It might be tempting to spend your Dubai break sprawled on a sun lounger, but this corner of the world is packed with high-octane, adrenaline-charged activities. There are outdoors adventures to be had in the sand, sea and snow (yes, you read that right), and all are within a short taxi ride of each other. Got a need for speed? Go wakeboarding, skiing, sliding or racing F1-style – Dubai’s got it all.
Beyond the city’s architectural giants are vast desert dunes of various colours and shapes. The UAE’s stunt riders head out to Big Red, an area packed with thousands of sandy mounds, where you can watch pro quadbikers, 4×4 drivers and sandboarders launching themselves off ledges and peaks. Fancy a go yourself? Adventure companies will drive willing participants to suitably high dunes, strap them to a board and send them hurtling down the slopes. Most companies will throw in some belly-flipping dune bashing for free too. It doesn’t hurt when you tumble, but be prepared to get a workout climbing back up the sandy hills. After a session, stick around to watch the desert sunset, where bright pinks, oranges, yellows and mauves combine, as gazelles dart off into the horizon.
Do it: Prices start from Dh292 (US$80) for an afternoon desert safari (request sandboarding when you book). Book a driver and gear with Alpha Tours, www.alphatoursdubai.com (+971 4 294 9888).
Skiing and snowboarding
In the centre of Dubai sits a huge refrigerator, containing one of the largest man-made ski slopes on the planet. Inside Ski Dubai, visitors will find 6000 tons of powdery snow and a 400-metre slope. With temperatures between -2°C and -9°C, you can pretend you’re in the Swiss Alps rather than a sweltering desert. While it’s not somewhere to try speed skiing (although you may find a few teenagers whizzing around), is its the ideal environment to hone your technique or learn the basics. Other snow-based activities include riding an indoor sub-zero zip line and a meeting a small penguin colony. A ‘VIP Peng-Friend encounter’ offers the chance to meet the sub-Arctic creatures in a private room, pet them, and watch them in a training session.
Do it: Dh200 (US$55) for a snow park pass. A VIP penguin-meeting session costs Dh850 ($232).
Zooming across the water at speeds of 40mph, with the warm Persian Gulf air against your face, wakeboarding gives you the rush of snowboarding but doesn’t hurt when you fall off. In Dubai’s Jebel Ali area, daredevils will find the perfect secluded spot, with optimum conditions for the sport. Unlike surfing or kiteboarding, wakeboarding is best done in calm conditions when the water is glassy and still. Just offshore from the Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, the crest of the nearby Palm Jebel Ali creates a tranquil lagoon where visitors can slice through the duck egg blue aqua, while holding onto a cable attached to a 150 break horse power boat. Whether you are a beginner, learning to do your first jump over the frothy wake, or can expertly land 360s and backflips, the adrenaline factor never wears off.
Do it: A 20-minute wakeboarding lesson costs Dh250 (US$68) including board hire. Wetsuit hire starts from Dh50 (US$13), Watercooled, Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, enter via Club Joumana, www.watercooleddubai.com (+971 4 887 6771).
The single-seater experience at Dubai Autodrome is as close as a novice can get to being Lewis Hamilton for the day. After a quick classroom lesson, the racetrack instructors will strap rookie gearheads into an ultra lightweight 180bhp car and set them loose on a mile-long circuit. Following a specially tuned Audi TTS, drivers will experience 0-100kph in four seconds, the roar of the engine and the smell of rubber as they crank the car around the 17 technical turns. Pounding along the track, beginners will feel how vulnerable Formula One drivers really are; one false move could send you spinning into another car, with nothing but fiberglass bodywork to protect you.
Do it: Dh875 (US$238). Instructors will kit you out in racing gear and a helmet, brief you, and line you up to race for 20 minutes on the track.
Bound down 1.6m of rapids, catapult yourself past a shark tank at 60mph or stand on a 75ft high trapdoor that opens beneath your feet and sends you hurtling through a double looped flume – it’s just another day at Aquaventure at Atlantis, The Palm. Rides dart out from ancient Middle Eastern themed buildings and the views from the waterpark, over the Palm Jumeirah, calm turquoise sea and the city’s skyscrapers beyond, are nothing short of stunning (and a nice distraction as you queue for your impending doom). Other activities on site include swimming with dolphins, meeting sea lions and the longest zip-line circuit in the Middle East.