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Adventure in the Mangrove Reserve of Abu Dhabi / (c) Peter Dowley/Flickr
Adventure in the Mangrove Reserve of Abu Dhabi / (c) Peter Dowley/Flickr
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11 Natural Hidden Gems in the UAE Worth Exploring

Picture of Jessica Harn
Updated: 31 October 2017
Although the UAE may be famous for its glittering futuristic cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, many tourists who visit the country don’t explore the UAE’s nature. Besides the desert, there are also ancient fossil beds, natural hot springs, and beautiful oases. Here are 11 of the UAE’s most beautiful natural gems that are totally worth visiting.

Big Red

A striking red sand dune in the middle of the Al Badayer Desert, just a quick drive from the city of Dubai, Big Red offers some of the best tracks through the desert to hike, bike, or drive through for an exhilarating look at the UAE’s more wild side. This is one of those places that the UAE seems to keep secret, and that only those who truly want to discover the beauty of the desert will uncover!

Big Red, Al Badayer Desert

Fossil Rock

Natural Feature
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Unleash your adventurous side at the sand dunes | © Robert Haandrikman / Flickr

Fossil Rock

Not only known for its 80 million-year-old marine fossils carved into the bright red rocks of the desert, Fossil Rock is alsoa popular camping site. Here, visitors can explore the hot desert and fossils during the day and bask under the stars during the cooler night. Fossil Rock juts into the sky in the middle of the wild UAE desert, so be sure to have a sturdy 4×4 car, as you’ll have to drive over sand dunes without proper roads to get there!

Fossil Rock, Sharjah

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Touristy, Loud, Local

Wadi al Bih

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature
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RAK
View from a wadi in RAK | © Laith Wark / Flickr

Wadi al Bih

Located in the wilder northern Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, Wadi al Bih is a secret oasis at the top of the desolate Hajar Mountains. With beautiful bird life, emerald-green pools of water, and hiking trails in and out of the oasis of green and fields of flowers; Wadi al Bih is worth the drive up north for an experience like no other in the UAE.

Wadi al Bih, Ras al Khaimah

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Wadi Ghalilah

Known as the “Stairway to Heaven”, Wadi Ghalilah is located in the very north of the UAE, in the middle of the mountains, and is the perfect place to go mountain climbing and hiking. Only discovered 25 years ago by adventurous explorers, Wadi Ghalilah will reward those who make it to the top with spectacular views of the raw beauty of Arabian nature.

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The striking Hajar Mountains| ©Kathryn James/flickr

Wadi Ghalilah, Ras al Khaimah

Wasit Nature Reserve

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Wasit Nature Reserve
The 'lungs' of Sharjah | © Schwoaze / Pixabay

Wasit Nature Reserve

Boasting some of the UAE’s most diverse and colorful ecosystems, this nature reserve in the emirate of Sharjah is home to a brilliantly striking lake, green landscape, and wide variety of birds and other tropical mammals and reptiles. Considered the “lungs” of Sharjah because of how fresh and green the reserve is, this is the place to go to truly appreciate the miracle of nature’s blossoming in the surrounding desert.

Wasit Nature Reserve, Sharjah

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12:00 pm - 5:00 pm

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Outdoors, Photo Opportunity, Scenic

Umm al Quwain Wetlands

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Umm Al Quwain
The enchanting Umm Al Quwain | © Majid Sarmast / Flickr

Umm al Quwain Wetlands

Here, you can try and imagine what the Arabian Peninsula might have looked like before it became a desert. The best way to explore these wetlands in the UAE’s smallest emirate is to grab a boat or kayak, and navigate the quiet mangroves and water channels to explore this beautiful and thriving lagoon that has survived despite the surrounding areas of the Arabian Peninsula turning into sandy rock.

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Umm al Quwain beauty| ©Majid Sarmast/flickr

Umm al Quwain Wetlands

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Kayaks, Boat Rental

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Outdoors, Scenic, Photo Opportunity
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Wathba Wetland Reserve

A serious of natural lakes, wetlands, salt flats, and fossilized sands and dunes, this wetland 40 km south of Abu Dhabi is a truly magnificent place to go to experience the hidden beauty of UAE nature. With more than 250 species of bird, this is the place for anyone with an interest in Arabian wildlife; the bright pink flamingos are definitely the most popular.

Wathba Wetland Reserve, Abu Dhabi

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Sir Bani Yas Island

Sir Bani Yas is the perfect getaway to truly feel like you’ve traveled to another world. The enormous and highly popular wildlife park–with giraffes, cheetahs, and gazelles–is only overshadowed by the island’s beautiful thriving coastline and towering salt dome hills in the island’s center.

Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Al Hayer Forest

Al Hayer Forest is another one of the UAE’s secret gems: a forest of ghaf trees in the middle of the desert. It’s also a popular camp site to those seeking shade from the harsh UAE summer sun. Camp out in this oasis for a striking view of lush green trees amid the scorching red desert of Arabia.

Al Hayer Forest, Al Ain

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Mangroves National Park

With its lush green water channels and thriving mangrove trees, this protected natural wildlife area in Abu Dhabi is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the country. The best way to explore this nature reserve is by boat, allowing you to get up close to its variety of wildlife and nature.

Mangroves National Park, Abu Dhabi

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Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary

A Dubai secret, the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is a thriving wetland and home to a colorful array of migratory birds and wildlife. With its famous flamingos, cooling waters, and lush green vegetation, this sanctuary is for those who need to re-appreciate the beauty of nature.

Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, Dubai