Sparkling skyscrapers, luxury shopping and the Formula 1 Grand Prix may only come to mind when you think of Abu Dhabi. But the emirate’s ecological sites attract travelers, citizens and expatriates. In honor of World Environment Day – June 5 – take a look at these natural and green Abu Dhabi sites and start your travel planning. Abu Dhabi is open for quarantine-free travel from the United States from July 1.
Environmental places near the capital
Whether you live in Abu Dhabi or just visiting, you do not have to travel far to see the less developed side of the emirate. Several places are near the capital, both on the mainland and on the islands.
There are e.g. A mangrove sanctuary on the island of Al Jubail. You can stroll along wooden promenades through green areas by Jubail Mangrove Park, which opened in January 2020. You can see lots of birds, including herons, and maybe turtles and other marine life. The best time to visit is at high tide.
Just 40 minutes outside the capital is Al Wathba, where there is both a wetland reserve and desert dunes. Highlighted in movies – inclusive Star Wars: The Force Awakens—Er Al Wathba Fossile Dunes. They are rare and unusual sand formations created thanks to wind and calcium carbonate. The dunes are also an important wildlife environment. On a night safari in Al Wathba you will see nocturnal desert mammals and lizards that avoid the heat of the day. Thanks to infrared lights, you can even (safely) spot a scorpion.
Between the dunes and the city is Al Wathba Wetlands Reserve. About 250 different bird species live here plus a few reptiles and mammals. In the spring and fall, 4,000 pale flamingos with pink and black wings enjoy the wetlands – the only regular breeding ground for larger flamingos in the Middle East. Choose between two hiking trails: you see flamingos on the red trail and have a good chance of seeing lizards on the green trail. The reserve was placed on the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas in 2018, the first place in the region to be recognized with the designation.
Environmental sites in Al Dhafra, Western Region of Abu Dhabi
Western Region of Abu Dhabi, Al Dhafra, is about two-thirds of the entire emirate. It includes beaches, islands, desert and dunes, and there are several ancient archeological sites to explore in the area.
Why not take an Arab safari further Sir Bani Yas Island? It has a huge nature reserve that is home to more than 17,000 free-ranging animals, some native and others introduced. You will see desert animals like the endangered Arabian oryx, various gazelles and carnivores like hyenas and cheetahs. The island is also the site of the ruins of a Christian monastery, built around 700 AD. and rediscovered in 1992.
For luxurious stays on Sir Bani Yas Island there are three Anantara resorts to choose from: by the beach Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort with mangrove kayaking, snorkeling and horseback riding; in tents luxury with gazelles roaming past at Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort; and in hotel suites overlooking the bay and in pool villas by Desert Islands Resort & Spa of Anantara.
Al Dhafra is also home to Rub ‘al Khali – the empty neighborhood—The largest uninterrupted stretch of sand in the world. The huge dunes here alternate with the wind. You can take dawn trips in the desert (maybe even find a geode crystal), stare at the stars without light pollution and learn about the culture and traditions of the Bedouins.
Environmental sites in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi Eastern Region
A favorite site in the eastern region of Abu Dhabi is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Al Ain Oasis. It is about 90 minutes from the capital and near the border with Oman. Surrounded by desert, the six oases here are some of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on the planet.
Al Ain is known as Garden City. It exists because of the falaj – the ancient irrigation system that still works today – that nourishes the city’s 147,000 date palms and other lush shade trees. You can also visit historical sites such as Al Jahili Fort and Hili Archaeological Park, a UNESCO site with ancient tombs.
Near Al Ain is Jebel Hafit, Abu Dhabi’s highest mountain and the second highest in the UAE. It is the site of fossils, the 5,000-year-old Jebel Hafit-grave, as well as great views of both sunrise and sunset. On the way back to Al Ain from Jebel Hafit, stop at Green Mubazzarah Hot Springs – it’s a great place to dip your feet after a winter hike.
Underwater Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi has several sea protected areas and plenty of places for diving, free diving and snorkeling. For those who do not want to get wet, you can admire the sea life from above on a kayak paddle through the mangrove forests.
You may see dolphins, endangered Hawksbill and green turtles, the Arabian sea fish and butterfly fish swimming near bright corals. The Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve has the world’s second largest community of dugongs that are cousins of the manatee. Ras Ghanadah is the site of one of Abu Dhabi’s largest protected coral reefs. There are even more shipwrecks to dive; The Old Cement Barge wreck is also a top spot for snorkeling.
Quarantine-free travel from the United States from July 1, 2021
Abu Dhabi reopened to international tourism in December 2020. As of July 1, 2021, travelers were from more than two dozen “Green list” the countries are able to enter Abu Dhabi without the need for quarantine. New countries are added regularly to the list.
Check Abu Dhabi’s current Covid travel protocols, including test requirements, for Visit Abu Dhabi’s website. Visa are available on arrival for holders of US passport applications and fee payments can also be made in advance.