Make the most of the nature on your doorstep by heading out to explore the stunning terrain of the UAE and Oman.
We're pretty lucky here in the UAE, with perfect weather conditions for around eight months of the year. So get off your couch, cancel your routine slouch around the nearest mall and head out to discover a bit of what the region has to offer. From cave diving to bull fighting to kayaking under a mangrove canopy, there’s an awful lot to do. Every emirate has an adventure to offer, as does our neighbouring Oman. Here's a pick of some of our favourite outdoor escapes.
Across the UAE
Visit Abu Dhabi’s mangroves
Several companies, including Al Mahara, offer kayaking tours of the natural mangroves around Abu Dhabi’s islands. Mahara can take waterborne adventurers on either a trip through the island flora in the vicinity of the Ducks Jetty at Yas Links Golf Club (where you can round off the experience with showers and a meal), or from the Eastern Lagoon on Salam Street – the latter is a more rustic, outdoorsy option. There’s also the chance to try the ultimate mangrove kayak, where Mahara will personalise a trip for you and your group, with the option to add watersports and a barbecue.
From Dhs150 for 90-minute Eastern Mangroves guided tour. Al Mahara, Abu Dhabi, www.divemahara.com (02 643 7377).
Bull fighting in Fujairah
For several years now, Friday bull fighting in Fujairah has been drawing spectators. Taking place most weekends between 4pm and 5pm, the traditional (and thankfully mostly bloodless) matches see beasts go head-to-head, with the winner determined as the bull that butts the other the longest in a one-minute challenge. It’s a noisy, popular affair, with crowds drawn from across the UAE and the local Fujairah community.
Head towards Kalba from the Fujairah corniche.
Find a wadi in Ras Al Khaimah
Down the E311 towards Musandam, Ras Al Khaimah has many mountains worth visiting, but we suggest hitting the road and visiting the town of Shawka. For those of you with 4x4s there are lots of off-road trails and wadis to explore. It’s a popular spot with mountain bikers from across the UAE (Hot Cog have a regular meeting point nearby), though it’s also worth heading here to see one of the UAE’s dams. There are a few in the country (which might be surprising since we live in a desert) and one is the spectacular-looking Al Shawka.
From the E611 Emirates Road, take the E102 Sharjah-Kalba Road and after passing the E84 road to Fujairah turn left at the first major crossroads.
Take a boat to Shark Island
Located just off the Khor Fakkan public beach and behind the port, the small Shark Island offers calm waters for a snorkel, while the abundance of marine life means it also attracts divers from nearby resorts. While you’re unlikely to spot many sharks these days (sadly, over-fishing in the area has led to a sharp decline in their numbers), you can expect to see parrot fish, moray eels and even the odd puffer or ray if you’re lucky. In the height of summer, the rocky formation offers little shade, so if you’re planning to spend some time there, it’s a good idea to take a parasol. Most of the boats lined up along the corniche will be happy to take you across, but make sure you negotiate a reasonable price – tourists are often quoted excessive rates.
Khor Fakkan, E99, Sharjah (along the Fujairah coast).
Camp on the beach in Umm Al Quwain
Aside from the ever-popular and somewhat retro Dreamland Waterpark (well worth checking out if you haven’t already, not least to simply sit in the moat-like pool while sipping hops and chomping on nachos), Umm Al Quwain has something of a dearth of attractions. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit – and it just so happens to be one of the quieter, more secluded destinations for a spot of camping. On the beach, however, choose your camping spot with care to avoid being flooded at high tide. Once you’ve set up base camp, why not visit the nearby fishing villages at Al Raas, where you can also spot wild flamingos.
Take the E311 north towards Ajman, turning off when you see signs for Dreamland Waterpark. Head for Al Rafaah.
Explore Masdar City
If you’re a Star Wars fan frustrated you’ve got to wait until December 2015 to get your next fix of futuristic cities, then we suggest you head to Masdar in Abu Dhabi, which has more than a passing resemblance to Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine from those movies. This eco-friendly community is playing a key role in helping The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development achieve its target of seven percent renewable energy by 2020. Visitors reach the city by hitching a lift in futuristic, driverless cars, and then are free to wander round the unique sand-coloured buildings and admire the spectacular wind tunnel that regulates the temperature, meaning you can stand outside even in the summer months.
Abu Dhabi, E10, then take the junction towards Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Pedal your way around the Palm Jumeirah
Dubai’s most complete Palm island is the latest neighbourhood to host bike rental stations by Byky. There are seven spots to pick up your set of wheels from – three on the trunk and four around the crescent (and you can even check on the company’s website whether there are any bikes left at your preferred starting station). We recommend pedalling your way around the crescent, which not only offers uninterrupted views out to sea and allows you to check out soon-to-open hotels, but one tip-to-tip ride will see you cover a solid 11km. Visit the website for exact station locations.
From Dhs15 for 30 minutes. Byky, Palm Jumeirah, www.bykystations.com (04 238 4344).
Make like the Bedouin
Head to the sandy orange dunes of Ras Al Khaimah to spend the night in Arabian Incentive’s stunning Bedouin Oasis, designed to provide visitors with a traditional desert camping experience. Try falconry, drumming and horse riding, or relax by a campfire with traditional Arabic dishes and a cold drink, while gazing up at the stars above. Round up a few good friends and book the camp out for your own private experience, so you can unwind in complete privacy. They can even arrange a DJ and cater for special requests, should you and your group have any.
Price on request. Bedouin Oasis, Arabian Incentive, near Banyan Tree Al Wadi, Ras Al Khaimah, www.arabianincentive.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out what’s on offer over the border in beautiful Oman
Explore Jebel Harim
The rocky mountains of Musandam, an Omani enclave beyond Ras Al Khaimah, are home to Jebel Harim, or the ‘mountain of women’, which at 2,087m high is the highest in the peninsula. This is a steep, narrow, winding drive ideal for those who have done a bit of off-roading in the past. Alternatively, various local tour firms can take you up.
The views of Musandam’s capital Khasab and Dibba are spectacular and the rocks here contain preserved fossils of fish, clams and molluscs. While Khasab isn’t particularly well serviced when it comes to hotels, the Golden Tulip has a decent all-day-dining restaurant where you can pull in for refreshments, and is popular with bikers who visit the area to ride the winding coastal roads.
Follow the E311 to Ras Al Khaimah, and continue on Al Rams Road, then the 02 Khasab Coastal Road.
Climb the Dibba cliffs
Keen rock climbers can test their mettle against the seafront cliff faces of Dibba with climbs that skirt the coastline. Absolute Adventure organises excursions on request between September and May, with expeditions lasting anything from four to eight hours, ending in a drop directly into the deep water below. A thrilling day out, all equipment, boats, water recovery, first aid and life guards are included in the price. If this isn’t quite your thing, Absolute Adventures offers a huge range of activities in both Oman and the UAE, including scenic treks, dhow cruises, kayak excursions, mountain biking and much more.
Dhs495-695. Absolute Adventures, Dibba, www.adventure.ae, email@example.com.
Learn to surf
Ignite Surf School UAE is now running surf safaris to other locations, such as the Maldives, as well as much closer to home in Oman. According to the school, the surf is typically found on the lower east coast, around three hours south of Muscat – all the way along the border to Yemen. Peak times fall between June and September, and more hospitable temperatures make it a great escape from the UAE heat. Email for details of upcoming trips.
Safari prices vary. Ignite Surf School UAE, Al Manara Street, Dubai, www.surfschooluae.com, firstname.lastname@example.org (04 379 1998).
Spend a weekend on the water
Until the end of February, tour company Sheesa Beach is offering overnight dhow cruises with free catering and a discover scuba diving experience for all aboard. The trip takes place in Musandam, cruising the coastline where – if you’re lucky – you could spot dolphins swimming alongside your dhow. The package includes free use of snorkelling equipment, hand fishing lines with bait, kayaks and banana boating.
From Dhs4,450 for private hire for approximately 15 people. Until February 28. Sheesa Beach, Musandam, www.sheesabeach.com (+968 2 683 6551).
Go caving near Al Hamra
Head to Oman’s mountainous middle section for a first-class adventure as you explore the beautiful caves. Gulf Leisure runs all-day excursions for groups of a minimum of four, with the option to explore the likes of Hoti Cave (ideal for beginners, with an underwater lake), Kitam Cave (near Ibri, containing rare flowers and crystals formed by rainwater), or Kahf Hoti, the longest known cave in Oman, stretching up to 5km. For the truly adventurous, there’s also the option to go cave diving. The perfect pick for adrenaline junkies.
Price on request. Gulf Leisure, locations across Oman, www.gulfleisure.com, email@example.com.
Go diving in Sudan
The UAE’s much-loved expert diving company Al Boom Diving is now offering excursions well beyond the traditional speedboat routes of these parts. Travel-loving divers (specifically those with advanced open water certification or open water divers with at least 50 logged dives) will be able to check out sites running from north to south, with three dives and a free night dive every day. Untouched coral formations, deep drop-offs and a huge variety of marine life (including sharks) are some of the region’s biggest drawing points for underwater explorers. The price includes seven nights full board with double cabins, a minimum of two dive guides, tanks, weights, shisha, bed linen and towels, Wi-Fi where available and a Sudanese visa. Rates exclude, among other things, flights. Visit Al Boom’s website for the full run-down.
From Dhs6,648. Al Boom Diving, www.alboomdiving.com (04 342 2993).