Camp like a Jedi Dramatic landscapes and adventure opportunities don’t come much more striking than the setting for the planet Jakku in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The scenes were filmed in the Abu Dhabi desert and it’s a great place for overnight sleeping under the stars. Moreeb dune is considered by many to be the world’s tallest and is a good target for off-roading campers. It’s around 300 metres high and rests at an angle of around 50 degrees, making it great for dune-bashing adventures before an overnight campfire and stargazing.
Playlist: A Sky Full Of Stars by Coldplay Head out beyond Liwa and set GPS for 22.975008, 53.785380.
Cruise the dunes on desert safari Pulling off-road in your own vehicle and furiously driving over the dunes is only recommended if you're an experienced desert driver and know what you're doing. A more suitable option is probably an organised desert safari. Platinum Heritage offers upscale tours, which highlight Emirati culture and heritage, with additional add-ons such as camel rides, astronomy, falconry and Bedouin breakfasts.
Playlist: Road To Nowhere by Talking Heads Dhs545 (Heritage Desert Safari). Daily 8am-6pm. Platinum Heritage, www.platinum-heritage.com (04 388 4044).
Dirt bike in the dessert Love the feel and experience of dune bashing or quad bike rides in the desert? Take that to the next level with motocross, also known as dirt-biking, which will see you ride high-performance bikes across the rugged terrain. European and Arab Championship winners provide training and race season activities at the Motocross Academy in Jebel Ali.
Playlist: Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf Bike rental Dhs200 to Dhs1,750 (depending on bike power and duration between 30 minutes and three hours). Daily 8am-8pm. MX Academy, Jebel Ali, www.mx-academy.com (050 951 1151).
Fat bike in Liwa Custom-built bikes with extra-wide wheels make cycling on the sand easier to manage. Powering your way up a dune out on the fringes of the Empty Quarter still requires a lot of leg power, but freewheeling down the other side makes it all worthwhile. Follow a guided tour organised by Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort By Anantara, or go off-piste and on your own to explore the dunes.
Playlist: Bicycle Race by Queen Dhs180. Daily, times and duration depend on fitness levels, call for details. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort By Anantara, Empty Quarter, Abu Dhabi, www.qasralsarab.anantara.com (02 656 1399).
Hike the mountains and wadis of the UAE The wadis and mountains of the UAE have plenty of opportunity for an adventure. While you can set out on your own (always let people know where you’re going and take necessary safety precautions), the best thing to do is join fellow enthusiasts and perhaps make new friends. Various groups on Meetup.com arrange thousands of outdoor gatherings in a bewildering variety of places. Search for UAE Trekkers and join a countrywide community that frequently hits local mountains for a good explore.
Race quad bikes or dune buggies Progress from a desert safari in the back of a 4x4 to conquering the dunes yourself. Numerous companies in various points of the Arabian Desert have quad bike and dune buggy rentals. The rugged and surprisingly agile vehicles can reach high speeds and are excellent climbers. You can go solo and charge up and down the dunes or follow a guided tour of the steeper slopes and well-worn routes over the sands. Equipment and basic training is provided.
Playlist: The Fool on The Hill by The Beatles From Dhs225 (half-day desert safari package including 65 minutes quad biking). Daily, call for times. Big Red Quad Bike Rental, Hatta Road, Nazwa, www.quadbikeindubai.com (052 730 4513).
Ride horses on Sir Bani Yas Island Any trip to Sir Bani Yas Island feels like an adventure. Perhaps it is something to do with the cheetahs and giraffes that call the desert island home. Take the spirit of outdoor pursuits to the next level by riding a trusty steed through the Arabian Wildlife Park. Experienced riders can trot from the Bani Yas Stables out across exotic landscapes and amid the free roaming animals from sunrise to sunset.
Playlist: Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones Dhs300-600 (depending on experience). Daily, sunrise and sunset rides recommended. Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, www.sirbaniyasisland.com (800 8342).
Slide down the sand on a board It’s like snowboarding, but on sand. Why wouldn’t you sandboard? Book the morning safari with sandboarding offered by Dream Explorer and as well as exploring the desert from a Hummer, you also get some time to board down the dunes.
Get into white water rafting in Al Ain We’re not blessed with white water rapids on rivers in these parts, but, this being the UAE, somebody just went out and built some. The artificial river for rafting and kayaking is just one of the marvels at Al Ain outdoor sports complex, Wadi Adventure. Three levels of difficulty are offered, ranging from casual group paddles all the way to World Championship (the finals were held on these waters) level of adventure.
Playlist: Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival (especially for the “rolling on the river” chorus) Dhs100 (one hour). Sat-Thu 11am-7pm; Fri 10am-7pm. Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
Kayak the mangroves This expedition on the water offers both a strong workout and an opportunity to see the breadth of Abu Dhabi’s vast and varied environment. Paddle the lush greenery of the mangroves to see turtles, snakes, fish, flamingos and varied birdlife in general. Guides lead the self-paddle tours and explain ecological facts, while night tours in LED-light-bottomed boats offer a more ethereal experience.
Playlist: Duelling Banjos by Eric Weissberg Dhs160 (adults, for 90-minute guided mangrove tour). Daily, times on request. Noukhada Adventure Company, Sultan bin Zayed the First Street, Abu Dhabi, www.noukhada.ae (02 558 1889).
Ride in a robot shark “What did you do at the weekend Dave?” colleagues might ask. “Oh, nothing much. Just went for a ride through the Arabian Gulf in a robotic underwater shark”. To indulge your James Bond fantasies and win weekend thrill-seeking competitions forever, book yourself in for the Water Shark Adventure. Even if your name isn’t Dave.
Playlist: Under the Sea by Sebastian C Dhs500 per hour, per person. Times vary. Water Adventure Dubai, various locations including Rixos The Palm Dubai, Palm Jumeirah, www.wateradventure.ae (04 453 7544).
Surf the Arabian Gulf Fact – the waters of the UAE do not compare to Mexico, Bali, Australia or California when it comes to big waves. But surfing in Dubai is super-fun. It has a brilliant community spirit and it’s the ideal place to learn the basics or indulge a passion. As well as selling clothing and equipment, running yoga sessions and monitoring and reporting on the day’s surfing conditions, the crew at Surf House Dubai are an authority on all wave-related matters in the region. Oh, they also offer frequent surfari excursions to international locations, too. Swell.
Playlist: Surfin' USA by The Beach Boys From Dhs75 (one-hour surf board rental). Daily 7am-6.30pm. Villa 110, Al Soon Street, Umm Suqeim, Jumeirah Beach Road, www.surfingdubai.com (050 504 3020).
Swim with sharks Keep telling yourself they’re harmless and accept that the sharks off the East Coast could have you for breakfast if they wanted. They don’t want to. The silent majesty of seeing sharks in their natural habitat is one of the planet’s finest and most accessible animal encounters. Snorkellers off Snoopy Rock in Fujairah frequently report seeing blacktip reef sharks and you can enhance your chances by taking a scuba tour with a company such as Al Boom Diving.
Playlist: Theme from Jaws by John Williams Dive lessons in a pool start from Dhs150, snorkelling is free. Daily, 24 hours. Al Boom Diving, Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Dibba Road, Fujairah, www.alboomdiving.com (09 204 4925).
Try canyoning through wadis Canyoning opportunities in the UAE are limited, but with a tour provider such as Adventurati, you can sample the sport at an accessible pace. Climb and scramble through a wadi, hike the countryside and wade through water on an entry-level canyoning course in Wadi Shawka. Playlist: Jump by Van Halen Dhs200 (for introduction to canyoning package and guided tour). Adventure timings on request. Adventurati, Arenco Offices, Dubai Investment Park, www.adventurati-outdoor.com (050 280 3662).
Air Head for heights? Head onwards and upwards
Go paragliding over Dhaid This beautiful sports sits somewhere between a skydive and a desert safari on the adventure scale and is perhaps best described as "the kiteboarding of the desert". Like a parachute, but launched from the ground rather than a plane, a paragliding flight allows you to soar over the desert sands and see the dune ridges, Arabian sunset and glory of the vast open lands from the sky. Training for solo flights or tandem jumps are available and there is every possibility that after one flight you will catch the paragliding bug and want more.
Playlist: Come Fly With Me by Frank Sinatra Dhs6,500 (12-session training course for solo flights). One-time tandem jump (prices available on request). Times depend on weather. Mughamarat Adventures, Mleiha Base Camp, Sharjah, www.mughamarat.com (056 545 2588).
Have an aerial adventure at Aventura Invoke your inner Tarzan on this 35,000 square metre adventure playground. The aerial assault course has around 80 activities, most of which involve dangling, balancing and swinging at swoon-inducing heights. Zip-lines, rope walks and high-rise swings are all featured with varying degrees of difficulty.
Playlist: The Climb by Miley Cyrus Dhs150 (general access), Dhs125 (children under 1.35 metres). Daily 9.30am-6pm. Mushrif Park, Mirdif, www.aventuraparks.com (056 887 1687).
Jump out of a plane over the Palm Jumeirah Skydive selfies over the Atlantis The Palm are one of the ultimate Dubai accessories. Tandem jumps with qualified, experienced Skydive Dubai jumpers take a bit of courage, but if you dare to air there is no thrill quite like it.
Playlist: I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly Dhs1,999. Mon-Sat 10am-6pm. Skydive Dubai, Dubai Marina, www.skydivedubai.ae (04 377 8888).
Watch the sun rise over the desert The early morning start could be a bit of a struggle if you’re usually a light riser, but the clear desert skies between September and May are best viewed by the very first light of dawn. From the calm of your hot air balloon you can watch light appear over the horizon and see the true beauty of the vast desert below. But what’s best of all is that you can then gently drop another hundred feet and see it all over again as the sun rises.
Playlist: Up Up and Away by The Fifth Dimension Dhs1,100 (adults). Until May 31. Early morning, call for exact times. Oasis Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.ballooning.ae (04 388 4044).
Tackle the Via Ferrata in Ras Al Khaimah This adventurous mountain climb featuring a 300-metre-long zip-line at the end is a must-try for thrill-seekers. It’s a spectacular way to experience the UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Jais, and the zip-line comes in varying degrees of difficulty (if you’re not ready for the big leap yet, a 50-metre wire is available to initiate you.
Playlist: Free Fallin' by Tom Petty Dhs400. Wed-Sun 9am-1pm, 1pm-5pm. Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah, www.jebeljais.ae (04 392 6463).
Take a gyrocopter flight around the JBR coast Sometimes you need only to sit still to have the greatest adventures. That's the theory behind Skydive Dubai's gyrocopter flights anyway. The motorised two-seater craft buzzes around the Burj Al Arab, Palm Jumeirah and the picture postcard Dubai coast giving you views the likes of which you have never seen before. Playlist: Rocket Man by Elton John Dhs999 for a 20minute flight.Mon-Sat 10am-6pm. Skydive Dubai, Al Seyahi Street, Mina Seyahi, www.skydivedubai.ae (04 377 8888).
Outdoors indoors Snow sports at Ski Dubai We know – it is not exactly an outdoor adventure, but when you’re melting outdoors, this indoor ski slope is about as al fresco as you could hope to be. The indoor resort’s 3,000 square metres of real snow offer up plenty of extreme fun. Don’t just peer through the Mall of the Emirates window at the snowball fights or penguin-watch at the foot of the slope. Get in and try your hand at the surprisingly authentic skiing and snowboarding runs.
Playlist: Do You Wanna Build A Snowman? by Kristen Bell Dhs210 (adults), Dhs180 (kids). Sun-Wed 10am-11pm; Thu 10am-midnight; Fri 9am-midnght, Sat 9am-11pm. Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates, www.skidxb.com (800 386).