Discover the some of best outdoor spots for nature lovers in the UAE – from desert reserves to lush mangrove forests
Island hop to Sir Bani Yas Island
While every island along Abu Dhabi’s coast has something unique to offer, few can rival the experiences found on Sir Bani Yas Island. Fringed by the Arabian Gulf in the country’s remote western region, this 87-square-kilometre island sees nature come alive in a variety of forms – craggy dunes, acacia-studded plains and mangrove forests. In these idyllic surrounds, more than 13,000 free-roaming animals thrive in abundance, rendering the island as one of nature’s greatest showpieces in the emirates.
Best way to explore: Fly in on a seaplane for stunning aerial views, take a 4×4 safari drive through the Arabian Wildlife Park or kayak through the mangrove forests with all-inclusive packages from Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Resorts.
Camp in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) was created to preserve the last remnants of the pristine desert in the emirate. A stark contrast to the futuristic city it is nestled within, these lands were once the home of the desert Bedouins, who flourished despite the unforgiving terrain. The reserve now takes up about five percent of the entire emirate and is home to indigenous wildlife, including sand gazelles and the once-endangered Arabian oryx. Access to the reserve is available only through a handful of tour operators but every visit is a rare chance to get up close to these fascinating creatures and learn about their natural habitat.
Take a walk through Jubail Mangrove Park
Newly opened in the UAE capital, Jubail Mangrove Park extends over one million square metres on Al Jubail Island. A meandering boardwalk through the park stretches over 2.3 kilometres, allowing visitors the opportunity to take in its lush setting. For a peek at the abundant marine life that inhabits the crystal waters, viewing platforms are dotted throughout the sanctuary. This gives visitors the chance to get closer to nature for a true sense of escape, where the bustle of the city is completely drowned out by the sounds of migratory birds.
Best way to explore: Tour the park with a ranger for in-depth information about this delicate ecosystem or canoe through the mangroves for a closer look.
Hike through Wadi Shawka
A little over a year ago, Wadi Shawka was a well-kept secret among the UAE’s backpacking community, entirely off the grid with no pin on Google Maps. But the pandemic and pent-up desire to explore the world has given this hidden gem a popularity boost. A great spot for hiking, those who take on this eight-kilometre loop are rewarded with glorious views of rugged hills, palm trees, verdant slopes and natural pools while navigating the rocky path.
Best way to explore: A 4×4 can only take you so far. Explore on foot to get closer to the natural pools hidden within the wadi.
Immerse yourself in an Arabian dream in The Empty Quarter
Evoking the mystery and magic of the Arabian Nights, the Rub’ Al Khali is the largest uninterrupted sand mass in the world. Explorer Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger, who is credited with mapping several zones within the Empty Quarter from 1946 to 1950, described it as, “very still, with the silence which we have driven from our world”. More than half a century later, it offers the same serenity by day, when the winds alter the shape of the dunes, and by night, when it transforms into a stargazer’s paradise.
Best way to explore: Sharpen your off-road skills and venture into the dunes with a 4×4 drive and book a stay at Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort.
Go kayaking in Hatta
Against the backdrop of dramatic mountainside scenery, Dubai’s exclave of Hatta is popular among weekend warriors in the UAE. The entire neighbourhood is rife with activities fit for adrenaline enthusiasts and nature lovers seeking serenity in the pristine environment. Hatta Dam, in particular, is a picture-perfect site offering hikes through the wadis surrounding the dam and kayaking excursions through the tranquil reservoir waters.
Best way to explore: Take in the views from the waters by renting out a kayak.