The red and yellow desert

“The beautiful sunset cast long shadows across the deep red sand making the terrain even more dramatic”

Sharjah and Dubai,  United Arab Emirates

It has been one of my wishes, while we have been in Dubai, to venture into the desert to see the sunset. I have done this many years ago at the Atacama Desert in Chile and remembered how the sun casted long shadows in the sand turning the sand into a golden sea – it was a photographer’s dream.

What excited me more about where we were venturing on this desert safari is that we were going to the red desert and we were actually going to experience driving across the dunes.

There are a number of desert safari companies in Dubai but we went with Red Dune Tourism and were lucky enough to be given an entertainer voucher, meaning we got 2 tour places for the price of 1. We were collected from our apartment and the tour got off to a slow pace while we picked up other passengers along the way making the transfer time to the rendezvous point a long 1 and half hour drive.

The rendezvous point where we waited for the rest of the 4x4s to join us, was at Al Merdan Quadbiking pitstop in Sharjah. Here you could get refreshments and visit the toilet facilities which were adequate, but it is best take your own tissues and handwash. You also get the chance to have a go on the quad bikes. This might sound boring but we did not venture on one but rather watched others have a go with no helmets and everyone zig zagging in all directions as there was ‘no route’ for people to follow.

It was from here you could really get the sense of scale of the desert and the deep red sand. As we went before the UAE National Day there was also a sense of country pride as everywhere you turned you could spot the colourful red, white, green and black flags blowing in the breeze.

Once the tyres of the 4×4 were deflated to cope better on the soft terrain were were off! I was so not prepared for the trip and although exhilarating it was frightening at the same time, as we ventured over the dunes often slipping sideways down the dunes to many a gasp from myself. Our driver, Adil, was really skilled having done desert racing in Pakistan. He certainly knew his way along the route and made sure everyone was okay and enjoying themselves. It felt reassuring to be in a safe pair hands even though I closed my eyes a few times.

White knuckled, we got out of the 4×4 to watch the beautiful sunset. It cast long shadows across the deep red sand making the terrain even more dramatic. The sun was a perfect ball turning a vibrant red as it disappeared from sight leaving behind a golden hue across the horizon.

The only disappointment about the desert was that it seems where humans go so do the rubbish and it was really sad to see in a number of places plastic water bottles littering the landscape.

From the desert we left the big red dunes behind and headed towards Dubai, where the sand changed from red to yellow with dotted green vegetation. Our final stop was at a Bedouin style camp for dinner and entertainment. Here they have recreated a camp to show the Bedouin lifestyle and culture. Bedouin is a group of nomadic Arab people who inhabit the desert.

At the camp you can ride camels, have your picture taken with a falcon, go sandboarding, have henna hand painting and smoke shishas. The atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming with long tables set out with red sturdy cushions on the ground.

The entertainment was rather enjoyable as we watched a Tanoura Dance – where a man spins in an almost trance like state with a multi coloured skirt for about 30 minutes. It is quite a popular folk dance in the Islamic countries and it made me dizzy just to watch! We were then entertained by a belly dancer and fire performer. It was quite phenomenal to watch him twirl fire around to create amazing visual affects along with fire breathing.

The food was surprisingly better than expected with lots of fresh salads, flatbreads, grilled chicken, lamb and fish and some non traditional curries. We were also pleasantly surprised that we could enjoy a chilled bottle of wine while watching the show and eating under the stars.

It was a long but really exciting day and I would certainly recommend a trip to the desert when you are in Dubai!

Relaxing in the Al Hajar Mountains

“Nestled in the rugged mountains it was like an oasis with far stretching views and abundant birdlife”

Hatta,  United Arab Emirates

A visit from family had us looking for things to do and places to show them what Dubai was all about. We also wanted to see places that we had not yet visited or that the everyday tourist would not normally add to their itinerary.  We were off to Hatta!

Hatta is an enclave of Dubai, in the Al Hajar mountains, so totally different from the beaches and nightlife everyone comes to Dubai to explore.

Our journey took us about 2 hours, slightly longer than predicted as we could just not find the road we needed to be, going on a loop after loop with the sat nav trying to take us on the road through Oman which is only open to GCC nationals.   We eventually got on the right road.  Breathing a sigh of relief and relationship intact, we drove through contrasting scenery, changing from skyscrapers to rolling orange coloured sand of the desert to finally the rocky mountains.

We stayed at the JA Hatta Fort Resort, which felt like an oasis and perfect for a few days relaxing in the hot temperatures but away from the humidity we had been accustomed to on the coast.  The newly renovated hotel had an air of peace and charm about it with the mountain view rooms cool and light.  Both restaurants, one near the pool open for breakfast and lunch and the main restaurant in the hotel, Jeema, had good quality food.  Once told, they also remember any dietary requirements you have! The sunset bar was just as described, a great place to enjoy the bright orange hues of the sky turn to pink as the sun set behind the mountains.

The hotel was very quite – we were staying the Sunday and Monday evenings, but this did not worry us too much as we managed to get in for some great massages at the very small spa and it all added to a peaceful atmosphere.

There are a few activities available at the hotel such as archery and a very simple 9-hole mini golf course, but with the temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius, we opted to spend the afternoons cooling down at the turquoise blue pool.

Hatta itself is a small village and I would highly recommend visiting the Hatta Dam with its emerald green waters.  Constructed in 1990s it took about 2 years to fill the dam and even now it does not look overly full.  There is a good viewing platform and although closed the day we visited you can hire kayaks and pedlos to take out on the water.  I would check on other facilities as if you are spending a fair amount of time on the water you might want to bring some food and water supplies.

Hatta also has a newly restored heritage village, that is open free of charge to wander around the 30 buildings and discover what the traditional mountain rural life was like. As a historical monument that depicts the 18th Century village, I can imagine that the festivities on UAE national day would be quite remarkable.

The village is surrounded by two round watch towers built in the 1880s – they are quite fascinating as the entrance is 2.5m above the ground and required the guards to climb on ropes to get to the entrance.  We visited around midday and I would have been better in the mornings when slightly cooler as there is limited shade. Definitely worth a visit.

It was great to escape the humidity of coastal Dubai and wake up every morning to the rugged mountains looming above you along with abundance of birdlife.  My favourite were the brightly blue coloured wing span of the Indian Roller (they were too quick to take a photo) and the bee-eaters.

Would I visit again?  Definitely, maybe next time in the cooler months so we can explore one of the hiking routes along the winding wadis at the foothills of the mountains.

JA Hatta Fort Resort – beautiful rooms and eating facilities with a variety of options for breakfast.  All hotel staff are very attentive ensuring you get the best from your stay.

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