There are few cities in the world that have both the desert and beach right on their doorstep. To Dubai's advantage, the azure coastline and sun-burnt dunes are only approximately an hour's drive apart, meaning you can surf in the morning and sand board in the afternoon. When it comes to the desert, visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to active pursuits. Here are some of the top things to do:
Embark on a desert safari
There are few experiences that are as ‘Dubai’ as the desert safari. Take a backseat (unless you prefer to sit at the front of your four-wheeled drive) and hold on tight as an experienced driver whips you around the sand dunes, teetering on the edge of seemingly sheer drops, before dipping down sandy slopes and back up again. There's a couple of stops for sunset photos before you're safely whisked away to a traditional-style Bedouin camp, where an Arabic buffet dinner awaits. AED295 per adult with Desert Rangers.
Rev up for quad-biking
Direct your taxi driver to Dubai's most famous sand dune, Big Red, where you can hop on a quad bike and navigate the sandy landscape yourself. Available to hire by the half hour, the quad bikes are speedy and a helmet must be worn while riding. Follow the natural trail of the dunes, kicking sand in the face of your fellow riders as you hurtle and bounce over Dubai’s most iconic patch of sand. Big Red, or Al Hamar as it's locally known, is easy to spot along the Dubai-Hatta (E44) highway. Ask your driver to wait, or hire one for the day. Prices vary, haggling is expected. For a tour-led excursion, visit quadbikeindubai.com.
This is one for true adrenaline-seekers. Strap this snowboard-like contraption to your feet and glide down the dunes just like you would at the slopes of Ski Dubai. While it's possible to rent a sand board at Big Red, there are a number of companies – such asDream Explorer Dubai – that offer the full experience. The five-hour morning safari and sandboarding package starts off with a desert safari in a Hummer and ends with a sandboarding session, where you'll learn all the tips for making it down the dune smoothly. AED275 per adult with Dream Explorer Dubai.
1950’ vintage Land Rovers safari
A Hummer might have the fun factor, but there's really no better way to arrive in the desert than in the luxury ride of choice for Dubai's royalty including HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Dubai-based luxe tour operators Platinum Heritage offers a number of desert safaris in 1950’ vintage Land Rovers through the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, where you can spot native wildlife and Arabian oryx. The romantic dinner safari includes sunset canapes and a six-course meal, while the morning wildlife safari finishes with a traditional Emirati breakfast and storytelling by a local Bedouin. AED1190 for 2 adults for a dinner safari with Platinum Heritage.
Stay overnight in the desert
If camping is not really your thing, Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa in Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve takes glamping to another level, with luxury tented-style villas, each featuring its own private infinity pool. It's a place for relaxation rather than risk-taking, with a number of chilled activities on offer, the highlight being the sunset camel rides over the rolling dunes, where you can enjoy a beverage as you take in the uninterrupted views. Ask for a villa overlooking one of the natural oases, where you can watch gazelles and Arabian oryx stop in for a drink.