warning!You useInternet Explorer. Certain functions may not work correctly. We recommend that you use a different browser.

Wind, Sand and Giraffes


It seems that everyone knows everything about holidaying in Abu Dhabi: the morning is beach time, then she goes shopping while he goes car racing. But what if you get away from the capital of the Emirate?

The entire country is covered with desert but do not waste your time on some two-hour jeep safari from the capital and back. After all, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi boasts Rub’ al-Khali desert, which stretches from the Liwa Oasis deep into Saudi Arabia and it is one of the hottest and driest deserts in the world. The safest and best way to get to know it is living in a hotel among the dunes and promising yourself not to miss the sunsets and sunrises.

Then, in the morning climb to the nearest dune, take off your shoes, feel silky sand enrobe your bare feet, perform a couple of asanas, and sit cross-legged facing the still gentle rays of the dawn sun.

On the flipside, you could start your day in a far more extreme style: screaming with fear and delight in a jeep while the driver tries to impress you by outdoing rollercoasters with his skillful twists and turns on the sandy hills.

Or visit a farm where graceful dromedaries live (the very ones that participate in races, beauty contests and therefore cost dozens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars). Pat female dromedaries (they are less aggressive) and feel the heat from their velvety nostrils with your hand. Ask for a cappuccino with camel milk for breakfast and try honey dates from Liwa. In the midday heat soak in the pool, lie on a massage table in a spa and idle around the hotel territory in a buggy with your eyes fixed on the horizon lost in the haze.

It is important to take lots of pictures throughout the day to have evidence: yes, a desert can have so many colors. One of the secrets of the reddish-ruddy layer decorating the edges of the wavy patterns underfoot is iron oxide on feldspar grains – local sand comprises about 10%. You can also compare the curves of the dunes with views from the seventh episode of Star Wars trying to guess in which part of the Rub’ al-Khali they were shot.

As sunset approaches, you have to go horse riding or (if you come in summer, when it is too hot for horses) find a place with a good view to the sunset and freeze there, feeling like a grain of sand, which can be easily blown away with the wind – it rises in the evening and collects all of the daily heat. It is like a blast of air from the nozzle of a giant hair dryer and it is rather useful if you want to get rid of unnecessary thoughts.

Before going to bed, have a walk along the paths around the hotel. There you will enjoy a generous collection of stars, silence interrupted by trilling cicadas, the thick smell of jasmine from flower beds and a calming sensation of joy well up from within.

In the desert you quickly learn to drink plenty of water regularly. This skill is also necessary in areas where the heat is wet – on the coast of the Persian Gulf it only gets “colder,” dropping to +24 °C, in the winter months.

For those who get bored of aimless sunbathing in a deck chair, it is best to somehow vary your beach holiday. An ideal solution for them is a trip to Sir Bani Yas Island, which was once one of the stops on the Silk Road. These days, there are 42 archaeological excavation locations on the island. Here you can even find the ruins of the only Christian monastery of the sixth century in the UAE.

But the main thing the island is famous for is the Arabian Wildlife Park. In 1971, Sheikh Zayed, the Emir of Abu Dhabi and the first President of the UAE, established this reserve to restore the populations of the endangered animals of the Arabian Peninsula and integrate them into their original habitat. The most significant achievement of the project is the preservation of the Arabian Oryx that was nearly wiped out in their natural environment in the late 1960s: now five hundred such antelopes live in the Park.

The reserve covers half of Sir Bani Yas island (its total area is 87 square kilometers), it is home to about 15 thousand animals: a photo safari here can be more successful than one in Africa. In the space of a few hours, you are likely to see horned antelopes, elands, deer, gazelles, red sheep with huge horns, Barbary sheep, graceful giraffes, and some predators – striped hyenas and unique Asiatic cheetahs.

Of course, hunting is prohibited here and the maximum permitted speed for vehicles matches that of the slowest ungulate animal – 50 km/h. Timid gazelles graze right on the hotel lawn, emus come to drink at the pool, damans chase peacocks by the restaurant.

The island was a part of Sheikh Zayed’s desert greening programme – each tree is watered by a hose with holes along it. The only self-sufficient flora there is mangrove trees. They grow on the edge of the beach by the sea preventing soil erosion. Thickets are full of birds; fans of bird watching can get there by kayak. Mangroves can desalinate water: salt crystals are deposited on the inner side of the leaves. A tree is planted in honour of each guest of Sir Bani Yas Island who stays there for the night.

In the center, the island is covered with hills. The highest point is a salt dome resembling a volcano. Here, you can ride a mountain bike or travel on horseback as well as enjoy trekking. On the seashore, instructors will help you to master land-sailing – a three-wheel capsule with a sail. In the sea you can, of course, enjoy scuba diving and snorkelling. Here you can see sea turtles and dolphins. There’s also a chance to try the latest new trend: SUP surfing (surfing with a paddle).

Many residents of Abu Dhabi that adore picnics and visit deserts quite often do not even know about the existence of Sir Bani Yas Island or confuse it with Yas Island, which is a district of the capital. But those who have ever visited the reserve, want to go there again. After all, people here know how to appreciate solitude and time spent with family. It is not necessary to be a sheikh to occasionally pause the endless cycle of working days and enjoy the beautiful world around us away from city bustle with your loved ones.


- The distance from Dubai Airport to the capital of Abu Dhabi is 150 km – 1.5–2 hours by car. From there, you can go both to the desert and to the islands; or, first of all, spend a couple of days viewing masterpieces of modern architecture.

- To get to Sir Bani Yas Island, you should book with the Anantara hotel chain: All three hotels on the island belong to this brand. You can arrange a day visit. The pier, from where a boat sails off to the island several times a day, is located 250 km from the capital.

- The local dress code forbids outrageous garments. Women should have knees and shoulders covered. However, some liberties are allowed in the resort – shorts and swimsuits may be worn on the beach (topless is strictly forbidden). In order to visit a mosque, men must wear trousers while women are advised to rent an abaya – a traditional dress covering the body from head to toe.

See More in Abu Dhabi

- Sheikh Zayed Mosque – an embodiment of the humanistic ideas of the great ruler: love and tolerance as a means of reconciliation of all peoples of the earth. 82 domes, Italian marble incrustations, delicately chiseled tracery insides of carved arches, chandeliers with gold leaf and Swarovski crystals, and the softest Iranian carpet (the largest in the world).

- The only open-air rides in Ferrari World Theme Park located on Yas Island are the record-breaking roller coasters: Flying Aces with the tallest loop and Formula Rossa (with acceleration to 240 km/h in 5 seconds). After that, everyone calms their nerves on the Bell’Italia track, which simulates a tour around Italy in a small-scale Ferrari 250 California.

- Rogo’s Restaurant in the Yas Mall Shopping Center is primarily a show. Each table has a tablet you can use to order. Waiters are always nearby and ready to help you. All the dishes are served to restaurant guests in saucepans and jars that descend from the ceiling, travel along rails and even do loop-the-loops. The portions are generous.

Теxt: Elena Vodneva

Published on: December 20, 2017