IN THE AIR

Flying an aircraft
Belt up and take off! Enjoy a trial-flight session at Fujairah Aviation Centre, Fujairah International Airport. Alternatively, you can sign up for a spectacular night flight with Emirates Flying School, Dubai International Airport. If you don’t want to be in the hot seat, let the pilot take you on a 30-minute sightseeing tour from Umm Al Quwain Aeroclub.
You can even charter an aircraft for a longer trip; it’s a wonderful way to see the cityscape and the desert.
If virtual flying is more your cup of tea, the simulator at the Emirates Training College will allow you to “pilot” two of the world’s latest aircraft from take-off to touchdown.
Microlight aircraft also fly from Al Jazeera Flying Club.
Helicopter rides over Dubai
If you prefer to fly — but not by being thrown out of an aircraft to plunge down to Earth — opt for a helicopter ride over the city. The duration and the flight path can be adjusted to suit any budget or to include select attractions. Get a bird’s-eye view of your favourite landmarks. The rides leave from the private terminal of Dubai International Airport. A 30-minute ride usually includes refreshments and a full insurance cover. You have to take into account other expenses such as meals, tips and pick up-and-drop charges. Each guest has to fill in the relevant information forms and submit passport copies with visa page to the company three days before the flight. Gate passes for airport-security clearance usually takes three working days for clearance.

Skydiving
Not a sport for the faint-hearted, skydiving has been described as a life-changing activity by those who have tried it. Tandem jump with experienced skydivers at the Umm Al Quwain Aeroclub for an unforgettable experience. Visit www.uaqclubs.com

Seaplane rides
We’ve all spotted seaplanes taking passengers for an aerial view of the city. Why don’t you book a seat to see what the view is like? Seawings offers a range of tours over popular landmarks such as Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab. You can even opt for a desert ride. Visit www.seawings.ae for details.

ON LAND

Go camping

Grab your tent and spend a night under the stars, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Wadis with lush greenery are nice to camp around but if there has been heavy rainfall in the vicinity, one has to be careful of flash floods. Take your pick from idyllic Liwa, with its clean desert landscape, to Fossil Rock in Dhaid or even the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve en route to Al Ain. There are also many unchartered camping sites you could discover on your own.

What to pack
- Sufficient food and water
- Camping gear, including tents, sleeping mats and air pumps. You can pick all camping gear from Carrefour, Dragon Mart, Ace Hardware or Go Sports
- Barbecue kit, including self-igniting coal, beach combers for light, wood and lighting fuel for the bonfire
- Maps, GPS or guidebooks
- Sun protection and hats
- Spare tyre
- Torch with batteries
- First-aid kit
- Trash bags

Things to remember
- Check weather forecast and carry proper clothing
- Check your car’s fluid levels and tyre pressure
- If you encounter wildlife, do not approach them

HIKING AND TREKKING IN THE MOUNTAINS

One gets so used to travel around the UAE in cars that a four-hour trek may seem like an alien concept. Besides, the humidity and scorching summers do not encourage outdoor walks for most of the year.

As if that wasn’t enough, the mountains in this region are prone to an extreme climate that causes erosion and unstable rocky trails. That said, it is the pure thrill of the adventure that draws trekkers to these mountains.

The guidebook Off-Road Explorer UAE recommends the ancient Bedouin and Shihuh trails. The Stairway to Heaven was once a Shihuh trail leading up a vertical stone face. It is a 12-hour hike from a spectacular valley.

The Hanging Gardens trail at Jebel Qatar near Al Ain, with its surprising rock formations, finds worthy mention in the guidebook as one of the best treks of the region. There are also unlimited unchartered trails that you could discover on your own. Going on long treks alone is not advisable, especially if it is unfamiliar territory, since accidents can and do happen.

What to pack
- GPS and guidebooks
- Sufficient food and water
- Sun protection and hats
- Good walking shoes (preferably those that provide support for the ankles) and thick socks
- Change of T-shirt, in case of high humidity levels

ON WATER

DHOW EXCURSIONS

Dhows are traditional Arab sailing vessels that were used along the Arabian Peninsula. They still carry dates and fish as cargo between East Africa and the Arabian Gulf and are an integral part of the UAE’s history and culture. If you wish to spend an evening on a dhow that offers a glimpse into the UAE’s past, book a ticket at any of the following companies along the waterways of Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.
- Blue Dolphin Intercontinental Hotel, which offers hour-long dhow trips from the Breakwater in Abu Dhabi. A traditional dhow can also be hired for a longer day trip.
- Danat Dubai and Sharjah National Tourist and Transport Authority, which offer cruises in Dubai and Sharjah.

WATER PARKS

- Iceland Water Park: There’s never a dull moment in Ras Al Khaimah, with the newly opened snow-themed water park. Not to be mistaken as a cross between Ski Dubai and a water park, Iceland Water Park only has a snow theme — there is no real snow anywhere on the park’s premises. Check out www.wowrak.org for more information.
- Dreamland Aqua Park: This park in Umm Al Quwain is one of the largest water parks in the UAE. The park also features a track for go-karting, an amusement centre for children and several food stalls and restaurants. It’s “family day” on Fridays. Check out www.dreamlanduae.com for more information.
- Wild Wadi Water Park: It is located next to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and offers 24 interconnected gigantic water rides on a spectacular 12-acre site. It is popular with residents and tourists alike, as it is conveniently located. The park has lifeguards on the premises and has several dining outlets. Check out www.jumeirah-beach.com for information.
- Aquaventure – Atlantis The Palm: It is set on the Palm, Dubai, and consists of the water park, the Lost Chambers and the Atlantis Dive Centre. Check out www.atlantisthepalm.com for more information.

WATER SPORTS

The UAE has year-round sunshine, calm weather and water currents that expatriates consider ideal for visiting the beach, sunbathing and water sports. Dubai offers water sk-ng, jet sk-ng, parasailing and other water sports. Every year, Dubai Water Sports Association invites top performers from the US and Europe for a week-long competition.
Contact Dubai Water Sports Association or Jebel Ali Hotel and Golf Resort for details.

FISHING

Deep-sea fishing is a wonderful sport to indulge in during winter. These waters are teeming with fish such as tuna, marlin, barracuda and mackerel. According to experts, the best time to visit is from September-April. You can either bring your own fishing equipment or hire. Prices and timings can be adjusted to suit your convenience. Head to the following places:
- Beach Rotana Hotel, Abu Dhabi, offers well-equipped boats that can be hired by the day or for shorter trips.
- BlueDolphin Company, Dubai
- BountyCharters, Dubai
- Creek Cruises, Dhow Wharf, Creekside, Dubai
- Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club
- Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, Dubai
- Oceanic Hotel, Beach Road, Khor Fakkan (www.oceanichotel.com)

SAILING

Sailing is a popular activity around the UAE, with enthusiasts participating in several activities and competitions. The climate in the region is ideal for the sport and sailing clubs such as Abu Dhabi International Marine Club, Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, Dubai International Marine Club and Jebel Ali Sailing Club encourage participants around the country.

DEEP-SEA DIVING AND SNORKELLING

The waters around the UAE are ideal for a range of diving and snorkelling activities. The colourful reefs and wrecks are good diving spots due to fewer tidal currents. Khor Fakkan, on the East Coast, offers more than ten diving sites that are just a few minutes from the shore.
Another great place for diving is Dibba. A few species of sharks are regularly spotted in these waters. Padi (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification is available through most diving centres and the courses usually last five days.
Contact Emirates Diving Association (www.emiratesdiving.com). The guidebook UAE Underwater Explorer provides a list of popular diving sites, along with GPS coordinates and maps.
Certified divers must produce their certification card if they wish to avail of diving facilities in the UAE. Equipment and boats can be hired at the diving centres and shops listed below. Many of these are located at hotels.
However, you can avail of the facilities even if you are not a guest or a club member but it is advisable to book well in advance. If you are a novice, you can earn your Padi qualifications through most of the centres. Courses usually last two to five days.
- A B Divers, Le Méridien Beach Resort, Abu Dhabi. E-mail abdivers@emirates.net.ae for details.
- Golden Boats, Le Méridien, Abu Dhabi
- Al Boom Diving, Dubai
- Leema Coast Sea Travels and Diving, Diving House, Khor Fakkan. E-mail dive4fun@emirates.net.ae for details.
- Ocean Divers’ Centre, Oceanic Hotel, Khor Fakkan

Whale and dolphin watching
Twenty species of whales and dolphins are seen off the coast of the UAE regularly. The East Coast, with its canyons and cliffs on the continental shelf, is where you can spot sperm whales and Risso’s dolphins. On a clear day, when the sea is calm, you can take to the water for some whale- and dolphin-watching. March-July is the best time to venture out and try your luck. Though you have to cover some distance to view whales, bottlenose dolphins are more easily spotted closer to the shore. That said, you should consider yourself lucky if you do spot whales in this region.

NIGHTLIFE

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History of Dubai

In 1833 the Bani Vas tribal family moved into Dubai headed by Sheikh Maktoum bin Butti, who became the founder of the Al Maktoum family that still rule the Emirate of Dubai. Dubai’s more-recent history has been founded on its pearl diving, gold trading and economic importance mainly due to its strategic geographical location, situated between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean with its sea and air links to countries in the Gulf region, Africa and the Far East.

In 1833 the Bani Yas tribal family moved into Dubai headed by Sheikh Maktoum bin Butti, who became the founder of the Al Maktoum family that still rule the Emirate of Dubai.

In 1892 Sheikh Maktoum launched a formal trading agreement with the British government and as a result of that agreement permitted a full tax exemption to all foreign traders which continues to this day.

As a result of being duty free the re-export business, whereby cheap goods could be imported into a duty free port and immediately exported to another market, mainly in Europe, accelerated.

In 1912, Sheikh Rashid, often referred to as the father of Dubai, was born. He was the first ruler to visualise the trade potential that Dubai had to offer and was responsible for ordering firstly, the development of Port Rashid to handle shipping imports and re-exports and also further development of the shipping trade, most notably in gold. The commercial enterprise continued and Sheikh Rashid was also responsible for ordering the dredging of Jebel Ali Port, which is now he largest deepwater port in the world today.

Sheikh Rashid had a special relationship with the British and was said to enjoy a close friendship with Queen Elizabeth -. His sons all completed their education at Sandhurst and it is perhaps not surprising that the affable relationship between the two countries continues to this day. Sheikh Rashid died in 1990 but his legacy continues through his sons. The British had already decided to leave the region to the cast of the Suez Canal and after oil was discovered in the Gulf countries in 1966, the United Arab Emirates were formally established on 2nd December 1971. After the death of Sheikh Rashid, the mantle passed firstly to his son Sheikh Maktoum and in January 2006 following his death, to the current ruler, Sheikh Mohammed. There is no doubt that he will forge ahead with plans to make Dubai one of the most modern cities in the world today.

Dubai continues its vigorous development and construction continues, albeit at a slower rate than before the recent worldwide recession. It is perhaps easy to forget that Dubai is a very new city, but there always seems to be a belief and a buzz about the place, and it will be interesting to contemplate what Dubai will look like in say, five or ten years time

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