Failaka Island: Abandoned?

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Failaka Island is located 20 km off the coast of Kuwait City. The name Failaka is believed to be derived from the word "fylakio", which in ancient Greek meant "outpost". The island has been inhabited for more than 5000 years by many different civilizations and prior to the Iraqi invasion of the island in 1990, more than two thousand people were resident on the island. Failaka is the archaeological epicenter of Kuwait and fieldwork was firstly conducted by a team of Danish archaeologists in the 1950's, but has since then been excavated by several teams and even today the Kuwaiti government still proceeds to do excavations on the island.


To reach Failaka Island you'll need to head to the pier across from Marina Mall and on the west side of Marina Beach. Look at a Starbucks and then look for a small shed with a glass facade, which is the main office of Ikarus Boat Rides. Here you can buy a return ticket to Failaka Island for 22 Kuwaiti Dinar, besides that you'll have to paid another 10 Kuwait Dinar for a Day Package including beach entry, entry to the swan lake, horseback riding and a bus tour.

Ikarus Boat Rides office in Kuwait City, Kuwait


After the ferry docks at the new harbour (just below the old one) near Az Zawr Beach everybody will be put on a bus which will take you a very very short ride up to the Heritage Village. Here you'll enter the main building to receive your tickets for your paid activities.


The landing site for the Ikarus ferry on Failaka Island is right by Al Zawr Beach. This is the place for sunbathing, relaxing or even trying out some horseback riding. Although you've just arrived, you won't be staying here long as the bus is waiting to take you to the Heritage Village of Failaka. Once you're due to return to Kuwait City you can enjoy the beach before leaving with the ferry.

Al Zawr Beach on Failaka Island, Kuwait
After reaching the Heritage Village the first thing you run into is the museum. There are also a few souvenir shops and a small supermarket, but they don't seem to have structured opening times.

Entrance to Heritage Village Museum, Failaka Island, Kuwait
Behind the museum you can exit a gate, cross the road and end up at what I named "Swan Lake". Here you'll have a voucher for 15 minutes in kayak or swan paddle boat.

Swan Lake on Failaka Island, Kuwait
Don't get your hopes up.... Because this isn't quite the regular zoo with elephants, tigers and whatnot. Rather a petting zoo with deer and chickens. You can use your zoo-voucher here. The last vouchers you have left is for a "day tour", which is half an hour with sightseeing on a bus and a voucher for lunch.

Petting Zoo on Failaka Island, Kuwait
To be honest we decided to skip all of the above and ended up not using any of the vouchers we paid for. Instead we headed towards the now abandoned branch of the Kuwait National Bank. To get there we headed to Harbour Street and walked in the East direction until we hit a road turning left. Right there on one side of the intersection is the ruin of a former branch of Kuwait National Bank. Full of bullet holes and completely emptied inside. There was no sign telling us to stay out, so we took a tour inside.

National Bank of Kuwait ruins on Failaka Island, Kuwait
After visiting the ruin of the Kuwait National Bank we headed down the unnamed road turning left from Harbour Street heading in the direction of Remnants of the Iraqi War, which is a good 3 km walk to the northern part of Failaka. We weren't actually sure, if we were allowed to roam the island on our own, but we smiled and waved at a police patrol who smiled and waved back as they passed by. Along the way we found several bullet casing and many odd items left by the islanders who fled the island. The Iraqi invasion of Failaka Island led by Sadam Hussein in 1990 was very succesful. Yet the Iraqi occupation of Failaka only lasted about a year, as the entire 1400 Iraqi troops surrendered to the US forces without a single shot fired. Today many of the tanks, trucks, anti-aircraft cannons and much more are left on Failaka. They have been gathered and placed in a fenced area, which is open for the public to visit. So if you want to sit in a leftover Saddam Hussein tank, here's your chance.

Me handling one of Sadam Hussein's leftover tanks at Failaka Island, Kuwait
After visiting the Remnant of the Gulf War we headed back towards the once largest settlement on the island on the west coast. Here we heard a few generators roaring and saw a few children playing. Curious as to why there was people near these abandoned houses we approached them to explore further. Here a friendly deep voice welcomed us and invited us for coffee. We gladly accepted. He name was Mohammed and he had been on the island all his life until the invasion in 1990. Now he was back to revisit his childhood home. He kindly offered us a tour of the island in his car, we felt lucky and privileged to meet such good people during our journey to Failaka.

Abandoned house on Failaka Island, Kuwait
Failaka Island was occuppied by the Dilmun Civilization from around 3000 B.C. During the Dilmun era Failaka was named "Agarum", which in ancient texts found on the island is described as the land of Enzak, a great God at the time. There is a museum at the Dilmun Ruins, which is still being built. Mohammed took us here, but told us he hadn't been inside for 20 years. Somewhat Lady Luck smiled in our direction, as we were allowed inside. But visiting this area of the island is normally prohibited for tourists.

Dilmun Civilization Ruins on Failaka Island, Kuwait
Further east in the same closed off area lies the most famous historical and archaeological landmark of Kuwait; the Ancient Greek Temple ruins which features on the 1 Kuwaiti Dinar banknote. Much later in history after the Dilmun Civilization was long gone Alexander the Great came to Failaka (around 331 B.C.). After Alexander the Great left the island the ancient Greeks colonized the island and named it "Ikaros". Greek temples were built on the island which still holds extremely well-preserved details of the ancient Greek architectural craftsmanship. Again, do not expect to be able to visit this site until it's officially opened for the public, we were extremely lucky to get inside.

Holding up a 1 Kuwaiti Dinar banknote in front of the ancient Greek Temple Ruins on Failaka Island, Kuwait
After our trip around the island with Mohammed, he offered us lunch at his place. Again, the generous hospitality of the Failaka Islanders is just astonishing, considering they lost everything on their island. The lunch was some delicious, locally caught fish with rice and vegetables. After the very lovely meal, Mohammed offered us his car keys, so we would give ourselves a lift to the harbour. No words. Just pure, genuine hospitality.

Local Fish Lunch on Failaka Island, Kuwait
Lastly we went back to the harbour to catch our ferry back. We did make it a few kilometers into open water before the captain decided to turn the ship around due to rough weather conditions and very chunky waters. We had to wait a few hours for the Icarus Boat Rides company to bring "a bigger boat". And that gave us the opportunity to enjoy the sunset at Failaka Old Harbour. After visiting Failaka Island, I would recommend to stay more than just 1 day. Perhaps go for 1 or 2 nights at the island.

Sunset over the Old Harbour on Failaka Island, Kuwait


I'd like you to meet the man who changed our visit to Failaka Island from something great into something extraordinary and showing us, that Failaka is actually not that abandoned at all.
Meet Mohammed, 60+ years of age and with a history on Failaka Island, which dates back four generations of his family. Mohammed shared many great and inspiring stories from Failaka with us and he gave me promission to put a few of his explanations on my blog.

Mohammed in front of his abandoned childhood home on Failaka Island, Kuwait
How often do you come back to Failaka?
As often as possible. I'm over 60 years of age and retired now. Mostly former islanders visit here during holidays. There are no owners of our old houses, so we come back to Failaka and spend time here without asking any permission.

How was all the buildings on the island destroyed?
Most of the bullet holes are from today's military training. The Kuwait armed forces use Failaka Island as a practice ground. Some of the buildings were also torn down and stripped for useful materials. Right after the invasion of Failaka had seized there wasn't any sweep of the island for explosives left behind. A few of the first people who came here after that lost their lives to those explosives left by from the battles. Still today some areas could be dangerous and you will find bullet casings everywhere; new and old.

Were you on Failak Island during the attack and invasion from Iraqi forces?
I remember the day of the Iraqi invasion. It was originally planned to be on a Thursday, but our military base shot down two helicopters out over the ocean, so the Iraqi forces waited the night out and then deployed on land Friday the following day. Everything was captured in about an hour except our two main ferries, which evacuated the islanders.

Did you see any battle since the invasion of Failaka Island in 1990?
Yes, I worked as an engineer for the American forces during the Iraqi War in 2002/2003. My brother was with the British Army at the same time. But we were not soldiers, only work men during the war.

How has the government helped you out since the downfall of your former home Failaka Island?
We were offered land after things had settled at Failaka. Either we could have 400 square meters of land in Kuwait City, although valued no higher than 150k Kuwait Dinars or we could choose to return to Failaka and rebuilt. Only 19 people stayed on the island. The only thing the government is refusing to do is built a bridge, connecting Failaka to the main land.

Do you hope Failaka will rise again and become populated like it use to be?
I pray to God it won't. We like Failaka how it is today. I can come here and remember my childhood. Where I grew up and used to play. If Failaka Island is rebuilt they will destroy the remaining memories of my childhood and replce it with beach resorts and hotels. I do not want that for my island.

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