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What To Do In The Al Marmoom Desert
From Desert Cycling to star-spotting, here's our list of desert fun

Head over to the Al Marmoom desert to hop onto a bike for a ride through the sands or venture in deep to gaze at the night sky with our unconventional take on desert exploration.

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dune cycling

Trek Bicycle Store - Bike rentals at up to AED150 / 4 hours

Cycle through the dunes

A short drive from central Dubai is the Al Qudra cycling path - an 86km track that cuts through the sandy terrain. The main loop is 50km and starts from Seih Al Salam, with extensions ranging from 15-20km, including one known as "The Stick" running along the Al Qudra Road. The mostly-flat track can be tackled solo or in groups by riders from novice to experienced. It takes 1.5-3 hours to complete, depending on ability, according to Daniel Gellis of bike rental facility Trek Bicycle Store. Look forward to animal sightings and the chance to immerse yourself in the desert.

"There’s nothing like it,” says Gellis, “The serenity of the sand and the open air, the opportunity to see camels, oryx and other animals… With the desert backdrop, it is an experience all must try at least once."

The track is popular with professional and amateur riders, with several groups and cycling clubs organising regular training and leisure rides. Try the Cake Ride, which rewards participants with, yes, cake after completing the entire 50km loop in the evening, or the Saturday Morning Coffee which stops by Bab Al Shams for a caffeine fix along the way.

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stargaze

Tours for individuals or groups (up to 10) cost from AED300-600

Spot the stars

For an extraordinary experience, travel deep into the desert and be amazed by the thousands of stars lighting up the night sky. Stargazing holds deep cultural and historical significance in Arabia, and your guide will explain how it was used to tell direction and time. Spot planets, stars and nebulas, depending on the season, receive insights into celestial bodies, and learn about the implications of astronomy in modern-day life.

Hasan Ahmad Al Hariri, the group’s founder, explains: “You witness the majesty of the sky. It is pristinely beautiful, with thousands and thousands of stars, beyond comprehension,” he says.

The Dubai Astronomy Group hosts regular Astrotourism tours, combining adventure and desert exploration with a chance to see the stars.

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wildlife

Wildlife watching

Oryx, gazelles, camels and birds - the desert is home to a range of natural inhabitants. Once considered globally extinct, the Arabian Oryx has successfully been saved after captive breeding programs and re- introductions in several areas in the UAE, including Al Marmoom. Multiple feeding stations are stationed in conservation areas, and while the oryx tend to confine themselves here, they sometimes wander around freely.

It is important to note that wildlife must be respected and should not be disturbed in its natural environment. And while you can venture into the desert on your own, it is best to be accompanied by a qualified guide.

The Al Qudra lakes, a network of manmade lakes in the desert, is home to 170 types of bird species, including some on the endangered or vulnerable list such as the Steppe Eagle and the Asian Houbara. Bird- watching is a popular activity and guided full or half-day tours are available through the UAE Birding group website. Bring binoculars!

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Catch the camel racing

For a new-age take on the traditional Emirati sport of camel racing, head over to the Al Marmoom Camel Racing track. Here you’ll find an experience like no other - the magnificent animals dressed in their owner’s livery, huddled behind gates, their robot jockeys in tow.

Once the race begins, the “ships of the desert” hurtle through the dirt track, reaching speeds of 40km/h as their owners follow alongside in four-wheel drives. In the spring, the venue hosts the Al Marmoom Heritage Festival, a 12-day event which brings competitors from around the region for a celebration both of the game and the UAE’s heritage. Here you’ll find food, handicrafts and traditional activities to entertain adults and children alike, both locals and visitors.

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Picnic by the lake

Picnic by the lake

There are multiple spots around the Al Qudra lakes where nature-lovers can enjoy a leisurely picnic. The area is a popular weekend break for UAE residents escaping the city. Head off in the late afternoon to set up just before sunset.

What to expect? “Simple life, peace [and a] great view of Dubai’s skyline, depending on where you are,” Laurent Ratinaud of Adventure HQ says, “Stress-free time, unless you get your car stuck!” Or if you’re an early riser, venture in the early hours of the day to catch a glorious desert sunrise. You might even spot some Oryx and bird-sightings while there (but beware of bats and lizards).

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