Dubai: If you want to explore a different side of Abu Dhabi during the Eid Al Adha break, then you must visit one of the sites listed under the Sheikh Zayed Protected Areas Network, where you will find some of the rarest wildlife and plant species in the world.
The Sheikh Zayed Protected Areas Network is made up of 19 protected areas but only four are open to the public. According to the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), the rest remain closed “because of their fragility and are only open to researchers with permits to visit”.
1. Al Wathba Fossil Dunes Protected Area
Just 45 minutes away from Abu Dhabi City are fossil dunes that are estimated to be over four million years old. Al Wathba Fossil Dunes Protected Area, comprises more than 1,700 fossil dunes, with a fluid shape, formed through interactions between wind force and sediment supply, and is spread over seven square kilometres, making it one of the largest numbers of fossil dunes concentrated in one location in the emirate.
The area is the first protected fossil dune site in the UAE.
How to explore the fossil dunes
When you enter the site, there is a Visitors’ Centre with viewing branches that allow visitors to look out at the formations in Al Wathba.
If you wish to get closer, you can follow a fenced trail into the protected area. A series of signposts will guide you through a well-lit seven-kilometre trail, which is also accessible at night.
In addition, food and beverage trucks are stationed at various points to serve visitors and several shaded seating areas are also available.
The Al Wathba Fossil Dunes are accessible from two inter-emirate roads - E30 (Abu Dhabi-Al Ain Truck Road) or E11 road (Sheikh Zayed Road).
The closest landmark to the site is the Al Dhafra Air Base. It is advised to use a navigation app to find the exact location. On your app, enter the plus code - 5HCH+M6 Abu Dhabi, to get to the area
Timings: 8 am to 10 pm
How do I enter the area?
It is recommended to enter the area on a four-wheel drive and park outside. Entry to the site is free of charge, however, you must register your details at the entrance.
2. Jebel Hafeet National Park
Located in Al Ain is Abu Dhabi’s highest peak and the second highest point in the UAE.
According to EAD, Jabal Hafit has more than 500 ancient burial tombs that have been discovered in its foothills dating back 5,000 years, marking the start of the Bronze Age in the UAE.
It is also home to some of the world’s most threatened wildlife, such as the Blandford’s Fox, Brandt’s Hedgehog, Arabian Tahr and the only concentration of the Egyptian Vulture in the UAE.
How to explore Jabal Hafit
The area is accessible by car, with the road winding around the mountain, all the way to the top.
Follow signs for Jebel Hafeet from Al Ain City. When you are on Malaqit Street (E40), take the exit for Hafeet Street. Reaching the peak will take you anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Eastern Mangrove National Park
The Eastern Mangrove National Park makes up almost 75 per cent of the total mangrove forest area in the UAE. This biodiversity hotspot includes salt marshes, mudflats, and algal communities.
How to explore Eastern Mangrove National Park
The national park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week but the mangroves are easier to see during daylight hours.
You can take a walk on the trail, where you will be able to see the mangroves with a water channel snaking through the middle and might even spot the Greater Flamingo along with hundreds of other bird and plant species.
If you want to take a closer look, the area also offers kayak sessions, through private operators that cost between Dh160 to D200.
4. Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre
The Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre (SZDLC), housed in the Al Ain Zoo, provides a look into the Emirate's rich biodiversity through interactive exhibits. The centre has five interactive galleries:
1. Sheikh Zayed Tribute Hall
2. Abu Dhabi Desert over Time
3. Abu Dhabi's Living World
4. People of the Desert
5. Looking to the Future
The tours of the centre are carried out by trained Emirati cultural guides.
The main highway that connects to the zoo is E66 road. From Al Ain city, take the E66 road, which will take you directly to the zoo, then follow the signs to the zoo parking lot. You will be able to get to the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre from the main reception.
By buying a ticket, you get access to Al Ain Zoo including the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre.
Dh31 for adults
Dh20 for children from the ages of three to 12 years old.
Children under the age of three enter for free.
To book the tickets in advance you can call the Al Ain Zoo contact centre - 800966.
Timings: 9am to 5.30pm