Forget the glitz and glam: let us introduce you to the rough and ready side of the emirate, the one that’s not for the faint-of-heart
When you think of Dubai, chances are images of towering, glass skyscrapers, five-star resorts and glamorous restaurants come to mind – alongside the rolling sands and desert safaris. But there’s plenty more to the emirate than that, and myriad activities to suit adventure travellers, too.
Here are some of the best:
Whether it’s your first or fiftieth skydive experience, Skydive Dubai is a great spot for keen adrenalin-junkies. There are two locations in the emirate: you could jump closer to the city, and look over the man-made palm tree-shaped island, Palm Jumeirah, and the rest of the glittering city as you float through the sky. Or head out to the desert, where all you can see for miles are rolling sand dunes and the shape of the city’s impressive skyline in the distance.
Alternatively, if you’re in Dubai during the hotter months, there’s also the option to go skydiving indoors at iFly Dubai Academy. It has the world’s first double vertical wind tunnel that takes you up to four metres in the air, and allows you to try out skydiving, bungee jumping and even base-jumping in the cool air-conditioning.
The UAE is home to the world’s longest zip line, but that’s in another emirate, in Ras Al Khaimah. So, if you’re sticking around Dubai, we suggest you head to XLine Dubai Marina, which claims the title of world’s longest urban zip line instead. It takes you over land and water, where plenty of super-yachts are docked, from 170 metres high to ground level, with speeds reaching up to 50 miles per hour. You can ride solo or in tandem with a friend or family member.
If you’ve already got your PADI certification, then you can head out to some of the Emirates’ favourite dive sites, to spot a few fish in their natural habitat. Fujairah, in particular, is popular for this. However, in Dubai, two tourist attractions offer shark diving as an option. At the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, you can dive into the 10-million-litre tank and come face-to-face with Sand Tiger sharks. Alternatively, book the shark safari at Aquaventure Waterpark, which offers a safe, family-friendly experience, complete with special helmets and plenty of supervision.
This is the quintessential Dubai activity, and no trip to the emirate would be complete without bashing a few dunes. There are plenty of tour operators that offer excursions to the desert, with an extreme drive through the sand thrown in. You might find your hotel has a preferred company to work with, so enquire at reception as you check in. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with one of the city’s most trusted operators, Arabian Adventures, which also offers plenty of other exhilarating experiences, such as sandboarding, seaplane adventures and helicopter rides.
Snow in the desert might sound like an oxymoron, but you can absolutely learn to ski and snowboard in Dubai, too. The temperature at the indoor snow park in Mall of the Emirates is kept at a cool -4ºC. The slopes reach up to 85 metres high, with five different pistes of varying degrees of difficulty, for people aged three and above. You can also try out the world’s first indoor black diamond run, and speed down 400 metres of snow-covered track. Don’t forget to say hello to the penguins while you’re there.
You’ll find opportunities to flyboard all over the emirate. For the most part, wherever there’s a beach, there’s a chance to go hydroflying. Basically, you stand on a board that’s connected to a watercraft by a long hose. Then the device, using the power of a water stream, propels you into the air, so that you feel like you’re flying. It’s a lot harder – and scarier – than it sounds.
A gyrocopter is a type of rotorcraft, a bit like a helicopter, and during a flight in one of these you’ll get some of the most stunning views of Dubai. Skydive Dubai offers trips in gyrocopters over the iconic Palm Jumeirah and Burj Al Arab area, to anyone 17 years old and above. It’s an ideal option if you aren’t quite ready to jump out of a plane just yet.
Hot air balloon ride
Balloon Adventures Dubai has been offering hot air balloon rides since 2005, so you’re in good hands. It’s more than just a ride in the sky, too, as the team also includes a falconry performance, a drive through the desert in a vintage Land Rover, as well as a breakfast spread in an authentic Bedouin-style camp. It’s certainly a unique way to see the natural landscape of Dubai in all its glory.