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 National Day, 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.

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

Timings:

During the National Day holidays this year, the park will open from 11am to 6.30pm.

Regular timings for the park:

  • Monday to Thursday - 9am to 6.30pm.
  • Saturday and Sunday - 11am to 6.30pm
  • The park is closed on Tuesdays.

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

Timings for the National Day holidays:

  • Thursday: 11am to 6pm
  • Friday: 2pm to 6pm
  • Saturday

Last entry time is 5pm. 

During the National Day holidays, the centre will be open from 11am to 6.30 pm

Timings on regular days:

  • Sunday to Thursday - 9am to 6.30 pm
  • Saturday - 11am to 6.30pm
  • The centre is closed on Mondays

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

Wadi Al Helo - Sharjah
Wadi Al Helo is an archaeological site located on the Sharjah-Kalba highway Image Credit: Shutterstock

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.

The National Centre of Meteorology (NCM) has not forecast any rain for the National Day holidays, so a visit to the wadi can be a great way to burn some calories while discovering this wadi, which is a heritage site and protected area for endangered birds, reptiles, and freshwater fish.

However, if you do happen to visit the wadi on other days, it is important to check the weather forecast. If rain is expected, it is important to avoid visiting wadis, because valleys flood quickly during heavy rains and strong currents can easily sweep cars away.

Police in the UAE often close roads leading towards the mountain region to avoid any such accidents from taking place.

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

Timings for the National Day holidays:

  • Thursday: 11am to 6pm
  • Friday: 2pm to 6pm
  • Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 6pm

Last entry time is 5pm.

Timings on regular days:

  • Sunday to Thursday - 9am to 6.30 pm.
  • Fridays - 2pm to 6.30pm.
  • The Reserve is closed on Tuesday