Enjoy a 7km hiking trail through these 120,000 year old natural wonders…

The desert areas of the UAE hold many wonders, but few can compare to the ethereal beauty of Al Wathba’s fossil dunes.

These naturally occurring monoliths are jutting, jagged reminders of the emirate’s storied geological past, having been forged over the past 120,000 years.

Found a short distance away from the (also well-worth a visit) Al Wathba Wildlife Reserve, an expanse covering more than 1,700 of the fossil dunes has now been designated as a protected landmark.

The Al Wathba Fossil Dune Protected Area is a new eco-tourism destination, operated under the stewardship of the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD), and was recently inaugurated by Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed.

What’s new?

The reserve features a visitor centre, a viewing area, an amphitheatre and 7kms of hike-able trails with educational signage explaining the origins and cultural significance of these magnificent sand relics.

It’s part of a cohesive, emirate-wide project to display and celebrate artefacts of importance to the UAE’s heritage, and to help protect them for future generations to enjoy.


Before the Protected Area was established, visitors to the dunes had caused damage such as graffiti and structural deformation from people taking ‘souvenirs’. Back in May of 2021, we reported on the news that the EAD was conducting thousands of hours of site visits and clean up operations.

Speaking then, Her Excellency Dr. Sheikha Salem Al Dhaheri, EAD’s Secretary-General said: “A team consisting of biodiversity experts and a number of engineers in EAD implemented more than 20 evaluation visits to the site over the past three months, with the aim of developing a comprehensive plan to protect the site.”

“[The] EAD also held a series of consultations with the concerned entities and other key stakeholders to further protect the site and ensuring its sustainability.”

Now open to the public, we can see just how fruitful this conservation endeavour has truly been

What are the Fossil Dunes and how were they formed?


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A post shared by George Mathew – Dubai (@mat_gec)

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Please allow us a moment to slip on our geography teacher blazer, the one with suede elbow pads.

The technical name for these, what are essentially ‘dune skeletons’, is ‘lithified sand dunes’. The types seen at Al Wathba were created from cross-bedded dunes, formed at their core by ground water depositing layers of calcium carbonate (chalk) and other similar salts during the glacial period.

The enchanting formations found in the Al Wathba area take their shape from specific patterns of water and importantly wind erosion.

Images: Abu Dhabi Media Office/ Miro.PX and mat_gec via Instagram