Whether you’re an easy-does-it Eddie or adrenaline-addicted Annie, there’s a way for everyone to enjoy the UAE and Oman’s varied terrain. Holly Sands rounds up some of the best.
Across the UAE
Do the Urban Ultra Hajar 100
Ideal for athletes
Taking place on Friday March 13, this race covers a whopping 100km trail through mountain passes, along jeep tracks and over stunning sand dunes. Physically fit, determined and well-prepared runners should get to the finish.
★ Price to be announced. Ras Al Khaimah, www.premieronline.com.
Go fat biking in the Empty Quarter
Stunning desert retreat Qasr Al Sarab offers the chance to try one of the newest two-wheel crazes to hit the UAE. The unique design of fat bikes makes it possible to cycle over sand easily enough that even beginners can get to grips with the sport. Tours start daily at 7am.
★ From Dhs180 per person. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Liwa, Abu Dhabi (02 886 2088).
Don your leathers for a motorbike tour
Awesome road trip alternative
Fancy yourself as a bit of petrolhead? Hit the open road with one of Prestige Motorcycle’s tours of the UAE, which range from day trips right up to eight-day excursions across the country. You’ll meet like-minded bike lovers and learn heaps about the local landscape, plus see the Emirates as never before.
★ From Dhs1,590. Prestige Motorcycle Tours & Rentals, Dubai Investment Park, www.dubaimotorcycletours.com (055 953 2064).
Hire a chalet at Sandy Beach
Perfect for kicking back
One of the longest-standing hotels on the East Coast, a stay at Sandy Beach is like stepping back in time – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. The one- and two-bedroom chalets come with a little patio that’s just right for an evening of barbecuing. Absolutely perfect after an active day in the sea.
★ Dhs750 per night for a one-bedroom chalet, Dhs1,000 per night for a two-bedroom. Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort, Fujairah (09 244 5555).
Shoot ’em ups in Sharjah
Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club is widely regarded as one of the best places to go paintballing in the region, with three enormous outdoor areas – the Jungle phase the Savanaa phases and the Speedball arena – complete with bunkers, huts, aeroplanes, inflatable obstacles and much more. The two indoor arenas are just as impressive, with one designed to look like the streets of London and another replicating the inside of a bank.
★ From Dhs90 per person for 100 paintballs and two games. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road, www.golfandshootingshj.com (06 548 7777).
Head out on a hike
Explorer Tours runs guided trips in Ras Al Khaimah, where trekkers can explore the wadis and mountainous areas. Depending on your experience and fitness levels, you can embark on expeditions ranging from two to three hours right up to eight hours. Bring the right shoes or trainers, sun cream, a wide-brimmed hat and a backpack – lunch can be provided on request.
★ From Dhs300 per person (minimum ten people). Pick-up across Dubai, www.explorertours.ae (04 286 1991).
Try your hand at land sailing
Historically used as a mode of transport, today, land sailing is a more of a sport – and you can have a go yourself in Liwa. The activity is dependent on a minimum wind speed of 14 knots. Fortunately, now is the perfect time of year to find out if you’ve got the makings of a pro.
★ From Dhs280 (adults), Dhs220 (kids). Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Liwa, Abu Dhabi (02 886 2088).
Visit a camel market
The livestock quarter of Al Ain Central Market is certainly an experience – buyers mooch between pens in their 4x4s as sellers rush around shouting into car windows for business. Carry some change to tip the owners if you’re taking photos and dress modestly to avoid unwanted attention. Do get out of your vehicle to look around – you might even be able to nab yourself a baby dromedary for Dhs3,000.
★ Daily 6am-7pm. Street 137 (Zayed Bin Sultan Street), also known as Mezyad Road, behind Bawadi Mall.
Bike the Dadna Circuit
Suitable for beginners and more seasoned cyclists, this route, near Al Aqah beach in Fujairah, runs approximately 15km. Over a two- to three-hour ride, take in coastal plains with farms, mountains and wadis to navigate along the way. Trip organiser East Coast Tourism can also organise stays in small local farms for those who want a more comprehensive experience of the local area.
★ Price on request. Fujairah, www.uaeeastcoast.com (050 348 9518).
Watch bullfighting in Fujairah
For years, Friday bullfighting in Fujairah has been drawing spectators. Taking place most weekends between 4pm and 5pm, the traditional (and thankfully mostly bloodless) matches see the beasts literally 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.
★ Free. 4pm-5pm. Head towards Kalba from the Fujairah corniche.
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Embark on a desert walk
Best for a cultural experience
This isn’t the kind of thing you want to risk doing alone, as the desert can be a dangerous and confusing place to get lost in. Fortunately, Qasr Al Sarab offers a trip with expert guides, where you’ll be dropped off in a remote location, from where you’ll make your way back to the resort over a period of one-and-a-half to two hours. Along the way, you’ll learn about local fauna and flora, sand dune formations and hear stories of the desert.
★ From Dhs130 (adults), Dhs85 (kids). Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Liwa, Abu Dhabi (02 886 2088).
Camp with the flamingos
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, choose your camping spot with care to avoid being flooded at high tide. Once set up, visit the nearby fishing villages at Al Raas, where you’ll spot wild flamingos.
★ Take the E311 north towards Ajman, turning off when you see signs for Dreamland Waterpark. Head for Al Rafaah.
Take a Sir Bani Yas wildlife drive
Perfect for nature lovers
Located on Abu Dhabi’s beautiful animal conservation site, Sir Bani Yas Island, Desert Islands Resort & Spa offers exhilarating nature and wildlife drives in an open-topped, open-sided 4x4. See sand gazelles, oryx, leopards, hyenas, giraffes and more as you rumble over gravelly tracks and hills.
★ Rooms from Dhs975 midweek. Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (02 656 1399).
Revisit the Bronze Age at Hili
Al Ain’s Hili Archaeological Park is home to the largest Bronze Age complex in the entire country, dating back to the third millennium BC. Just outside the park, you can also find the remnants of settlements, tombs and an Iron Age falaj (water channel), which in particular
has been noted by Unesco as one of the oldest examples of the sophisticated irrigation system.
★ Hili, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, www.visitabudhabi.ae.
Cool down in Al Ain Oasis
Al Ain isn’t known as the ‘garden of the UAE’ for nothing. Located near the Al Ain National Museum, Al Ain Oasis is filled with palm plantations – many of which are still working farms – shady walkways and beautiful water systems. There are more than 147,000 date palms in the oasis, growing almost 100 different varieties of the sweet fruit.
★ Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, www.visitabudhabi.ae (03 712 8429).
Camp like the Bedouins
Set in the dunes of Ras Al Khaimah, Arabian Incentive’s candle-lit Bedouin Oasis camp offers visitors the chance to spend a night in a traditional fashion – without sacrificing too many home comforts (importantly, a flushing toilet). A barbecue and traditional dishes are cooked, after which guests are free to sit around cosy bonfires and gaze up at the stars. Got a special occasion coming up? The entire camp can be booked out for private soirees and sleepovers.
★ Price on request. Ras Al Khaimah, www.arabianincentive.com (04 266 6020).
Go diving at Martini Rock
Just off the East Coast and accessible from Al Boom Diving’s Fujairah outpost, Martini Rock is home to an abundance of colourful, fascinating marine life. See cuttlefish, lionfish, scorpionfish, broomtail wrasse, rays and even a turtle or two if you’re lucky.
★ Dhs400 per diver with full kit. Al Boom Diving, Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Fujairah, www.alboomdiving.com (04 341 4940).
Snorkel around Shark Island
Great for thrill-seekers
Head to Khor Fakkan for a day of snorkelling off the UAE’s best coast for marine wildlife. Take a boat out from the corniche (haggle with the boat runners, as they’ll set prices sky-high at first) and have them take you over to Shark Island, returning for you at an agreed time. The water is typically crystal clear with plenty of marine life to see. Bring a parasol, as there is no shade on the island at midday.
★ Khor Fakkan corniche, E89.
Camp and picnic in Green Mubazzarah park
Round up the kids for a trip to this beautiful green space at the foot of Jebel Hafeet (one of the country’s best-known mountains) with plenty of space for running around. The Al Ain park is home to hot springs, swimming pools, a mini train, a boating lake and chalets to stay in.
★ Al Ain, Abu Dhabi (03 783 9555).
Voyage on Prince of Sea
Easily Ras Al Khaimah’s most instantly identifiable vessel, Prince of Sea, also known as the Ahmed Bin Majid (named after the famous 15th century Arab navigator), is a 34-metre sailing yacht. Hire her for private celebrations, charter cruises or take part in a group fishing excursion in the waters off the emirate’s coast.
★ From Dhs620 (adults), Dhs310 (kids) for an eight-hour trip. Ras Al Khaimah, www.akhilaatourism.com.
Surf in Al Ain
Best for sporty types
‘But… Al Ain doesn’t have a sea coast!’ we hear you cry. Indeed it doesn’t – instead, it has Wadi Adventure, home to an enormous surfing pool, a white water rafting facility and Air Park (essentially an enormous climbing frame for adults). Book your slots in advance.
★ Entry Dhs50, surfing Dhs100, Air Park Dhs50, rafting Dhs100, giant swing Dhs25. Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
Explore Dhayafah Fort
Get the best view of Ras Al Khaimah’s coast on one side and the Hajar Mountains from the other at the site of this 16th century fort. Set on top of a hill to the north of Al Rams, the location was originally a strategic military position from which tribes could ward off invaders, and later became the home of the ruling family, before being used as a prison.
★ Off Al Rasm Road, Ras Al Khaimah.
Have a complete outdoor adventure in RAK
British-run company Challenging Adventure offers a huge range of al fresco pursuits for keen outdoorsy types. Try camping, abseiling, orienteering, raft building, birdwatching, canyoning and much more.
★ Price on enquiry. Ras Al Khaimah, www.challengingadventure.com (04 453 8386). View great outdoor adventures in the UAE
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Bear Grylls Survival Academy courses
When organising a trip to Dibba, visitors must make arrangements in plenty of time in order for operators in the Omani enclave to provide the necessary paperwork to facilitate border crossings from
The intrepid ex-special forces British adventurer has launched a survival academy in Dibba, on the Musandam peninsula – just a two-hour drive from Dubai. There are two courses available – one for adults and one for families, each running 24 hours. Groups will be taught how to survive the desert sun, build and light a fire, find and purify water, deal with snakes and scorpions, use a survival knife and cross difficult terrain, plus scale hills, abseil, crawl and run back to civilisation.
★ Dhs2,023 per person (adults). Dibba, Musandam, Oman, www.beargryllssurvivalacademy.com (+44 1483 424 438).
Charter a dhow, sleep under the stars
Sheesa Beach’s one night, two-day private charter option includes a private dhow for up to 18 people, featuring a trip along the Musandam Peninsula, anchorage at Lima Bay for swimming, snorkelling and hand-line fishing or kayaking, or sunbathing on the open decks. There’s also the option to get off the boat to go ashore and explore an abandoned village. The trip includes barbecue dinners, breakfasts and sleeping on deck under the stars.
★ Price on request. Sheesa Beach, Dibba, Musandam, Oman, www.sheesabeach.com (+968 683 6551).
Try deep water soloing
Not for the fainthearted or clammy-handed, this dangerous sport involves climbing along rock faces that hang over water, without any ropes. Your exit is directly into the deep water below. Don’t try this alone – expert companies such as Absolute Adventure offer trips to do this in Dibba.
★ Dhs495-695 per person. Dibba, www.adventure.ae, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hike through Snake Canyon
Also known as Snake Gorge or Wadi Bimah, this narrow channel in the middle of Wadi Bani Awf has water pools and natural waterslides, and offers an exciting trek. Be wary of the area’s potential for flash floods, and be sure to check the weather forecast
★ Dhs806 per person (the larger the group size, the less each individual pays). Oman, www.omantrekkingguides.com.
Claustrophobic? Worry not – caving in Oman doesn’t have to mean squeezing through tiny spaces. Hoti Cave, for example, is large enough to contain an underwater lake, while Jebel Bani Jabir’s Majlis Al Jinn is one of the largest underground chambers ever discovered. Gulf Leisure can offer guidance and experts to lead trips.
★ Price on request, minimum group size of four. Oman, www.gulfleisure.com (+44 7446 3415).
Do the Musandam Adventure Race 2015
Described as ‘probably the toughest one-day event of this nature in the region’, this team race on Friday February 20 involves a 35km sea kayak, 20km trail run and 65km mountain bike ride. We think their description is pretty spot on.
★ Dhs900 per team. Khor Najd, Khasab, Oman, www.premieronline.com.
Explore Muttrah harbour
Make a weekend of it!
Muscat’s impressive and ancient harbour is surprisingly small – a fact not well disguised by the enormous yacht (the world’s third-largest) owned by Sultan Qaboos of Oman, which sits right in the centre, dominating the waterways. Around the edges, strikingly different architecture tells tales of influences as far flung as Portugal and India, while the nearby fish market is well worth a nose around. It’s a long drive (five hours) to see a small city, but hole up at the jaw-dropping Chedi hotel and you’ve got a truly worthwhile escape from Dubai.
★ Muscat, Oman. The Chedi, www.ghmhotels.com/en/muscat.
Dinner in the desert
Best for lazy explorers!
Check out Platinum Heritage’s ‘heritage dinner safari’, which promises to show guests Dubai as it was 50 years ago. The experience includes transport in a vintage Land Rover, a meal among the dunes of the Royal desert retreat, camel rides, shisha and more.
★ From Dhs545 (adults), Dhs445 (kids). Pick-up across Dubai, www.platinum-heritage.com (04 388 4044).
Brave Dubai’s only bungee jump
Bit of an adrenaline junkie? Put your nerves through the shredder as you leap from a platform 300ft in the air. There’s also the option to jump backwards (!) from a 160ft platform – if you think you’re hard enough.
★ From Dhs360 (single), from Dhs550 (tandem). Power Play Football, opposite Dubai Bowling Centre, Al Quoz 1, www.gravityzone.co (056 364 8778).
Picnic at Hatta Reservoir
While Hatta’s famous pools have been tarnished by vandalism and incessant littering, its stunning reservoir has fared a little better. A huge central lake is surrounded by dramatic mountains, and located just under two hours’ drive from New Dubai, it’s a great spot for practising your photography – and take some fold-up chairs for a snack at the viewing deck. There are checkpoints along the way, so make sure you take your passport.
★ E44 to Hatta, at heritage village take a left at the mosque and turn right at the next intersection.
Moonlight horse riding at Mushrif Park
Perfect for Valentine's Day!
Open to seasoned riders and newcomers to equestrian pursuits, Mushrif Equestrian Club’s desert rides take in the varying terrain of the park over 90 minutes. Every month, the club also offers rides under the auspicious full moon.
★ Dhs300. Mushrif Park, Al Khawaneej Road, www.mushrifequestrianclub.wordpress.com (050 103 0243).
Go drumming in the desert
Musically inclined, or just like to make a racket every now and then? This family-friendly pursuit sees participants sit together for an evening of guided drumming under the stars, plus a barbecue dinner. Visit the website for the monthly schedule.
★ Dhs250 including barbecue and drum rental (adults), Dhs100 (kids six to 13), free for under fives. Gulf Ventures Camp, Al Awir, www.dubaidrums.com 04 347 2129).
Hike the length of Dubai’s coast
Join the big-hearted folk of Gulf For Good for their regular hike up Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach, which runs about 13km in total – the next one takes place this week on Friday January 30 (for future dates, see the website). Alternatively,
join them for a snow hike inside Ski Dubai, with the next scheduled for Friday February 13.
★ Free. Jumeirah Beach Road and Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates, www.gulf4good.org.
Ride out to Bab Al Shams
Join Cycle Safe Dubai for their Friday Outrides, held every weekend at 6.30am. There are four rides – 35km for beginners, 65km and 80km for intermediates and an 80km advanced ride, with paces ranging from 20kph to 35kph. Bring your helmet – there’s a no helmet, no ride policy.
★ Free. Fri 6.30am. Al Qudra Road, just after Emirates Road (E611), start of Dubai Cycle Path, www.cyclesafedubai.com.
Do a camel trek
Great for visitors!
Head to Al Sahra Equestrian Centre out in Dubai’s sandier pastures to embark on a camel excursion where, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot wildlife such as desert foxes and owls. There’s a bubbly version available for special occasions, so if you’re looking to ask the big question this year, this is one unique way to do it.
★ Dhs200 per person (90 minutes), or Dhs400 per person with bubbly. Jebel Ali-Lehbab Road, www.jaresortshotels.com (04 427 4055).
Check out Big Red
One of the oldest attractions in the region, this well-known sand dune is something of a landmark just off the Dubai-Hatta Road (E44), as the colour of the landscape changes from yellow to red. Don’t expect to find yourself alone – tour companies run two trips a day. The area is also popular with residents keen to practice their dune-bashing skills.
★ Accessible from Dubai-Hatta Road (E44).
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