There's surely no place on Earth that has mushroomed as quickly as Dubai has over the last two decades. Not long ago, the economy of Dubai, the second largest of the seven United Arab Emirates, was based on fishing and diving for pearls in the Persian Gulf, and the business enacted by traders and nomads inland. The former British protectorate is now on the list of every serious world traveler for the many spectacular architectural projects in its capital, also called Dubai. Many of these have been built entirely on manmade islands in the gulf; others are soaring towers so high they literally pierce the clouds.
In the late 2000s, a dip in the economy slowed the city's construction boom. But now Dubai is back on track as a mover and shaker of global proportions. Shoppers from around the world are once again descending on its high-end boutiques and massive upscale malls. For all the city’s glitz, however, the surrounding desert is little changed. A short drive from the capital brings visitors to a landscape that is still the emirates’ spiritual home, where falconry is practiced and herds of gazelles and oryx roam.