Dubai is much more than a shoppers’ paradise
Dubai is much more than a shoppers' paradise. Beyond the purveyors of high-end high-priced luxury goods lies all kinds of adventure. If you feel
the need for speed say hi to Dubai where you can swim, sandsurf, snow
ski and float in the sky.
One cannot visit the desert and ignore the magnificent beauty of the majestic sand dunes and vast open spaces which dwarf the newly created metropolitan feel of Dubai's city centre.
Whisked away in a luxury Land Cruiser towards the setting sun, leaving civilisation behind us, I have little time to contemplate exactly what I am in for.
After an hour our Arabian driver stops to let air out of the tyres while I sneak off for a pit stop of my own to gather my thoughts and prepare for what was to come.
As I nervously struggle to strap into my seatbelt it is clear that the tyres may have been deflated but the driver's sense of adventure has grown inflated.
I am in awe of his handling of the vehicle in the sand.The desert chauffeurs are a clan of “desert surfers” who scour the landscape in search of the “lip” of each and every dune, performing some of the most absurd cutbacks imaginable then racing down the dune and then rejoining the convoy of luxury Land Cruisers snaking their way through the desert.
Judging from my gasps and those of the multigenerational family of six in the back it is clear that this is a new experience for all of us.Yet, after glancing to my left I'm reassured by the calm and professional demeanour of our Arabian guide and driver. Without him having to speak a word I quickly comprehend what skills these men possess and slowly begin to relax in my navigator's seat.
Just as I begin to feel at home in my comfy leather throne, we stop for dinner.
An Arabian feast is set within
the walls of a desert camp. Some choose to smoke sheesha with newfound friends whilst others prepare for their first ride on a camel before settling down to enjoy dinner and performance of belly dancing.
Whether you are visiting for business or simply catching a connecting flight, Royal Arabian Destination Management gives one the opportunity to experience the best of the desert in an afternoon. For those with limited time it is certainly one of the best ways to experience Dubai.
All too soon I find myself back in the vehicle heading towards the glow of the city lights. I am glad I am not headed back to the busy Dubai airport just yet.
For now I will give myself two weeks to explore all Dubai has to offer and give some insight to those opting for more than the 96-hour transit visa.
Swop heat for water, air and ice
Waking up to temperatures exceeding 30 °C and rising fast, it was time to take a plunge. There certainly are some exquisite beaches in Dubai. Walking along the beachfront is an experience in itself. While you stroll towards the water that will provide relief from the searing heat you take in slick architecture, luxurious cars and shop windows displaying some of the finest brands in the world.
Most people are here to work, so the beaches are fairly quiet during the week. Dubai is neither windy, nor cool which means every day is a good day for the beach. I made the most of the weather by frequenting many of the public beaches. My favourite was JBR beach which has spectacular views of the city skyline.
If you are looking for adventure rather than relaxation the Wild Wadi Water Park in the area of Jumeirah not only offers whimsical views of the Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, it is sure to get the adrenaline pumping because it has some monstrous waterslides. I follow signs to one such slide, “Jumeirah Sceirah” but am convinced I am going the wrong way. As if I were a salmon returning to its place of birth, I fight my way up the stairs through throngs of people all coming down the stairs.
When I get to the top I am assured that my sense of direction was spot on but my sanity might need scrutiny. I understand why so many people came down the stairs. There is no time to ponder that: before I know it, I am hurried into a capsule and a “three… two… one” countdown leads to the click of a switch which activates a trap door, dropping me vertically into an endless abyss of fear.
Dubai offers one of the world's best skydiving facilities. Although my addiction to adrenaline is growing now, I am not quite ready to throw myself out of a plane. Instead I opt for IFLY Dubai, which is a fantastic alternative. Thrust into a wind tank I find myself hovering weightlessly in anticipation of my guide's next hand signal and within two minutes I have shown gravity who is boss; gliding, spinning and turning as if I were born to fly.
The Burj Khalifa still stands as the world's tallest building and The Burj Al Arab is considered the top sevenstar hotel in the world. However, this is not where Dubai's “bigger is better” and “what can't be done shall be done” mentality ends.
It comes as no surprise that a country known for its sweltering heat and arid landscape also makes room for a winter wonderland. Before my body has time to process the massive drop in temperature, I am on a chairlift gazing at the activities showcased within the ski dome. Screaming people attached to ziplines whizz over my head, while kids whoosh along in toboggans and slide tubes down below.
From jumps and rails to a relaxed stroll amongst the penguins, Ski Dubai caters for every level of skiing enthusiast. While I sit in the mountain cabin I sip hot chocolate and my fingers thaw; at that moment it is hard to comprehend the intense dry heat outside.
Full-throttle sand sport
Riding in the desert with Royal Arabian Destination Management had me elated so I am eager to make my way back, but this time I want to take control of the wheel. It is with this in mind that I come across Big Red Motorsports, a biking company which allows riders to get a feel for Dubai's desert landscape. They have a range of motorbikes, quad bikes and rage buggies which are ideal for exploring the desert.
Unearthing every type of human emotion, from sheer fear to fistpumping passion, this is an experience that leaves me breathless. I pass Bedouin camel farmers as I open the throttle on Dubai's largest playground.
Big Red Motorsports have numerous packages on offer from a onehour session offering to basics to an all-inclusive day out raging with the machines and testing the extent of your own limits. My bike jumps from dune to dune.The feeling of elation is quite inexplicable as my confidence grows and thoughts of the Dakar Rally are interrupted by the setting sun and the quiet click when we switch off the engines.
One of the great things about Dubai is that it attracts people from all over the world.The people of this cosmopolitan Emirate have a vibrant and unique multi-racial, multi-national, multi-lingual society.
As the time for me to head out draws closer, it is not hard to find people heading to the sandpit for one last braai with friends, old and new, to say goodbye to a place that had been home for the last two weeks.