Whether you want to swim with sharks or spot giraffes…

Dubai might be known as an urban jungle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience wildlife across the city. Whether it’s more than 18,000 species of butterfly, to swimming with sharks, we’ve rounded up the best places for animal encounters across the UAE.


Ras Al Khor

Best for: Flamingoes


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by What’s On Dubai (@whatsondubai) on

It might look like something out of an African safari, but the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is located just a few minutes’ drive from Dubai Mall. More than 20,000 birds of 67 species inhabit the area, which is most famous for its magnificent flock of flamingos. To see them, head to one of three viewing hides dotted around the perimeter of the sanctuary. These are open from 9am to 4pm Saturday to Thursday, and entrance is free (there are binoculars available to borrow, too).

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, Ras Al Khor, Dubai, daily 9am to 4pm, closed Fridays, free. wildlife-ae.com

Al Maha

Best for: Arabian Oryx

The luxury Al Maha resort is found on Dubai’s desert conservation reserve, so whether you’re checking in for a weekend away or visiting for a spa day, you won’t be able to avoid its stunning natural surroundings – and local inhabitants. The Arabian oryx and the gazelles are the star attractions in the reserve, and you’ll often be able to catch them wandering around while you soak up the sun in the resort infinity pool, or from the comfort of your private villa. The resort can also organise camel trekking, falconry and desert safari’s for its guests.

Al Maha Desert Resort, Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Tel: (04) 832 9900. al-maha.com

Green Planet

Best for: Birds

The Green Planet is the first indoor tropical forest in Dubai, inviting visitors to explore the planet’s fascinating flora and fauna through an immersive expedition into the tropics. Designed as an enclosed ecosystem, The Green Planet recreates a tropical forest with over 3,000 plants and animals and the world’s largest indoor man-made and life-sustaining tree. The educational and recreational facility is set to raise awareness for the delicate balance of nature and the preciousness of one of our world’s oldest living ecosystems.

Green Planet Dubai, City Walk, Dubai, 10am to 7pm Sun to Weds, 10am to 8pm Thurs to Sat, Dhs89. Tel: (800) 637227. thegreenplanetdubai.com

Dubai Butterfly Garden

Best for: Butterflies

Dubai Butterfly Garden is the world’s largest covered butterfly garden, and it’s a wonderland where visitors can get up close to some of the most beautiful butterflies from around the world. Three white domes interlinked by narrow corridors house more than 18,000 winged insects imported from The Philippines, Costa Rica, Colombia and Tanzania. Each dome is decorated with colourful flower displays and is cool enough to give the butterflies – and visitors – a pleasant place to roam.

Dubai Butterfly Garden, Al Barsha South 3, Dubailand Area, next to Dubai Miracle Garden, daily 9am to 6pm, Dhs50. Tel: (04) 422 8902. Facebook.com/DubaiButterflyGardenOfficial

Dubai Aquarium

Best for: Fish

Some 33,000 fish, sharks and rays call Dubai Aquarium home. The 10-million litre tank is filled with marine life, and as well as being able to admire from the outside, Dubai Aquarium offers a number of experiences to get up, close and personal with the creatures that call the aquarium home, from feeding sting rays to swimming with sharks.

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, daily 10am to midnight, Dhs100 online, Dhs135 on the door. thedubaiaquarium.com

Ski Dubai

Best for: Penguins

You might know Ski Dubai as the place to hit the slopes or feel the chill in the snow park, but did you know it’s also home to cute colonies of Gentoo and King Penguins. You can learn fun facts about the penguins, and how to protect them in the wild, as well as getting up, close and personal with the penguin encounter packages.

Ski Dubai, Mall Of The Emirates, Dubai, penguin encounters from 12pm daily, from Dhs230 per person. Tel: (04) 4094242. skidxb.com

Al Qudra Lakes

Best for: Bird watching

Wildlife at Al Qudra Lakes

A quick 30-minute out of Dubai, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you reach rural Dubai and Al Qudra lakes. It’s a great spot for bird watching – where you’ll find over 150 species such as swans, geese, ducks, flamingos and more. There’s also a chance you’ll spot an Arabian oryx or desert fox too. Note to visitors: there are limited facilities on the Al Qudra site, so come prepared.

and further afield…

Sir Bani Yas

Best for: Giraffes

Fancy a safari but can’t afford the trip to Africa? Head to Sir Bani Yas Island, where protected animals such as giraffes, cheetahs and hyenas roam free. The resort offers guided tours by car, mountain bike and horseback riding.

Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, Sir Bani Yas Island. Tel: (02) 6561399. desertislands.anantara.com

Al Ain Zoo

Best for: Big mammals

You’ll find plenty of animals at the Al-Ain zoo, from African lions and giraffes to rhinos, hippos, giraffes and gorillas. There’s a big focus on the conservation project, which especially focuses on the conservation of Arabian and Northern African animals, and you can learn all about their wildlife rehabilitation programme when you visit.

Al Ain Zoo, Al Ain, daily 9am to 8pm, Dhs27. Tel: (03) 7992000. alainzoo.ae

— For the best of Dubai straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.