Early March saw our family take a fantastic trip to Al Ain in the UAE. We hiked, car camped in the desert and visited Al Ain Zoo and Oasis. Living in a city now, we had been craving some nature and more outdoorsey adventures together, and felt March was the ideal time before it really cranked up in temperature.
Al Ain is an incredible little place, and somewhere I would happily live. It lies about 90 mins from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and is on the eastern boarder of Oman. It is a great spot for outdoor activities; with its mountains, green city and palm oasis! We spent so much time outside (even in the already 30c temperatures) and made the adventure even more epic, by camping the 3 nights in our hire car (more on that in a future post).
If you ever find yourself around Abu Dhabi and want some calm and outdoor beauty – spend a weekend or add a few days to your Itinerary to include Al AIn. Here is what is fun to do there as a family.
Jebel Hafeet Mountains and world heritage site
On our way to Al AIn, we drove across incredible desert views; from the biggest sand dunes we have seen in our lives, to so many camels (babies too) and mountain scenes. It is such a different landscape to Kuwait and was such an exiting drive. This was on the “back roads” and didn’t take much longer – honestly the scenic route is so much more fun with kids!
We flew there late at night, camped between Abu Dhabi and Al AIn, and then the first full day drove straight to Jebel Hafeet Mountain.
Jebel Hafeet hugs the border of the UAE and Oman and is the highest peak in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and second highest in the country. It is a massive 4,068 feet above the desert, and the exciting thing is that you can drive to the top. We may have driven up and down it more than once, because the crazy winding roads, magnificent views and excitement of driving to the top of a mountain was just so much fun for us all. We spent time playing and wandering at the various stops up and down the mountain, and then in the afternoon we went to the national park at the base of the mountain. It was about £5 for parking and they offer all kinds of activities and glamping here. But we had our sights set on a short hike to see some burial tombs dating back to 3200-3000 BC.
Only about 2 Miles of hiking, but intense under the desert sun! We found ourselves beneath the mountains and exploring the remains of an ancient cemetery which is now a world heritage site. It was really fascinating and beautiful – and so nice to have a little hike too. The kids climbed on nearby rocks and played and then we ventured back to the car and to the nearest mall for some much needed food and A/C!
Al Ain Oasis
We spent the next morning visiting Al Ain Oasis – so tropical and tranquil! What another beautiful way to be outside and immersing yourself in nature. It is mostly shaded and is a fun place for kids to run around outside, see some cool natural things, as well as learn the amazing history of farming in this part of the world. It is also very pushchair friendly!
Al Ain Oasis covers 136 hectares and is the biggest Oasis in Al ain. The Oasis is fed by a traditional falaj irrigation system and Farmers tend to more than 147,000 date palms, consisting of more than 100 varieties, as well as fodder crops and fruit trees such as mango, orange, banana, fig and jujube (known locally as sidr). Individual plots are separated by historic boundary walls that create a maze like feel as you wander the oasis. And the best part for families…it’s all free!
We spent the whole morning wandering the mazes and reading about the process and history of it all. My only regret with Al Ain Oasis, was that we didn’t hire electric scooters to cruise round it! I think if you have older kids, this would make it even more fun for them.
Al Ain Zoo
Following a morning at the Oasis, we grabbed lunch and then spent the afternoon at Al Ain Zoo as a treat to celebrate Oscar’s 2nd Birthday which was later that week. Al Ain Zoo was quiet, so clean and felt more like a safari park in places. We all absolutely loved it, and had the best time seeing lions, tigers, giraffes, birds, cheetahs, crocs, Rhino’s (and so so many more animals) in real life! Its only £25 for everyone which blows our mind when we think of how much zoos in the UK cost.
Al Ain Zoo is a great family day out and so nice to be in the presence of so many magnificent creatures! They also have a free land train you can hop on and off of if you want to save your legs. We got this back to the exit, and the kids loved it!
We drove to Green Mubazzarah on our second night, but it was so busy we didn’t stay. Instead we visited the next morning before going to the Oasis. It is a beautiful green park area where families gather with picnics and BBQs. And the highlight is that it has hot springs running around the perimeter where you can chill and soak your feet! It is a unique little beauty spot, with Jebel Hafeet towering behind you.
If we had have had more time we would have spent early evening here so the kids could play for longer, sat in the springs and enjoyed some local food.
Al Wathba Salt Flats
We wrapped up our outdoor adventure the next day with a visit to Al Wathba Salt lake, just outside of Abu Dhabi. We had an afternoon flight back to Kuwait, and so we just spent the morning here on our way to the airport. It is definitely one of those places that initially looks very much like a barren dump (and possibly exaggerated on Instagram pics)! However, when you get up close, it’s all rather spectacular! It felt like we were walking through crunchy snow / on another planet!
And it was such an interesting place to explore with kids – for them to see salt flats, see what happens to things when immersed in salt and also to see salt crystals too. They absolutely loved it.
Surrounding the salt flats there some gigantic dunes, and so we of course had to spend some time climbing and jumping on these! They were so intense to get to the top of, but the views were 100% worth it! We felt like we might burn to death, but had a wild time jumping back down (picking up half the desert on the way in our shoes).
The fossil dunes are close to here too, but we didn’t have time for those – Next time for sure!
Make sure you add Al Ain to your UAE adventures – there is so much nature and fun to be had for families! And it is super budget friendly too. We had the best time on this trip and we are so thankful to only be an hours plane ride and short drive away from it all!