For a real taste of the UAE’s most adventurous off-road driving and some of its most incredible and dramatic scenery, including the biggest dunes this side of the Sahara, take a trip to Al Dhafra - the emirate’s western region.
‘Where the desert meets the sea’, Al Dhafra makes up over two thirds of Abu Dhabi emirate. Along its hundreds of kilometres of coastline are stunning beaches and islands and its history is encompassed in the myriad of ancient forts, set against dramatic landscapes.
A great reason to start exploring this vast region is the drive to Liwa - a historic oasis town at the entry to the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) the world's largest uninterrupted sand mass. Liwa will blow you away with massive expanses of awesome desert and huge dunes. This oasis town sits at the entrance to the famed Rub Al Khali, or the Empty Quarter, the world’s largest single expanse of desert. It’s a landscape of ever-changing endless dunes made famous by the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger and his Emirati and Omani companions in the 1940s and 50s.
Despite being the gateway to one of the world’s largest deserts, Liwa is also home to a large date palm plantation consisting of more than 100,000 trees. This date palm oasis is one of a growing number of ecosystems that have been formally recognised by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for their importance as repositories of genetic resources, biodiversity and cultural heritage.
The oasis has been designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) and the FAO has praised the UAE’s active conservation efforts.
Almost a fairy tale from ‘1001 nights’, the magnificent Qasr Al Sarab or Mirage Palace is luxurious oasis in the midst of Liwa Desert. Resembling an old Arabian fortress town nestled in the valley of mountainous dunes, this is actually a five-star resort letting you experience lots of desert activities – dune dawn walks, camel trekking, dune bashing, falconry shows and camp fire barbecues.
To get a real taste of Al Dhafra's authentic heritage, visit one of the many events and festivals throughout the year such as January's Tel Moreeb Festival, the pinnacle hill climb event for desert driving enthusiasts, and Al Dhafrah Festival, which includes one of the world’s richest camel beauty contests, the Al Gharbia Watersports Festival, a 10-day event that pulls in adrenaline seekers from across the world to compete in everything from Dragon boating and kite surfing to dhow racing and swimming, and July's Liwa Date Festival, a showcase for this valued desert fruit.