The first national park in the United Emirates is a vast desert with trekking trails, camel and horseback tours and Bedouin camping experiences under the stars.
Dubai is best known as a destination to experience some of the world's most impressive modern-day skyscrapers, massive shopping malls and luxurious lifestyle resorts. Yet, the biggest project in the United Emirates is the preservation of the region's natural ecosystem. The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is a protected area of Arabian Desert, 225-square-kilometres (87-square-miles) in size: An area of land that equals almost 5 percent of Dubai's total land area.
Formally a camel farm, today the reserve is abundant with plants and animal species. The land was purchased by the UAE's Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in an effort to balance Dubai's rapid urban growth with the preservation of the natural ecosystem.
The only way to explore the park is through an approved tour operator. There are a range of experiences to choose from, including camel treks, SUV tours through the desert terrain and over sand dunes, resort stays, Bedouin camping experiences, as well as archery and falconry displays.
Some of the region's most fascinating wildlife can also be discovered here. See herds of free-roaming Arabian gazelles and an array of bird species. Look out for nocturnal sand cats, side-winding vipers and Ethiopian hedgehogs. Since the park has been established, endangered wildlife species have been reintroduced, including the Arabian oryx and Macqueen’s bustards. Tour guides are informative and will talk about the desert ecosystem and the history of the park.
Other tour options include desert sporting activities: Slide on a sand board down dunes or pick up a traditional bow and arrow and practise hitting the target in a game of archery.
When the sun starts to set over the horizon, settle into a Bedouin tent for a desert meal of grilled meats, rice, yogurt, Arabic sweets and teas. Stay the night and camp under the desert stars. When the sun rises in the morning, enjoy a Bedouin breakfast.
The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is inland of Dubai, approximately 1 hour from the city centre.