Failaka is one of the most interesting places I have ever visited. Not the most beautiful, not the most exciting, but certainly worth going to for a unique experience. The island is 20 km off the coast of Kuwait City and accessible via public ferry and private high-speed catamaran ferry. Plan to spend at least two nights here. Three is ideal.Prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, it had a permanent population of around 2000 people and a beach resort
tourist industry. Commercial fishing was also a major occupation. The island has been inhabited since at least 3000 BC and Alexander the Great founded a city here, Ikaros. This city was most likely founded by his fleet commander and it is doubtful if Alexander himself was ever here. But, you never know. Some excavations have been done on this city, as well as other pre and post-Islamic sites.
There is food involved in this post, four reviews, actually, but it is more a travel piece. This place deserves a nice review. After the Iraqi invasion, the island was depopulated and the battle damage is still very evident, including bullets still stuck in walls, shrapnel and shell casings everywhere, destroyed buildings, and discarded machines of war. Very surreal, as you can walk around these places, including old schools, government buildings, and houses. It was also heavily mined. The Kuwaiti government hasn’t allowed many people to return and it became a military base. The mines have been cleared (hopefully all of them).
Today, there is a bit of a tourist industry, popular mainly with Kuwaitis and centered around the beach and a “resort” compound. The ferry arrives at the dock where a small bus picks you up for the very short ride to Failaka Heritage Village, the aforementioned resort.
There were two types of accommodations available. One was a room in an old two story hotel that really had charm, with the rooms all facing a wonderful interior courtyard. Since there were three of us, we opted for a Kuwaiti house in the main compound. The outside door opened into a small open air courtyard with other doors leading into three bedrooms, a family room with couches and TV, a small kitchen, and an old squatter toilet room with typical open shower. We each got a bedroom, one of which had a western bathroom installed after the fact. It was very rustic and quaint and I loved it. I love the layout of houses like this, the Romans used a similar approach, as do Afghan houses/compounds I saw in rural areas while in that country. Very private, yet you can be outside. You could also climb up stairs to the flat roof.
The Heritage Village this time of year was not very crowded (we went the end of March); although it was warm enough to swim in the
gulf. The swimming pool was still closed (it does get chilly in winter in Kuwait). The Heritage Village is quite interesting and nice, although not overly impressive on a Disney scale. I read some reviews online that almost made me stay away; they made it sound completely run down and boring. There are some rough edges, but it is certainly worth visiting and is the only place to stay on the island in any case. I am really happy that we decided to go here. You could do a day trip, but I don’t recommend it as, due to tides, the ferries arrive and depart within a few hours, so you don’t have much time if trying to see it for a day.
This is also a great family place and the few Kuwaitis there were family groups. They were all staying in houses like the one we were in. The little kids could run wild and play (lots of playground equipment), while the men, their wives, and older children had plenty to do.
The compound is surrounded by the remains of a village destroyed during the Iraq invasion and was rebuilt to be a resort. There is a miniature golf (18 holes) course that was fun. There is a giant outdoor chess set, a small, but nice, museum, some craft shops and pottery making displays, a small pond with paddle boats, and a petting zoo with mainly goats and sheep. There is a camel one can get short rides on, something the kids were doing, and a Bedouin tent with cushions that was nice. There was also a stable where you could get guided horseback rides. Plus the bus that would take you the short distance to their beach or take you on a short island tour for 1 KD (Kuwait dinar, about $3.67). You could walk wherever you wanted to, on or off the Heritage Village property. Walking through what was once obviously an urban battlefield was quite strange.
There were essentially four restaurants, plus a shisha (hookah with tobacco) place where you could also get tea, with a TV people watched football (soccer) on. The Kuwait version of a sports bar. I will write about the restaurants and the island tour in separate posts. This one is too long already!
Tags: Afghan compound, Afghan house, Alexander the Great, courtyard, Failaka Heritage Village, Failaka Island, ferry, First Gulf War, Gulf War, Ikaros, Ikaros Hotel, Iraq, Iraq invasion, Kuwait, Kuwait house, miniature golf, petting zoo, shisha, urban war, war, Warzones