Finding opulence, relaxation and family fun in the UAE Desert
Looking for a break from the beaches of Dubai? No trip to the UAE is complete without getting beyond the big cities and hitting the desert, but it comes as a great surprise to many that you can actually compliment your desert trip with a luxury retreat.
From glamping to full-scale luxury resorts, we’ve picked out our favourites spots to enjoy the UAE desert in style. Whether you’re looking for an action-packed family weekend or seeking out a luxury romantic retreat, you can find them all here in the UAE desert.
Top 6 Desert Resorts in the UAE
- Al Maha – A Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa (Dubai)
- Anantara Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort & Spa (Abu Dhabi)
- Al Wadi Desert – Ritz Carlton (Ras al Khaimah)
- Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa (Dubai)
- Telal Resort (Al Ain)
- Arabian Nights Village (Abu Dhabi)
This post is part of our series Discover the UAE. Don’t forget to check out our previous post, Best Beach Resorts in the UAE and our huge selection of 100+ Things to do with your family in the UAE.
Al Maha – A Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa
Where is it? Located in the Dubai Emirate about 50 minutes from Downtown in an area called Murqquab off the Dubai – Al Ain Road (E66) it is part of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
We love it because: This pick is a pure indulgence, spoil yourself luxury retreat for grown-ups – leave the kids at home ‘coz they’re not allowed at this one (no under 10’s at least)! With 42 stand alone private villas overlooking the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, there are a huge range of desert activities on offer and included in your stay – or simply relax in your own private pool, enjoy the extensive spa facilities and dine under the stars.
What does it cost? This sort of exclusive luxury doesn’t come cheap; Suites with a private pool start at $1,200USD / 4,500 AED per night. Look out for special offers though such as valentines, as well as day spa package offers.
Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort & Spa
Where is it? Nestled deep in the Liwa Desert, approximately 2 hours from Abu Dhabi or 3 hours drive from Dubai via the E11/E65, well signposted and freeway driving until last 14kms or so.
We love it because: From the moment you turn off the freeway the shimmering desert sands transport you to another time. Grand archways welcome you into this desert oasis, in among the almighty dunes of the Empty Quarter. You are truly isolated here and everything about the setting exudes Arabian opulence.
It is an equally great location for both romantic retreats and family getaways with a huge array of activities on offer from the usual dune bashing and camel rides, through to sandboarding, fat biking and hikes into the desert. There’s kids club available for parents wanting to grab some time alone along with a kids pool area and babysitting services on offer (extra charge).
This was one of our first tastes of desert luxury in the Middle East and still one of our favourites – you can see our full review of Qasr al Sarab here.
What does it cost? Overnight packages start from $365USD / 1400AED. Family villa options also available.
Al Wadi Desert – a Ritz Carlton Partner Hotel
(Previously known as Banyan Tree Al Wadi)
Where is it? In the Desert of Ras al Khaimah, about 45 minutes from Dubai International Airport along the E311.
We love it because: Every villa is spacious comes with its own private pool, yet there are loads of entertainment options on offer too. There are daily shows such as falconry, desert safaris, nature walks and archery on offer. The Amara Spa with its hydrotherapy pool and rainforest experience comes highly commended.
Set on a nature reserve, it is equally known as a great romantic retreat as it is for a well-rounded family adventures into the desert.
What does it cost? One night in a private pool villa will set you back around $830USD / 3000AED
Bab al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai
Where is it? Dubai Emirate, near endurance village taking the D63 from Dubai or E75 along the border from Abu Dhabi.
We love it because: Not too far from the hustle and bustle of inner city Dubai but you feel you could be a million miles away in their infinity pool overlooking the desert. With several pool and restaurant choices, a great range of choice to suit interests and tastes.
Also a great array of outdoor activities with falconry, camel rides and options to hire gear including fat bikes and dune buggies. For younger kids, there’s the Sinbad Kids Club and a dedicated children’s area among the three guest pools. You can see a full review on the Bab al Shams family experience here with Wandermust Family.
What does it cost? Rooms start from $300USD / 1000AED – cheaper than many of the others but not compromised on 5-star quality (be warned though due to its proximity to town its a popular weekender spot so best avoid Friday’s if you can )
Where is it? On the northern outskirts of Al Ain, off the E22 from Abu Dhabi approximately 90 minutes from the capital
We love it because: A bit of a hidden gem, set on a nature reserve with a traditional Emirati look and feel but all the modern amenities and luxuries you expect of a resort. Local activities on offer include horse/camel riding, falconry and cycling, and the Zaman Lawal Heritage Village. On site there is a traditional Emirati restaurant as well as an international dining restaurant, gym and spa. There is a small infinity pool – not huge but beautiful and perfect for the setting.
Family friendly with great big rooms (2 bedroom villas and suites can sleep up to 6), but also a perfect setting for a romantic couple retreat with spectacular dune views and a great ambience – hammocks, 4 poster beds, the perfect place to come and switch off.
What does it cost? Deluxe heritage rooms start at $265USD / 970AED
Arabian Nights Village
Where is it? In Abu Dhabi Emirate, an area called Al Khatim. Heading from Abu Dhabi down the E22 you pull off about halfway to Al Ain then its 30 minutes inland, off road but manageable in a 2WD.
We love it because: This is definitely an understated luxury alternative to the bigger resorts. Accommodation on site is limited to just a handful of traditional “bayts” – based on traditional Bedouin building design but with all the modern fittings. Most visitors come on desert safari day trips from Abu Dhabi, but it’s absolutely worth turning this into an overnight experience.
As the sun goes down and heat drops, the evening’s entertainment schedule fires up. Camel rides are on offer (I’m sure you probably greeted some on your drive in too), dune buggies, dune bashing (over 6’s), sand boarding or you can relax in their resort pool before a full evening program of entertainment.
You can read the full review of our family experience at Arabian Nights Village here.
What does it cost? A double bed bayt with evening entertainment package starts from $330USD per couple / 1200AED, family villas $560USD / 2000AED.
Camping in the Desert?
If some of these options are looking a little out of your price range then not to fear, the cheapest way to enjoy the great sandy deserts of the UAE is to camp!
We cover how to do this in much more detail on our desert & beach camping post here.
Desert Day Trips in the UAE
Not got time for an overnight stay in the desert? There are plenty of companies that operate half day experiences into the desert for those strapped on time or only wanting a taster (trust me, the sand and the heat can get to us all after a while!).
We recommend using a reputable agency such as Get Your Guide for booking for desert tours in the UAE. Read the fine print carefully though, and check what’s included by each operator (such as hotel pickups, meals).
Also be conscious of age limits, as many desert day trips will involve an element of dune bashing, children under a certain age may be restrestricted or alternate itineraries recommended.
Abu Dhabi desert tour recommendations
Dubai desert tour recommendations
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Have you had a UAE desert experience? Any favourites we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below!