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Conquer the dunes

Discover the best opportunities to reconnect with the great outdoors in the Arabian desert

A stark contrast to the UAE’s glamorous metropolitan set-up, the Arabian desert, with its endless undulating sands, makes for an excellent escape from the urban bustle. The dunes are rife with opportunities for those looking to venture off the beaten path and discover a new side to the emirates. Explore everything from desert safaris that offer authentic encounters with local culture to horse riding and camel treks that allow you to appreciate the magnificent scenery. And with the UAE winter in full swing, now’s the perfect time to embrace your inner adventurer. 


Falconry is strongly rooted in the cultural heritage of the UAE and witnessing these magnificent creatures in their natural environment is an unforgettable experience. Royal Shaheen’s professional falconers provide the best opportunity to engage with various birds of prey in the pristine setting of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. The experience allows you to get up close to nature to view indigenous wildlife before a first-hand interaction with the falcons. Passionate trainers will share practices handed down through the generations while demonstrating state-of-the-art training techniques using robotic flying devices. Witness the birds fly through the air and swoop in a stunning display of speed, power and agility. You can also have a falcon fly to your gloved hand or simply watch these wondrous raptors soar over the dunes. 


As the original desert dwellers, the Bedouins are integral to an authentic desert experience. Their intimate knowledge of the terrain is of great value to those keen on exploring the arid wilderness. A safari with Platinum Heritage provides the perfect opportunity to interact with the Bedouins and listen to their inspiring tales. Set in a traditional camp within the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, the experience is designed to give you an insight into life among the dunes as it was decades ago. Vintage Land Rovers will transport you deeper into the desert to spot local flora and fauna before you settle down for a traditional Emirati dinner. Cultural activities, such as Arabic coffee and bread making sessions, falconry demonstrations and stargazing, complete the experience. 


One of the best ways to take in the expanse of the desert is flying above the landscape, especially at sunrise or sunset, when the colours of the dunes transform from fiery red to gold, making for an impressive sight. Add a sense of adventure to the mix and you have a unique aerial activity that can only be experienced at a few locations in the world, including Dubai.

Skyhub Paramotors offers paramotor flights that see you gradually ascending above the sands in a part kart, part jet, part parachute-like flying machine in tandem with a pilot. The 30-minute flight takes you 3,000 feet above the ground, where you can view galloping gazelles and herds of camels from the tranquillity of the skies. If you are brave enough, ask your pilot to perform some aerobatics during the flight, including spirals and low-level flying.


If speed excites you, an off-road expedition in the desert should be on your list. Set amongst Dubai’s rolling dunes, Infiniti Desert Tours operates dune buggy safaris and motorbike tours that allow thrill seekers to take their off-road adventures to the next level. Jump on the KTM 450sxf bike or take the wheel of a Yamaha YXZ1000R dune buggy. As you power through the terrain, feel the exhilaration and thrills the rugged landscape provides. With a team of expert guides and full safety equipment available, the adventure is suited to both beginners and experts looking to take on the desert’s tough terrain. 


Head up high for an aerial adventure that sees you experiencing the seemingly endless desert while floating through the clouds. Hot air ballooning is on the top of many travellers’ bucket lists and it’s easy to see why Dubai is one of the best places in the world to experience this exciting activity. Gazing at the vastness of the desert from 3,000 feet above the ground is especially magical. Spot native wildlife, including camels, Arabian oryx and gazelles from high up in the sky. With Balloon Adventures, you’ll take off at dawn and watch the dunes light up below as the sun rises. But the adventure doesn’t end there. After the hot air balloon ride, you can feast on a gourmet breakfast in a traditional Bedouin camp on the dunes. 


What better way to explore the unique rolling red dunes of Ras Al Khaimah than on horseback? This majestic animal, a symbol of the local culture and heritage, is the only vehicle you’ll need as you navigate the Al Wadi Nature Reserve. This protected area in the UAE’s northernmost emirate boasts 600 hectares of rolling dunes, ghaf trees and a thriving population of local wildlife, from desert foxes to the Arabian oryx. Book a ride with the Al Wadi Equestrian Centre, accessed through The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert. Whether you’re an experienced rider looking to whizz past the dunes or a beginner just curious to perambulate the terrain at a slower pace, the experience is truly unforgettable. 


The Empty Quarter, also known as Rub Al Khali, is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass with sprawling, dramatic dunes as far as the eye can see. Accessible from Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, nestled on the southwestern edge of the capital, this rippling stretch borders the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen in vibrant autumnal hues. It is also home to Tel Moreeb, one of the world’s tallest sand dunes, standing high at 300 metres with a 50-degree incline. For the ultimate Arabian adventure (and exciting photo opportunities), the hotel offers guided nature walks that allow visitors to learn more about the desert and the creatures that inhabit the sands. You can also hop on a camel for a sunrise or sunset safari across the dunes. 


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