The UAE is a fantastic place with so much amazing infrastructure, world class attractions and fun events. But I think it’s important not to forget that beyond the skyscrapers, shopping malls and pool parties we are actually in an extraordinary natural environment that you won’t be able to enjoy in many other parts of the world. In fact, only 20% of the Earth’s total landmass is a sandy desert, which is less than 6% of the globe! So if like me, your home is not anywhere close to the desert, then it would be silly to miss out on the opportunity to spend some time exploring the dunes whilst you’re here! Far from what I would have imagined from watching movies as a child, you can actually access the desert in less than 20 minutes from some parts of Dubai and it’s easy to reach in a standard car as long as you park on the road before walking onto the sand. It isn’t always swelteringly hot, and the deserts in the UAE have mountains and are home to interesting species of wildlife, too, although I am yet to see a cactus here surprisingly enough. Here are my top recommendations for how to make the most of living in the desert!
This one had to be at the top of my list after spending a Friday here recently for the adventure tour. I learned so much about the history of the area, the history of humankind and even about astronomy. The brilliant tour guides managed to keep me interested in the whole day and I had a fantastic experience. They were so knowledgeable and had answers to all my bizarre questions. The afternoon began with a guided tour of the museum, before being driven to and given walking tours of multiple archaeological sites including climbing into a cave and spots ancient fossils. We then visited some desert animals, went dune bashing and drove up to various viewpoints before heading to the sunset lounge for a delicious barbecue, bonfire, and private stargazing experience. I would honestly recommend Mleiha to anybody, they have different packages depending on what you’re interested in and how long you want to stay (including overnight camping if you so wish!)
At Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah, you can experience a bird’s eye view of the desert on the world’s longest zip line! You’ll be able to see the cliffs and canyons and fly through the air above the dunes. You can also try The Jais Sky Tour which is a unique experience where you take ziplines to different platforms on a tour of the area. The area has plenty more to offer too such as a sky maze for children and adults to try different obstacles whilst suspended in the air, and all of this is located on the highest peak in the UAE!
Feel like you’re in a movie whilst quad biking through the sand dunes
There are many providers for this type of experience, but if you can I’d recommend a private tour. I went in a group of 3 and we’d gone out so far that I have no idea how our guide knew how to get us back! It’s certainly a memorable experience the first time you go so far out into the desert that all you can see for miles in any direction is sand. I felt like I was in a movie speeding sideways over the tall dunes and driving over the edge of what seemed like a vertical drop. It’s easier than it looks and the quad bikes are simple to ride! Just try not to get your back wheels stuck under the sand when you’re sideways at the top of a hill like I did.
Have a chilled barbecue and enjoy amazing views of the sunset
There aren’t many places in the world that you can easily round up your friends and pop over to the desert for a barbecue for a normal weekend activity. You should absolutely make the most of this. I went with some friends by car, you can park on the road and walk onto your chosen spot in the sand. We cooked our dinner over a bonfire and stayed until the sun went down. The sunset views are incredible and we even caught the fireworks from Global Village which added to the experience. If there aren’t clouds, you’ll be able to get a really clear view of the stars as you’re further away from the city’s light pollution. However, be warned that the temperature does significantly drop so if you’re visiting in winter you might need some extra layers once the sun goes down. Also, remember to bring extra water and something to sit on because the sand will get everywhere.
There is a popular cycle track in Al Qudra where you can cycle through the desert. There are varying lengths of the route that you can take so you can decide depending on your fitness and energy levels on the day which one you’re up for! The entire track is 86km and the routes range from 50km upwards. They conveniently start and end at the TREK cycle hire store where you can rent bikes on the day – although they often get booked up so be sure to call a few days in advance to reserve your bike and arrive on time for your booking. There are bathrooms and a shop for drinks and snacks, although there is just one on the route which is close to the start and end of the course so be sure to bring enough water with you! On your cycle, you’ll get to take in some amazing views of the desert and you might even see some desert wildlife like the oryx!
Try one of the many desert safari experiences
There are so many different desert safari packages and experiences so there will certainly be one to suit you and whoever may becoming along with you. Try the Entertainer app and Emirates website to begin with as there are providers on there and different options. You can stay overnight, or just come for dinner in the evening, or you could make a day of it and try some extreme sports, a camel ride and evening entertainment all at once!
Raise your heart rate with some dune bashing
It’s an exciting experience, especially if you’re not used to being on sandy terrain! Drivers actually remove air from the tyres of their vehicles in order to be able to keep control whilst driving over the sand. The shape of the dunes changes all the time so each experience will be different and you can never really know exactly what to expect. You’ll get amazing views from up high, bounce around over the bumps and speed up and downhills. The sand continues to move underneath the vehicle which makes it all the scarier – or fun, depending on how you look at it.
Take some cute photos at the Love lake
The Love lakes are located in Al Qudra. The man-made lake in the desert is heart shaped so it has become popular for visitors and tourists. There isn’t a lot else nearby, so don’t expect to be visiting any coffee shops or having lunch here, but this makes it a great spot for pictures and a calm, scenic walk or a picnic. As well as the heart shaped lakes, there are also many other heart shaped decorations such as benches, trees, and sculptures. It’s totally free to visit but might be a little tricky to reach by car so be sure to do your research first on where to park and how to get to the right place. Here you’ll also be able to enjoy great views and see some wildlife such as fish, swans, and other birds.
Try your hand at sandboarding
I haven’t actually tried this yet, but it’s next on my list! I love snowboarding so trying it out somewhere where I won’t feel cold will be an added bonus! I can imagine that it might be much more difficult since sand is an entirely different texture to snow, and snowboarding is hard enough as it is. In the UAE you’re able to try sandboarding all year round and even from heights sometimes as high as 1,000 feet! The sport is appropriate for all ages and is actually safer than many other desert sports since there are no vehicles or driving skills involved. Also, you’re bound to look really cool when doing it, until you inevitably fall down and get sand EVERYWHERE. I can’t wait to try it!
Be at one with nature and camp in the desert
If you like camping then it would definitely be an exciting experience to do it in the desert – especially if, like me, camping in your home country usually means prepare for mud, rain and your tent potentially getting broken in the wind. In the UAE you’re much more likely to experience excellent weather and at night time in the desert, you’ll have a really clear view of the stars! There are so many options of where and how to camp, you can stay in a pre-made glamping tent or igloo, or you can pitch your own! You can also visit one of the made-up campsites where you’ll be with other campers and can enjoy evening entertainment such as dancers and falcon shows. The options are endless.
How will you make the most of being in the desert? And if you’ve already been, is your favorite activity included in my list? Let us know what you thought and how your experience was!
This article is part of the expat diaries series. Click here to view the rest of the series.
Crystal Vera McClelland
Social Media & Marketing Executive