Experience the emirates like never before, thanks to its extraordinary outdoor offering
Before summer temperatures take over the city, now is the perfect time to explore the adventurous escapes the country has to offer. From kayaking through the capital’s mangrove forests to hiking along scenic wadis, the cooler climes bring several opportunities to get up close to nature. Whether you prefer your adventures on the sand, in the sea or among the mountains, there’s something unique to discover in each of the seven emirates.
AMONG THE MOUNTAINS
The picturesque location of Hatta Dam, surrounded by the magnificent mountain scenery, offers a sense of calm away from Dubai’s busy city. Kayaking through the striking green waters is a popular activity among visitors to the site. But if that seems like hard work, water bikes and pedal boats are also available to explore the tranquil reservoir waters.
A stark contrast to the futuristic city it is nestled within, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) was once the home of the desert Bedouins, who flourished despite the unforgiving terrain. The reserve now takes up about five percent of the emirate and is home to indigenous wildlife, including sand gazelles and the once-endangered Arabian oryx. To explore its serene surrounds, book a self-drive safari through the protected 225-square-kilometre area with homegrown company Sand Sherpa, the first and only operator in the region to offer self-drive safaris in the DDCR. Participants can drive one of Sand Sherpa’s specially prepared Toyota Hilux vehicles after a safety briefing, or opt for a guide-driven safari, to experience this unique landscape.
Escape the bustle of the UAE capital and take to the serene waters of Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangroves lagoon. Home to a fascinating coastal ecosystem, the lush forest boasts different species of flora and fauna. Kayaking through the waters gives you the opportunity to discover an array of exotic birds, including herons and flamingos. Look below the surface and you may even spot shoals of colourful fish, sea turtles and dugongs.
The UAE’s northernmost emirate of Ras Al Khaimah is an adventure seeker’s paradise, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Al Hajar Mountains. For the true daredevil, nothing quite compares with Jebel Jais Flight, which holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest zip line. Located on Jebel Jais, the UAE’s tallest mountain, it covers a distance of 2.8 kilometres and reaches speeds of up to 150 kilometres per hour at a height of 1,680 metres above sea level. For a slightly less hair-raising experience, Ras Al Khaimah’s Via Ferrata offers the chance to experience three smaller zip lines, with a mix of climbing and trekking, along a kilometre-long mountain trail.
BENEATH THE WAVES
Named after the famous cartoon dog that its shape resembles, Snoopy Island juts out of the Indian Ocean, a few hundred metres from Fujairah’s sandy shores. The rock’s prominent silhouette aside, the waters surrounding the island are teeming with interesting species of marine life, making it a great spot for snorkelling. Get your gear on and head into the water to discover bright corals and an array of sea life, including manta rays, sea turtles, reef sharks, squid and pufferfish. Several tour operators around the coastline offer snorkelling equipment on hire.
Popular among hikers in the UAE looking for a weekend escape, Wadi Shawka in Ras Al Khaimah ticks all the boxes when it comes to accessibility, scenery and level of ease for beginners. Set amidst mountainscapes, you’ll find lonesome palm trees, small ponds and natural springs scattered around the narrow pebbly path. One for the whole family, junior hikers joining you will be fascinated by herds of wandering mountain goats. The terrain is mostly flat, with only a gentle ascent and descent every few metres, but the breathtaking landscape offers several photo opportunities.
INTO THE WILD
Off the coast of Abu Dhabi lies one of the region’s largest private wildlife reserves. A combination of rugged desert landscapes, mangrove forests and scenic beachfront makes Sir Bani Yas Island an all-encompassing destination, but the safari experience on offer is the island’s biggest highlight. The Arabian Wildlife Park on Sir Bani Yas Island is home to more than 13,000 free-roaming animals, including the Arabian oryx, sand gazelles, reticulated giraffes, cheetahs, antelopes, Indian blackbucks, Barbary sheep, Ethiopian hedgehogs, Egyptian jerboas and Somali ostriches. Taking up more than half the island, visitors can explore the reserve with a 4×4 wildlife safari around the park.