When you think of Dubai, what is your first thought? For most travelers, Dubai represents city-sized malls, iconic skyscrapers, and palatial beach resorts. But despite its modern and cosmopolitan exterior, Dubai is also a nature traveler’s paradise.
Dubai has a diverse mosaic of gorgeous natural spots ready to be explored. From desert dunes to rugged trails, these natural territories host some of the most incredible outdoor activities in Dubai.
The benefits of nature travel
If you’re ready to step outside of your usual routine and visit the City of Gold, forget shopping and skyscrapers.
Sure, this sci-fi-esque city draws in millions of visitors every year to take in the sights, sounds, and tastes of this culture and leisure hub. But look beyond the city’s glitz and glamour and you’ll discover a rich and otherworldly landscape.
Its natural landscape has its own character and allure. What’s more, spending some time in the city’s surrounding vast natural landscape will create an interesting contrast against Dubai’s stunning skyline.
A dose of nature, especially when traveling, will give you a refreshing perspective.
Other benefits of nature travel include:
- Boosts creativity
- Increases attention span
- Encourages mindfulness
- Offers a reset
- Helps you meet new people
- Encourages physical activity
- Helps your mood
Exploring Dubai’s great outdoors is an authentic way to connect with the city’s culture and its people. The many environmental awareness programs throughout Dubai allow people to get to know Dubai’s rich natural heritage.
Escape from Dubai’s concrete jungle and satisfy your nature-loving soul with all the activities you can engage in at these seven incredible wildlife and nature attractions:
1. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated at the end of Dubai Creek, Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary offers a rare glimpse of the city’s abundant natural beauty. As one of Dubai’s urban protected areas, Ras Al Khor, which means “Cape of the Creek” in Arabic, is an important stopover for the region’s migratory waterbirds.
Avid bird watchers to this surprising sanctuary, which spreads over a 6.2-sq km area, can spot more than 450 animal species. Of note are the flocks of gracious pink flamingos. Other common avian sightings include broad-billed sandpipers, Pacific golden plovers, and great spotted eagles.
Plan a day trip when visiting this wetland reserve and explore one of the three accessible bird hides to get a closer glimpse of the thousands of birds that migrate through Dubai.
2. Fossil Rock
Located just an hour outside of Dubai in the neighboring emirate, Sharjah, Fossil Rock is one of Dubai’s most striking outdoor destinations. Officially called Jebel Maleihah, this natural rock formation is said to be over 80 million years old.
Visitors to Fossil Rock can expect a rocky ridgeline and an intermediate route grade. Plan and prepare plenty of water as the average time to complete the full route takes approximately two hours. Take your time through the hike to discover its many archaeological sites.
After your hike, enjoy the stunning views at the top of Fossil Rock. The clear blue skies offer a stark contrast from the desert’s rippling dunes.
3. Wadi Ghalilah
If Fossil Rock is too easy of a hike, there’s another spectacular (albeit more dangerous) hike in Wadi Ghalilah.
Now famous as a playground for experienced climbers, Wadi Ghalilah is the so-called Stairway to Heaven. This mountain trail is not for the faint-hearted as it features steep rocks, narrow paths, vertical drop-offs, and winding cliffs.
Wadi Ghalilah is situated two hours north of Dubai in Ras al Khaimah. Experienced rock climbers and mountaineers who make the journey to the top will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the valley below and some serious bragging rights.
4. Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
Established in 1999, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) is one of Dubai’s largest protected nature reserves. Covering 225 sq km, or roughly 5% of Dubai’s total land, the DDCR represents Dubai’s ambitious goal to protect its fragile desert ecosystem.
The development of the reserve has Dubai hard at work planting numerous indigenous plants, flora and fauna, and trees.
Today, more than 50 species of foliage has invigorated the ecosystem. Wildlife quickly followed. Numerous indigenous animal species such as mountain gazelles, the Arabian Oryx, and curious sand cats have become permanent residents.
Visitors can explore the austere beauty of this conservation reserve through several desert tour operators. The reserve is split into four zones, so several trips or a weekend overnighting in the resort are encouraged.
5. Dubai Miracle Garden
Found right in the center of Dubailand, Dubai Miracle Garden is a floral wonderland. Considered as the largest flower garden in the world, Dubai Miracle Garden has over 50 million flowers of 120 varieties. This miraculous growing project showcases grandiose floral designs and shapes.
Among the many concepts on show at the garden are the fairyland-Esque Floral Castle, the world’s largest floral airplane installation, and Disney Avenue, a pathway featuring Disney’s most popular characters in a stunning floral display.
While visiting this world of floral wonder, take some time to visit the Butterfly Park which is home to over 15,000 butterflies spread across nine custom-built domes.
Drive an hour north from central Dubai and you’ll find yourself in one of the most aesthetically pleasing mountain ranges in Dubai. Hatta, which literally translates as “rocky mountains,” has been used by locals for years as a summer home.
Its relatively mild climate is a pleasant change from Dubai’s scorching heat during the summer.
Today, this mountain enclave has been transformed from a historic fort to an outdoor haven, attracting many adventure sports enthusiasts. Adventure seekers can participate in numerous outdoor excursions from mountain biking and picturesque hiking trails to water sports.
While Hatta makes for the perfect day trip, visitors can also bask in its pristine scenery a little longer by booking one of the 48 deluxe chalet-style rooms at the Hatta Fort Hotel.
7. The Green Planet
If a staycation is more your thing, then why not visit Dubai’s first-ever indoor tropical rainforest, The Green Planet? Located in Dubai’s popular City Walk district, The Green Planet is a standalone bio-dome that comes complete with more than 3,000 species of plants and wildlife.
The bio-dome has four different levels (the Canopy, the Midstory, the Forest Floor and the Flooded Rainforest), each with a distinct ecosystem. Visitors of all ages will find plenty to see and do in The Green Planet. There are educational programs available that teach kids and adults the important role that rainforests play in the future of our planet.
For the love of the great outdoors
Dubai’s natural landscape is a bustling microcosm of evocative splendor. Dubai delivers surreal natural attractions that cannot be imitated elsewhere. From its open-air botanical garden and the world’s largest indoor tropical rainforest to mountainous enclaves, Dubai proudly displays its rich, natural landscape.
Nature in Dubai is calling. Get into adventure mode and explore the great outdoors.