9 of the best desert resorts in the UAE: from the Empty Quarter to Dubai

Escape to the dunes with a staycation at one of these sun-baked sandscapes

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One thing the UAE isn't short of is sand. Each of the emirates has vast deserts where the colour of the grains are unique, from the rust-coloured dunes in the iron-rich sands of Abu Dhabi's Empty Quarter to the pristine white mounds that pepper Dubai's sodium-filled sandscapes. If it's sand that you seek, then sand you can very much have.

And while there's something magical about camping under a starlit sky in the middle of the desert, sometimes you want all the beauty of the dunes coupled with a few more home comforts. That's where the country's best desert resorts come in.

As well as offering captivating sunsets and endless sandy vistas, these hotels dotted across the country also have fantastic dining options, luxury spas and a very comfortable place to lay your head when night falls.

And for those who want to do more than drink in the views, there are activities on offer to make the most of the desert playgrounds – whether that's through a spot of archery, sandboarding down a dune or getting to know more about falcons, salukis and camels.

From The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert resort to Al Badayer Retreat in Sharjah and the hidden Telal resort in Al Ain, here are the best desert resorts in the UAE for staycation inspiration the next time you want to escape to the dunes.

1. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Abu Dhabi

The newly renovated swimming pool at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
The newly renovated swimming pool at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara

When a resort has its own private road that drifts over uninterrupted orange dunes then through a fortress-like entrance, you can almost guarantee it's going to be something special.

And that's exactly what Abu Dhabi's Qasr Al Sarab is. This destination resort has played host to all manner of celebrities, most recently the cast of Dune. Located deep in the Rub Al Khali desert, expect breathtaking landscapes: every room, suite and villa comes with sunset views. A sunrise camel trek is a wonderful way to welcome the next morning or find out more about salukis and falcons – the long-time friends of desert dwellers. Wind down at the newly renovated swimming pool, zoned to ensure families, couples and groups all get the type of pool day they want. The children's club and teens club will keep youngsters happy and adults can enjoy the luxury spa located in this desert mirage.

Summer special rates including breakfast start from Dh999; www.anantara.com

2. The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert

The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert. 
The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert. 

Located in the midst of 500 acres of desert in the northern part of the emirate, The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert has 101 villas spread generously across the protected Al Wadi Nature reserve. Part of the Wadi Khadeja valley, the property's sand dunes, free-­roaming wildlife and polished interiors inspired by local materials make it a great choice for those seeking an Arabian-styled retreat.

The tented villas are spacious and each comes with a huge private swimming pool and sundeck cabana. There are plenty of desert activities on offer, including horse riding and wildlife walks, and there's a fully-equipped children's club too.

Rooms start from Dh2,000; www.ritzcarlton.com

3. Al Maha Desert Resort, Dubai

Al Maha Desert Resort, Dubai
Al Maha Desert Resort, Dubai

Despite the competition, Al Maha Desert Resort in Dubai is perhaps one of the emirate's best retreats. Part of the protected Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, this place guarantees privacy and the chance to reconnect with nature.

As well as desert dunes, the reserve has beautiful oases filled with lush palm trees where gazelle, sand cats and Arabian red foxes can be spotted. There are plenty of desert activities on offer, including falconry displays and night-time wildlife drives. All villas come with their own private pool and terrace areas and the options for in-suite dining are as varied as the hotel's restaurants.

Until the end of October, the resort is running its Welcome Back promotion, which includes all meals, two activities and Dh400 back in resort credit. Rates start from Dh3,674; www.al-maha.com

4. Mysk Al Badayer Retreat, Sharjah

Mysk Al Badayer Retreat, Sharjah.
Mysk Al Badayer Retreat, Sharjah.

About an hour from Sharjah, the Mysk Al Badayer Retreat is set against the dunes close to the emirate's southern border in the desert area of Margham. Inspired by an Arabian castle, rooms are filled with traditional artefacts and design touches and there's a real sense of Emirati hospitality.

There are two restaurants to choose from or you can opt to dine in-suite and there's also an indoor pool for when you need to cool off from the midday sun. Outside, there are lots of activities on offer to make the most of the dune-filled playground, including sand boarding, desert safaris and dune bashing. At night, the stargazing opportunities here are something truly special.

Rooms start from Dh390; www.myskhotels.com

5. Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa, Dubai

Bab Al Shams, Dubai
Bab Al Shams, Dubai

Bab Al Shams, on the outskirts of Dubai, is a great family-friendly option if you want to enjoy the dunes without having to travel too far into the desert. It's about 45 minutes from Dubai, but once you get checked in you'll feel like you're much further away. Rooms fuse traditional design with modern amenities and each comes with its own majlis area.

There are several swimming pools and beautifully -kept gardens where you can reconnect with nature – gazelles, birds and more call this section of the desert home. At night, the resort is peppered with the light of candles, lanterns and flame-torches, and you'll feel as if you're wandering around an Arabian palace. There is also lots to keep children entertained, including horse riding, fat biking and camel treks.

Rates from Dh638; www.babalshams.com

6. Tilal Liwa Hotel, Abu Dhabi

Tilal Liwa Hotel, Abu Dhabi
Tilal Liwa Hotel, Abu Dhabi

If you want desert seclusion without too big of a price tag then the Tilal Liwa Hotel is a good option. Getting here involves a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi, but upon arrival you'll be rewarded with the endless dunes of the Empty Quarter as your playground.

The resort is built in keeping with traditional Arabian architecture, and rooms either look out to the desert sands or over the swimming pool and gardens. Making the most of its location, the hotel's activity team are on hand to sign guests up for quad biking, dune bashing or sand boarding antics. At night, gather around the bonfire to stare at the starlit sky, which glows bright thanks to very little light pollution in the region.

Rooms start from Dh338; www.danathotels.com

7. Telal Resort, Al Ain

Telal Resort, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi
Telal Resort, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi

Located on the outskirts of Al Ain in the Remah desert, Telal Resort is a real hidden gem. Recreating a traditional Emirati experience for guests, the property is inside a natural oasis that's also home to gazelles, oryx, houbara, swans and more. Rooms, suites or tented villas are on offer and each comes with either an outdoor terrace, garden or private pool.

There's a zip line, table tennis, archery, sand boarding and more to keep everyone entertained, or you can slow things down at the Desertology spa. Zaman Lawal Heritage Village is also part of this hideaway, and is ideal for those who want to discover more about the area's past. Shop in the traditional souq or visit the house of good fortune, which showcases the importance of date palms in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi. There's also an interesting exhibition detailing the history of pearl diving, which includes the Jalibut – an old boat that was used for diving trips in days gone by.

Summer rates are valid until the end of September and start from Dh600 at weekdays, including breakfast; www.telalresort.ae

8. Mysk Al Faya Retreat, Sharjah

Mysk Al Faya Retreat, Sharjah
Mysk Al Faya Retreat, Sharjah

Part of Sharjah's Mleiha region, Mysk Al Faya is in a great location for anyone who wants to explore this history-steeped area. This eco-friendly boutique hotel lies at the foothills of the region's sandy mountains and has only five suites to offer, so you can expect personal service every time you stay.

The design is minimilast modern, while managing to remain very much in keeping with the landscape. Rooms all have a skylight so you can drink in the star-filled skies from the comfort of your bed and there are fire pits to gather around when the sun goes down.

The highlight is a 118-square-kilometre spa with a salt inhalation room, shower walk, herbal sauna and outdoor saltwater pool.

Rooms start from Dh999; www.myskhotels.com

9. Al Wathba, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Abu Dhabi

Al Wathba, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Abu Dhabi 
Al Wathba, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Abu Dhabi 

The Al Wathba Desert Resort and Spa is part of Marriott's Luxury Collection and the focus here is firmly on tranquility. It's nestled about 45 minutes outside of Abu Dhabi among the dunes and not too far from Al Wathba Wetland Reserve where you can see hundreds of greater flamingos.

The resort's design is in keeping with the desert surrounds – rooms and suites are minimal but filled with local details and traditional artwork. In keeping with tradition, there are various activities on offer that reveal more about Bedouin life, including a session with a skilled falconer and his birds and the discovery of camel-racing heritage at Al Wathba camel racetrack.

The resort has a large swimming pool and a children's paddling area as well as a huge spa. Guaranteeing serenity, it has indoor and outdoor relaxation areas, saunas, steam rooms, plunge pools, salt rooms, snow caves, a hammam and even an Icelab Cryo experience.

Rooms start from Dh637, including breakfast; www.marriott.com