Jump into a 4WD and blaze a trail of your own
Take your own tour of Dubai with one of the city’s iconic off-road experiences. There is a huge variety of terrains to conquer – from vast desert landscapes and beautiful wadis to thrilling mountain passes with impressive scenery.
Take a tour
Even for the experienced off-road driver, the Dubai sandscape can be challenging. Desert-sand driving is notoriously unpredictable, while the surfaces of mountain and wadis are constantly changing. So, it’s better for you to be accompanied by a qualified driver on your 4WD adventure or take a short course to learn the ins-and-outs of desert driving. The Emirates Driving Institute offers a good introductory course as does Arabian Adventures, with a nice balance of theory and practice. Sunset picnics are included in some tour packages.
Or if you still want to hire your own 4WD, but prefer to drive in a group, then tag along with one of the city’s off-roading clubs like Emirates Offroaders and Almost4x4. Both organisations have welcoming members who can introduce you to the nitty-gritty of off-roading.
Once in the car, a good place to acclimate yourself is the Fossil Rock en route to Hatta, on the right side of the Sharjah-Kalba Road (E102), close to Al Malaiha. Known as Jebel Malaiha, this large outcrop gets its name from the prehistoric marine fossils found on its slopes.
Fossil Rock is accessible via a sandy dirt track, or you can make your own path and truly explore the striking terracotta red sand dunes and rock formations – perhaps the gigantic sand dune, Bidayer (‘Big Red’) out on the Hatta-Oman Highway (E44). This popular site has a good variety of dunes to match all driving levels.
A short drive from Dubai, are a number of spectacular and challenging mountain routes, such as the 15km trek from Nazwa Road to Pink Rocks. Once you are off-road, head east to the Pink Rocks (from Nazwa Road to the left of Hatta highway, just before you reach Big Red). You can then either turn north and drive parallel to the escarpment or to the south, where you’ll find a route up to the top of the rocks, which is a great place for photos and a picnic.
Drive about an hour from Dubai and you'll discover Hatta, another popular stop with rolling dunes and dramatic mountainscapes. Surf the sand in your 4WD or, for those craving more thrills, can climb Hatta’s rocky outcrops around wadis (valleys). You can even have a two-wheeled adventure at Hatta Wadi Hub, with mountain bikes for hire that you can use to tackle the dedicated 52km trail.
Dune buggies & quad bikes
Want to actually feel the sand on your face? You might want to try a dune buggy or a quad bike. Dune buggies are stripped-down vehicles custom-made for dunes. No doors, roof or windows, they consist of a roll cage, bucket seat and a safety harness, a 750cc engine and extra suspension for tackling the dunes at high speeds. You can experience a desert safari with Dune Buggy Dubai, while Dadhabai Travel has morning and full-day quad bike safaris on dunes as steep as 45 degrees.
Alternatively, if you want a more DIY experience, head out of Dubai in your car or 4WD along E44 (Dubai-Hatta Road) and after around 45 minutes, you’ll find several quad bike and buggy rental companies on either side of the road. Pay around AED300 to rent a quad bike for one hour, and AED500 for sand buggies. If you don’t have a car to get there, get into a taxi, for around AED100 and get to the jumping off point.