Experience a very different side of Dubai - jump into a 4WD and get off road
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 (valleys) to thrilling mountain passes with impressive scenery.
If you are an experienced off-road driver you may want to hire a 4WD and chart your own path, alternatively you can book in with one of the reputable 4WD tour operators and let someone else do the driving. If a more rugged experience is what you are craving then try quad bikes or dune buggies, all easily accessible from the Dubai city centre.
To experience the desert in style, contact Europe Luxury Car Hire (europeluxurycars.com) which has a variety of top-of-the-range 4x4 and SUVs. Once you’ve picked up your wheels, a good place to acclimatise is Fossil Rock en route to Hatta, on the right hand 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 reachable 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 to Oman Highway (E44). This popular site has a good variety of dunes to match all driving levels. On weekends and holidays it’s buzzing with motorists showing off the latest tricks in buggies, quad bikes and jeeps.
Best for: Beginners and casual off-roaders
short drive from Dubai are also a number of spectacular and challenging mountain routes, such as the 15km trek from the Nazwa Road to the Pink Rocks. Once you are off-road, head east to the Pink Rocks (accessible from Nazwa Road to the left of the Hatta highway just before you reach Big Red); you can then turn north and drive parallel to the escarpment or south, where you’ll find a route up to the top of the rocks, which is a great place for photos and a picnic lunch. Afterwards, work your way back down north-north-west towards a large open plain. When you hit the new road beyond Nazwa, turn left to take you back to Dubai.
Best for: Experienced off-road drivers only
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 you may prefer 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 do Arabian Tours, 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 (emiratesoffroaders.com) and ALMOST 4x4 (almost4x4.com). Both organisations are staffed by welcoming residents who can introduce you to the nitty gritty of off-roading, Dubai style with regular day trips.
Dune Buggies and Quad Bikes
Want to actually feel the sand on your face? You might like to try a dune buggy or 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 the 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. Expect to pay around AED300 to rent a quad bike for one hour, and AED500 for sand buggies. If you don’t have access to a car to get you there it will cost around AED100 in a taxi to get to the jumping off point.
If you are driving yourself in your own or a rented 4WD do remember to make sure you have these essentials before heading off-road:
- A fully-serviced vehicle
- GPS and map
- Tow rope and shackles
- Jump leads
- Foot pump
- Drinking water, snacks
- Tool kit
- Mobile phone
- First aid kit
- Spare tyre
- Tyre pressure gauge
- Extra petrol can
Find more things to do in the desert, plus more fun with the family.