Lulu is the most accessible of all Abu Dhabi’s man-made islands, stretching practically the length of Abu Dhabi’s corniche. Regular boat trips used to run to and from the mainland for a minimum fee; alas these were stopped last year after plans for the island’s redevelopment were announced.
But for the time being you can still enjoy its pristine sands if you want to charter a boat. However, unlike some of the other islands, you can’t camp here and you will be asked to leave after 8pm.
One of the larger of Abu Dhabi’s islands, Bahraini Island (aka Al Maya Island) is also among the few that are not off limits to the public. At 7km in length there are plenty of peaceful spots to be found here, which is handy as its surrounding waters tend to fill up quickly from Friday morning onwards.
Charter companies like Belvari Marine (050 661 2176) will happily drop you off overnight should you wish to extend your stay. Camping and barbecues are allowed, but sadly many of the visitors abuse this and the island’s beaches are all too often used as a dumping ground, so be sure to take any rubbish with you.
Occasional island dance events are also becoming more common, so be warned: a couple of hundred clubbers could quickly descend on your oasis of tranquillity depending on which evening you choose.
Admittedly, Al Futaisi Island is more of a structured resort than a desert island, but unlike Sir Bani Yas Island, which requires that you stay in the hotel, Al Futaisi has no such requirement and a Dhs100 fee per person is all that is required in order to get a ferry across from its office opposite Al Bateen Marina (02 666 6601).
This entitles you to use its private beach and swimming pool, but bear in mind boats run at 10.30am and 5.30pm with nothing in between so be sure to arrive promptly or you’ll literally miss the boat. The obligatory sports (beach volleyball, football, Jet Ski hire) can all be found here and the resort offers tours (Dhs200 per person) as well as horse and cycling trips around the island.
Belevari Marine offers chartered boat hire to both Lulu and Bahraini Island for Dhs300 per hour. Contact Captain Berend van Rijn on 050 661 2176. Boats are available from Al Bateen Marina, or visit www.futaisi.com. A weekday stay at the chalet costs Dhs1,000; weekends Dhs1,200.
Sharjah’s northerly neighbour does have a few kilometres of pleasant public beach areas along the corniche, but for a lesser known treat, get away from the central area and head 15 minutes further up the coast to the Hamriyah free zone. When you pass trucks, plumes of smoke and the Sharjah Power Plant, you might wonder why on earth we’re telling you to visit this industrial wasteland.
But if you’re seeking a wildly desolate, windswept beach you’ve come to the right place. The water is vividly blue, it’s possible to swim (though you do so at your own risk as there are no lifeguards) and, aside from the odd picnicking family, the place is deserted.
We particularly love the bizarre sight of a bulky Panama cargo ship, which ran aground in February while trying to berth at Sharjah. It’s still there, wedged deep into the sand, abandoned by its Indian crew and awaiting salvage, so get some photos while you can.
What we’re less enthusiastic about is the rubbish: this otherwise beautiful slice of coastline is littered with cans, bottles and other junk left behind by explorers and 4x4 cars. If you can’t overcome that eyesore, then nab yourself a Dhs200 day pass to the Ajman Kempinski hotel (06 7145555), which owns – and we mean this – one of the best strips of sand in the UAE.
Think unobstructed sea views (no nasty ports or tanker ships spoiling the horizon), palm trees, clean water and even watersports such as Jet Skiing, which is banned in Dubai. And, unlike the rest of Ajman, the immediate area surrounding the hotel is safe from construction, for which we’re eternally grateful.
Take Emirates Road and follow the signs to Sharjah. Keep right and follow the signs to Ajman. Take the first Ajman exit, turn left under the bridge and follow the signs to the corniche. The Ajman Kempinski costs Dhs825 per night inclusive of taxes and breakfast.
There’s a good reason why people gush about the eastern coastline between Dibba and the Musandam Peninsula. In a word it’s stunning, with a handful of unspoiled, hidden beaches so remote they’re only accessible by hiring a fishing boat or by embarking on a six-hour hike. To start your trip, head for Dibba and bear left through the Omani checkpoint (the town is divided between the UAE and Oman so you’ll need your passport).
Once you reach the harbour, which you can’t miss if you’re on the coast road, either haggle with a local fisherman or take one of the trips arranged by local tour company Al Marsa tours (+968 26 836550).
These trips vary in price depending on how many hours you want to spend out on the water, but all will take you to two of the most isolated beaches found anywhere in the country: Al Myam and Haffa, which cut into the coastline around Zighy Bay.
Al Myam beach is more exposed to the elements, its white sand framed by the Hajar Mountains. Past Zighy Bay are the two palm-fringed beaches of Haffa, inhabited by a small Omani fishing village.
To respect the privacy of the fishing village, the Wali (village elder) has asked that tourists refrain from walking on the beaches of Al Myam and Haffa, and not to photograph the locals. But, provided you stick to these rules, you can enjoy the stunning waters surrounding both from the comfort of your boat.
These are excellent for snorkelling and – perhaps less usefully – people smuggling. In fact, the cove has earned the name Smuggler’s Bay as migrants were spotted decamping on the shore in the past.
For something less far flung and accessible, the beaches around the rest of Dibba enjoy the same view over the Straits of Hormuz, though some may seem relatively stark – with not a palm tree in sight, and gravelly, rough sand.
To access the best bit of coastline, you will need to stay at the JAL Resort & Spa Fujairah (09 244 9700) which has a lovely 500m beach with fine, white sand.
The Golden Tulip Hotel (+968 268 36654) also has its own peaceful beach adjoining Dibba’s public beach. This has retained a surprisingly pleasing out-of-the way feel and is popular among campers. Here, the ocean gently laps the shore and the sand rises up to a slope meeting the mountains. Admittedly, it can get crowded at the weekends, but it’s still a great location that’s easily accessible.
Drive to the coast in Dibba and then bear left through the Omani checkpoint. The harbour will be on your right. The Golden Tulip Hotel (Dhs520 per night incl. taxes and breakfast) is located on the edge of town if you continue along the coast. JAL Resort & Spa Fujairah (Dhs710 per night inc breakfast and taxes) is located on the outskirts of town in the opposite direction.
If you want to look out at the Gulf without a big hotel/artificial island/crane disturbing your view, head 20 minutes out of Dubai towards Abu Dhabi, to Ghantoot beach. For a while in the past year or so it threatened to become really popular thanks to some mammoth beach parties and we were worried that the whole of Dubai would spoil our secret. Thankfully that didn’t happen and today you still feel like you’re a whole world away from the city.
For one thing, you are rarely joined by more than a handful of people; the loungers are so spaced out you’d struggle to overhear a heated marital tiff, and the sand is, indeed, white, and, yes, the sea is turquoise.
Even better, the neighbouring Golden Tulip Hotel that runs the beach has a pool and a café so you can take a break if you get too much sand in your crevices. It’s a quaint place, if a little dated: the pool bar that you can swim up to is housed in what, we think, is meant to be a giant shell. You’ll have fun inventing your own suggestions for what it resembles.
If you’ve had enough relaxation for one day you can head to the other end of the beach, where a small bar is home to a friendly bunch who run the watersports club. Waterskiing/ boarding, banana boating and various other fun activities that involve being dragged along by a speedboat are offered.
As the sun sets, the bar comes to life and barbecues and volleyball are known to draw out the evening owls. For peace and quiet that can turn into fun and frolics, Ghantoot is your beach.
Head towards Abu Dhabi on Sheikh Zayed Road and take the Ghantoot turn off (exit 399). Follow signs for ‘Bungalows’. After around five minutes, just off a roundabout, there are gates leading to Ghantoot beach. Beach access costs Dhs100. Al Jazira Golden Tulip Hotel (02 562 9100; www.goldentulipaljazira.com). Double room starts from Dhs870 incl. tax and breakfast.
Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa
We know Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa (04 883 6000) has been around for decades, but it still retains the air of being off the beaten track, so we felt it worthy of inclusion. The hotel’s lush grounds are a haven of tranquillity, the still air disturbed only occasionally by calls from peacocks roaming freely, or the soft twitter of pleasant birdsong. The beach, therefore, is the very picture of calm, dotted with sunbathers of all ages, shapes and sizes, each content to soak up the quiet.
Sounds perfect, right? Well, alas there is a catch. As a Dubai dweller, you’ll be well accustomed to the feeling of living on a building site. But at Jebel Ali, the construction takes on an apocalyptic air. While the resort itself is undeniably beautiful, the steel structures of impending doom teeter on the periphery – both on the land and water.
But Time Out mustn’t get carried away.
Construction in the area has slowed and there are plenty of things to recommend this beach, from the various bars serving food and beverages at saunter-friendly intervals, to its almost impossibly clear waters. It’s busy, but not crowded and family-friendly yet not overrun with kids. Life guards are on hand, and the Aqua Hut offers a variety of water sports, from wind surfing to kayaking.
For a cheaper alternative you can drive up over the sand to the left of the hotel where you’ll discover the open beach. It’s not as well maintained, but you’ll find a mixed crowd of sunbathers, Jet Ski enthusiasts, and kite surfers when the wind is up. It’s occasionally noisy but it is fun. Just remember to bring a packed lunch as there are no food or drink outlets nearby.
Approach Jebel Ali and follow the signs for Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa. The rate for outside guests is Dhs300 per person including lunch. On Fridays there is the barbecue lunch and on Saturday there is a lunch buffet.
This incredibly tucked away beach may not have much in the way of amenities – there are no life guards or barbecues and you’re better off bringing your own food – but it is rich in natural splendour and privacy. Finding the beach can be a bit tricky, but once you’re in Khor Kalba the locals will be able to direct you towards the nearby mangroves, or towards Turtle Bridge. Yes, that’s right, mangroves and turtles. This is what makes the beach at Khor Kalba, hidden at the foot of the Hajar Mountains, so unique.
It’s best to avoid the beach on Fridays, as groups of quad bikes like to roar up and down the sand. On Saturdays, however, the beach is a sandy little haven with placid waters, but bear in mind this is Sharjah, which has a more conservative atmosphere.
From Dubai follow signs to Masafi before turning right for Fujairah. On the outskirts of Fujairah you’ll come to a roundabout. Go right and continue along the coast road until you reach Khor Kalba. Nearby hotel: The Breeze Motel (07 277 8877). Double rooms start at Dhs200.
About 25km from Fujairah’s town centre lies Khorfakkan, a quiet stretch of beach with few visitors aside from the occasional handful of local men playing chess. Though the area is surrounded by Fujairah, it’s also a Sharjah enclave so be mindful of the requisite laws. The main beach, which stretches along Corniche Road, is a great spot for families, or so one can assume from the handful of playground equipment dotted along the front.
However, the real secret of Khorfakkan is a picturesque plot sometimes referred to as Heart Beach, thanks to the image scrawled on the side of the hills above. To find it, head for the north end of Khorfakkan beach near the Oceanic Hotel (09 238 5111), go over the small roundabout, park by the petrol station and look for the steps behind it that go over the hill.
It’s a bit of a trek and takes about 15 minutes, but that’s the reason it is so quiet and unspoiled. You’ll find an idyllic little spot so scenic it could be the work of CGI boffins – sand is soft and white, and the ocean is a gentle, lapping blue. Pure, uninterrupted heaven.
When you’re done, head back to the Oceanic Hotel, which offers snorkelling and dive tours. And further up the coast you’ll find another clutch of hotels. Most people already know about the Sandy Beach Hotel (09244 5555) and Le Méridien Al Aqah (09 244 9000).
Now there’s the added option of the beach at Fujairah Rotana (09 244 9888) which has plenty of amenities, making the entrance fee worthwhile. There’s also an excellent seafood restaurant, a massive pool with water slides, sun beds, a volleyball net and football pitch. Our favourite bit, however, is the pool bar where you can bob in the water sipping on a your favourite drink before visiting the spa next door (not that you’ll need any extra help relaxing).
From Dubai follow signs to Masafi before turning right for Fujairah. On the outskirts of Fujairah you’ll come to a roundabout. Go left towards Dibba and continue on the coast road until you reach Khorfakkan. Nearby hotels: Oceanic Hotel, Fujairah – double rooms start at Dhs500; Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa. Beach access, Sun-Wed Dhs110 for single adults, Dhs160 for couples, Dhs50 per child. Thu-Sat Dhs140 for single adults, Dhs210 for couples, Dhs70 per child. Double rooms start at Dhs650.
We’ve waxed lyrical on plenty of occasions about the joys of the Musandam (located on the northern tip of Oman), but you’d be surprised by how many Dubaians still haven’t made the trek through the border to discover it for themselves. So here’s how to do it. Head down to the port in Khasab (you can’t miss it) and haggle with a fisherman to take you to a secluded bay.
To a certain extent it’s pot luck where you might end up – there are many unnamed spots to choose from and the language barrier makes it hard to communicate an exact location. But most likely they’ll head out north for about 15 minutes and deposit you in one of the coves there. Some are beautiful, some are spoiled by the detritus from previous visitors. The trick is to make him keep going till you find an empty spot – of which there are plenty.
That way you’ll have a slice of paradise all to yourself. Our favourite moment is nightfall when the phosphorescent algae in the water turn each splash into an incredible underwater firework display, equalled only by the bright canopy of stars above. What are you waiting for?
Dhs200-500 is enough to hire a ride from Khasab Port. If you prefer something more concrete, contact The Golden Tulip Khasab Resort (+968 2473 0777) or Dolphin Tours (+968 9242 3833 to find out about their dhow trips.
Ras Al Khaimah
Don’t believe the RAK-bashers: this Emirate of red sands and auto shops deceptively holds some of the UAE’s most pristine concealed beaches. While the new Hilton Resort and Spa (07 228 844, Dhs100 for non-guest adults) has a sublime stretch of lightly-coloured sands and unblemished horizon, the coastline between the RAK Rotana and Al Hamra Fort also contains a number of delicate and immaculate open beaches.
You’ll need a 4x4, but head off that main drag between the resorts and follow the tracks over the dunes. Pass through a broken fence on the other side and you’ll find a pure white headland that stretches around this rugged little cove. This is a peaceful and almost deserted beach, where unobscured crystal-clear waters lap soft sand. It’s so untouched we were actually tempted to keep this one off the list, so be sure to keep it pristine.
There are no facilities on the beach and so for something that’s a bit more set-up you should head for the sprawl of Al Hamra Fort Hotel and Beach Resort (07 244 6666, Dhs150 for non-guest adults). This hotel has a huge, attractive beach and a ramshackle barasti bar that’s just a few metres from the sea.
For the secret beach, follow Emirates road to RAK, at the roundabout turn onto E11, take a right, then U-turn, keeping an eye out on the right for tracks leading over the dunes. When the first prominent tracks are seen, turn off the road and down onto the dirt track.
Umm Al Quwain
We love Umm Al Quwain’s coastline for being so firmly off the beaten track. With most development taking place around the mangrove lagoon that dominates the emirate, its sea coastline is, for the most part, untouched. The Umm Al Quwain Beach Hotel (06 766 6647) shelters a particularly clean and windswept guest-only beach. Miles of pure, pale sand stretch across an immaculate sea, with a view untainted by ports or marks of industry.
Wide open waters like this are a rare luxury on the ever developing West Coast and you can bag a sea view, well-worn-in-a-homely-sort-of-way balconied villa for a cool Dhs700 per night. The beach literally on your doorstep and a shockingly cheap pool bar enhances the experience still further.
The lagoon beaches are different. At low tide you’ll be wading for a while before getting in above your waist. Also, at certain times of the day a rather unpleasant sulphurous pong occasionally rises from the mangroves near some beaches. Still, as with much of UAQ, getting a night at the nearby Palma Beach Resort (06 766 7090, Dhs430 for beachside single rooms) is cheap and the lagoon beaches remain pleasantly overlooked by package tours and weekenders. Ignore the absurd Sphinx and pyramid-shaped bowling alley.
Palma is actually a good place to try as they have also pitched a few umbrellas on one of the islands in the heart of the lagoon. For Dhs125 a boat with a capacity for 10 people will take you over there. It’s an absolute steal and privacy is assured.
Head north along Emirates Road, following signposts to Umm Al Quwain. For the UAQ Beach Hotel, follow the Emirates Road, turning left at the Clock Roundabout onto King Faisal Road. Go left at the second roundabout and follow that until the hotel comes up on the left. For the Palma Beach Resort, continue into UAQ City left from the Clock Roundabout and follow that lagoon-side road until you see the big Pyramid of the Palma Beach resort on the right.
Best of Dubai
Umm Suqeim Beach
This strip of pearl-white sand between the fishing village and Jumeirah Beach Hotel has long been popular with everyone from tourists who like to sunbathe beside the Burj (for free), to surfers and even tri-athletes on weekends.
As suggested in the name, the area between the fishing village and the sailing club in Umm Suqeim is constantly colourful with kite surfers. And their lively antics make great entertainment for less energetic beach bums too.
Jumeirah Beach Park
This is the one that you’ll probably deposit visiting friends on while you’re at work. Easy to locate in Jumeirah 2, Dhs5 to get in, the place comes complete with lifeguards, cafés and, evidently, a park, which is just behind the beach. Oh, and everyone and their wives will be there on weekends.
It’s free, it’s close to Lime Tree Café and it lives up to its name: it’s open to all. If you want to experience a slice of ‘real Dubai’ in the sun, ditch the five-star resorts and spend a day at the glorious Open Beach instead.
Our ideal road trip would see us drive down just south of Muscat and stop in a Barasti hut at the Oman Dive Centre (www.omandivecenter.com) Then we’d head down the part black top/part graded coastal road to Tiwi. You can camp anywhere here and it’s a glorious drive through small villages past miles of white beaches and crashing waves.
If we really wanted to get away from civilisation, we’d drive to Asilah, a small town three to four hours south on the in-land road from Muscat. On windy weekends you see a good crowd of kitesurfers, especially during the Harif season (June-August) when the conditions are most favourable. Surfers also head for Joe’s Point – a long right hander where rides of 30 seconds to a minute are possible. For directions visit www.surfersofdubai.com.