With easy access to so much desert in the UAE, who among us hasn’t taken a drive down the soft Arabian sands? Dune bashing is an acquired enjoyment among the citizens and residents here. Those of you who have gone dune bashing know how much fun it is to break through the soft sands and let gravity guide your vehicle. And for those, who would like to start dune bashing, there are marshals who offer expert training, such as Albert from Weekendswith Albert. He has been in the profession for over 14 years with unparalleled passion and experience.
Dune bashing is best done in the hours before sunset, to truly appreciate the solitude of the desert as the setting sun casts long shadows, with no other sign of human life for miles.
Here are top five places to go dune bashing now that the weather is perfect.
Drive time (from Dubai) 45 minutes
Location Hatta/Oman highway (E44), Sharjah
This gigantic sand dune is also called “Big Red” because, well, it’s big and the sand has a dark red colour to it. This is one of the most popular dune bashing sites in the UAE. This spot is always filled with those looking for an adrenaline rush. Compared to the rest of the deserts in this list, this has the easiest dunes that can be maneuvered by amateurs and professionals. On weekends and holidays this desert spot is swarming with motorists looking to show off the latest tricks in buggies, quad bikes and jeeps.
Alternatively, if dune bashing by yourself isn’t your cup of tea, there are local tour companies that offer packages that include tackling the dunes and setting up a picnic during the cooler hours.
2. Fossil rock
Drive time (from Dubai) 50 mins
Location Sharjah/Kalba road, Sharjah
Heading out of Sharjah city towards Kalba will bring you to this spectacular point, officially called Jebel Maleihah. It is more widely popular as fossil rock. The beauty of his point is that marine fossils can be found here. Yes, marine life here in the middle of the desert! Millions of years ago much of Arabia was under the ocean - the Tethys Ocean to be precise.
The fossils are of shells and small creatures that once lived on the ocean floors, which have since then solidified to form perfect imprints. Near to this point is another rock formation called the Camel rock, an apt name as it does look like a camel resting in the sand with a distinct camel-like head and hump.
This spot is also favoured by photography enthusiasts, and people interested in camping, fossil hunting and hiking.
3. Al Faya Desert
Drive time (from Dubai) 50 mins
Location Sharjah/Al Malaiha road (E55)
Riding along the Sharjah-Kalba Road, towards the east-coast exclaves, will lead you to a spectacular desert of ruby sand: Al Faya Desert. Both amateurs and skilled drivers favour it due to its dunes, which are bigger than Al Bidayer. As a matter of fact, the popular opinion is that one can find the biggest dunes to ride down here, and hence is known under the name “Big Fall” also.
This is a popular tourist spot to set up camp under the stars; just remember to stay clear of the adrenaline junkies cruising along the desert.
Drive time (from Dubai) I hr 15 mins
Location Abu Dhabi/Sweihan/Al Hayer road, Abu Dhabi
Located in Abu Dhabi, it is on the border of three cities: Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain. Sweihan is known as “Little Liwa”, since it is the practising ground of Liwa enthusiasts. Sweihan is different than the other deserts and is only advised for experienced drivers, due to its big dunes and soft sands.
With proper guiding and GPS, one can see an abundance of camels and lone Emiratis with their falcons here. Naqrah is a sand dune located deep in the Sweihan desert, which needs to be tried at least once by dune bashing buffs.
5. Liwa desert
Drive time (from Dubai) 3 hours or more
Location Rub Al Khali, Abu Dhabi
Also know as “The Empty Quarter” only the very experienced dune-bashers go here. Liwa desert is known for the festivals and challenges that are conducted annually. It is the largest desert in the Arabian Peninsula. Spread over a wide area, with very soft sand, Liwa desert shares its border with Saudi Arabia.
The Liwa festival is a week-long festival, where the main challenge is to tackle the Moreeb dune, also called the “terrifying mountain”. It stands over 300m high and at an angle of 50 degrees. This is the ultimate challenge for those who consider themselves to be at the pinnacle of dune bashing.
A few things to keep in mind every time you go dune bashing
1. Keep your emergency contact info at vehicle dashboard.
2. Carry air compressor with you and ensure it’s in working condition.
3. Ensure your 4x4 vehicle is in perfect condition and with enough fuel.
4. Compatible radio is a must.
5. Carry all necessary off-road gear / recovery equipment in good working condition.
6. Carry enough water / refreshments / re-hydration drinks.
7. Always respect the place where you are, and know your limits.
8. Never go alone. Always go as a group.