Kalba Mangrove - Sharjah
While paddling through the 300-year-old Kalba mangroves, you will be able to spot rare animals like the white-collared kingfisher or the hawksbill turtle. Picture used for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: If you want to discover the UAE's great outdoors this Eid break, how about exploring Sharjah, which is home to diverse natural reserves and rugged wadis steeped in history?

From hiking through wadis and mountains, to learning about how the UAE is conserving protected areas and rehabilitating endangered species, there are multiple options for ecotourism in the Emirate.

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Here is a list of the top five spots in Sharjah, as per 'Visit Sharjah', the Emirate's official tourism information centre. All these areas are protected by Sharjah's Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA).

What is ecotourism?
The United Nations defines ecotourism as a form of tourism that is sustainable and contributes to the preservation of natural and cultural heritage.

The significance of ecotourism lies in its environmental benefits, as it focuses on environmental protection, eco-friendliness and environmental sustainability. In addition, it helps preserve biodiversity, accelerates the transition to a green economy and minimises desertification and pollution.

Source: UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE)

1. Sharjah Desert Park

First on the list is Sharjah Desert Park, where you can spot animals that are indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula, such as the Arabian Leopard or the gazelle, walk through an aviary, or visit a breeding centre where endangered animals are rehabilitated, and visitors also get to learn about animals that are at the brink of extinction. If you are visiting with children, the park also has a dedicated petting zoo, where they can spend time with farm animals and take pony and camel rides.

Location: The park is located 30km east of Sharjah city along the Al Dhaid Highway (E88) before Interchange No. 9.

Cost: Dh20 for adults, free for children under 12 years of age

2. Khor Kalba Mangrove Centre

The Kalba Conservation Reserve, referred to as Khor Kalba, is spread over a large area offering many free and paid activities focused on reconnecting with Nature. The Mangrove Centre is part of this larger Reserve. At the centre, which was only opened last year to public, you will be able to walk through a part of the 300-year-old mangrove and spot oryxes in the area, or even find crustaceans, turtles, and birds during your walk along the mangrove trail.

A short drive away from the Mangrove Centre is the Kalba Bird of Prey Centre, which is an experience that falconry lovers can enjoy. You can also then drive down to the Al Hafiya Picnic Park, for a meal. According to visitsharjah.com, the area also offers enthusiasts a chance to kayak off the Kalba coast or pitch a tent near the water and enjoy the weather under a star-studded sky.

Location: The Reserve is located on the east coast of Sharjah, around 90-minutes' drive from Sharjah city centre.

Cost for the Mangrove Centre: Dh15 for adults and free for children under 12

3. Al Qurm Nature Reserve

The mangroves - or qurm in Arabic - house rare bird species, sea turtles and mammals. Surrounded by an abundance of avian and aquatic life, you may spot the endangered Arabian-collared kingfishers flying over the mangroves, or hawksbill and green turtles nesting on the nearby beach.

If you are looking to upgrade your experience, the Reserve also offers luxury tents, kayaking and paddle board tours offered by private tour guides.

Location: Inside Khor Kalba Mangroves along the coastal area of Kalba.

Cost: Free

4. Wadi Al Helo

Wadis (valleys) are popular among hiking enthusiasts in the UAE, and the most popular wadi in Sharjah is Wadi Al Helo, which means ‘sweet valley’ in Arabic, as it is blessed with abundant underground water.

The trail is an easy walk to the top of a hill, where an old fort provides a 360-degree view of the Hajar mountain range. It is recommended to take paid, guided hiking tours with friends and family, especially if you are not an experienced or professional trekker.

Location: Near Wadi Al Helo Interchange on Sharjah-Kalba Road (E102)

Cost: Free

5. Wasit Nature Reserve

Located within Sharjah City, the Wasit Reserve gives visitors a chance to experience diverse ecosystems, from sand dunes and salt flats to ponds and a large lake. The Reserve is home to over 200 resident and migratory bird species, including the pink-backed pelican, flamingos, and marbled ducks. You can view the coastal bird populations from eight viewing decks and walk through the aviaries within the Reserve.

Location: Sheikh Salem Bin Sultan Al Qasimi Street in the Al Homah area
Cost: Dh15 for adults, free for children under 12 years of age

Eid Al Adha timings for Wasit Wetland Centre, Sharjah Desert Park and Khor Kalba Mangroves
As per Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) - Sharjah, here are the following timings during the public holidays:

From 11am to 6pm (last entry at 5pm) during the second and third day of Eid.

This article was originally published on November 30, 2022 and has been updated since.