Outside the bounds of the city, Dubai is a land of extraordinary natural beauty. The desert is surprisingly rich in colour and striking landscapes. This seemingly barren expanse supports a diversity of flora and fauna unique to this arid region. The isolated interior, once populated only by nomadic Bedouin tribes, is today within reach for visitors seeking to explore an amazingly different environment.
Dune driving itself is a highlight of any desert journey beyond the city. The sliding, shifting nature of the sand surface provides an enormous challenge and thrill. Novices should sign up for professional instruction before setting off into the desert – a number of operators offer expert tuition with four-wheel-drive vehicles provided. Guided trips cover both desert and mountain terrain, incorporating visits to remote villages and traditional camel farms.
One of the most exciting features of any desert safari is exploring the wadis. Wadis are steep-sided, dry creek beds that become a playground for four-wheel-drive enthusiasts. ‘Wadi-bashing’, as this peculiar pursuit is known, continues to grow in popularity with both residents and visitors. In contrast to the desert, the wadis frequently offer abundant plant life, rockpools and gorgeous scenery. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are required, and it is naturally recommended that novices do not attempt ‘wadi-bashing’ without expert supervision.
Visiting an original Bedouin village is an integral part of the desert experience in Dubai. Several local tour operators offer the chance to explore one of these fascinating enclaves. Tours such as these provide an extra insight into the nomadic lifestyle and the hardships faced by the Bedouin people, highlighting the traditional desert way of life. Camel rides are also available on desert safaris outside of Dubai, with instruction provided. In the evening, witness the spectacular desert sunset while dining at a traditional Arabian barbecue featuring music, dancing and often a special falconry display.
For those not so keen on ‘roughing it’, Dubai offers some luxurious features even in the remotest parts of the desert. Al Maha is a luxury resort set in 3300 acres of dunes off the highway between Dubai and Al Ain. The resort is a unique blend of tourism and conservation, aimed at reviving endangered native species including gazelles, ostriches, caracals and the rare Arabian oryx.
In addition to the focus on wildlife, Al Maha offers a chance to try traditional Arabic pursuits like camel-riding, horse-riding, falconry and archery. After a full day exploring the interior, relax by the private pool and spend the night in a luxuriously appointed suite.
A number of roads now cross the wilderness, linking settlements and oases. About 20 kilometers from town lie the twin oases of Khawanij and Awir. Although surrounded by semi-desert, the availability of water transforms these oases into luxuriant pockets of rich, colorful vegetation. Here many wealthy Dubai families have holiday villas where they spend weekends away from urban stresses and the humidity of the coastal city.
In the fertile regions surrounding the Hajar Mountains, naturally watered date gardens flourish, their foliage a magnet for birds. Hundreds of species of birdlife exist in the emirates, and Dubai is a popular destination with bird-watchers. Customized tours are available, incorporating a full range of landscapes and some remarkable birdlife.
Dubai by Air:
Operators of both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft offer visitors a chance to explore Dubai from a higher perspective. A flight above the city offers a magnificent view of the clean, clear Gulf waters, the surrounding desert, and the dazzling blend of traditional and high-tech architecture that composes Dubai. Inland, the exposed rock formations of the mountainsides form a striking spectacle, from both the sky and land.
East of Dubai, approximately one hour’s drive from the city, lies the small green valley of Hatta, nestled beneath the forbidding Hajar mountains. The Hatta Fort Hotel is Dubai’s only mountain resort complex, while the village itself is more than 200 years old. Wadi Hatta offers lush greenery and diverse wildlife, and the journey to Hatta takes in a wide range of amazing desert scenery.