A terrific 20 ways to enjoy the UAE’s land, sea and air
Of course you could spend every weekend living it up at brunch or lounging in the sun, but if you’ve got any sense of adventure, the UAE has a whole world of it. Whether you’re looking for extreme challenges, or something a little more conservative, almost all of the emirates have some exhilaration in store, whether that’s on land, in the air, or around the coast. This year saw the opening of ToroVerde UAE’s spectacular, world record-setting Jebel Jais Flight, but that’s just one of 20 outdoor adventures we can wholeheartedly recommend.
On land Book a Dune buggy ride in Sharjah Having listened attentively and learned everything you can in the Mleiha Archaeological Centre in Sharjah, you’ll have earned the right to jump in a dune buggy and go nuts on the sand. Tours can be one or two hours long and offer a thrilling way to explore the fascinating landscapes in the area, including the iconic Camel and Fossil rocks. From Dhs175. Daily 9am-7pm. Mleiha Archaeological Centre, Sharjah. www.discovermleiha.ae (06 802 1111).
Get Drag racing at Yas Marina Circuit It’s nine years since Yas Marina Circuit began hosting the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, perhaps the biggest weekend in the capital. But during the other 51 weeks of the year, the track is still open and offers other thrilling experiences. While there are a number of passenger rides in supercars with professional drivers, the newest edition to the venue’s roster is the chance to be taken drag-racing in a super-charged Chevy Camaro. Dhs690. Tue, Thu and Sat, contact the track for times. Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, www.yasmarinacircuit.com (02 659 9800).
Go Hiking and camping in Hatta Okay, so it might not exactly be the Inca Trail, but last year saw a new 9km-long dedicated hiking trail open in the Hatta Mountains. The unguided route sets off from near the camping area at the Hatta Mountain Bike Trail Centre, continues through Hatta Heritage Village and passes three dams and dozens of small farms nestled among the craggy landscape. If that sounds like a bit too much time in the heat, there’s also an easier 3km option to explore. Free. Trails open 24 hours. Starts from Mountain Bike Trail Centre, Hatta, www.hattamtb.ae (04 852 1002).
Have a go at Sand Skiing in Dubai While it’s famously possible to ski on real snow in Dubai there’s also the option to do it on sand. Though a basic knowledge of the traditional techniques is handy, decent balance and a good sense of adventure are much more useful when hurtling down enormous dunes on specially modified mono-skis. You can book this activity through Lama Tours, and it’s on offer twice a day. Dhs140. Daily pick-up at 8am or 10am from your location in Dubai. www.lamadubai.com (04 601 3333).
Learn Archery in Liwa It’s a long way to Qasr Al Sarab – a largely featureless desert drive that may leave you questioning why you’re making the effort. So when the Anantara hotel appears, it feels like something miraculous. Nestled in a valley of gigantic red sand dunes, simply being there makes the long journey worth it. But simply being there and doing nothing would be a waste, so to counter that, there’s a whole host of activities including the chance to play Robin Hood and fire off some arrows. Dhs185 or included in room stay, double rooms from Dhs975. Daily times vary. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, The Empty Quarter, Liwa, Abu Dhabi, www.qasralsarab.anantara.com (02 656 1399).
Ride Horses in Sharjah Depending on the temperament of your mount, horse riding can be anything from a little dull to absolutely terrifying. The steeds selected by Real Expeditions are almost certainly docile and dependable, and sure to get you back safely from their overnight trip to a Bedouin camp. Don’t expect to be galloping, but do expect to have the chance to enjoy a trip through one of the oldest horse-riding routes on Earth. Dhs2,500 (20 percent discount for UAE residents). Daily, times vary. Mleiha, Sharjah. www.real-expeditions.com (056 545 2588).
Safari on Sir Bani Yas Island A long way from pretty much anything (it’s closer to the Saudi border than Abu Dhabi), Sir Bani Yas Island is the UAE’s most singular isle – one dominated by flora and fauna. With more than 13,000 animals – from giraffes to hyenas to cheetahs – it offers several outdoor adventures, but nothing quite so thrilling as the safari. It might mean an early start, but don’t miss the chance to see the place come to life at dawn. If you’re really lucky, you may even see the cheetahs hunting. Dhs250. Daily, times vary. Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Resorts, Abu Dhabi, www.sirbaniyasisland.com (02 801 5266).
In the air Hot Air Balloon at dawn over the desert It’s not the most high-octane activity in the UAE, but hot air ballooning at dawn might be the most picturesque. Seeing the sun rise over the Martian-esque sands, with strange shadows being cast below as the flame roars above you – it’s an unforgettable way to start the day. And hopefully enough reward for getting up so incredibly early. Dhs1,195. Daily until May 31. Pick-up at 3.30am from Dubai. Balloon Adventures Dubai, www.ballooning.ae (04 440 9827).
Jump out of a plane in Dubai Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah is famously visible from space, but if you fancy something a little more thrilling than staring at Google Maps but can’t quite afford a trip to the International Space Station, head to Skydive Dubai. One of the world’s most reliable destinations for skydiving (it doesn’t take much wind to have this pursuit cancelled elsewhere) the UAE’s clement weather and extraordinarily altered coastline make this pretty much unmissable for visitors and residents alike. Dhs2,199. Mon-Sat 10am-6pm. Skydive Dubai, Dubai Marina, www.skydivedubai.ae (04 377 8888).
Navigate the skies in a Paramotor in Dubai If skydiving seems like a bit much and ballooning is too sedate for your liking, perhaps paramotoring is the Goldilocks solution for you. You’re essentially flying around in a parachute with an enormous fan strapped to the back of you and your pilot. It’s a pretty noisy business, but the 30-minute rides over Dubai Marina offer the chance for views that only you and the seagulls can enjoy. If you prefer to be away from the water, there’s a desert option, too. Dhs1,000. Daily during daylight hours, call for times. Skydive Dubai, Dubai Marina, www.skyhubparamotors.ae (052 983 3642).
Take to the treetops in Dubai Perhaps the greenest of all the UAE’s adventure options, Aventura in Mushrif Park gives visitors the chance to get active within its impressive mini-forest in Mushrif Park. There’s zip-lining, climbing, and rope-challenges to try, all laid out on circuits of increasing difficulty. Look out for the 25 metre Tarzan Jump (loin cloth optional). Dhs150. Sun-Wed 9.30am-6pm; Thu-Sat 9am-9pm. Mushrif Park, www.aventuraparks.com (052 178 7616).
Try the record-breaking Zip line in RAK The title of world’s longest zip line is one of those strangely competitive markets with loads of caveats and qualifications – the highest, the fastest. the steepest. By almost any measurement, ToroVerde UAE’s new Jebel Jais Flight is king. Expect to reach a top speed of 150kmph as you hurtle through the air from the top of the mountain, all while more than 1,650m above sea level. Dhs650. Sat-Fri 9am-5pm, Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah. www.toroverdeuae.com (050 422 6830).
On water Balance on a Paddleboard in Abu Dhabi Of all the UAE’s altered coastline, nothing looks quite as natural as Abu Dhabi’s mangroves. Not convinced? Just ask the pods of humpback dolphins that have taken up residence here. To consider all this and more as you explore their watery world, sign up for stand-up paddleboarding. And if you have decent balance, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Dhs120 for two-hour hire. Daily 7am-6pm. Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara, Abu Dhabi, www.hydromarinesports.com (050 243 7382).
Dive in Fujairah The only emirate facing the Indian Ocean, Fujairah is a little bit different to its six siblings. Nowhere else in the country offers better scuba diving – here in the wild east you can come face to face with all kinds of sealife that doesn’t quite make its way into the Gulf. The main attractions, however, are the black-tip reef sharks, which are harmless to humans but a ferocious sight in the water nonetheless. Diving will all equipment from Dhs275. Daily 24 hours. Al Boom Diving, Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Dibba Road, Fujairah, www.alboomdiving.com (09 204 4925).
Experience kayaking in hatta The Hatta Dam makes the most of the little natural water that falls in the heart of the UAE, both as a resource and for recreation. Increasingly popular as a tourist destination, it’s become an ideal place for people to practise kayaking, especially those who’d like to avoid salt water and choppy waves. Individual and tandem kayaks are available to hire, but if that sounds a bit risky for you (or if you’ve brought the kids along) pedal boats are also available. Dhs60 for individual kayak. Daily, 8am-6pm. Hatta Dam. www.hattakayak.com (600 555 559).
Fish in RAK What with the oil industry and new islands periodically popping up, it can be easy to forget that the Gulf is still full of fish, ripe for catching. Regardless of your ability, Fishing UAE offers the chance to get out there and try your luck from Ras Al Khaimah. A limited amount of catch may be kept and either taken home or cooked on the deck of the ship. Just be sure to go easy on the poor hammour – it’s not a sustainable catch. Dhs1,800 (on-board barbecue an additional Dhs350). Daily trips from 6am-10am or 2pm-6pm. Al Hamra Marina, Ras Al Khaimah. www.fishingUAE.com (052 899 6301).
Get white-water Rafting in Al Ain Considering how deep into the desert Al Ain lies, it seems a little incongruous that it’s perhaps the best place in the UAE for watersports. The elaborate set-up at Wadi Adventure, is the only place in the country where you can try white-water rafting. Three levels of rapids are available, with a guide and all the necessary gear to ensure your safety. Dhs110. Sat-Fri 11am-7pm. Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
Kayak Overnight in Abu Dhabi If the idea of being (voluntarily) stranded on a desert island appeals to you, then give Noukhada Adventures a call. This operator offers overnight kayak trips for groups visiting the capital – you paddle out in the afternoon, camp and cook on the island, then paddle back the next day. There isn’t any power and the camping is authentically unrefined, but you can tough it out for one night, surely? Dhs450. Daily trips depending on tides and weather. Eastern Mangroves Marina, Abu Dhabi, www.noukhada.ae (020 558 1889).
Surf at wadi adventure Part of the problem with surfing is the unpredictability of the ocean. You wait, wait, then wait some more, think you’ve spotted the right wave, then paddle like a shark is after you, only for the wave to die and the moment to pass. The wave machine at Wadi Adventure in Al Ain removes this problem by artificially generating some of the world’s largest man-made waves. They come at regular intervals and heights, making this the ideal place for beginners. After that, you just need balance, timing, and a lot of determination. Nail it here, then head out to the ocean for the real thing. Dhs175 (one hour). Sat-Fri 11am-7pm. Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
Try Free-diving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi For a sport that essentially requires you to drown yourself, free-diving has a surprisingly big focus on relaxing. The idea is that as you swim deeper into the ocean unaided by an oxygen tank, the calmer you can be, the less air you’ll burn. Starting off in a swimming pool, you’ll then progress to open water, and soon be reaching depths you never thought possible. There are courses in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi to prep you for the ocean. Dhs399 for entry level course. See website for dates and times. Hamdan Sports Complex, Dubai; Sea Hawk Water Sports, Abu Dhabi. www.freedivinguae.com (+63 94 364 25904).