Off-roading in the UAE

Head out into the UAE’s mountains and deserts for an exhilarating off-road drive through desert sands or dried-up, rocky riverbeds. Here's how to find a seat in a 4x4 and hit the dirt and the dunes
Off roading in the UAE: Driving 4x4's across the desert in Dubai.
Driving 4x4's across the desert in Dubai. Photo: Shutterstock

Ready to go off-roading in the UAE? Wadi-bashing (off-road driving in the mountains) and dune-bashing in the desert, is an exhilarating way to spend an afternoon. Bouncing along a boulder-strewn wadi or careening down what seem like impossibly high sand dunes is like flying through bad turbulence with the “fasten seatbelt” sign on

Planning and expertise

Let's get one thing straight first: off-road driving should not be attempted in ordinary saloon cars. The all-terrain traction provided by four-wheel-drive vehicles is essential. It’s also critical that more than one vehicle goes out into the wilds at a time; that way, one can tow the other out of trouble if the need arises.The person behind the wheel needs the handling skills of a rally driver, which is why first-time wadi-bashers should have someone else do the work. While 4x4s can be rented, less worrisome off-road tours with experienced drivers are provided by hotels and specialist tour companies, including Insight Guides Magnificent Emirates itinerary. But even those who are most adept at judging the conditions can get stuck. A little forethought can prevent major problems, and the experienced wadi-basher hopes for the best but prepares for the worst. A long rope, shovel, tyre jack and base are musts. A small ladder or large sheet of tarpaulin can be placed under the wheels for traction. Extra fuel, a spare wheel and tyre pressure gauge are also important features of a successful trip.

Wadi- and dune-bashing depend on tyre pressure as much as skill – lower pressure for driving through sand and desert, and higher for mountain driving. When stuck in soft sand, reducing the tyre pressure and reversing over your own tracks may allow your vehicle to be driven, instead of towed, out of trouble. To avoid getting stuck, don’t change gear in soft sand, as the vehicle will lose the momentum needed to pull it through. If engines are over-revved at the first sign of trouble, the wheels dig further into the sand. When ascending and descending sandy slopes, the wheels should be kept straight and the most vertical route taken. Attempting to cross a slope diagonally is an invitation for disaster. When going down a slope, the vehicle should be in low gear with the engine (not the brakes) used to slow it down. That way, it is less likely that the front wheels will become stuck and that the rear end will swing around, precipitating a roll. 

Wadi-bashing is a great means by which to appreciate the raw beauty of the desert and mountains and can be done year-round. But regardless of when you go off-roading in the UAE, it's important to keep a close eye on the weather as sand storms are a particular concern. Again, travelling with an expert (as with Insight Guides' trips to the UAE) will ensure your in safe hands at all times. 

Dune bashing in the UAE desert. Photo: ShutterstockDune bashing in the UAE desert. Photo: Shutterstock

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