Dubai: Desert adventure!
City-state Dubai: Around 85 percent of this Arab Emirate’s inhabitants live in the capital. The rest of the country is mostly desert and a unique adventure playground for adults. Its giant dunes, among them the famous Big Red, are regularly scaled by local and international explorers on powerful wheels or camel back, or even riding sandboards
Organized desert safaris:
Desert for beginners: A half-day excursion into the desert is almost a standard feature of a visit to Dubai these days - and holds at least as many thrills and spills in store as a rollercoaster ride. Experienced tour drivers at the wheel of Land Cruisers or Hummers take visitors speeding up and down some the steepest dunes on their way to their desert camp. There, a barbecue awaits them along with a full entertainment program of oriental dance, camelback rides and sandboarding.
Half-day desert tour: Several tour operators offer an almost identical program. You pay around 200 dirham (about €40) for a roughly six-hour excursion including collection from and return to your hotel.
Quads and offroaders:
Desert for the more experienced visitor! Looking for a little more adventure? Then try exploring the vast sandy expanses on your own. Just a half-hour’s drive southeast of the city, you will find Big Red (Al Hamar) a towering dune so called because of the high iron oxide content of its sand that lends it a red shimmer. The slopes of this almost 100-meter elevation are as steep as the challenging black runs for skiers in alpine areas – and they are just as attractive for ambitious sandboarders. Buggies, quad bikes and offroaders can also be rented, but remember never to stray from the beaten tracks without at least another vehicle - and always to take enough water with you.
Big Red and the surrounding smaller dunes offer some spectactular fun but also demand a high level of proficiency from their conquerors. If necessary, engage a professional driver - often a very good move! For a more traditional desert experience and the chance to enjoy panoramic views from the top of a dune in a much more peaceful atmosphere, try a camel ride.
Big Red: on the road to Hatta. Prices for tours and rental vehicles or camels are negotiable. On Fridays, Big Red is a very different experience thanks to the crowds of local Emiratis who flock to the giant dune, transforming it from an otherwise tranquil dune landscape into a buzzing race track.
Photos: Bower/Corbis (2), DTCM/Dubai Department of Tourism, Frilet/Hemispheres/laif