The UAE’s cities may not be ideal for walking but, for those who really want to stretch their legs, there are some great hiking options just a short drive from town.
To the north, for example, the Ru’us Al Jibal Mountains (the northernmost section of the Hajars) contain the highest peaks in the UAE, standing proud at over 2,000 metres. To the east, the impressive central section of the Hajars forms the border between the UAE and Oman, stretching from the Musandam peninsula to the Empty Quarter Desert, hundreds of kilometres to the south. Most of the terrain is heavily eroded, due to the harsh climate, but there are still places where you can walk through shady palm plantations and lush oases. Routes range from short, easy walks to spectacular viewpoints, to all-day treks over difficult terrain, and can include some fairly major mountaineering. Some hikes follow centuries-old Bedouin and Shihuh mountain paths, a few of which are still being used.
An easy introduction to Gulf hiking is the foothills of the Hajar Mountains just off the Hatta Road, near the Oman border. After the flat desert, rugged outcrops transform the landscape completely. Explore any turning you like, or take the road to Mahdah, along which you’ll find several options.
Other great areas for hiking and exploring include Al Ain and Buraimi, Wadi Bih, the mountains near the East Coast and much of northern Oman. The mountains in the region don’t generally disappoint and the further off the beaten track you get, the more likely you are to find interesting villages where residents live much the same way as they did centuries ago.
Hiking here is completely different to what most people expect or are used to. There are few established tracks, apart from goat trails, and there is often little shade or relief from the sun. Rocks and boulders are sharp and often unstable, the general terrain often shattered due to the harsh climate, so much of the time is spent watching where you are walking. No signposts in the UAE (in Oman, major hikes are actually well marked) combined with a lack of distinguishable features, can make it difficult to orientate yourself. However, once you become more experienced and accustomed to the local environment, your perceptions change, and you will find it easier to recognise different rocks and trees, and simpler to navigate.
But all hikers are strongly advised to purchase, and learn how to use, a GPS. You can then confidently plot the position of your starting point every time you are out. You should then have no difficulty wandering all day and finding a route back to your car.
September 2012 Update: It has been reported that off-roaders/campers/hikers are no longer able to easily cross into Oman from Dibba due to authorities enforcing stricter border rules. According to local news reports, Sharjah officials at the Dibba crossing - an unofficial border station - have been demanding UAE residents offer proof of a hotel stay or a booking with a dhow operator in order to go into Oman.
Several tourism operators and sports' clubs have revealed that residents are now required to send a copy of their passport and their residency visa to the hotel where they will stay 48 hours in advance. As a result, it is advisable you plan ahead when deciding to enter Oman for a weekend away.
June 2013 Update: Female UAE residents from outside the GCC can no longer travel to Dibba without the permission of a male relative or their employer.
The emirate of Sharjah – which is home to the Dibba border crossing with Oman – introduced the new requirement in late May, meaning that non-GCC females living in the UAE would require a no objection letter (NOL) from their sponsor, typically their place of work or husband. For more information, read Restrictions for females to Dibba.