride from downtown Doha, but right now it’s a bit like stepping into a dystopian world.
There’s little else around the village — one or two building sites and a main road — so the staff quickly direct you to reception, which is a 10-minute walk away through a vast car park.
There are endless lines of portacabins, organized in different colors and mapped alphabetically, stretching into the distance, with large gazebos containing hundreds of empty tables and chairs.
Basketball courts, outdoor gymnasiums and a huge TV screen are dotted around the complex where fans can play and relax.
When CNN visited on Friday, only a handful of fans thronged, though many more are expected during the tournament.
Navigation also proves a bit problematic – the Leungs admit to getting lost in the seemingly endless makeshift roads that connect the village. There are however electric scooters to get around and the staff will even drive you to your doorstep in a golf cart.
The Leungs work in the media and traveled from Hong Kong to see their favorite team, the Netherlands, at Qatar 2022.
“It’s very quiet at the moment but there are dining options and the rooms are nice, but a bit small,” adds Kennis.
As fans like the Leungs struggle to find their feet in Qatar on Friday, they were greeted by the news that football’s world governing body, FIFA, had made a U-turn and no alcohol will be sold. in the eight stadiums that will host the 64 matches of the tournament. matches.
For supporters on a budget and unable to afford what is offered by hotels, eight fan villages offer “casual camping and chalet-style” options.
Some World Cup visitors, however, were less impressed with what was on offer.
“There are so many cabins and containers and there is a big screen that we can all watch the games together but the accommodation, well… what can I say?” China’s Fei Peng, who is here to watch more than 30 World Cup matches, told CNN Sport.
“It’s the best option we can afford. It’s so expensive in Doha that we can’t expect more.
A night in the Free Zone fan village hut starts at $207 a night, according to Qatar’s official World Cup accommodation agency, but cheaper options can be found in Caravan City, at $114 a night. night.
And if camping under the stars is your heart, a tent in Al Khor village is available for $423 a night.
If you’re on a budget, a self-proclaimed “eco-farm” cabin will offer a more luxurious option at $1,023 a night., while a stay on a cruise ship will cost you at least $179.
Many fans are expected to stay in countries neighboring Qatar, flying in and out of the Gulf state for matches.
Qatar Airways announced in May that it had partnered with regional carriers to launch an additional 160 daily return flights at “competitive prices” that will ferry fans from Dubai, Jeddah, Kuwait, Muscat and Riyadh.
There will be no checked baggage facilities to expedite transfers and dedicated transport services will be made available to transport supporters from the airport to the stadiums.
It will also be possible to drive from cities such as Riyadh, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which are all within a seven-hour drive.
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Those coming to Doha will have to deal with the heat.
The tournament has been moved to the winter months due to scorching summer temperatures – the average high in Doha in the second half of November is around 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), which is much better than in July, when the World Cup would take place normally. conclude, when the average high temperature is around 42 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit).
Even in winter, the heat is a waste of energy if you come from a colder climate. Walk too far too fast and you’ll soon find yourself drenched in sweat and in need of hydration.
Shade is king and tournament staff, dotted around Doha, are quick to advise you to stay out of direct sunlight.
The heat tends to subside a bit, but not much, in the evenings, although the nights are humid and sticky.
Fortunately, Doha is fully equipped with air conditioning inside the stadiums and the white wall architecture will also help deflect some of the heat intensity.
With just two days to go until the first match, the nation is putting the finishing touches on its preparations as they gear up for a World Cup like no other.