Off the beaten track: Explore the natural wonders of the UAE
From cafes and restaurants to scenic spots, unique experiences and more…
When you think of the UAE, you most likely will think of Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque and other landmarks. But the UAE has so many more natural wonders to explore. And they are all worth checking out.
Cafes and restaurants
1484 by Puro, Ras Al Khaimah
Perched at the top of the highest peak in the emirates, Jebel Jais, 1484 by Puro is Ras Al Khaimah’s crowning gem. Go for breakfast and enjoy one of the many egg dishes or a sweet temptation. Later in the day, 1484 by Puro invites guests to tuck into leisurely lunches or a breathtaking sunset dinner of dishes. It’s reservations only, so plan ahead.
1484 by Puro, Jais Adventure Park, Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah, 8am to 10pm daily. Tel: (0)7 244 5018. @1484_by_puro
Turtle Beach Bar, Dibba
On the shorefront of Dibba’s no-frills Royal Beach Hotel & Resort is a relaxed beach bar that invites you to kick back and soak up the sea views. The nautically inspired spot spills onto the sand, so guests can pull up a white wooden chair and dine with their toes in the sand. Speaking of dining, the seaside setting inspires a menu where seafood is the star of the show. Dunkable bites of calamari, catches of the day cooked to order and grilled tiger prawns can all be enjoyed as you watch the boats to-and-fro from the shore.
Turtle Beach Bar, Royal Beach Hotel & Resort, Dibba, Fujairah, 11am to 1am daily. Tel: (0)9 244 9444.
The Boat by The View at Caravana, Ajman
For dining with a difference, why not enjoy lunch at sea in one of The View’s bright orange boats? The Boat by The View is this Ajman restaurant’s entirely unique new dining experience, where guests can enjoy a meal in the surrounds of their own private boat, that’s permanently moored on the sand. Inside, it’s decorated in bright whites, with orange and nautical navy pops. Be the captain of your menu and opt for flavourful dishes like tobiko-topped salmon sushi rolls and rock shrimp tempura.
The Boat by The View at Caravana, Al Zorah, Ajman, daily 8am to 9.30pm. Tel: (0)6 505 8888. @theview.ae
The View by Wave, Khorfakkan
Heading out to explore the stunning Khorfakkan scenery? The View by Wave opened last year at Rabi Tower, and is the perfect pit stop. Pairing great views over Khorfakkan with friendly service, there’s a light and airy indoor restaurant, although if the weather permits, the best seats in the house are found on the shaded outdoor terrace. Pick from views of either the beach and sea or the mountains, and fuel up on a light breakfast or lunch after hiking the Rabi trail.
The View by Wave, Rabi Tower, Khorfakkan, Sharjah, 7am to midnight daily. @theviewbywave
Mikoko, Umm Al Quwain
Bringing a slice of Zanzibar’s blissful barefoot style to Umm Al Quwain is Mikoko, a restaurant and café flanked by a gorgeous mangrove beach. This dog-friendly spot is a natural haven for those craving a slice of city escapism. Traditional African markings and engravings add to the rustic appeal of this split-level spot, with natural materials working to enhance the already pretty landscape. Upstairs, reached via a wooden staircase that spirals around a large tree, there’s a full view of the mangroves. Aside from fueling up on creamy pastas and perfectly crispy pizzas, use Mikoko as your base to head out on a kayak or stand-up paddle board.
Mikoko, Khor Al Yeefrah, Umm Al Quwain, 9am to 12am daily. Tel: (052) 729 3060. @mikoko.uaq
As part of the expansive facilities at the new Matcha padel club in Meydan comes a restaurant from two homegrown heavyweights: healthy pizza brand Pinsa and the UAE’s leading pitmaster, Hattem Mattar. A community eatery that’s well worth straying away from your usual culinary corners, Fiya puts fire-based cooking at its heart. Here, meat is the star of the show, with moreish burgers, slide-off-the-bone ribs and crispy glazed wings.
Fiya, Keturah Reserve, Matcha, Meydan, daily from 5pm, closed Mondays. @fiya.dxb
Seven Seeds, Dubai
Jumeirah has no shortage of hidden cafés, but what makes the beautiful Seven Seeds stand out is its lush landscaping. Surrounded by a green garden and calming water features, there’s even a cute conservatory for when the summer heat strikes. On the menu, guests can tuck into healthy bites like salads and smoothie bowls, or more indulgent burgers and sweet treats. Come for the zen-like surroundings, stay for the excellent coffee.
Seven Seeds, Villa 15, 51St, Jumeirah 1, Dubai, daily 8am to 11pm. @7seeds.coffee
Waves Café, Sharjah
A spot that’s been making waves, excuse the pun, on Instagram is this breezy seaside café in Sharjah’s Dibba Al Hisn. Opened in 2020, it’s become a feed-favourite thanks to its gorgeous ocean front terrace, covered by an awning in a soft coffee colour that moves with the wind, creating a soothing wave motion. The mountain backdrop is an added bonus. On the menu, expect all-day eats such as fresh farm salads, beef sliders and pizza, plus an excellent selection of coffee and cakes.
Waves Café, Dibba Al Hisn, Sharjah, 8am to 12am daily. Tel: (054) 487 9991. @wave.ad
This small Sharjah seaside town on the eastern coast of the UAE is best known for its Bird of Prey Centre, which rehabilitates resident raptors. The centre offers visitors a chance to see a variety of bird species up close, and to learn about the conservation efforts that are being undertaken to protect them. Kalba is also home to several beautiful beaches such as Kalba Corniche Beach, which is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports. The beach offers stunning views of the Gulf of Oman and is a great place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the UAE’s coastline.
Sharjah’s Khalid Lagoon is home to Noor Island, which is known for its beautiful gardens and outdoor art installations. One of the main scenic spots is the Butterfly House, which is home to hundreds of colourful and exotic butterfly species from around the world. Visitors can walk through the enclosed exhibit, which is designed to recreate the natural environment of the butterflies, and learn about their lifecycle and habits. The island’s landscape is designed to create a serene and relaxing atmosphere, with plenty of benches and seating areas where visitors can sit and enjoy the scenery.
UAE Flower Farm
The UAE Flower Farm is known for its production of beautiful exotic flowers, as well as its scenic location in the foothills of the Hajar Mountains. The farm offers guided tours and is open to visitors year-round, with the best time to visit being during the cooler months from November to March. Visitors to the flower farm can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the gardens, taking in the sights and scents of the local flowers and plants, including anthuriums, heliconias, orchids and bromeliads. There are also opportunities to learn about the flower farm’s operations and to purchase local flowers to take home.
Jubail Mangrove Park
This protected area of mangrove forest and wetlands is located in Abu Dhabi, and is home to a wide variety of wildlife and bird species. The park is a popular destination for eco-tourists and nature enthusiasts, offering a range of activities and attractions. Visitors can take guided tours of the mangrove forests, either by walking along the boardwalk or kayaking through the waterways. The park also features a range of outdoor activities, including cycling, birdwatching, and fishing. During your visit, you’re likely to see a range of bird species, including flamingos, herons, and kingfishers. The park also provides a home to other wildlife such as crabs, turtles, and fish, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Al Ain Oasis
Al Ain Oasis is a large oasis found in Al Ain and is one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is a living cultural landscape that has been in use for over 4,000 years and covers over 1,200 hectares, containing more than 147,000 date palms, as well as other crops, including vegetables, fruits and grains. It is a vibrant agricultural area that provides a unique glimpse into the region’s traditional way of life.
Take a walk on the wild side on a private Abu Dhabi island
Have you ever wanted to wake up to an African dawn? Or dreamt of seeing a gazelle nibble the grass metres in front of you as you sip your morning brew? Or watch a giraffe lazily munching at the top of a tree mere steps away from you? Well you can do all that at Abu Dhabi’s Sir Bani Yas. A getaway to this wonderous island of wildlife in Abu Dhabi feels more like a bucket list safari trip than a capital staycation, with some 11,000 animals among your neighbours. At 87 square kilometres, the island is bigger than Abu Dhabi city and offers a trio of resort experiences. All operated by Anantara, the entry level Desert Islands Resort is complimented by two villa options: Al Sahel Resort has lodges in the forest, while Al Yamm Resort villas are all on the beach. Whichever you choose, you’ll be able to enjoy all the restaurant’s and pools on the island, as well as all the experiences, which include nature and wildlife drives, wadi walks, horse riding and cultural tours.
Float along the mangroves in Ajman
Machia Velli presents the ultimate way to enjoy the serenity of Ajman’s lush mangroves – on a floating deck anchored in the peaceful Al Zorah wetland. There are two slots to choose from, the morning slot from 9am to 2pm, or enjoy the sorbet hued sunset with the afternoon slot from 4pm to 8.30pm. You’ll need to take a short boat ride to the deck, which is finished with a comfy day bed, table and chairs, and a parasol for some much-needed shade. Curl up with a book and embrace the peace, find your zen with a yoga session (equipment is provided) or stream a movie in an unforgettable surrounding, with movie equipment also on board. Breakfast or afternoon tea is provided, depending on the session you book. Packages start from Dhs2,000.
Embrace mountain living in a luxe glamping lodge
Hatta’s impressive array of glamping options includes the luxe Damani Lodges, which are perfect for fun-filled, family getaways. Dotted throughout the Hatta mountains, these rustic lodges all overlook the adventure-packed Hatta Wadi Hub activity park. Each has a private terrace with amazing hilltop views, and all the amenities you’d expect at a hotel, including separate bathroom, Wi-Fi and a TV. But getaways here are more about what’s going on outdoors rather than inside. Right on the doorstep of Hatta’s Damani Lodges, myriad adventures await, with kayaking, archery, hiking and zorbing just a handful of the activities on offer.
Discover the history of the emirates on a pearl farm
Before the booming oil industry, the heartbeat of the UAE economy was pearl diving. While that may now be a tradition of yesteryear, this slice of UAE history is kept alive in the sleepy fishing village of Al Rams, where you’ll find Suwaidi Pearl Farm. Located 10 minutes offshore, it was founded by Abdulla Al Suwaidi, whose grandfather was one of the last remaining pearl divers in the UAE. Operating since 2005, you’ll need to take a pearling boat to the 4,000 square foot pearl farm at the foot of the expansive Hajar mountains. While the action takes place in neatly lined drills underwater, where Arabian Pearls are now being farmed for the first time, a two-storey boat serves as a base for visitors to embark on fascinating tours that teach them about the deep-rooted pearling history of Ras Al Khaimah. Tours start from Dhs367.50 per person.
Embark on an iconic voyage without leaving Dubai
The legendary ocean liner that is the QE2 spent a decade docked in Dubai before opening as the city’s first floating hotel. Now part of the Accor Hotel group, stepping onboard is like stepping back in time, offering guests a slice of history with a side of culture and sprinkling of traditional charm, all in one retro getaway. There are a total of 224 rooms, which is where the most modern touches have been added. There’s still the traditional porthole windows, but rooms now feature 49-inch flatscreen TV’s, complimentary Wi-Fi and USB sockets. Other parts remain largely as they were. While it may have been given a little glow-up, guests can still dine at one of the most famous restaurants at sea, The Queen’s Grill, and still grab a pint at The Golden Lion, a traditional pub in racing green and dark wood. A heritage tour completes the historic experience, where a knowledgeable guide will walk you in the steps of celebrities, politicians and even royalty across the 13-deck ship.
Drift over the dunes in Ras Al Khaimah
There’s a new vantage point to soak up the views of Ras Al Khaimah’s sprawling desert landscape. Take off on a hot air balloon ride with Action Flight, the first of its kind offering in the adventure emirate. Pickups from Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah are at the crack of dawn to ensure you make it to the desert drop site. After a quick safety briefing, it’s up, up and away on a scenic, hour-long flight where you’ll drift breezily across the dunes. Spot camels, get within a width of the sandy peaks, and admire the stretching views as far as the ocean, all while serenely floating across the natural landscape as the sun rises over the horizon. The adventure doesn’t stop there. After you touch down, it’s over to Tower Links Golf Course for a bubbly breakfast complete with a falconry show.
Wadi Shawka in Ras Al Khaimah offers a picturesque hike through a valley surrounded by the Hajar Mountains. The trail is moderate, but suitable for hikers of all skill levels. Along the trail, you’ll be able to enjoy scenic views of the mountains, as well as the wadi’s unique rock formations and pools of water. The hike can take a few hours to complete, depending on your pace and how many stops you take along the way.
This Fujairah wadi is known for its rugged terrain and striking rock formations, which offer a dramatic backdrop for hiking. There are several natural pools of water that are perfect for swimming and cooling off during a hike, as well as a few small waterfalls that can be seen along the way. The trail is considered easy to moderate and will take you through agricultural farmland where you will spot banana trees, mango trees, date palms and more.
This easy hike takes you on a scenic route around the Hatta Dam, offering views of the picturesque turquoise water and surrounding mountains. You might also see some wildlife along the way, as the area is well-populated with lizards and birds. Once you’re done, hop in a kayak and explore the waters by boat, or you can rent a pedalo or stand-up paddle board.
This valley is in the Hajar Mountains in Fujairah and is known for its colourful sandstone formations, which offer a unique and stunning backdrop for getting your steps in. The hike through Rainbow Valley is considered to be a moderate to challenging trek, as there are some steep ascents and descents along the way. The trail isn’t marked though, so it’s recommended to go with a guide or a local hiking group to ensure you don’t get lost.
Words: Alice Holtham and Elise Kerr