UAE road trips – part 3 – Sand dunes of Liwa

Sand dunes near Liwa

I did quite a few road trips during my year in Dubai, and it seemed that I still didn’t have quite enough of sand and desert yet! I had another couple of days off and I decided that before the weather would get unbearably hot, it would be a good idea to actually go spend some time in the desert.

At that point, I had already been on a few road trips and wanted to go somewhere new. I looked at the map of the UAE, and decided that the big mostly empty area towards the border with Saudi Arabia would do. It would definitely have enough sand and desert for my liking!

Local wildlife

There was a place called Liwa, an oasis lost in the middle of the desert. It sounded perfect. Not only that but it was also home to the largest sand dune of the UAE. That should definitely involve enough sand!

I picked up the little rental car as soon as the office opened, grabbed some coffee and headed towards Abu Dhabi. The speed limit is 140 in this area and it sure drives really well at that speed. The roads were not too busy probably because it was a Friday morning. (Friday is the beginning of the weekend in the UAE)

I decided not to go see the Mosque as I didn’t want to risk getting stuck… I was smarter when I started the trip

The road started to be pretty from the junction towards Madina Zayed. The town itself was an oasis and was green and lush. I felt like I had just started driving so I unfortunately didn’t stop for photos.

Peaceful Liwa

I arrived in Liwa and checked-in in early afternoon. It was a bit warm to go explore the sand dunes, so I enjoyed my balcony for a few hours.

Moreab Dune is supposed to be the biggest dune in the UAE and one of the biggest in the world. It is 300m tall and has an incline of 50 degrees, so it looks a more like a wall of sand than a dune. I had originally thought of walking up the sand dune, but it was very busy and noisy with pickups and 4×4. It was quite entertaining to watch, but once again, not quite the peaceful escape I wanted.

Sand dunes everywhere

I decided to go back to a different dune so I could enjoy it on my own. A bit more anyway. I parked the car on the side of the road and started walking up the dune. It was beautiful. As soon as I reached the top, I could hear a family not too far from me, somewhere else in the dunes, so I moved to a different area. I sat there and took the views and quietude in. It was perfect.

I made a little video of a guy coming to play in the dunes with his pick-up truck. Little did I know that he would offer to take me up the dunes and that I would spend the rest of the day with him. When Khaled offered to join, I wasn’t too sure but I thought: fuck it, I’ve got nothing to lose! Plus he was kind of cute.

I went down my dune while he removed some air from his tires and we went up. He said he was going to help another guy who was clearly stuck but when we got there, another jeep was already helping him out.

So we kept going towards Moreab and next thing I knew we were on the edge of it! I squealed as we went down. It was so much fun! When we reached the bottom, we stopped to put some more air back in the tires. He shared his coffee with me and we went back up and down one more time.

On top of Moreab Dune, just about to come down

After all those emotion and fun times, we drove to the other side and sat in the sand for a while sharing stories about our lives. He shared more of his Arabic coffee and dates. Eventually, as the sun was gone and it was getting cold, I asked him if he could bring me back to my car. I thought he would ask for money at some point but he didn’t. He was just happy to have some company to play in the sand and have interesting conversation with. We exchanged phone numbers and I returned to the hotel.

Moreab dune, proudly standing 300m tall.

I was so relaxed after the desert. It felt like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders. All my worries stayed in the desert, exactly like Khaled had told me when he explained why he loved the desert so much.

Liwa sunrise

The next morning, I woke up early enough to see the sunrise and it was beautiful. It was so quiet and I could hear the birds chirping. It was simply perfect. I think I could have stay there easily for a few days. It was peaceful and quiet and had a soothing effect on my soul. I was truly recharging my batteries.

The UAE was a lot prettier than I expected. As long as one leaves Dubai, there’s actually a lot to discover. And I loved it, it is what made staying longer bearable as I kept exploring the surrounding nature regularly.

Khaled’s ride

The desert has a fascinating effect on me and it had been the same in Jordan. It’s no wonder some of the bedouins can’t leave it. It inhabits you and takes over in the sweetest and calmest way. It almost made me want to build myself a camp in the desert and not come back to civilization, at least not regularly!

More sand dunes

The plan for my second day was to drive around some more and see what was in this area of the country.

Dhafeer Fort, Liwa

Once I had packed everything, I left the hotel to have a look at Dhafeer Fort. It is a small fort with no signs, no explanation or anyone. I toured it anyway. The walls of these forts are quite high and it’s unfortunately hard to see the view on the other side.

The ladder up one of the towers of Mezairah Fort

My second stop of the day was the interesting Mezairah Fort. It’s a 3 tower fort and I went up in two of the towers. Both forts are now housing mostly pigeons but it was still very interesting to see. It’s a good thing I had a visited another fort with a guide during a previous road trip as I could somewhat guess the use of each room.

I drove the very scenic road towards Hamim, stopping at a staff accommodation compound on top of a hill. The view was beautiful over the oasis and date plantation. My plan was to go see Qasr Al Sarab as I was told it was a superb hotel, but they had special guests that day and the security guard wouldn’t let anyone in who didn’t have a booking or a restaurant reservation. I was quite disappointed.

I kept driving towards Hamim but I wasn’t quite ready to go back to Dubai yet so I turned around and went towards Shah. It’s mostly camps and oil and gas industries in that area, but at one point there was a roundabout and I could access the other side of the fence. There was a big empty area, and at the back, lovely red sand dunes.

Lovely sand dunes near Shah

I parked the car and climbed up. It was hot since it was already 12 pm. The sand was very hot too and when I wasn’t climbing I had to put my sandals back on not to burn the sole of my feet. I explored the dunes, being careful to always see the parking lot or my tracks so I wouldn’t get lost! I sat in a dune after making a sand angel of course.

Sand, sand and more sand!

When I was warm and relaxed enough, I came running down the sand dunes back to the car. I had decided to go towards the border with Saudi, without crossing of course, and decided to do a u-turn in one shot instead of the smarter decision of staying on the more solid sand. It took half a second and the left tire was stuck in soft sand. I needed some traction aid which I obviously didn’t have.

In that moment, after trying to get unstuck and fully realizing I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own, I wanted to cry.

Tears of rage.

I was no longer my zen self.

Luckily there was a business straight across the roundabout. It was still a few minutes walk but since I could see pick up trucks, I figured they could possibly help me out. I swallowed my pride and walked there. After trying to call the security office and hear the phone ringing inside the empty building, someone finally walked out of a different building. He didn’t really know or understand what I needed but pointed me to some guys a bit further away saying they could help.

Beautiful road near Liwa

They were taking a break and were going to leave a few minutes later to go change a tire so my timing was pretty good. I got in the truck with them, and after the tire change, they came to my car and got it out within minutes. They all insisted I should stay for lunch but I was still so angry at myself, all I wanted to do was to head back home. I thanked them profusely and went on my way.

About 20 minutes later, one of the guy called me to make sure everything was okay. It was very sweet of them. After this adventure, I headed back pretty much straight to Dubai, watching the beautiful dunes turn to white sand before bringing the car back. I was quite happy the car dealer didn’t look underneath the car as he might have noticed it was a bit sandier than usual!

Did you miss my other road trips in the United Arab Emirates?

Part 1: Fujairah and Jebel Hafeet

Part 2: Ras Al Khaimah, Leopard Canyon and my all time favourite, Jebel Jais

Part 4: Hatta and one last visit to Jebel Jais

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