Swim with dolphins Dolphin Bay Time Out has personally tested out the deep water interaction and, trust us, it’s pretty awesome. Pull on your wetsuit, wade into the surprisingly chilly 25°C water (kept cooler for the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins), kneel on the bottom, a mere 3m down, and wait for the star of the show to arrive. Give Sol or one of his dolphin friends a stroke, kiss and cuddle, and then pose for the ultimate underwater Facebook profile picture. Dhs1,550 for 40 minutes for non-hotel guests. Dolphin Bay, Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah www.atlantisthepalm.com (04 426 1030).
Go dolphin-spotting Musandam dhow trip A weekend dhow trip off the Omani coast may rapidly be becoming the new Friday brunch for some. But don’t miss the awe-inspiring smarine life that can be seen from the dhow – dolphins, sharks, large rays, colourful corals, large lobsters and even whale sharks have been spotted by Al Boom regulars. Dhs300 for snorkelling/boat ride; minimum of 15 people. Snorkelling and diving equipment is provided. Open Sat-Thu 8am-9pm; Fri 8am-7pm. Al Boom Diving, Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah, www.alboomdiving.com (04 342 2993).
See Arabian wildlife Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort White lions, cute sand cats, vultures, giraffes and a whole host of other exotic (not to mention rare) species roam the spacious grounds of Al Ain Wildlife Park – a refreshing, educational and eye-opening conservation project. The park also has a night-time safari in the summer. Dhs15 for adults; Dhs5 admission fee for children (three-12 years). Al Ain, www.awpr.ae (03 782 8188).
Go on safari Sir Bani Yas Island Sir Bani Yas has morphed into a veritable Galapagos of the Middle East, with so many animals frolicking freely, it’s as though Noah’s Ark was shipwrecked nearby. The island was originally the private retreat and royal nature reserve of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the UAE. Though it’s not possible to visit Sir Bani Yas without staying at the swanky five-star Anantara Desert Islands Resort and Spa, it’s truly one of the UAE’s most pristine wildlife reserves. Anantara Desert Islands Resort and Spa (www.desertislands.anantara.com; 02 801 5400). Boats to Sir Bani Yas run from the Jebel Dhanna pier (about 210km to the west of Abu Dhabi) and seaplane flights are available from Abu Dhabi airport (both available only to hotel guests).
Hit the mangroves Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary One of the most important wetland areas in the country is Ras al Khor, a 6.2 sq km area at the end of Dubai Creek. The Sanctuary is home to 266 species of fauna and 47 species of flora, and even if you’re not partial to birdlife, there’s something incredibly amusing about crouching in one of the specially created bird hides to watch nearly 2,000 flamingos prance around the sanctuary. Entry to the sanctuary and bird hides is free. Allow three days to process a Dubai Municipality permit. Open Sat-Thu 9am-4pm. Oud Metha Road, Ras Al Khor, www.wildlife.ae (04 606 6822).
See some turtles Ras Al-Jinz Scientific & Visitor Centre Watch the shelled ones lay eggs and babies making a break for the ocean. Conservationists will teach you all about this oh-so-cute species in guided tours – the activity is popular so advance booking is essential (tours cost around Dhs30). The best time of year to visit is from June to August. Early birds can join the 4am walk, with the added bonus that photography is permitted as soon as the sun rises. Dhs65 for single accommodation. Oman, www.rasaljinz-turtlereserve.com (+968 9655 0606).
Try falconry Shaheen Extreme Falconry The combination of being in breathtaking desert scenery and the age-old tradition of mastering a magnificent bird makes for quite an incredible experience. This oldest of Dubai sporting activities – originally, falcons were used for hunting, to supplement the Bedouin diet with some meat, such as hare or houbara – provides a wonderful insight into an important part of the UAE’s cultural heritage. Dhs225 for a 90-minute lesson (04 435 6550) www.shaheenxtreme.com.
Ride a camel Desert Rangers There’s an element of cliché to riding a camel through the desert, but it’s actually a great insight into the Bedouin culture that preceded the oil-rich UAE that we know today. What’s more, mastering the belligerent beast is half the fun. On camel-back, enjoy the tranquility of the desert at sunset and the darkness under the stars. Dhs295 per person, Dhs125 for kids (minimum of two) for a half-day evening safari. Open daily 9am-7pm. Oud Metha, www.desertrangers.com (04 357 2233).
Go horse-riding Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club You’ll have far more fun on a horse if you’ve learnt how to ride properly. Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club is a great place to get started. Learn to trot, canter and gallop on the back of a truly majestic beast. Dhs1,400 for children (45 minutes) and Dhs1,700 for adults (45 minutes). Open daily 9am-5pm. Emirates Road, Arabian Ranches, www.poloclubdubai.com (04 361 8111).
Watch sharks and big fish Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo You won’t get any closer to fearsome sharks and huge fish without getting your hair wet. Peer through the world’s largest acrylic panel at Dubai Mall’s huge aquarium and cast your eyes on giant grouper and catfish, huge rays and scary sand tiger sharks with teeth so big, you’ll take a step back from the 750mm-thick glass. Walk through the glass tunnel to see enormous rays glide above you, then head into the Underwater Zoo to see penguins, caiman crocodiles, piranha, giant spider crabs and much more. Dhs50 for access to aquarium tunnel and underwater zoo, Dhs75 for platinum aquarium package, Dhs85 for diamond aquarium package, Dhs100 an ultimate aquarium package, Dhs250 for annual membership. Open daily 10am-midnight. The Dubai Mall. Downtown Burj Khalifa. www.thedubaiaquarium.com (04 448 5200).