51 outdoor adventures to try

Get up, get out, get adventurous. Time Out summarises the adrenaline-addled activities the region has to offer

Hop over the border to Oman and take a dip in Wadi Shab
Hop over the border to Oman and take a dip in Wadi Shab
Wadi Bih
Wadi Bih
Hike through the protected mountainous region at Wadi Wurayah
Hike through the protected mountainous region at Wadi Wurayah
Wild times at Al Ain Wildlife Park
Wild times at Al Ain Wildlife Park
Cycling in Dibba
Cycling in Dibba
Desert camping: An in-tents experience
Desert camping: An in-tents experience
The sands of Snoopy Island
The sands of Snoopy Island
Bull butting. Not as cruel as it sounds...
Bull butting. Not as cruel as it sounds...
Tiny turtles at Ras al-Jinz
Tiny turtles at Ras al-Jinz
Bab al Shams: Five-star luxury in the middle of nowhere
Bab al Shams: Five-star luxury in the middle of nowhere
Mangroves? Man-groovy, more like
Mangroves? Man-groovy, more like
Take a dip off the coast of Musandam
Take a dip off the coast of Musandam
Fun on four wheels: Go off-roading in the Arabian Desert
Fun on four wheels: Go off-roading in the Arabian Desert
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Work hard, party hard – a lifestyle all too readily associated with life in the urban jungles of the Emirates. And while this isn’t the worst reputation to have, it is a somewhat misleading one. Beyond the concrete and steel of city life lies a world of adventure – a world of off-roading in the desert, of camping on silver-sanded beaches, of kayaking through tranquil mangroves, of surfing in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab, of skydiving, sandboarding, sailing and scuba diving… even skiing.

All this and more lies within these carefully composed pages. But before diving in, we thought we’d take the liberty of listing 51 alternative activities to whet your appetite for adventure. After all, there’s more to life in the UAE than the grind of the office and the rhythm of the nightclub…

Wadis

You can make your way to these wadis alone if you have a 4x4. Otherwise, we recommend some tour operators, because we’re nice like that.

1 Wadi Wurayah: Wadi Wurayah is the UAE’s first officially protected mountain area. It’s home to 20 species of mammals (including what is believed to be the last Arabian leopard in the UAE), 17 species of reptiles and amphibians (five of which are unique to the area) and 19 species of insect never before discovered by entomologists. There are plans to make Wadi Wurayah a managed eco-tourism hub, but for now you can turn up and hike, climb and camp wherever you like – just make sure you do so responsibly, and take your litter home!
Five kilometres south of Snoopy Island, Fujairah. Absolute Adventure (050 625 9165, www.adventure.ae). From Dhs350 per person

2 Wadi Shab: Wadi Shab in Oman is so beautiful, it almost looks fake. Swim in its pure emerald-green pools, then squeeze through a ‘barely there’ crack into a cave where locals show off their diving skills from the top of a waterfall. Magical.
Muscat Diving & Adventure Centre (+968 2 448 5663, www.holiday-in-oman.com). OMR40 (Dhs380) per person, based on four people in a 4x4

3 Wadi Bih: Dubbed the ‘Grand Canyon’ of the Middle East, this stunning expanse of the Hajar mountains rises to 1,000 metres, affording stunning views of the area.
15km east of Ras Al Khaimah. Absolute Adventure (050 625 9165, www.adventure.ae) has just opened a weekend camp here: Dhs250 per person per night including breakfast and dinner; Dhs150 without food

Six more to explore…

4 Wadi Asimah: For serious greenery.
15km north of Masafi, near Al Ghail

5 Wadi Tayyibah: For date plantations and picnicking spots.
20km north of Masafi

6 Wadi Hayl: Be sure to visit Fort Hayl while you’re there.
12km west of Fujairah

7 Wadi Madhah and Wadi Shis: Some of the most stunning scenery on the east coast, and good for mountain biking.
30km south of Snoopy Island, Fujairah

8 Wadi Sidr: Great views of Dibba and Oman.
15km north-east of Al Dhaid


Wet, wet, wet

9 Natural pools: About 15km west of Hatta pools (rubbish and graffiti abound) there’s another wadi with freshwater pools that are swimmable all year round and a shady spot to camp under palm trees.

10 Coral reefs: The waters off Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah are home to 25 man-made reefs, attracting all manner of marine life.
Al Boom Diving (04 342 2993)

11 Shipwreck diving: Try diving further afield off the Musandam peninsula, where you can do night dives around a shipwreck.
Extra Divers Base (+968 2 673 0501, www.musandam-diving.com). Dives from OMR53 (Dhs505)

12 Overnight dhow cruise: Enjoy a day’s cruising around Musandam (think azure waters and a mountainous backdrop), plus snorkelling, dolphin-watching and meals, rounded off with a snooze under the stars on deck.
Sheesa Beach (+968 2 683 6551, www.sheesabeach.com). From Dhs170 per person for a day trip

13 Dolphin spotting: Go in search of dolphins off the coast of Muscat with Oman Diving Centre. We spotted hundreds in a pod, and even a little whale. It’s also worth noting that this laidback resort also offers desert trips.
(+968 248 24240, www.diveoman.com.om). Beach huts from OMR66 (Dhs629) per night for two people

More outdoor…

14 Wildlife in Al Ain: Check out the oasis in the village of Khutwa and lap up views of lush greenery nestled amid barren mountains. End the day with a visit to Al Ain Wildlife Park, where you can spot white lions, giraffes and cute sand kittens.

15 Mountain biking in Dibba: Work up a sweat biking to the foot of the Qasr Al Zaiba’a (or Queen of Sheba) mountain, taking in Dibba Castle on your rocky descent towards a gathering of abandoned rock huts.
Absolute Adventure (050 625 9165, www.adventure.ae). From Dhs350 per person

16 Heritage hunting: Set in an oasis, visitors can explore narrow streets around barasti and mud houses at this fascinating heritage village.
Suntours Dubai (04 283 0889) offers Hatta treks from Dhs300 per person

Get your boots on…

17 Stairway to heaven: This hike is extreme. A makeshift staircase up a vertical rock face is the most exhilarating (and dangerous) challenge during the eight- to 12-hour trek, which takes you up to heights of 1,930m. This is not for novices: go with someone who knows the route.
Twenty kilometres north of Ras Al Khaimah. Buy a guidebook at a petrol station for directions

18 Fossil hunting: Try a mountain safari to Jebel Harim – you’ll find a host of fossils at the summit. This was once the sea bed, but as the earth’s plates shifted over millions of years the sea bed was forced up to become the top of a mountain. There are also nearby caves where hermits lived until recently.
(04 266 9950, www.khasabtours.com) Half day: Dhs300; full day: Dhs500

19 Date farm outings: Spend a night at the Dibba date farm and you’ll wake up with hiking, rock climbing, kayaking and hang-gliding opportunities all around you.
Absolute Adventure Date Farm (050 625 9165, www.adventure.ae). Dhs250 per person including food; discounts available

20 Hajar hiking: The UAE’s spectacular Hajar Mountains provide hours of fun, but take a guide – they are sometimes treacherous and you don’t want to get lost.
Arabian Adventures (04 303 4888, www.arabian-adventures.com). Hiking from Dhs350


Camping spots

Check out www.tours.com for a selection of organised camping trips in Oman. Picnico’s store on Beach Road in Jumeirah provides everything you could possibly need in the great outdoors (04 394 1653; find it behind Eppco petrol station), and you can also buy detailed Oman and UAE road maps at most petrol stations in the area.

For organised camping…

21 Green Turtle Desert Camp: A camping expedition in the desert may sound a bit intimidating, especially if you have a family to look after. But Green Turtle Adventure has just the thing: a staffed desert camp that also offers activities including caving, rock-climbing and abseiling for explorers aged seven and above.
(050 287 6293, www.greenturtleadventure.com). From Dhs250 per person

22 Overnight safari: Head into the desert for a spot of dune-bashing (razzing around in a 4x4). Once you’re all bashed-out, then go to a ready-made campsite for barbecue and shisha. After a night under the stars, you’ll be taken back home.
Dhs400 per person (minimum of four people). Food and camping gear included. (www.explorertours.ae)

23 Al Sawadi Beach Resort: This Omani beach resort offers a hotel, a camping area and a great range of facilities, including a pool, private beach, quad bikes, adventure playground and more. It’s not quite roughing it, but that’s fine by us.
(+968 2 679 5545, www.alsawadibeach.com). OMR30 (Dhs300) per night for four people sharing a tent

24 Jebel Akhdar Hotel: Jebel Akhdar means ‘the Green Mountain’ in Arabic, so no surprises for guessing that these dramatic vistas are covered in vegetation. This mountain range is the highest in Eastern Arabia, hence it’s always cool, even in summer.
Follow the signs for Wadi al-Muaydin, off the Muscat-Nizwa Highway, turn left in Birkat al-Mawz and pass the fort on your right. Jebel Akdhar Hotel (+968 2 542 9009). Doubles from OMR51 (Dhs487) per night

25 The Empty Quarter: You can’t live in Dubai without discovering the sheer beauty of the Empty Quarter. One of the largest sand deserts in the world, its rich reds and oranges make it seem almost lush. Camp under the stars at night and race over the terrifyingly steep dunes by day, but always go there with at least one other 4x4.
Explorer Tours (04 286 1991, www.explorertours.ae). Basic and advanced driving courses from Dhs1,000 in own 4x4

26 Wahiba Sands: Miles of sand dunes, broken up by occasional Bedu settlements – there are no roads, so you’ll need a guide. There are a few camps set up for tourists and the night view of the stars is stunning.
Nomadic Tours (+968 99 33 6273, www.nomadicdesertcamp.com). Trips from OMR33 (Dhs314) if you have your own 4x4. Includes meals and camel ride

Or if you’re brave enough to go it alone…

27 Musandam night beaches: By day, the rocky beaches of Musandam in the northern tip of Oman are nothing much to look at, but at night it’s a different story: step into the water and you’ll find yourself surrounded by a blue glow as phosphorescent algae explode into colour. You can get a boat out at Khasab docks – just don’t pay all of the agreed fee until the return leg of your journey…
Rides from Khasab port cost Dhs200-500 depending on your bargaining skills. For something more concrete, contact Golden Tulip Khasab Resort (+968 2 673 0777, www.goldentulipkhasab.com)

28 Fujairah beach: Drive away from Fujairah’s Sandy Beach Hotel towards Le Méridien Al Aqah, but keep your eyes peeled for a dirt road curving off to the left by a tall rocky area. You’ll find a lovely public beach ripe for camping. The following day you can go snorkelling at Sandy Beach Hotel next door. Score! Beware, though: there may be quad bikers in the afternoon.
Snorkelling Dhs60 for the day (8am-5.30pm) or Dhs30 for one hour (09 245 5555, www.sandybm.com)

29 Surfing in Oman: There are several great places to surf on the coast of Oman. See www.surfersofdubai.com for details on Al Ashkharah, a near-deserted beach miles from town that has the best waves in the region and great camping spots.

30 Masirah Island: Masirah is an eight- or nine-hour drive from Dubai, plus another hour and a half on a ferry, but it’s well worth it. There are a few villages dotted around, as well as a military base. Once there, you’ll find miles of unspoiled coastline on which to camp, plus some awesome surf.
www.exploremasirah.com

31 Tiwi Beach: Drive south for two to three hours along the coast road from Muscat and you’ll pass the long stretches of coastline that form Tiwi beach. It’s harder to find an isolated spot at the weekends, but there are plenty of places to camp. There are no tour companies that go here: just grab a map.

32 Madam Village: Ideal for beginner campers or those without a 4x4, stop before the Hatta border near the village of Madam, park by the road and wander to a spot across the sand. Fancy trying some desert driving? Big Red, the quad centre, is but 10 minutes away.
On the E44 road between Al Haba and Al Ghifirah


Animal attraction

33 Camel trekking: Go camel trekking at night in Al Ain to catch the red dunes lit up in the moonlight. While you’re there, check out the camel market to see how life has been for centuries.
Camel safari at the Hilton Al Ain (03 768 8006), Dhs150 for one hour. Market: follow the Zayed Bin Sultan Road, turn left into the Industrial Area. Go straight at the first roundabout, leading off-road across wasteland to the market

34 Try falconry: The desert’s oldest sport is demonstrated by ranger Peter Bergh at Al Ain. You’ll learn how to interact with the feathered captains of the sky – who knows when you’ll need those skills?
Shaheen Xtreme (050 874 5725, www.shaheenxtreme.com). Lessons from Dhs1,000, with pick-up and drop-off in Dubai

35 Crab hunting: Spear huge crabs while wading through Umm Al Quwain’s mangroves at nightfall, then barbecue them for tea. Evidently not for veggies, but a brilliant weekend trip for those with a killer instinct.
(04 334 4330, www.lama.ae). Dhs280 per person including pick-up in Dubai

36 Fish for barracuda: Try casting your line off the coast of Ras Al Khaimah – the sea off the UAE’s west coast is still largely unaffected by developers, so you’ll reel in some big ’uns. If you’re a beginner, hunt for smaller fry, such as dorado (mahi mahi) and mackerel, near Fujairah. Just remember, it’s illegal to catch crab, squid or smaller fish.
Le Méridien Al Aqah, Fujairah (09 244 9000, www.lemeridien-alaqah.com). Dhs1,850 for a four-hour trip for six people

37 Desert horse riding: Jump aboard your trusty steed and gallop through the dunes on horseback, keeping an eye out for lizards, camels and gazelles. Alternatively, if you’re feeling a little timid, you can trot around Bab Al Shams resort and pretend you’re a true Bedouin for an hour. Giddy up!
Emirates Equestrian Centre, next to Bab Al Shams resort (050 558 7656, www.emiratesequestriancentre.com). Lessons from Dhs200 for an hour; Dhs145 for a beginner’s group lesson around the resort

38 Sir Bani Yas safari: Aside from the five-star Anantara spa resort, the island’s real appeal is the wildlife. This 87sq km nature reserve features hyenas, cheetahs, giraffes and the largest herd of oryx in the world. If you get bored of that, try snorkelling, diving, trekking, archery and more.
Anantara Desert Islands Resort (02 801 5400, www.desertislands.anantara.com). Double rooms from Dhs1,499

39 Check out the turtles: The Ras al-Jinz turtle sanctuary in Oman offers overnight stays – the shell-dwelling amphibians are apparently easier to find at night.
(+968 9 655 0606, www.rasaljinz.org). Double rooms from Dhs763, including night and day visits and breakfast

40 Bull butting: It may sound gruesome, but this spectator sport is largely bloodless: hundreds of locals gather to watch two bulls head-butting one another into submission. It’s a great spectacle and far removed from the goriness of Spanish bullfighting.
Fujairah, next to Café Maria, along Corniche Road on Friday afternoons. Nearby Hilton Fujairah Resort (09 222 2411, www.hilton.com). Double rooms from Dhs720


Explore more

41 Sunbathe: The activity may not be too adventurous, but the location is: catch some rays at Dibba’s Golden Tulip hotel, surrounded by mountains. It’s super-cheap – from OMR40 (Dhs382) per double per night – and the beach is vast.
(+968 2 683 6654, www.goldentulipdibba.com)

42 Be Indiana Jones!: Archaeological sites dating back 7,000 years have been discovered in the UAE, including at Luluiyah Fort, believed to have been created in the 13th century. Easier to reach is the Falayah site in Ras Al Khaimah, where the peace treaty of 1820 was signed between the various sheikhs.
Contact National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah (07 233 3411)

43 Canoe through mangroves: Explore Khor Kalba’s mangroves via kayak. Paddle through weeds to spot herons and fish.
(04 286 1991, www.explorertours.ae). Dhs300 per adult with transport, Dhs200 without transport

44 Bathe in the mountains: You’ll find Khatt Springs Resort halfway up a mountain. As well as spa treatments, you can simply float in the special mountain pools, which are said to help joints.
Al Jazeera Road, opposite RAK Ceramics (07 244 8777, www.khatthotel.com). Double rooms from Dhs249

45 See more Arabian wildlife: Discover the Arabian Wildlife Centre in Sharjah, with cheetahs, leopards and baboons, and a fun children’s farm with more pettable animals.
(06 531 1212, www.breedingcentresharjah.com)

46 Visit wacky island no.1: Telegraph Island was once the site of the British Empire’s attempt to run a cable from Bombay to Basra. It’s thought to be the spot where the phrase ‘going round the bend’ entered English phraseology, since those posted there tended to lose the plot.
Charter a dhow with Golden Tulip Khasab (+968 2 673 0777, www.goldentulipkhasab.com). Dhs1,800 for a five-hour round trip for nine people

47 Wacky island no.2: Kumzar residents speak their own language: Kumzari, a mix of Portuguese, Farsi, middle-ages Arabic and (according to some linguists) English.
Only accessible by private boat, it feels like the end of the world. Find it north of the Musandam peninsula, near Khasab

48 And wacky island no.3: Kish Island is Iran’s answer to Dubai, with seven-star hotels, pristine beaches and masses of malls. But add to that a 10,000sq m underground town called Cariz created from a network of caves and you’ve got yourself a crazy slice of Persia.
Call Kish Tourism Affairs Office, +98 764 442 4423. Contact the Iranian Consulate (04 344 4717, www.iranconsul.org.ae) for visa info


Find the desert

49 Try a Bedouin spa: Located in the rolling dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, the Bedouin-themed Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa offers all the spa treatments you’d expect, plus camel trekking, nature walks and the chance to see sand cats.
Dubai-Al Ain Road, just past interchange 8. (04 832 9900, www.emirateshotelsresorts.com/al-maha). Double rooms from Dhs5,430

50 Visit Bab Al Shams resort: Dubai’s best-known five-star desert resort allows visitors to feel far, far away from the relentless big city. While some of the activities, such as the restaurant complete with camels, belly dancer and whirling dervish, may feel a little Disney-fied, the spa, bar, and desert horse riding are all spot on.
Past Arabian Ranches on the Al Qudra Road, near Endurance Village (04 809 6100, www.jumeirah.com). Double rooms from Dhs3,675

51 Build a village: Experience five-star luxury at the Six Senses Zighy Bay getaway near Dibba while helping the local community. After either paragliding, sailing or driving over the mountain to the resort, you can stay three further nights if you spend three hours a day helping to build a village to house some of the local Omanis. Deal!
(+968 2 673 5555, www.sixsenses.com). Two-person villa from Dhs5,600 – stay for two nights, pay for one until August 31

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