The Adventurer’s Guide to the UAE

Natasha Amar

Dubai

It’s no secret that the UAE is most famous for its cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where glittering skyscrapers dominate the skyline, shopping malls are the size of small towns, world-class beaches invite you to make the most of sunny days, and art and culture from around the world thrives in museums and galleries. 

But you might wonder: where does one go for a bit of adventure?

The good news is that when you’re in the UAE, adventure is never far away.

Whether you want to go skydiving and ziplining in the city, kayaking in verdant mangroves, mountain biking on rugged trails, or scuba diving in deep beneath the sea, in the UAE, intrepid travelers are rewarded with bucket list-worthy adventures of a lifetime.

If adventure is on your mind, visit during the cooler months from October to March; it’s so much more fun to be exploring rugged mountain terrain, whether on foot or by zipline, when you aren’t soaked in sweat from the 90 percent humidity of summer.

To help you get planning, here are the most awe-inspiring adventures in the UAE:

Kayak in the mangroves of Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi, UAE. Credit: @hhm7_

The capital Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, and is home to landscapes that are more diverse than you can imagine. Take, for example, the Eastern Mangrove National Park: an awe-inspiring landscape of mangrove forests and canals inhabited by rich marine and birdlife. As this is an easy drive from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s city center, it makes for a fantastic day trip if you’re visiting either city.

On a kayak trip through this protected nature paradise, you’ll spot turtles, crabs, stingray, and fish through the clear, shallow waters that are also suitable for beginner kayakers. The mangroves are great for bird watching too, so bring your binoculars. If you get tired, you can take a break at one of the sandy beaches.

Bring water, snacks, and a hat. Kayak rentals are available from quite a few operators in the area, such as SeaHawk, who also offer guided tours.

Chase thrills on the world’s longest zipline in Ras Al Khaimah

Jebel Al Jais, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE. Credit: Visit Jebel Al Jais

If your inner daredevil is begging for a challenge, then make your way to the country’s highest mountain: Jebel Al Jais in Ras Al Khaimah.

Here, strap on a harness belly-down and feel your heart pound as you zip along the world’s longest zipline, a full 2.8kms, at speeds of 120kph to 150kph at a height of 1,680m above sea level. The flight lasts between two and three minutes and if you dare to keep your eyes open, you’ll see some incredible views of the rugged Hajar mountains and desert.

Wear athletic clothing and shoes and plenty of sunscreen to protect your face from the harsh sunlight. Jebel Al Jais is UAE’s highest peak and it can be much colder here than elsewhere in the UAE. Bring a jacket if you’re visiting outside of summer (May to August).

Skydive over a palm tree-shaped archipelago in Dubai

Skydive Dubai, ,UAE.

What’s better than staying on a palm-tree shaped archipelago in Dubai with white sand beaches and gorgeous luxury hotels? Jumping out of a plane at 13,000ft to skydive over it.

If you’re an adrenaline junkie visiting Dubai, then head to Skydive Dubai for what might be one of the biggest adventures of your life.

On a tandem skydive, you’ll be securely harnessed to an instructor as you jump out of the plane over the Palm Jumeirah to experience freefall at 120mph for approximately 60 seconds. A photographer skydiver shoots video and photos as you pose thousands of feet above the ground. After an intensely thrilling minute, you’ll paraglide over the epic views for about five minutes before landing. Looking down from the air, you’ll be able to see the beautiful shape of the Palm Jumeirah, complete with the fronds and the crescent — something you can never see from the ground.

The entire experience lasts between three and four hours and includes a quick weight and BMI check, instructions, gearing up, and a video interview.

Hit the trails in Hatta

Hatta, UAE. Credit: Hatta Wadi Hub

To get your adventure fix on a trip to Dubai, head to the mountainous exclave of Hatta, an easy 90-minute drive from Dubai; it’s where us locals go for a taste of the outdoors when the days are pleasantly sunny and temperatures drop after summer.  

Surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Hajar mountains, a hiking or mountain biking trip to Hatta takes you through diverse terrain, from rugged wadi terrain along the foothills and farmland to picturesque viewpoints over the turquoise Hatta Lake. The area is also home to many species of flora and fauna including the endangered goat-like Arabian Tahr.

There are five marked routes available on 32.6km of hiking trails in Hatta, each suitable for different levels. Should you decide to explore on two wheels, the Hatta Mountain Bike Trail Center offers detailed maps and information for routes spread out over 50km of trails. The nearby Hatta Wadi Hub also offers fun activities such as zorbing, axe-throwing, archery, and mountain cart.

Bring plenty of water and a hat; the afternoon heat can get pretty intense in the mountains.

Scuba dive to see marine life in Fujairah

Snoopy Island, Fujairah, UAE.

If you’re passionate about the world that thrives underwater, then you absolutely should take a day trip out to Fujairah, the emirate on the eastern coast that’s mostly known for its beautiful coastline, beaches, and diving.

The water here is warmer, thanks to currents from the Gulf of Oman, resulting in abundant and diverse marine life that you won’t find elsewhere in the UAE. Fujairah has some of the best dive spots in the country such as the Snoopy Island, Dibba Rock, and Martini Rock. Expect to see coral gardens, rays, triggerfish, lionfish, turtles, and more.

While operators offer dives for beginners (equipment included), you can also choose to go snorkeling instead. Afterwards, enjoy a barbeque on your dive boat while you enjoy the views on your way back. Al Boom Diving also offers exciting night dives in Fujairah.

Go whitewater rafting in Al Ain

Green Mubazzarah resort, UAE.

We know that the idea of whitewater rafting in a country that’s known for its desert landscape sounds insane, but the rafting at Wadi Adventure, an adventure park in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi’s quieter second city, is so good that professional teams and athletes from around the world come here to practice.

The location isn’t bad either. You’ll find yourself at the lush base of the Jebel Hafeet mountain (the viewpoint on top is a fantastic sunset spot). Take your pick from watersports such as whitewater kayaking, surfing, wakeboarding, and whitewater rafting.

For rafting, there are three levels of rapids with suitability for all levels, even beginners, and you’ll adventure under the watchful eye of expert instructors. A typical rafting session lasts about 90 minutes, of which an hour is on the water.

Afterwards, try the high ropes course where you’ll navigate rolling logs and swings suspended 20m in the air, or embrace your inner child on the giant swing where you’ll be swung across from 14m high!

Fly over the water in Dubai

SeaRide Dubai, UAE. Credit: @searidedubai

Fulfill your superhero fantasies by flying above the water along the Jumeirah coastline on a flyboard adventure. While you might not have heard of this relatively uncommon watersport, it’s truly exhilarating. There are several operators, such as SeaRide Dubai, offering flyboard sessions around Dubai, whether it’s along the Jumeirah coast close to the sail shaped Burj Al Arab hotel, at the JBR Beach, or in Palm Jumeirah.

Here’s how it works: your feet will be strapped into a sturdy water-jet board that is propelled into the air by pressurized streams of water coming from two jets under each of your feet on the board. The water is sourced through a long tube connected to a jet ski. You need to keep your balance and control the pressurized streams using the throttle, and mastering that helps you control your own movement on the flyboard.

For beginners working with a certified instructor, it can take a while to feel confident on the flyboard, but once you do, you might find yourself hovering 9m above the water, like you’re right out of a Marvel movie!