Abras – The Traditional Boats of Dubai

| November 10, 2019 | Leave a Comment

When you are standing at the Creek, everything around looks like they have taken a leap backward in time. Like you have turned the dial a few decades back and accidentally got lost somewhere. The creek is where you can find the oldest city in Dubai (unless you are in Saruq al Hadid — the 3000 years old archaeological site in Dubai. But that’s for another time). In the water, you can see all kinds of vessels and boats crisscrossing. There are luxury yachts waiting for tourists, small cargo ships (Dhows), small fishing boats, and Abras, which are peculiar to Dubai.


Abras were the oldest form of the public transport system in Dubai. They enabled the movement of men and materials between the two shores of the creek called Deira and Bur Dubai. Interestingly, these are still used as water taxis to this day and are run by the government of Dubai. They also serve the purpose of a tourist attraction. 


The origin of the word Abra is from the Arabic root ‘Abara’, which means to cross. Traditional Abras are midway between a deck boat and a raft. Nowhere else will you find a boat of similar design. This unique design also served a purpose.


The Dubai Creek and Abras

Historically, cities grow around the source of water. For Dubai, therefore, the center has been the creek. The ancient waterway existed from times unknown. Legends have it that the creek is the river Zara pertained in the ancient manuscripts. Nonetheless, we knew for the fact that it is older than any of the civilizations.


The real history of the creek began just a few hundred years ago. Before the 1950s, the population of Dubai was around 50,000. But even then, it has become a trading hub where merchants from different parts of the world come and stay near the souk for a few weeks and leave after doing their business.


Moving things across the creek was important for the traders, and the city has not advanced enough to build a bridge. In fact, there wouldn’t be a roadway between Deira and Bur Dubai until the Maktoum Bridge opened in 1963. Therefore Abras served the purpose. They were larger than a normal deck boat and were versatile enough to carry both goods and people. 


Abras in the present


It’s amazing that this medieval mode of transportation is still an important part of daily life in Dubai. Thousands of people cross the creek every day on Abra boats. Despite the roads, what makes Abras attractive is how cheap it is. They let you go from Bur Dubai to Deira and vice versa for just 1 dirham a trip.


The original intention behind continuing to operate the Abras was to preserve it as a tourist attraction. But this has also become a great help for those who live and work around here.


These days, you can take abra rides in other places as well. There are even different kinds of Abras. But all other Abras apart from those in the creek is tourist attractions.


Places where you can go for Abra rides:


Water taxi Stations in the creek


  • Deira
  • Baniyas
  • Gold Souq
  • Bur Dubai
  • Al Seef
  • Al Fahidi
  • Al Ghubaiba


Other Places


  • Dubai festival city
  • Al Jaddaf
  • Burj Lake
  • Global village
  • Dubai water canal
  • Madinat Jumeirah Lake


Different types of Abras in Dubai


You will come across different types of Abras these days. They were originally rowed by men. But those Abras have fallen into oblivion, and what exists now are the modern renditions of the traditional Abras.


Motorised Abras


Shapes are not different from the old Abras. The only difference is that it is run by a motor cranked by a diesel engine. These are the ones most commonly used for public transportation. Motorized Abras are ubiquitous in the creek. You are guaranteed to see a whole bunch of them at any time of the day. The person steering the boat will be in the middle of the boat with passengers sitting sideways away from each other.


Motorized Abras are only operating between the stations in bur Dubai and Deira. They are really cheap as well. They only cost 1 DH per trip.


Air-conditioned Abras


These are Abras suitable even for the summer climate in Dubai. Unlike the first one, these have glass windows to enable sightseeing while providing a comfortable climate on board. They run back and forth between the festival city and the creek metro station. The seating is also better compared to a traditional Abra, and the driver’s cabin is in front of the boat. The cost is 2 AED per trip.


Petrol Abras


There are two types of petrol Abras. The ones you will find in the creek are passenger Abras servicing to either side like a traditional Abra. The second one is the tourist Abra operating in the Dubai Water Canal, which takes you around the canal for sightseeing trips and takes you back to the starting point, much like dhows.  if you wish to have dinner onboard a wooden boat called Dhow cruise, you have three options, Dubai creek, the canal, and Dubai Marina dhow cruise.


Those petrol Abras are cheap (2 AED per trip), and you can always find them waiting for passengers in the water taxi stations in old Dubai. On the other hand, water canal Abras are relatively expensive. They cost 25 per head and 300 AED if you are chartering the whole boat for one hour.


Electric Abras


They are exclusive to Burj Khalifa lake, global village lake, Madinat Jumeirah and Al Seef. You can board them at any of the three abra stations near Burj Khalifa, the Palace hotel, or Burj Plaza. They look similar to the petrol Abra to the regular motorized Abras. 


The Burj Khalifa lake, or simply called the Burj Lake, spreads over an area of 30 acres. It’s fairly large that the trip around the lake takes you 25 minutes. Abra ride is also the best option to see the Dubai fountain up close. The global village lake is more of an artificial canal made for boar cruises. The rate of electric Abra rides varies with the location.

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