Here's what to expect
24 July 2013| Last updated on 7 January 2018
A great bonus of living abroad is being able to take your holidays from a different base. Besides being able to explore the rest of the seven Emirates there are many destinations easily reached from the aptly named Middle East.
Dubai just up the road from Abu Dhabi offers a great weekend break for all the family. The International Hotels offer some of the most luxurious facilities in the world.
The East Coast of the Emirates offers lovely beaches and great diving and snorkeling opportunities. Trips into the desert and along the wadi beds in the Haja Mountain Range in the winter months are an experience you will not get in many places of the world and certainly not forget. Sandy Beach in Fujairah is one of our family favorite places to visit, and more inland the Hatta Pools offer great off road wadi driving.
Further afield Oman is a beautiful country to visit and can be reached by car. Other places in the Gulf region are easily reached by relatively inexpensive short flights.
Going a little further, India and Kerala are very popular destinations, as is Sri Lanka. For a more relaxing holiday with great Spa and Diving facilities the Maldive Islands are only a hop and a jump away. Seychelles and Mauritius are a little further to travel and tend to be a little more expensive holidays.
Travel agents operate pretty well as much as you would expect from anywhere in the world. Most of the major airlines in the region are well represented here. Etihad Airways is the major airline for Abu Dhabi. It is currently adding a new destination each month, and feedback from friends is that service is very good. Emirates Airlines is the major Dubai airline. Cheaper options to look out for are Gulf Air, Qatar Airlines, Air Arabia, Flydubai, and Air India.
Local Tours and Safaris
To explore the beauty that the UAE has to offer, there are many local tours that you can take especially when you have visitors in town.
Tours & Safaris
From Abu Dhabi city’s famous Corniche to the ‘Oasis City’ of Al Ain and the massive dunes of the western region’s Empty Quarter desert in Al Gharbia, local tour operators will help you explore and discover this intriguing emirate. Almost all of them offer city tours and desert safaris while some specialise in more diverse activities, such as tours of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, rounds of golf, fishing or diving expeditions, kayaking trips through mangrove forests, helicopter tours and desert driving courses or visits to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital or Saluki (desert hunting dogs) Centre.
Starting with an exciting ride up and down some of the desert’s biggest dunes, you can try sand skiing before watching the sun set. After driving a short distance further to a permanent desert camp, you are treated to a sumptuous barbecue, followed by shisha, camel rides, falconry displays and henna painting. You can choose to stay overnight or combine it with a trip into the mountains. Costs vary but expect to spend 150 to Dh300 for a day safari.
Abu Dhabi Tour
A tour of the UAE capital usually takes in everything from the evolving skyline to sandy shores and iconic buildings. A stroll along the Corniche will give you a glimpse of everyday Abu Dhabi life and the chance to savour some picturesque scenes. A half-day tour will include the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Abu Dhabi Corniche, Saadiyat Island Cultural District Exhibition at Emirates Palace and the Heritage Village.
Al Ain Tour
Al Ain was once an oasis on the caravan route from the UAE to Oman. The history of the ‘Oasis City,’ the emirate’s heritage heartland and one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements, can be explored through visits to the 175 year-old Al Nahyan family fort, the Al Ain National Museum and a trip to the prehistoric tombs at Hili Fort– known to be over 4,000 years old. Other attractions include the Al Ain oases, Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort, the camel market, and the world’s most advanced go-karting facilities. For family fun, try the newly renovated Hili Fun City – the Gulf’s oldest theme park, entrance fee of Dh40.
Al Gharbia Tour
A great reason to start exploring this vast region is the drive to Liwa – an historic oasis town at the entry to the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass. Liwa will blow you away with massive expanses of awesome desert and the biggest dunes this side of the Sahara. Prepare for the UAE’s most adventurous off-road driving and some of its most incredible scenery. Al Gharbia’s history is encompassed in the myriad of ancient forts which dot the landscape. To get a real taste of its authentic heritage, visit one of the many festivals throughout the year such as January’s Tel Moreeb festival, the pinnacle hill climb event for desert driving enthusiasts; April’s Al Gharbia Watersports Festival, fast becoming a highlight on the international sporting calendar; July’s Liwa Date Festival and January’s Al Dhafrah Camel Festival, which includes the world’s only camel beauty contest.
Famous for its traditional open-top double-decker red buses, The Big Bus Company has carefully designed tours which take visitors to all the major Abu Dhabi landmarks - from the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the luxurious Emirates Palace hotel, to the Heritage Village and traditional souks. Personal commentary comes in a choice of eight languages. The tickets are valid for 24 hours and give access to all the Big Bus Tour routes, with 11 stops throughout the city enabling guests to hop-on and hop-off at their leisure. Tickets are available from individual hotels or the Big Bus sales desk at Marina Mall and can also be bought online.
Sea Cruiser Boat Tours
A business venture from a young Emirati with a passion for sharing his love of the sea, Sea Cruiser operates two ADTA tourism-licensed GulfCraft boats, which each hold 18 passengers, two crew members, a professional pilot and lifeguard. Each boat has covered cabins with large glass windows for sightseeing and is specially designed to accommodate divers. These varying tours offer a two hour tour of the capital city’s Corniche, diving, snorkelling and fishing trips and all-day cruises of the city’s natural islands and emerald green ocean. All tours begin at the Fish Market pier at the end of the Corniche, just before Mina Zayed. They are available at pre-booked times from 8.30am to 8pm seven days a week.
Experience the thrill of the UAE’s first speedboat tours and a unique way to explore the capital’s headline-grabbing new developments and stunning coastline. Offering guided tours of signature attractions such as the Corniche and Emirates Palace, it’s a front-row seat to some truly stunning vistas. The Yellow Boats can tailor corporate tours for a variety of occasions, including client hospitality evenings, product launches and team-building.
The annual UAE Desert Challenge is the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup and the FIM Challenge across Country Rallies World Championships, spanning truck, car and bike rallies.
Visitors who want to experience a whiff of this rough rally challenge, or simply explore the desert - on tough wheels - can do just that. A company like Offroad Emirates and several other tour operators can organise a range of day and overnight trips that provide guests with an up-close and personal experience of the Arabian desert and wildlife. Offroad Emirates, for instance, organises trips across the edge of the Rub Al- Khali - a vast expanse of desert extending through Yemen, Saudi Arabi and Oman. These trips are organised for a minimum of four persons where the fee includes an experienced guide/driver, transportation, tents, sleeping bags, barbeque dinner and breakfast. During these trips sightings of rare, endangered species such as the white Arabian oryx as well as gazelles, eagles, foxes and rabbits are not uncommon.
Visitors who meet specific requirements could also try their hand in a self-drive programme, where they can drive a 4x4 sports utility vehicle through the desert under the supervision of an Offroad Emirates’ tour leader or guide.
Plenty of routes - some for novice off-road drivers, others for highly experienced ones - can be found. One of the most challenging and spectacular routes is in the Liwa region, while the area around Al Hayer towards Al Ain is also popular among off-road drivers.
Outside Abu Dhabi, one of the most popular spots for off-road driving includes the Big Red near Hatta, which is about an hour’s drive from Dubai. The trip to Hatta Pools – especially if one drives from the Hatta side towards Mahda, also gives visitors a glimpse of natural waterfalls, villages and oases.
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Off-road Drivers Associations:
Abu Dhabi 4x4 Club