Adventures in the Empty Quarter

Enjoy a memorable trip to the desert with free-walking camels, blazing colours and sky-scraping dunes


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Drive just two hours south of central Abu Dhabi to reach the edge of the world’s largest sand desert. The Rub Al Khali, otherwise known as the Empty Quarter, is a vast sandscape that’s larger than France. Take a memorable day trip that’s worlds away from the busy pace of the city and enjoy a day out in the desert where towering high rises are replaced with a seemingly endless expanse of free-walking camels, blazing colours and sky-scraping dunes.


Explore the Liwa Forts

The Liwa Oasis lies at the northern edge of the Empty Quarter and is home to a number of forgotten forts that date back more than two centuries. Take a road trip along the northern part of the Oasis to see the best of the isolated structures that are still standing. These old mud-brick forts look like beautiful castles made of sand and provide some of the best views of the surrounding palm plantations and rolling desert dunes. A handful have been restored to protect and preserve the incredible history of these old buildings. The Dhafeer Fort is tucked among the dunes and is a modest stronghold that best exemplifies the region’s old mud-brick architecture. One of the most accessible to visit is the Mezaira’a Fort, a small and pretty fortress lined with watchtowers and high walls for strong defence.

Fort in Liwa Abu Dhabi empty quarter


Tackle the Scary Mountain

Head about 30km south from Mezaira’a – the heart of the Liwa Oasis – to reach one of the world’s most epic sand dunes. Tal Moreeb is the tallest dune in the desert at nearly 300m high and when translated locally means ‘Scary Mountain’. Take the paved road that leads straight to this majestic sand hill – the views at the bottom are beautiful, or you can head to the top for a soul-stirring panorama of endless desert sand. Though a little steep, it’s perfectly possible to climb – just ensure you have plenty of water – or if you’ve come prepared with a four-wheel drive you can forgo the effort and drive straight to the top. Come here at sunrise or sunset for the most photogenic vistas, avoiding the best of the mid-day crowds and heavy heat, too.

Road to the Tal Moreeb Dune in the empty quarter Abu Dhabi


Thrill-seeking in the desert

With miles upon miles of empty desert, the sweeping Rub Al Khali landscape is the perfect blank canvas for adrenaline-fuelled activities. Drive about an hour and a half from the city to reach the Arabian Nights Village – a one-of-a-kind setting hidden amongst the dunes that offers a taste of Bedouin history along with a menu of fun-focused experiences and excursions. Some of the wildest ways to get active in the desert include quad biking and sand surfing, or you can try out the local specialty of a fat-tyre bike or dune bashing along the golden crests. One of the most popular, and must-do, activities here is camel trekking; these local natives have a long history in the Empty Quarter, making a camel ride across the dunes an essential local practice to experience.

Camels in the empty quarter in Abu Dhabi

Swap the beautiful beaches for a day trip to the desert; all of these exciting activities are within easy reach from Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort.