Here’s how to plan an exciting escape from the city

Pack up and head out off on an adventure to explore what’s on offer away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Abu Dhabi is full of wonderful hotels that demand attention, but sometimes you just want to get out of the city and experience something a bit different.

If you’re keen to leave the bright lights of the city behind and explore pastures new, then now – with the winter months stretching ahead of us – is the perfect time for planning a relaxing escape or desert break.

From sleeping in a tent beneath the night sky to a luxury resort nestled in the middle of rolling dunes, there are plenty of options for a short break in the emirate where you can make some amazing memories.

Lap of luxury

For those who need an escape from the city, but still want to be pampered and enjoy all the comforts of Arabian hospitality…

Offering awe-inspiring views of the rolling desert of Rub’ Al Khali, Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara is a special location to enjoy a stay. Located a few hours south of the city, a visit here makes you feel like you’re truly getting away from it all. After you arrive at the inviting resort you can enjoy all the spoils, including watching the sun set over the desert, going on a sunrise camel caravan, taking a dip in the huge outdoor pool complete with swim-up bar or going for all-out action with sand boarding and dune bashing. From AED 2,079 for a deluxe garden view room for two adults. Off E90, near Hamim. Contact: 02 886 2088, anantara.com/qasr-al-sarab-abu-dhabi

Located in the midst of the desert outside Madinat Zayed, Tilal Liwa Hotel is a great location to enjoy a break from busy city life. If you want to take a load off and relax, the infinity pool is the place to be, boasting views of the desert. Or you could visit the relaxing Body and Soul Recreation club to get pampered with a massage treatment. Not your style to sit back and chill? Get your adrenaline pumping by taking on an activity like horse-back riding, dune bashing, sand boarding or even cycling to keep yourself busy. From AED 675+ for an all-inclusive stay for two adults. Tarif-Liwa Road, Al Gharbia. Contact: 02 894 6111, tilalliwa.danathotels.com

Take the two-hour drive and short ferry hop over to Sir Bani Yas Island and prepare to lay back and relax in one of Abu Dhabi’s most unique environments at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Sahel Villa Resort. With each of the 30 villas spread across the grounds enjoying a picturesque savannah setting, you can wake up to the sight of roaming animals including gazelle and peacocks that call the island home. If you want to see more, then head out on a jeep safari around the wildlife sanctuary to see giraffe, ostrich and more, or check out the facilities at sister hotel Sir Bani Yas Desert Island Resort where a host of activities from falconry to wadi trekking await. From AED 1,523 for a one-bedroom villa for two adults. Sir Bani Yas Island. Contact: 02 801 4300, anantara.com/en/al-sahel-sir-bani-yas

An exciting adventure

For those who aren’t afraid to get sand in their shoes and give up the luxury facilities offered by the five-star resorts… 

Sleep under the stars and experience aspects of traditional Bedouin culture by visiting Arabian Nights Village. With a range of accommodation to cater to your comfort level, you can take your pick from sleeping in a tent, room or suite in the heart of the desert. There are a range of activities on offer including traditional pastimes such as falconry, henna painting and camel trekking as well as more adrenaline-fuelled entertainment such as sand sledding, quad biking and desert safari. Authentic Arabian and Emirati dishes are served up daily at Al Maqam restaurant. From AED 820 for tented accommodation. Follow signs for Arabian Nights Village, off the Abu Dhabi Al Ain Road, Al Khatim. Contact: 02 207 8999, arabiannightsvillage.com

Embrace your adventurous side and sign up for the Abu Dhabi Desert Safari for an overnight stay among the dunes. Groups are picked up from the city and driven to Al Khatim where they can start their experience with a 45-minute dune bashing experience before arriving at the campsite. Activities on offer include visiting a camel farm, camel rides, a falcon show, belly dancing, henna painting, picture opportunities in local dress and memorable sunsets. Bed down in a tent and enjoy a night of stargazing before drifting off under the stars. Pick up locations including Saadiyat Island and Yas Island. AED 495 per person. Al Khatim. Contact: 050 966 0720, abudhabidesertsafari.org

Places to pitch up

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous then why not give camping a try?

The UAE is home to so many great places where you can spend a night under the stars, from coastal locations to the heart of the desert, far from the light and noise pollution of the city.

But before you pack a bag and set off, there a few things to keep in mind.

You will need a tent, a sleeping bag and water, and should also pack enough food, warm clothes for the chilly nights, a camping chair for comfort and a spade, just in case your car gets stuck in the sand.

Never go off-road if your vehicle isn’t adequate or set off alone. Always go in a convoy, plan your route, let other people know where you will be and if you’re venturing onto the dunes, bring a tow rope and let your tyre pressure down by half so that you’re prepared for the off-road terrain.

When pitching your tent, remember to camp away from the water if on the beach as tides can change, and avoid camping at the foot of a dune where other drivers may not see you: safety first.

Last but not least, clear up all of your litter and leave the sites as you found it to keep the capital beautiful.

Now you know what to do and what you’ll need, where can you enjoy camping in Abu Dhabi?

If you’re looking for a spectacular backdrop, then take a trip down south towards the Moreeb Dune and enjoy amazing views of the 300m-high slope that featured in Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens as you embrace the ambiance of the desert. To get there, take the E45 south of Madinat Zayed and follow signs for Tel Moreeb.

Not ideal for first-timers or single vehicles, the Liwa Desert is unlike anything else for an overnight stay. Enjoy panoramic views of rolling dunes in what is part of the world’s largest contiguous sand desert, stretching as far as the eye can see. Enjoy a spot of dune bashing as you find the perfect place to stop for the evening. To get here, drive down the E65 towards Hamim and set your GPS for 22.884421,54.343872.

Not keen on a long drive? Located just a stone’s throw from the city – well a 30-minute drive away – Al Wathba is a good option for first-timers and intermediate campers as the terrain is moderate and you’re close to civilization in case of emergencies, yet you can still enjoy the feeling of being out of the city. While here, tie in your outing with a daytime visit to the nearby wetlands reserve where you can observe local and migratory species, including flocks of flamingos. Location: 24.11648, 54.786194

Ideal for first-timers and families, the Green Mubazzarah is a lush space in the heart of Al Ain with a designated camping zone where you can set up for a night’s stay. While in the area you can also access the natural hot springs with a picturesque backdrop of the mountains that surround the Garden City. The campsite is located at the foot of Jebel Hafeet next to Wadi Adventure, Al Ain.

WORDS Colin Armstrong

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