Hit the open road and get out of the city with our guide
Time Out Dubai Staff
We love a good road trip. From the getting ready (whose iPod will accompany the drive? What snacks will you bring? We favour Loacker wafers and Pringles) to the journey (first person to spot a camel wins more wafers) and the destination. We even love returning home, tired from the mission, the car full of snack-related trash. From start to finish, these journeys make you feel good.
When we want to ‘get away from it all’, too many of us instantly think of flying to another country, evidenced by the fact that Dubai’s airport is now the second busiest in the world after London Heathrow. Yet there are plenty of adventures to be had on the many thousands of kilometres of road in the UAE and Oman – Sheikh Zayed Road alone is more than 500km long. This means road trips can last from a few hours to a few days and are so much more affordable then a trip by air. So fill up the tank for a ridiculously low fee, and get on it.
1 Al Ain Drive time: 90 minutes Best for: A family day trip – it’s relaxed, kid-friendly and not too taxing.
The trip: The drive to Al Ain is fuss-free: get on the Al Ain Road (Route 66) and drive. The road passes Dubai Outlet Mall, the turn-off to the camel market, Lisali fort and much more – about an hour in, the view of beautifully ochre dunes and smatterings of date farms makes for a lovely drive. It took us about an hour and a half to reach Al Ain Zoo (Dhs15 for adults, Dhs5 for children aged three to 12, free for children under three. Open daily 9am-8pm, www.awpr.ae, 03 782 0181).
We bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the zoo’s quality. A few hours spent here will enable you to spy gorillas, leopards, white tigers, cheetahs, oryx, emus, rhinos (which seem to be almost without fences), giraffes and more. Also, unlike some zoos in the region, the enclosures are large and varied, meaning a visit is enlightening, not depressing – it’s clear that the zoo that works hard to help threatened species. Our tip? Go in the later afternoon, around 4pm, when the animals are active, and stay for the evening bird show, which runs at various times but always in the evening.
After the zoo (or before, if you go late in the afternoon), follow the signs to Jebel Hafeet – a mountain that borders Oman – and drive up its amazing 11.7km road, which rises 1.4km. There are 21 corners and three lanes, and the road leads to only one hotel (the Mercure Grand), a palace and a parking lot. Coming from countries where the main highway is at times a dirt track, this road is mind boggling.
Directions: From Dubai, take the Al Ain Road (E66) and just drive. Once in Al Ain, follow the brown ‘tourist destinations’ signs until you see a sign for either the zoo or Jebel Hafeet (depending on your chosen destination), then follow those. On the way out, follow the signs for Dubai.
2 Khasab, Musandam Drive time: 3-4 hours Best for: Winding roads, dolphins and friendly people.
The trip: Oman’s Musandam peninsula, a small enclave surrounded by UAE land, is called the Norway of Arabia thanks to its turquoise waters and distinct rocky fjords. A drive there takes around three hours (on a good day), but it’s worth it. We say head out early and book a dhow trip to go snorkelling – you will invariably see dolphins (book with Sheesa Beach, from Dhs200 per person for a shared dhow cruise, www.sheesabeach.com, 050 336 6046). Camp out on an island for the night (we recommend Telegraph Island) or brave the drive back home – you could even stop in Ras Al Khaimah for a night.
Directions: Take Emirates Road (E311) north all the way to Ras Al Khaimah. From here, take the Al Rams Road and follow signs to the cement factory. Head to the Omani border crossing, which isn’t a long drive, though the time it takes to cross the border depends very much on how many people happen to be queueing (expect 15 minutes on a good day; 45 minutes if it’s busy). Once you’ve made it into Oman, there’s a great beach a couple of minutes from the checkpoint where you can have a swim and a picnic before heading up the coast. From here on, just drive. The scenery is spectacular and the road scary – cue S-bends and sheer drops.
3 Hatta Pools Drive time: 60-90 minutes Best for: History, heritage and nature – all just an hour’s drive away.
The trip: The drive to Hatta is an easy one – just get on the Hatta Road (E44/Al Khail Road) and drive. After 50 minutes or so you’ll find yourself in Hatta. Depending on the time of day you’re visiting, you can pop into the quaint Hatta Fort Hotel for lunch (and ask them for tips on driving to Hatta Pools). Once you reach the end of the road where everyone is parked, park up (and lock up – we’ve heard of things being stolen from cars here) and walk down to the pools. Nestled in a rock crevice, the natural spring water comes from the mountains and makes for an extremely refreshing dip. The one lingering bad taste, however, is the litter – on our recent trip we saw all sorts of trash on the site. We implore you to bring a few bags and collect the litter you see: if all visitors did that then it would help the situation greatly. On the way back to Dubai, swing past Hatta’s Heritage Village (off the fort roundabout) – a 16th-century village with 30 or so buildings to explore (free, open Sat-Thu 8am-8.30pm; Fri 2.30pm-8.30pm, 04 852 1284).
Directions: Take the E44 to Hatta (remember your passport – there is now a check point en route). The Hatta Pools are just under 20km south of Hatta. They aren’t well signposted, but take Mahdah 64 from the Dubai-Hatta highway and turn left onto a gravel track at the Sumaini signpost – follow this and you’ll reach the mountains. It’s quite a bumpy road, so we recommend a 4x4, and it’s quite easy to get lost (www.offroaduae.com has a good map).
4 The Empty Quarter, Liwa Drive time: 2-3 hours Best for: Those with a powerful 4x4, good tunes on the stereo and a desire to get as far away from civilisation as possible.
The trip: Situated in the heart of the huge Empty Quarter desert, Liwa is renowned for its rolling red sand dunes and a feeling of total isolation. If you think you’ve seen the desert on a quick trip to Big Red, think again: as soon as you leave Abu Dhabi behind in your rear-view mirror, you’ll hit the poker-straight desert roads that are virtually untouched by civilisation.
En route, petrolheads should stop off for a tour of Emirates Auto Museum on the E65 outside Abu Dhabi (Dhs50 per person, open daily 9am-1pm, 2pm-6pm, www.enam.ae, 02 667 6999), offering a wacky collection of hundreds of rare cars. Further into the desert, experienced off-roaders can take to the sand for some quality dune-bashing; those less au fait with desert driving can head for one of the destination hotels in the area for a tour: Tilal Liwa Hotel (02 894 6111) offers trips from Dhs1,300 per car (max four people).
Directions: Follow Sheikh Zayed Road (E11) out of Dubai and past Abu Dhabi; divert across the highway interchange to the E65 (direction Hameem, exit 306), which becomes Route E90. Follow this road for about 150km, which will take you into the heart of the desert and the edge of the Liwa Oasis – but watch out for the numerous speed cameras on the main road.
5 Joe’s Point, Asilah, Oman Drive time: 8 hours Best for: A chilled out, no-frills camping and surfing holiday.
The trip: The stretch of cliffs overlooking the beach at Joe’s Point serve not only as a flat, stable location for pitching tents and setting up camp, but offer the perfect vantage point for wave-spotting. Surf is pretty much guaranteed, but wave height can vary, meaning that over a long weekend, everyone from beginners to proficient surfers are bound to experience ideal conditions at some point. It’s a long drive, so be well prepared with music, snacks, water and good company for an authentic and stress-free road trip.
Directions: After passing the Oman border crossing at Hatta, drive towards Muscat and take the turning for Bid Bid, on the outskirts of the city. Wind through the mountains through Sur and then Ibra, before turning right at the Al Kamil BP Petrol station. Turn left at the second roundabout to Asilah, which is the main town near Joe’s Point. As you get closer to the coast, you’re bound to see friendly locals, who are typically happy to point you in the right direction should you find yourself lost.
6 Abu Dhabi Drive time: 90 minutes Best for: A speedy hit of culture.
The trip: While the drive to Abu Dhabi – straight south on Sheikh Zayed Road – isn’t the most exciting, anyone who lives in Dubai has to visit the capital at least once. You know you’re in Abu Dhabi when trees appear in the centre of the highway and the speed cameras change to ones that capture images of the back of your car (apparently people didn’t want their faces caught on camera). Start your day by visiting the huge Sheikh Zayed Mosque (02 444 0444) in time for a tour before it closes to the public at 11am. After a morning here, head to Yas Island for a light lunch overlooking the race track at Yas Viceroy Hotel (02 444 0444), then zip over to Ferrari World (Dhs220, open Tue-Sun noon-10pm, www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com, 02 496 8001). This almost entirely indoor theme park is home to the fastest rollercoaster in the world – when we tried it, we felt shaky for about half an hour afterwards.
Directions: To get to the mosque, cross onto the island at Maqta Bridge, take the second major exit to the right, which is signposted Eastern Ring Road – this will take you around a clover leaf back over the main road. Keep right; after passing the mosque, turn right and you’ll be at the entrance. To get to Yas Island from the mosque, get back on the road to Dubai, drive north toward Dubai for about 15 minutes until you see a Yas Island turning, then follow the signs.
7 Fujairah Drive time: Two hours Best for: Divers or snorkellers.
The trip: The best thing about this trip is that it can be done even if you and none of your friends can drive: via local dive company Al Boom (Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah, www.alboom.ae, 04 342 2993). The group offers return minibus transport for Dhs150. Another bonus is that you typically make new friends on the way (hello Laila, Gemma and Tom!). The toughest part of our experience was making it to the Al Boom centre by 6am (book a cab the night before on 04 208 0808).
Once out of Dubai, the landscape flattens into desert, and it’s likely you’ll spot groups of camels. The highlight of the journey, however, is the Hajar mountains, which make a pleasant change to skyscrapers. Look out for goats, and the UAE flags chalked onto the rock. On arrival at Le Méridien Al Aqah hotel in Fujairah, you’ll hop on a boat and whizz out to sea (Dhs250 for a snorkel, Dhs350 for diving including kit), where you can see the same craggy mountains from the seaside – plus plenty of sea life, often including (harmless) black-tipped reef sharks and turtles. After a trip back to shore for a sandwich (Dhs25), you head to another area, and then have an hour or so more on land before you jump back on the bus at 4pm, to be back in Dubai by around 6.30pm, depending on traffic.
Directions: The bus to Al Aqah takes the faster route along Emirates Road (E311) through Sharjah, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah, before cutting across to the Hajar Mountains. If you want a more scenic route, take the E611 through Sharjah up to Dhaid. Just after Dhaid you can opt to drive up to the Friday market near Masafi, before taking the Al Aqah road. Each route will take you to the Dibba turnoff at the base of the Hajar mountains. At the dolphin roundabout, take a right for a scenic drive along the Al Aqah coastline.
8 Wadi Bih, Ras Al Khaimah Drive time: 90 minutes Best for: A bit of a trek.
The trip: The Hajar mountains, which are partially within the borders of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), are divided by wadis (valleys). The most spectacular in the area is Wadi Bih, which straddles Oman and RAK. The first part of the road leading to the Emirates border post is paved, but for the Omani part you’ll need a solid 4x4, and your passport if you want to pass (the border checks here are changeable – without a GCC passport you may end up having to stay within the UAE, but there’s still plenty to see). Walk or drive around the area and you’ll come across remarkable patches of green, wonderful views at points where the mountains reach 1,000m above sea level and even the remains of old stone houses. Don’t go during or after rains, as flash floods can be powerful and dangerous.
Directions: Drive north on Emirates Road (E311) to RAK. At the clock tower roundabout, turn right. After 6km you’ll reach a roundabout with a lamp; head straight across, then drive another 6km to a coffee pot roundabout (go straight across). You’ll see a sign for ‘W Al Baih’. Turn right here to enter Wadi Bih.
9 Fossil Rock Drive time: 60 minutes Best for: A half-day trip of dune bashing for keen off-roaders and anyone who has completed a 4WD course. We’d suggest undertaking some lessons beforehand, and always head out with at least two vehicles.
The trip: Take the Dubai-Hatta Road, which is uneventful until you see the giant brontosaurus and T-Rex models peeping out Jurassic Park-style from behind an unfinished construction site. When passing through Al Awir, check out the heavily guarded palace on the right. From here the trip takes a more exciting turn, so let down the air in your tyres before heading onto the sand. To avoid driving around in circles (we speak from experience), follow the main power lines straight out to Fossil Rock, with plenty of opportunities for camel spotting. Warning: there will be a number of times when it appears the dunes ahead of you make a sheer drop, so always step out of your car to have a look before driving on.
Once you reach Fossil Rock and the nearby Camel Rock, you can picnic (wind permitting) or keep going until you reach the tarmac. Check out the signposted tombs on the left, otherwise continue to the right, and drive some distance until you reach Big Red, where you can rent a quad bike to ride the dunes (for around Dhs250 an hour), before making your way back to Dubai.
Directions: Take the Dubai/Hatta Road (E44) for 31km until you reach a flyover. At the roundabout, take the second exit into Al Awir. Take the right turn before the second mosque, then drive past a palace and some shops until you reach a sandy track. Head up the dunes, following the power lines across a main road until you reach Camel Rock and, further on, Fossil Rock. Keep straight to reach the tarmac road, then take a right or left to head back to Dubai.
10 Umm Al Quwain Drive time: 90 minutes Best for: Alternative water fun.
The trip: There are a number of small islands and mangroves just off the coast of Umm Al Quwain, which are visible from the old town. The more adventurous can explore these islands with Noukhada Adventure Company (Dhs200 per person; 050 721 8928). Land-lubbers might be more interested in the historic harbour, which is also home to a traditional dhow building yard. Also, don’t forget your swimsuit: a trip to Umm Al Quwain isn’t complete without a visit to the Dreamland Aqua Park (Dhs135 entry for adults, Dhs85 for children; open daily 10am-6pm; 06 768 1888), which becomes quite the party spot during the weekends.
Directions: They say that life’s about the journey, not the destination, although whoever said that had never endured the boring drive to Umm Al Quwain. Make things more interesting by taking Emirates Road before peeling off to the Dubai Outer Bypass Road (E611), so you really feel like you’re in the back of beyond. Sights include the Sharjah Cement Factory (quite a landmark, honest!) and the Sharjah Equestrian Club. Once you reach the end of the E611, turn left over Emirates Road to the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Salem Road (E11) and eventually Umm Al Quwain.
Don’t have a car? It’s quite an essential element on most road trips, so here’s how to hire one. Fast Rent A Car Need a 4x4? This rental company has ultra-hardy Nissan Pathfinders in its fleet. From Dhs480 a day. www.fastuae.com.
Green Car Rental This new service allows you to hire hybrid or fully electric vehicles – a road trip that’s easy on the conscience. From Dhs280 a day for a Honda CRZ to Dhs3,700 a day for a Tesla Roadster. www.greencardubai.com.
RhinoCarHire.Com This budget-friendly site rents small cars (Perodua Myvis or similar) with hire prices that are less than the cost of your lunch. From Dhs80 a day. www.rhinocarhire.com.
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shivani rai Jan 21, 2012 04:31 pm
We went to Khasab/Mussandam this week end. Its an amazing place. Suggest that you take a Oman visa to avoid rush at the border. We stayed at the Golden Tulip Resort. Its a bit over priced but the people in Oman are really lovely! I heard that some people rent their villas and you may google it, i am gonna try this next time. You can do a night camp at the beach next to Golden Tulip Resort and it has public rest rooms :). There is a Lulu nearby. I will go there again soon!
SHARATH Jan 10, 2012 02:10 am
Nice compilation..In liwa even without fourwheel also we can have fun..this newyear we pitched a tent in empty quarter and it was NICEEE....:)