Outside the capital city, there’s a world where nature, culture and history roll into one. Let’s go exploring…
Think the local landscape is barren and boring? Think again. From fossilised sand dunes and desert oases to ancient tombs and fishing villages, there is so much to explore in Abu Dhabi and beyond.
So grab your car and get kitted out because it’s time to go off-road.
Places to explore
You’d be surprised how easy it is to escape the city. And far from a barren ocean of sand, the landscape here is varied.
While areas around Abu Dhabi are generally comprised of a mixture of rolling red dunes and flat desert plains, you’ll find that terrain changes further north, which allows for wadi walks, rock climbing and hiking.
Whether you’re an adventurous off-roader or a newbie, Explorer’s UAE Off-Road book will be your perfect travel guide. The latest edition features 33 routes – 20 of which are new – that cover everything from hiking through abandoned villages in Ras Al Khaimah and driving across the desert through three emirates to swimming in rock pools and dune-bashing on the UAE’s best-known dune.
The easy-to-follow routes have maps, GPS coordinates and detailed explanations to get you to the start and end of each route.
The book is also filled with useful information about local geology and biodiversity, tips for driving and camping off-road and the best places for doing specific activities like birdwatching and rock climbing.
One of our favourite new routes takes you to Al Qudra Lakes. Located a short drive outside Dubai, this area is well-known for its 86km bike track but is also home to Al Marmoum Conservation Reserve. The cluster of man-made lakes, which was established in an effort to green the area and develop an ecosystem, features dirt tracks around it, making it easily accessible for all types of cars, even 2WDs. While the lakes can fill up with families and friends who picnic during the day, you can drive to some of the lakes at the back for a more serene setting while you watch the flamingos, herons, cormorants, ducks and other birds play – or if you’re well-equipped, hop over the dunes for some proper
desert driving. GPS: 24.8404°, 55.3632°
Keen to stay closer to the capital? Believe it or not, the impressive fossil dunes are located just outside Mussafah. Shifting sands that became hardened and shaped by the wind created this unique, photogenic landscape. You can get there in a 2WD, and it’s a good spot for camping. While there, why not pair it with a trip to Al Wathba Wetland Reserve located just across the main road? GPS: 24.1920°, 54.5847°
If you’re a culture vulture, a visit to Dalma Island is worth a trip. Also an easy route, you’ll drive to Jebel Dhanna – about 270km west of Abu Dhabi – before taking a ferry across to the island where you can catch a glimpse of a tranquil way of life in the emirate. The old fishing island is home to peaceful beaches, rich landscapes and archaeological sites. You can drive on paved roads through the mountains and along the coast before pitching up a tent near the beach. GPS: 24.1790°, 52.5772°
For an adventure further afield, there are plenty of options in the northern emirates. If you’re a confident hiker, head to Ras Al Khaimah to climb the Stairway to Heaven. GPS: 25.9844°, 56.1682°
Or try the nearby Woh Village Hike, considered good practice for Stairway to Heaven. GPS: 25.9844°, 56.1682°
To find out more about these routes, and other exciting adventures, buy UAE Off-Road at various bookstores including Borders and Magrudy’s for AED 185. For more information, visit: http://askexplorer.com/shop/uae-off-road-1837.html
You might think you’re a great driver, but controlling your car off-road is a different ball game. Erratic drivers who change lanes sporadically are replaced with sandy peaks and troughs and tricky boulders.
When driving on sand, it’s important to lower your tyre pressure. Without delving too much into physics, this is because you want the tyre to have a bigger “footprint”, which allows for better traction.
The optimum tyre pressure varies from one vehicle to another, but a good rule of thumb is to reduce to between half and two thirds your road pressure – this may be between 15psi and 22psi. Using a tyre gauge will help keep track of your psi as you deflate. This is also where a pump will come in handy – you’ll need to re-inflate your tyres before hitting solid roads again.
When driving on sand, avoid sudden changes in speed whether accelerating or braking, both of which can cause you to dig into the soft sand. Stick to existing tracks as it’ll be easier to navigate – and you’re less likely to damage flora and fauna.
If your car has 4WD, it’s advisable to switch to high. Low range may be required if driving in more challenging terrain.
Make your turns as wide as possible to avoid bogging, and if the terrain allows you to, coast to a stop rather than braking. If you can’t make it up a dune, reverse down it – never try to turn around or
If your car does get stuck, put the vehicle in reverse and gently rev while moving the steering wheel left and right. If you have traction ramps, you can carefully wedge them under your tyres to help give you better grip. This is also where your tow rope comes in handy; if all else fails, another car may need to pull you out.
Driving in rocky terrain, like in the northern mountains and wadis, makes for easier off-roading. Keep your tyres at normal road pressure to prevent punctures. Be aware of your car’s ground clearance to avoid damage on large rocks, and keep your wits about you as there are animals in the mountains that are likely to appear around a corner.
Before you head off for an off-road adventure, it’s important to be prepared.
Safety is paramount so you’ll need to keep certain things in mind before heading off and while you’re exploring.
Safety in numbers:
It’s always better to go off-roading in a group, in case anything happens to any of the cars.
Before heading off-road, make sure your car is up
to the challenge. Fill up the fuel tank and other engine fluids, check your tyres for gashes or excessive wear and tear, and ensure your spare tyre is in good condition.
Get the gear:
Your off-roading kit should include a GPS, tyre pressure gauge, spare tyre, tyre-inflating pump, jack, tow rope, tow shackles, a shovel, walkie talkies, basic first-aid kit, plenty of food and water and a fully charged mobile phone. Other useful tools include a
flag pole, air compressor and traction ramps.
Keep your distance:
When driving off-road, always make sure you can see the other cars in your group, and don’t follow too close to the car in front.
Know your limits:
Whether you’re not sure of your car’s capabilities, or the driver’s, it’s always best to avoid stretching your limits so you don’t end up in a tricky situation.
When camping at night, make sure your campsite is visible to other approaching vehicles. When driving, use a flagpole to stay visible to drivers in your convoy and others.
Check the weather forecast:
This is especially important when driving in wadis. While it may be clear where you are, these dry river beds can become flooded within a matter of minutes, filling up with rain water from several kilometres away.
Join the club
If you’re new to off-roading, a great place to start is to go with friends or groups that know the best areas for driving, hiking or camping. Even if you’re a seasoned explorer, joining a local off-road group is a great chance to meet like-minded trailblazers. Here are a few:
ME4x4 Beginner and advanced drivers can join this group’s trips and excursions. While based in Dubai, ME4x4 explores the entire Arabian Peninsula and its more experienced members will be on hand to give basic driving training for newcomers. Contact: me4x4.me
UAE Off Roaders This“family” of off-road enthusiasts organises excursions for members. There’s also a forum on the group’s website so you can get to know more about off-roading from experienced drivers or share your own expertise. Contact: uaeoffroaders.com
Abu Dhabi 4×4 Join in family-oriented off-road and outdoor excursions whether you’re a novice or advanced driver. Beginners can also gain training from more advanced members. Contact: ad4x4.com
Almost4x4 This off-road club organises camping and off-road adventures with like-minded travellers. Contact: almost4x4.com
Get the gear
ARB Emirates stocks 4×4 accessories that suit a range of vehicles from air compressors, winches and recovery equipment to camping accessories, fridge freezers and roof racks. Near Firdous building, Mussafah. Contact: arbemirates.com
You can also stock up on accessories and equipment at Ramy 4×4, which sells everything from towing equipment and special lighting to off-road flags and first aid kits. Ramy has branches in Mussafah and Al Ain. Contact: ramy4x4.com
Adventure HQ stocks outdoor gear like camping and hiking equipment as well as off-road gear like tyre repair kits, compressors and snatch kits. Yas Mall and Dalma Mall. Contact: adventurehq.ae
More than just a hardware store, ACE also stocks a selection of equipment for camping, driving and more. Yas Island and Mina Zayed. Contact: aceuae.com
Take a Safari
Whether you don’t have the right car for off-roading, or you just want someone else to do all the hard work, a desert safari can be just as fun. Desert Rose Tourism offers various excursions from your normal full- and half-day desert safaris to overnight options. Contact: 050 177 7458, desertrosetourism.com
Leave nothing but footprints
While the desert landscape may seem barren, there are in fact various species that live on and under the sand. Be a responsible off-roader: take care not to drive over vegetation, stick to existing tracks where possible, do not leave behind any rubbish, respect archaeological sites by not climbing on them, keep noise to a minimum and leave wildlife in peace.