If you want real desert this is the place to come. We’ve escaped Dubai’s skyscraper forest before for the smooth open undulating dunes of the desert. It’s a fun afternoon to pack a coolerbox, firewood and some marshmallows, and set up camp just an hour away from home. It feels remote and peaceful. At least I thought it did until today.
Liwa is an oasis on the edge of the largest desert in the world, Rub al Khali (Empty Quarter). And it does its name justice. Three hours’ drive from Dubai and you start to get a real feel for what desolation is. I’m not usually worried but I had the nagging feeling that we would be screwed if our car broke down. With the weight of responsibility for two young children we tend to be more sensible now than we were in our backpacking days. We had water, snacks, maps…but there was no shadow or shade in sight. In 40C heat, you don’t last long without it.
The Rub al Khali desert is so harsh and barren even Bedouins only dance around the edges of it, but the 150km wide Liwa oasis that hugs the side is not empty of history. This land is famous for bearing the footsteps of Wilfred Thesiger on his explorations. It is also home to the Maktoum and Al Nahyan families who now rule Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The Tilal Liwa hotel was our temporary home for this weekend away from life; “tilal” means “dune”. Originally a hotel for camel owners galloping to the track during December’s festival, it soon found itself the target of expats searching for the real Arabian desert. There are now plans to expand the hotel with villas.
Today we got acquainted with the Arabian desert at very close quarters. A little too close for my liking as I found my nose an inch from the windscreen of a 4x4 as we rolled and pitched across the dunes. The raw beauty is stunning though. Bring a plastic bag with you…just in case.
Accommodation: Tilal Liwa hotel, built three years ago, is 180km from Abu Dhabi (330km from Dubai). Although the hotel has four stars it is no frills; don’t expect the glitz of a big city hotel. It has a beautiful courtyard with an infinity pool. The view of the dunes from the pool is reason enough to visit. The best rooms have patio doors opening onto the courtyard.
The largest desert in the world? Are you sure? How do you cut a cake?! To be considered a desert an area must have less than 250 millimeters of annual rainfall, so strictly speaking that would be the Antarctic. The Sahara is the world’s largest hot weather desert, but the Rub al Khali is the largest sand desert ie. single largest area of continuous sand.
For more photographs, please click here.
Competition: win a weekend in the largest desert in the world
Fancy heading off to the desert for a mini break? The Liwa oasis, a two hour drive outside Abu Dhabi, is on the edge of the Rub al Khali, or the Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world. Experience an exciting summer adventure at the 4-star Tilal Liwa Hotel.
The lucky winner will receive a voucher for a two night weekend stay, for up to two adults and two children under 12, including breakfast. Activities include a sightseeing visit to the traditional camel farms and race arena, sand boarding, as well as full use of the hotel pool, gym and kids' club.
How to enter:
Leave a comment completing the statement: "I love the desert because...." The best comment wins. It's as easy as that. Good luck. Click here for conditions.
Sunday, 7th July, 2013