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Itinerary to visit the Liwa desert and Al Gharbia

Updated on 03.06.2018

Utility Vehicle on the Moreeb Dune Road in the Liwa Desert, United Arab Emirates ©Odyfolio

Visiting the Al Gharbia region and its Liwa desert is an adventure that is gearing up to fully experience an unforgettable experience, and probably your best memories in the UAE. This article offers different itineraries, for the visit of the region on a day or several days. Because the sites are remote, sometimes inaccessible or managed by hotels, do not venture without preparation. Because the distances are long and the desert expanses, poorly prepared his coming can make you completely miss out on his treasures.

Fortunately we are here to give you some tips and tested turnkey routes.

The route you offer us only works in one way, if you want to reverse it, it will work much less well, especially for the route of the forts. The proposed schedules may be less relevant. For the means of transport, an air-conditioned car is required. An all-terrain vehicle is a plus but a two-wheel drive car will do just fine. It is unthinkable to use buses, taxis or hitchhiking so a rental car, or a car with driver, is essential. The area is very safe, the roads in very good condition with little traffic, the possibilities of getting lost are reduced, so do not be afraid to rent a car, it is really within reach of everyone, even without driving experience abroad.

9am: Start the ride to the desert

Depart at 9am from Abu Dhabi Airport to Tariff, E11 Highway. Leave at 8.30am if you are in the city center or on Saadiyat Island#, and between 7.30am and 8am from Dubai. Fill up on gas and cold drinks as service stations will be scarce. Even though this article gives a lot of information, a paper card will be a plus. You can buy one in the store of a ADNOC service station.

After 30 minutes drive, look for the brown road signs indicating Qasr al Sarab resort and follow them, which will take you to the E65 road. Then start a perfectly straight and endless two-lane road that will immerse you more and more in the Liwa desert.

10am: visit to the car museum

Soon you will see on your left a pyramid and a huge Jeep indicating the entrance to the car museum. Stop for an hour to visit and then take the road again.

11:00 am: On the way to Qasr Al Sarab

See our article on the Qasr Al Sarab for practical information about its access.

Depending on how much time you have spent taking pictures and frolicking in the sand of the beautiful road connecting to the Qasr al Sarab, it should be between 12and 12.30pm now. Visit the hotel and have lunch on the terrace by the pool.

Here you have the choice to spend one or more nights on the spot, or stop just for lunch. Whatever your choice, leave at 2pm (the same day or a few days later) to have enough time for the rest of the program.

2pm: The route of the forts

Check out our article on the route of the forts and discover the hidden fortresses of the Liwa Oasis.

4pm: The dune Moreeb

Information on the Moreeb Dune, the highest in the Emirates, is available on the article dedicated to it. If you take this route from May to September when it's very hot and the sun goes down around 7pm, you should have time to stop at the Liwa Hotel and have a drink before heading to the dune to admire the sunset.

6pm: Find a bed for the night

At this point you have seen the most remarkable of the Liwa desert and southern Al Gharbia region. There are several options for you: end your adventure and return to Abu Dhabi via the Madinat Zayed Expressway (about two hours), or sleep in a nearby hotel. Do not come back to Abu Dhabi by the same road as the one you use to come here because it is longer and not lit.

The most economical, but not very glamorous, solution is to sleep at the Liwa Rest House. Then, in ascending order of quality, you have the Liwa Hotel, 4 star category, built in the 1980s. Much further and convenient only if you want to go to Bani Yas Island the next day, the Western Hotel Ghayati is an excellent value for money - but do not stay more than one night, you would waste your time.

A very good choice that we recommend is the Tilal Liwa Hotel, a beautiful hotel in the desert, not as nice as the Qasr al Sarab but with nice amenities 4 stars. We devoted an article to him. You can stay for one night (or more, which would make sense if you have not stayed at the Qasr al Sarab, may be too expensive for your budget). There are many camel farms nearby which is interesting to go to meet these amazing mammals.

Our favorite hotel to spend a night on a budget with an exceptional level of comfort is the Madinat Zayed Western Hotel. Here no desert view but an excellent choice for a good night's sleep after this intense day, and take the road the next morning.

Sir Bani Yas Island Extension

If you have the time and hotel budget of more than 750AED per night, do not miss the visit of Sir Bani Yas Island. Read the article devoted to it, it is an atypical island that is worth seeing. Many activities are proposed including the animal safari tour. On the island a beautiful 5-star hotel, the Desert Islands resort and spa, and two other luxury hotels with only villas: Al Sahel Villas, located in the middle of the park animal, and Al Yamm Villa Resort, by the sea.

Extension beach

Before leaving the Al Gharbia area, you can stay at the Danat Jebel Dhanna hotel which is the only 5-star hotel on the coast. If you avoid weekends (Friday-Saturday), prices start at 700AED. In addition, hotel can organize a day trip to Bani Yas Island. On the other hand, despite its apparently crystalline waters, we do not advise you to swim there, because during our visit we could note a residual pollution with hydrocarbons with a big impact on the fauna and the flora, probably related to the presence of the petrol terminal near. On the other hand, putting the water quality aside, it is a very good choice to make a stop. For smaller budgets, go to the grounds at Western Hotel Ghayathi.

Also note that in the locality of Mirfa there is a 3-star hotel overlooking the sea, and a beautiful public beach. They are actually very pretty, but not very nice to tan in two pieces. The Mirfa Hotel is however the only correct place to take a refresh of the whole road leading to Abu Dhabi.

Conclusion

There are of course many other possibilities to visit the region, this route that we have created and shared with many people seems to us one of the most relevant. There are local tour operators who try to offer original activities in the area, you can contact them directly or through the hotels.

Keep in mind that the area is deserted and poorly landscaped. The hotel rooms are limited in number, so you have to book in advance. It is very easy to sand down just a few inches from the asphalt, so if you have a two-wheel drive vehicle, ALWAYS keep the 4 wheels on the road. If you have a 4x4 it is good but do not venture alone in the desert, even with this type of vehicle it is very fast to get stuck in sand, or get bogged down in wet areas saturated with salt. The area is home to gigantic oil facilities that you normally should not see. However, if this is the case, do not photograph the installations, you will be in serious trouble. We have not talked about it but wild camping is quite possible in the whole region. Whatever your program, keep in mind that the desert is full of life and your activities, especially motorized, can disrupt the fragile ecosystem. And forgotten waste will take a lot longer to return to nature.

Map of the itinerary

The map shows the key steps. More detailed access cards are available on the articles dedicated to the sites presented.

Map of Al Gharbia region, in the emirate of Abu Dhabi ©OpenStreetMap contributors