Hatta is the UAE’s most popular spot for wadi driving, and it’s common to see convoys of families and youths hooning about in 4x4s. The rocky crevices, natural water pools and palm oases make for an atmospheric drive, and the proximity to Dubai (around one hour) makes it a good choice for a day trip or an overnight stay.
Out of towners can drive for a couple of hours, stop off for a picnic and a plunge at Hatta Pools, nose about the Heritage Village and spend the night at Hatta Fort Hotel or pitch a tent under the stars.
Its popularity means that much of the terrain is fairly well trodden, but some parts of nearby Wadi Ray are rough and rugged, and could be a challenge for amateur off-roaders. There are also a few points where it’s necessary to drive through pools of water, meaning it’s off limits to two-wheel drives. Trying to replicate a LandCruiser commercial will only get you bogged down, and it’s more common than you think to see sheepish expats asking passers by to tow them out.
To save yourself the embarrassment, tour companies like Arabian Adventures (04 303 4888) offer day trips, taking punters through Wadi Sumeina, stopping for a dip at the rock pools of Wadi Shuwayyon and traversing the rough terrain of Wadi Ray. Tours often also pass through the undulating track of Wadi Khamees, which dips and twists towards Hatta town, offering glimpses of small rock pools and a traditional falaj irrigation system.
The best time of day to see it is in the early morning or late afternoon, when a misty light settles over the peaks, casting deep shadows between the crevices. Campers can pitch up at the Wadi Al Qahfi campsite, which is perched above the river banks just a few minutes away from Hatta Pools.
It’s a peaceful spot to fire up a barbecue and watch as the highly-mineralised rocks take on a pinkish hue. Sadly though, you might need a pair of rose-coloured glasses if you’re thinking of swimming at Hatta Pools. The natural spring water gorge, tucked away in the hollow of a rocky chasm, has become a dumping ground littered with drink cans, plastic and uninspiring scrawls of graffiti. Despite the rubbish, the pool remains popular with picnickers and the place can get packed on weekends. For a cleaner dip, try Shuwayyah Pool.
One of the oldest settlements in the emirates, the Hatta Heritage Village offers an intriguing glimpse into the life once lived by Emirati folk. Once known as ‘The Two Rocks’ because of the two imposing fort towers built on the surrounding mountains, the village dates back to the 16th century, but in 2001 the whole place underwent a painstaking restoration process. There are some 30 buildings to explore, including mud and stone houses, a weaponry tower and a replica of the Governor’s majlis. Each has interiors decorated in a traditional style with typical folklore scenes acted out by gangs of plastic mannequins. While the exhibits are interesting enough, many of the televisions meant to screen educational videos are not working and it can be unnerving (and rather Chucky-esque) to be alone in a dark room with a couple of dummies holding rifles.
Hatta, turn right at the fort roundabout (04 852 1384). Open Sat-Thu 8am-8.30pm; Fri 2.30pm-8.30pm. Admission Free
Hatta Rock Pools
Let’s not mince words – the lamentable state of some of these naturally formed swimming pools is a blemish on the face of UAE tourism. Nestled in a rock crevice some 20km south of Hatta, the pools form at the base of a hollow ravine. They fill up from natural spring water stores in the mountain and if there is enough rain during the year, there are two flowing waterfalls and it’s lovely to have a refreshing dip – especially after a couple of hours exploring the surrounding wadis and mountains in a 4x4. But sadly, some of the pools have been trashed – literally – by their popularity, with soft drink cans, plastic and horrible scrawls of graffiti all sullying the swimming experience. The worst time to visit is after a weekend, when you will be forced to wade through rubbish left by uncaring visitors. It’s a deplorable situation for some of the country’s best naturally formed rock pools; so remember to take your rubbish home with you – and to hunt about for the least tarnished spots.
From the Dubai-Hatta highway take Mahdah 64 and turn left on to a gravel track at the Sumaini signpost. Follow the track and you’ll reach the mountains.