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Your guide to hiking around the UAE
Take a Hike!
Hiking is a great cardio workout that’s so enjoyable it hardly seems like exercise. It’s great for muscle strength, has all the health benefits of cardio exercise, and can boost one’s mood. Hiking is also a great way to see new parts of your community and to enjoy local nature. It’s something the whole family can bond over together, and it will begin to teach children about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, hiking can range from very easy for beginners to quite challenging for those up to the fitness level. It’s time to get hiking, UAE!
Even those that live in the big city can escape for an afternoon out in nature. Dubai has a number of nearby hikes that can make you forget about the hustle and bustle of city life. Starting at the back of Dibba beach, the “secret staircase” hike is as much sightseeing as it is exercise. It takes you to handmade staircases that you’ll hike up to find a solitary goat herder’s residence, great views, and an ancient graveyard. This is an easy hike that will take about three hours at a leisurely pace.
The Wadi Wurayah hike is a bit more challenging but has even more to see and keeps things interesting with all the wildlife in the area. The biggest obstacle to this hike is also what makes it unique: the water. One of the UAE’s highest waterfalls marks the start of the hike. Prepare for the possibility of wading through a few inches of water and getting wet crossing waterfalls. Some choose to embrace the conditions and go for a swim on this approximately four-hour hike.
The most challenging of the local Dubai hikes is the Aqaba-Lima. It requires a small boat ride to get to the beginning. The hike will take you through an abandoned village, farms and harbors. Be prepared for some steep inclines on this hike that will take about three hours, not including travel time to the site. More information on all three hikes can be found here.
Sometimes the biggest appeal of hiking is making your own path. The Hatta pools, about three hours from Abu Dhabi, offer the opportunity to do just that. Climbing, hiking, and exploring rock pools among the different wadis is the perfect day trip. Families can pack a picnic lunch and head out for a day trip in this area, which is often cooler than the cities. Camping and hotels are nearby for active weekend trips away, and because mornings offer the best and coolest atmosphere for outdoor exploring, staying overnight is a good way to get an early start. Depending on your family and their skill level, you might prefer to take a leisurely walk along one of many paths or get into some more intense hiking and rock climbing.
For those wanting to stray farther outside of the city and explore, the opportunities are plentiful. Jebel Qihwi is a popular mountain trail for hikers who are experienced and prepared to take on this six-hour round trip hike. Many relish the challenge of a mountain hike with its summit goal and its interesting terrain. The path worms its way through many valleys before the real fun begins. At its most challenging, this route requires the use of hands and feet to make it to the top and maybe even a rope to reach the summit. Make sure to get an early start on this trek so there are enough daylight hours to complete it. Depending on your area of origin, some people camp the night before to get a head start on the journey. And, as with all hikes, be sure you know the route well or go with someone that does.
The Jebel Hafeet is an even more challenging mountain hike, requiring some basic rock climbing skills in addition to hiking experience. Jabel Hafeet is the UAE’s third highest mountain and, some say, the most impressive. This is not a hike that can be taken on without some training and preparation, in addition to an experienced guide. There are both trails and roads leading up to the top of the mountain, but walking along the road can be dangerous. Proving that this mountain is not just a rock in the middle of nowhere, there is a café about halfway up where hikers and travelers can stop for a drink and a snack.
The summit offers more proof of life on the mountain, becoming a crowded parking lot midday. Hikers can have a better and more solitary experience of the surrounding views if they arrive earlier in the day. The views make the top a worthwhile goal but beware of a potential disappointment – you cannot access the actual summit of the mountain. Be sure to plan accordingly for the weather and temperature. Some even recommend heading out at sunset to avoid the midday heat -- then you can arrive at the summit at sunrise to take in the views.
If you’re interested in hiking with others or meeting like-minded hiking enthusiasts, check out the UAE Trekkers Meetup page here. They arrange a couple hikes every month, and anyone up for the challenge can join for a small fee. Treks go up into the mountains, so be prepared for a scenic and challenging adventure. Some of the hikes involve an overnight stay, necessary for the farther destinations. The perk of participating in the Meetup is that someone else arranges everything and you’ll meet people interested in hiking that you might never have crossed paths with otherwise.
Don’t forget, hiking can be done almost anywhere. To prepare for a big hike or just get into better shape, simply getting out and walking around one’s neighborhood, countryside or city is a great first step. Be sure to research the difficulty level before heading out, and know what to expect. That said, hiking is within anyone’s grasp, making it a perfect activity for both families with children and adventurous thrill seekers.
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