The UAE has a coastline that stretches over 1,318 kilometres, but some people have never really explored it, possibly put off by the belief that there’s no such thing as a decent public beach, where the masses are conspicuous only by their absence, where the water is crystal clear, and the sand isn’t covered with discarded drinks cans.
Do such places exist? The good news is that, yes, they do. And, as per a recent report, one is the second-most eye-catching beach in the world.
Here's where you'll find them.
1. Soul Beach, Abu Dhabi
OK, so this isn’t free to access (Dh50 per person on weekdays and Dh75 on Fridays and Saturdays), but it's worth the investment. Soul Beach opened in the Mamsha Al Saadiyat community last year and offers one kilometre of shoreline to visitors, as well as a 400-metre swimming zone and 400 sun beds set up along the sand. All beds come with a table with a QR code, which can be scanned to access a menu. Refreshments and food are then delivered by buggy. The beach is open daily from 7am to sunset.
2. Shuweihat Island
This one really does take some commitment, but the rewards to anyone who makes the epic journey (from practically anywhere else in the UAE) to this stunning location are innumerable.
If you’re familiar with the colour of sandstone the ancient city of Petra in Jordan is famous for, you’ll know what to expect from the low-lying cliffs and caves at Shuweihat Island that look like nothing else you’ll have seen in this country.
Ideal for a meticulously planned, long weekend of camping, Shuweihat is about as far west along the coast as you can get before you’re faced with the Saudi Arabia border – not too far past the town of Al Ruwais.
You’d be advised to use a four-wheel drive vehicle to get across the causeway and over the rocky headland, whereupon it’s best to disembark and scramble down to the water’s edge. You won’t believe your eyes – it’s that beautiful down there.
3. Mirfa Beach
Way out west of Abu Dhabi in Al Dhafra region, Mirfa Beach is home to the annual Al Dhafra Watersports Festival. But don’t let that put you off from going, for if you can stomach the long, long drive to get there, this pristine stretch of public coast lapped by turquoise waters is almost always peaceful and uncrowded.
Camping facilities are available and there’s a small, low-key village nearby where you can buy supplies. You have to pass through this place to get to (or from) Sir Bani Yas Island if you’re going there by car, so why not stop off en route and soak up a day or two of extra downtime before heading back to the daily grind?
4. Al Sufouh Beach
Al Sufouh Beach, also known as Secret Beach or Black Palace Beach, was recently named the second-most eye-catching beach in the world, as part of new research by luxury travel company Kuoni. "Dubbed as one of Dubai's hidden gems, this beach is a must-visit for those looking for fantastic views across the water as well as a glimpse of some of Dubai's most impressive buildings, the perfect spot for taking in a sunrise or sunset," said the report.
Sandwiched between royal palaces in Al Sufouh, not far from Knowledge Village, the entrance is unsigned and there are no real facilities, no restaurants and, depending on the time of day, no other people. Bliss.
So if you’re self-sufficient and fancy a few hours of simple, unadulterated and tranquil beach time, coupled with impressive views of the Burj Al Arab, take a towel, seek it out and relax. It might be smack-bang in the heart of Dubai, but this is about as basic and peaceful as it gets.
5. Khor Fakkan
Overlooking the Gulf of Oman, Khor Fakkan (part of Sharjah, bordering with Fujairah) is a favourite destination for city dwellers who want to get away from it all and soak up some good old-fashioned nature. Roughly translated as “The Creek with Two Jaws”, Khor Fakkan is also home to a peaceful cove known as Heart Beach on account of the shape that’s been carved into the headland above.
Oceanic Khorfakkan Resort & Spa is nearby if you fancy stopping over, but Heart Beach will take about 15 minutes of trekking to reach – a small price to pay when you clap eyes on this paradisiac location, the likes of which you won’t have believed exist anywhere in this region. This is the UAE coastline at its finest; just make sure that if you do visit, that you leave it just as you found it: naturally beautiful.
6. Jebel Ali Beach
Not far from the hustle and bustle of Dubai, but far enough to dissuade many from making the trek, Jebel Ali’s public open beach is a great place to chill out. Adjacent to JA The Resort, this stretch is natural and bereft of the facilities demanded by most tourists, which is probably another reason the crowds stay away and the unassuming bay of beauty is not disturbed by the racket of construction.
Take your passport with you if Dibba tickles your fancy – you’ll need it to go in and out of Omani checkpoints to get to the best stretches of beach. Even the journey there is breathtaking, with the imposing Hajar Mountains ever-present, providing dramatic backdrops all along the coast.
Do your homework and you’ll discover that the best beaches are unreachable by car. You need to put in some legwork, or charter a boat, if you want isolation and quality snorkelling in waters teeming with marine life. Not far from the renowned Six Senses Zighy Bay, Al Mayam and Haffa are some of the finest and most peaceful areas of the UAE coast that are well worth seeking out. Take your tent and unplug from everyday life.