Four Lesser-Known Road Trip Ideas in the UAE

25th August 2017 BY
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A long weekend in the UAE is the perfect time to gather family and friends into a convoy of cars and explore a land that, for a vast majority of us, holds several secret places that we’d never otherwise get while trapped in the city concrete.

The country’s amazingly well-constructed road network adds to the joy of long drives – you arrive as refreshed as when you started out – as the wide open spaces expand your mind and help you shed stress (especially if you are driving an impeccably maintained vehicle rented from Carlease).

Hit the road to discover some of the (not so) hidden gems this great country has to offer. While all your neighbors head to Jebel Hafeet and the Hatta pools to rub shoulders with half the population of Sharjah, take the road less traveled to destinations that are worth the journey. To get your GPS mojo going, here are a few UAE road trip ideas:

1. Khor Kalba

Khor Kalba - the world’s northern-most mangrove forest

Khor Kalba – the world’s northern-most mangrove forest

What is it:

Considered the world’s northern-most mangrove forest, Khor Kalba on the east coast of the UAE, near the border with Oman, recently completed its conversion into a controlled nature reserve. Veteran UAE hands will have fond memories of barbecues on beaches on the desert’s edge, a multitude of exotic birds, and even the glimpse of a stray shark in the waters.

The degradation caused by unrelenting sand harvesting and the mortal threat to birds, fish and turtles posed by an avalanche of plastic bags abandoned by picnickers forced a closure of the area for many years. It reopened as a nature preserve in March 2016, and now is an even more attractive experience.

What to see there:

The drive there from the skyscrapers of the cities to the towering peaks of the Hajar mountains in Fujairah is one of the UAE’s iconic road trips, especially if you go there as a family. The stretches of desert that you pass on the way becoming increasingly vibrant, with glimpses of camel herds lazily plodding through the dunes as you get farther away from the city.

How to get there:

This is one road trip where the journey is as thrilling as the destination. While a 4×4 is recommended, it is not essential. But make sure you carry your passport, in case you stray into Omani territory, although with modern GPS technology, that isn’t likely.

GPS: 25°2’4” N and 56°21’46” E or 25.0344 and 56.3628. Google Maps link here.

2. Dalma Island

Historic buildings at Dalma Island

Historic buildings at Dalma Island

A place that has been inhabited for the past 7,000 years is virtually at your doorstep, especially if you live in Abu Dhabi, and just an amazing road trip away from other parts of the UAE, including Dubai.

What is it:

Centuries of pearl-diving and trading have been wrapped carefully into a well-preserved package for visitors interested in the evolution of this region. More than 20 archaeological sites trace its civilization back to the Neolithic era, or the Late Stone Age. These are complemented by lush farms and pristine beaches that evidence the laid-back atmosphere of the island.

What to see there:

This is not a place with five-star hotels, spas, modern malls or our traditional expectations of luxury. It’s a whole different concept of tradition that greets you here, with its corner cafes and old-style homes. You can hike along the hills and look at the head of a dormant volcano, or along the pristine beaches and collect quartz, iron oxide and hematite rocks. Or just grab a coffee and chat with the locals, who are more than happy to spend time with you.

How to get there:

A 4×4 is unnecessary to get to DalmDalma Island. It is about 40 kilometers off the coast of Abu Dhabi city, not your traditional road trip. Take the familiar E11 all the way to Abu Dhabi. Then get on the road to Ruwais and drive to Jebel Dhanna. At the Muharraq port, park your wheels on a modern ferry that runs to the island three times a day. Disembark on the other side into a slice of history. The island is best explored on foot.

GPS: Google Maps link here.

3. Tal Moreeb

The "Hill of Horror." Sounds like a (4x4) party.

The “Hill of Horror.” Sounds like a (4×4) party.

Translated from the Arabic as ‘Scary Mountain’ or ‘Hill of Horror’, Tal Moreeb is supposed to be the largest sand dune in the UAE. Getting there isn’t a cake-walk.

Tal Moreeb is a large component of the January Liwa Festival, when it becomes crowded with spectators gawping at the desert races taking place on the sand dunes. At 300 meters high, 1.6 kilometers long and a steep declination of 50 degrees, the sand dune attracts the region’s most accomplished 4×4, quad-bike and motorcycle racers.

What to see there:

If you want the majestic sight without the crowds and fireworks, this is a year-round road trip that rocks. Arriving at the dune after traveling through untouched desert, you will be surprised to see a huge paved car park, mosque, children’s play area, restaurants and rest-rooms. Obviously, you don’t need a 4×4 to get here, unless you are planning to tackle the Tal.

The final stretch of road from Mezairaa to Tal Moreeb is littered with camels and sand. But the absence of traffic adds to the serenity of the Empty Quarter, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world.

How to get there:

To get to this wondrous landscape, you need to take E11 out of Abu Dhabi. Then turn off for Madinat Zayed on to the E45 and follow it all the way to Liwa. Once out of Madinat Zayed, you enter the Rub Al Khali and the flat desert landscape starts to acquire more vertical definition as the dunes become taller. Liwa being an oasis, you will be astonished at the amount of greenery dotted about.

GPS: 22° 58′ 46.8″ N and 53° 47′ 10.4″ E or 22.9787 and 53.7864. Google Maps link here.

4. Quick detour – Al Qudra

"Scrooge McDuck got a lake of gold, and this is all I got" said one duck to another @ Al Qudra Lakes. Photo Cred: Yazad Darasha

“Scrooge McDuck got a lake of gold, and this is all I got” said one duck to another @ Al Qudra Lakes. Photo Cred: Yazad Darasha

You can also try a quickie drive to the Al Qudra Lake. The lake was created as part of a project to green that part of Dubai’s desert. It is home to numerous birds including the Eurasian wryneck, rosy starling, shrikes, wheatears, eagles and falcons. It is also a major attraction for families picnicking on its shores replete with barbecue kits.

How to get there:

24°50’15.31”N and 55°22’36.919”E or 24.837586 and 55.376922. Google Maps link here.

Further Reading:

Carlease – Scenic Road Trips from Dubai for Your Insta Feed

Carlease – Short Day Trips from Dubai

Carlease – Find a Beach Made Exclusively for You Part 1

Carlease – Find a Beach Made Exclusively for You – Part 2

Carlease – the Ultimate Checklist for UAE Road Trips

Carlease – Pit Stop Ideas for UAE Road Trips

Carlease’ Guide to Exploring the UAE

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Dalma Island

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