As my boat lurches violently to one side, I look around desperately for something to cling onto to stop me sliding into the frothing water below.
My scream is immediately swallowed up by the noise of roaring rapids as we plunge down another drop and pick up even more speed. I paddle frantically with my oar as we hurtle around a steep bend and the inflatable boat tips almost entirely on one side, half submerged under the waves, before it’s thrown upwards and back down onto the water. I’m soaked through, my heart is racing and I’m utterly terrified – yet I already know I’ll want to do it all over again the moment we’ve finished.
The middle of a desert may not be the first place you’d expect to try white-water rafting for the first time, but the UAE is full of adrenalin-fuelled surprises.
About 90 minutes from Abu Dhabi, Al Ain Adventure Park is an action-packed playground for anyone who prefers their holiday with a little more get-up-and-go. The first man-made rafting park in the Middle East, it also has a surf pool, a floating inflatable obstacle course and wakeboarding facilities – all in the shadow of the Jebel Hafit mountain.
It’s just one of the high-octane attractions drawing a new type of adventure traveller to the UAE.
King of adrenalin
Ideal for active families and any clients craving more than a fly and flop, the UAE offers endless adventures all within easy reach of top hotels, beaches and mammoth shopping malls so they can do as much – or as little – as they choose. With vast swathes of untouched desert, craggy mountains and the blue waters of the Persian Gulf close by, the region’s natural terrain is ideal for all kinds of thrilling activities from abseiling to zip-lining, dune-bashing to scuba-diving.
“A relatively small region that’s easy to navigate, the UAE offers such diversity in activities to suit all levels of adventure traveller including skydiving over the iconic skyline of Dubai, dune bashing in Abu Dhabi, kayaking the mangroves in Ajman and taking on the longest zip line in the world in Ras Al Khaimah,” says Sheena Paton, Senior Programme Manager at Kuoni.
“The UAE has invested in appealing to tourists so many hotels include waterpark access or even have their own waterparks.”
Eric Johnson, Marketing Director of Sovereign Luxury Travel, agrees.
“The UAE is relatively easy to get to, there’s no jet lag and you have a completely unique cultural experience. The service is fantastic, the food is amazing, the destinations are safe and the weather is more guaranteed than in other places.”
That means there’s little chance that your client’s skydive will be spoilt by grey clouds or their kayaking expedition rained off. And purpose-built attractions including white-water rapids and even indoor snow parks mean they can also have a go at tobogganing, rafting or even snow zorbing… as long as they’re brave enough.
Whether clients want white-knuckle thrills or family-friendly fun, Dubai will please everyone. “It has a broad range of incredible adventures aimed at families, groups of friends and solo travellers, meaning you will never be short of options regardless of your party size or their interests,” says Hoor Al Khaja, Associate Vice President of International Operations at the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism.
It’s best suited to those who want maximum flexibility and are looking for traditional holiday activities like shopping, dining and sunbathing alongside extreme adventures. Plus it has the best nightlife in the UAE.
“Dubai not only offers adventure but also a varied gastronomy offering, winter sun, a rich cultural heritage and more,” says Al Khaja. “There’s always something new to explore. And once guests have had some high-octane fun, they can relax by the pool or beach or indulge in a spa treatment.”
Hiking enthusiasts can test out the newly-opened 9.7km Mushrif National Park Hiking Trail nestled within the picturesque Mushrif National Park.
Sell it: TUI offers five nights at B&B at Dukes The Palm, a Royal Hideaway Hotel in Dubai, in May 2024, priced from £964pp (based on two sharing), with return British Airways flights from Heathrow and airport transfers. Tui.co.uk
Abu Dhabi offers excellent beaches, easy desert access and cultural attractions including the Abu Dhabi Louvre and the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque.
Just an hour from Dubai but considerably less flashy, activities are more family focused than in any other emirate with Yas Waterworld, Warner Bros. World and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster.
“Abu Dhabi is for those seeking more experiences and discovery,” says Johnson. “There’s more to see culturally with museums and mosques as well as the natural beauty of Saadiyat with its dolphins and turtles, the theme parks of Yas Island and the adventure of the mangroves and desert.”
Sell it: Sovereign has five nights in Abu Dhabi priced from £1062pp and based on two sharing. Departing February 1 2024, the deal Includes B&B at Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, return flights from Heathrow and private transfers. Sovereign.com
Ras Al Khaimah
If clients want to immerse themselves in the great outdoors, northernmost emirate Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is ideal. High-end hotels cost less than in Dubai and the region is less developed, leaving more space to get active. Think peaceful mangroves for kayaking, white-sand beaches for waterskiing and parasailing and expansive desert dunes for horse riding, dune bashing and sandboarding. There’s no better emirate for clients with a head for heights either.
“Ras Al Khaimah’s appeal as an adventure destination is underscored by Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain peak,” says Iyad Rasbey, Vice President of Destination Tourism Development at Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.
“It offers unique experiences for nature lovers and adventure seekers including the world’s longest zipline, the region’s longest toboggan ride and Via Ferrata, a cross between rock climbing and mountaineering.”
Sell it: Kuoni has seven nights B&B at Fairmont Ajman, priced from £1,249pp, for a March 2024 departure. Seven nights half-board at The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert, is from £3149pp, in May 2024. Both include Emirates flights from Gatwick. Kuoni.co.uk
“Ajman may be the smallest of the seven emirates but it still has plenty to keep any adventurous traveller occupied,” says Kuoni’s Paton.
Quieter and more traditional than its neighbouring emirates, Ajman offers a more peaceful introduction to the UAE with its authentic souks, tranquil beaches and a protected nature reserve. Activities tend to be gentler too if your client would rather swerve heights and speed – and it is considerably cheaper than Dubai.
“You can follow walking trails in the mountains, kayak through lagoons or even play golf within the mangroves amid local birdlife,” says Paton.
“Yet you’re just 20 minutes away from Dubai so it’s very easy for excursions if you want to dip your toe into other thrill-seeker options available there.”
Sell it: Red Savannah has a five-night package in Ajman priced from £2,468pp. The deal Includes B&B at the Oberoi Al Zorah, premium meet and greet in Dubai, private transfers and return flights from Heathrow. Redsavannah.com