Why safari in Africa when you have giraffes, tigers and hyenas on your doorstep? If you’re nuts about nature, there’s plenty to see in Abu Dhabi.
Tucked away on the outskirts of Mohammed Bin Zayed City, close to Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre is a rehabilitation centre for endangered species. Since it was founded in 2001, the farm has helped thousands of animals and is currently home to 400, including Bengal tigers, jaguars, cheetahs, hyenas, monkeys, baboons and even a humble donkey. Many of the animals have been rescued from appalling conditions; one lion was found with its teeth and claws pulled out, nerves exposed. Unable to be released into the wild, they now live in one of the centre’s 36 grassy enclosures, which are surrounded by tree-lined avenues. It takes an hour to drive around the 1.6km park. Call ahead for directions and to book a guided tour. Dhs65 adults, Dhs35 kids. Mon-Wed and Sat-Sun 9am-5pm. Email email@example.com Abu Dhabi Al Ain Truck Road (E30), beyond Mohammed Bin Zayed City (050 721 8169).
Free as a bird
Established by the Environment Agency in 1999, Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital specialises in treating and training falcons while acting as an education, research and breeding centre. It now treats 7,000 falcons a year and has been treating all bird species since 2006. A tourist attraction since 2007, you can join a guided tour in English, Arabic, French or German as long as you book in advance. The two-hour tour takes you around the centre’s two museums which house falcon taxidermy, gun displays and information on rare species. You’ll also meet falcons, have your photo taken with one on your arm and watch them fly in a landscaped garden that overlooks illuminated falcon sculptures. Over 10s Dhs170, kids aged 5-9 Dhs60, under fives free. Sun-Thu 10am-2pm. From Airport Road, take Sweihan Road. Map on website, www.falconhospital.com (050 666 0739; 02 575 5155).
Whale of a time Join a three-hour Dolphin Bay Eco Tour and a marine biologist will teach you about local flora and fauna as you cruise through Abu Dhabi’s mangrove forests, which are home to a diversity of organisms. You’ll continue on to Dolphin Bay, so called because of the dolphins often spotted playing in the shallow waters. After relaxing on a tidal sand bank, you’ll return to Yas Island. Depending on the season, on the way back you might see flamingos, crabs, herons, stingrays and turtles, as well as a herd of gazelles on Samaliyah Island opposite Al Raha Beach Hotel. Prices include soft drinks, water and sandwiches. Dhs400 adults, Dhs300 for kids 6-12; kids under 5 free. Dolphin cruise Sat, time is tide-dependent. Captain Tony’s, Yas Marina, Yas Island, www.captaintonys.ae (02 650 7175; 050 781 9642).
Animal instinct Hire a pair of night goggles – a world first for a zoo – and as dusk falls you’ll see nocturnal animals come out to play at Al Ain Zoo. You can use them all around the zoo, but the African and Asian exhibits will be the most rewarding. While you’re there, attend a talk with a zookeeper under the cover of darkness and watch crocodiles feeding. Daytime visitors can still see nocturnal animals, just in a dark enclosure – look out for sand cats exploring dunes and hedgehogs scurrying between shrubs. Goggles Dhs50 per hour. Entry Dhs20 adults, Dhs10 kids aged 3-12, under-3s free. Now until Aug 31, 4pm-10pm, Ramadan 4pm-8pm, Eid 10pm-10pm. www.alainzoo.ae (03 799 2000).
Wild card The 4,100-hectare Arabian Wildlife Park takes up half of Sir Bani Yas, an island off the coast of Jebel Dhanna, which is half way between the capital and Qatar. Surrounded by a 32km fence, the park is home to 15,000 animals such as the endangered Arabian oryx, gazelles, deer, sheep and hares, as well as giraffes and ostriches. It even has predators and scavengers such as cheetahs and striped hyenas – both of which are indigenous to the Arabian peninsula. The animals roam freely, as they would in the wild. For a real safari experience, join a nature activity led by trained guides who speak English, Arabic, French, German and Afrikaans. Choose from horse riding, archery, a 4x4 drive or hike through savannahs on the island’s east side. You can also cycle on mountain bikes along dry river beds or over salt-dome hilltops with views of the surrounding park – but don’t worry, you won’t be cycling into a cheetah’s den. To see marine life, kayak past flamingos and flying fish in the mangroves, or go snorkelling or scuba diving around six uninhabited islands nearby. Make a weekend of it and stay at Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort, a collection of 30 villas, each of which has a thatched roof, rustic decor and private plunge pool. They’re within the wildlife park so there’s a good chance you’ll spot a gazelle when you roll out of bed. Email firstname.lastname@example.org (activities 056 687 7146). www.al-sahel.anantara.com (02 801 4300).
Really wild show Ever seen Indonesian black tip sharks or Siberian tigers? No? Then visit Emirates Park Zoo for a close up. The park is also home to lions, leopards, zebras and Rada and Madu, the UAE’s only Indian elephants. But the real stars of the show are the white tigers. They’re so rare, there are only 300 left in the world – and three are on your doorstep. Once you’ve seen the biggies, head indoors into air-conditioned comfort to meet reptiles and snakes, or see flamingos and pelicans in the bird park. Kids will also enjoy petting farm animals, watching the sea lion show, holding a bird of prey on their arm and feeding giraffes with grass (Dhs5). Dhs25 entry, kids aged 3-5 Dhs10, under-3s free. Sea lion show and elephant feeding Dhs20. Sun-Wed 9.30am-8pm. 12th Street, Al Bahia, www.emiratesparkzoo.com (02 501 0000).
Horsing around Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club isn’t just a riding school, although you can have lessons. The club has three air-conditioned barns, which house 90 horses, and a floodlit show-jumping arena with a natural water jump. You can watch shows for free most weekends. The club’s racecourse meets international standards and hosts races throughout the season, which runs from October to April – the Emirates Championship is the highlight. A circular, 2,000m training track for beginners runs inside the racecourse, while intermediate-level riders can join occasional 90-minute desert trail rides. More experienced riders can take part in endurance competitions varying in length from 80km to 160km. The season runs from November until May, culminating in night rides in the desert. Dhs300 for a 45-minute lesson, desert trails Dhs150-180. Sat-Wed 8am-1am and 4pm-7pm, Thu 8am-noon. Email Riding.School@adec.ae Al Mushrif, between Al Karamah Street and 28th Street, www.adec-web.com (02 445 5500).
Birds of a feather... Local bird watching group UAE Birding hosts informal tours around the emirate. As well as geese, swans and partridges, you might spot the tan-feathered ruddy shelduck, a Eurasian teal, characterised by an emerald green and brown head, and a red-billed tropicbird, so called because the white bird has a lipstick-red beak. Fri-Sat 6am-6pm. Half day Dhs800, full day Dhs1,400, for one to three people. Email Oscar Campbell email@example.com.