Half-term holidays: 10 destinations within five hours of the UAE

From Goa's sun-soaked beaches to a snow-filled escape in Kyrgyzstan, these holiday spots are ideal for a short break

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School children in the UAE may have only been back in classrooms for a few weeks, but half-term holidays are already on the horizon.

Many pupils and teachers across the country will enjoy a five-day mid-term holiday from February 13 to 17, with others set to have a four-day weekend at either the start or end of that week.

And thanks to the UAE's central location, there are plenty of destinations within five hours of flying time, offering travellers a wide range of places to go for a quick getaway. From gorilla trekking in Uganda to exploring history in Petra, these 10 holiday spots are worth having on your radar.

If you prefer to stay put, there’s plenty to see and do right here in the UAE, too, from hiking in Ras Al Khaimah to adventuring in Hatta or enjoying a visit to Abu Dhabi’s tranquil Garden City.

1. Kenya

Kenya's Maasai Mara offers epic wildlife spotting opportunities and is only a five-hour flight from the UAE. Photo: Virgin Limited Edition

Why go? The world’s best safari destination is only five hours from the UAE and February is a great time to go for peak wildlife viewing. Kenya is in its hot dry season this month, which means travellers can expect excellent big game and bird viewing in places such as the Maasai Mara, widely regarded as the jewel of the country’s wildlife viewing areas. Laikipia, home to the world’s last white rhino, is another good option for mid-term getaways. As many of the country’s water sources dry up, animals congregate around watering holes, making game viewing much easier than in the wetter months. Animals aside, Kenya also has a sun-drenched Indian Ocean coast. Mombasa is one of Africa’s top beach destinations and enjoys glorious temperatures in February, its last month of summer.

How to get there? Fly with Kenya Airways direct from Dubai to Nairobi, with February fares starting from Dh1,405.

2. AlUla, Saudi Arabia

AlUla in February offers untouched landscapes, stargazing galore and plenty of events and activations. Photo: RCU Royal Commission AlUla

Why go? Dramatic landscapes, ancient history and amazing stargazing opportunities await in AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s outdoor museum. February is a great time to visit, with temperatures hovering around a pleasant 20°C and colder during the evenings when the sun goes down. Visit the Old Town, walk the Dadan trail and take in the magic of one of the world’s best-preserved Nabataean kingdoms.

Head out to the nature reserve of Harrat Khaybar, an ancient volcanic landscape where, in winter, travellers can discover some of the earliest creations of ancient Arabia. It's also event season with the first AlUla Arabian Leopard Day taking place on February 10, plus yoga and meditation at the Five Senses Sanctuary. The second AlUla Arts Festival also kicks off in this month, with contemporary art, large-scale installations and murals dotted throughout the landscapes. Don’t miss Fame: Andy Warhol in AlUla, featuring work by the renowned pop art artist at Maraya, the world’s largest mirrored building, from February 17. It is not a cheap getaway — all of the resorts here are luxury stays — but it’s one of those must-visit destinations that’s worth splurging on at least once.

How to get there? Flydubai operates directly to AlUla's new domestic airport, with a journey time of three hours and 15 minutes. Return airfares start from Dh1,635.

3. Maldives

Overwater villas at the newly-renovated adults-only Anantara Veli Maldives Resort. Photo: Anantara

Why go? A destination that needs no introduction, the Maldives combines uninterrupted ocean views, year-round sunshine and some of the world’s best marine life, all within an easy four hours from the UAE.

This is the place to go if you want enforced relaxation. It’s a destination for soaking up some rays, having long lazy mornings, or spending days watching the kids build sandcastles along pristine beaches. Each resort is on its own island, so even if you want to go sightseeing, there’s not much scope for it. That said, scuba divers and water babies will be in their element, as beneath the country’s azure waters lies a whole other world teeming with vivid corals, schools of fish and myriad sea-dwelling creatures including turtles, sharks, manta rays and dolphins.

Despite what many people think, you don’t have to blow the budget on a trip to the Indian Ocean hotspot. While luxury resorts guarantee the most pristine landscapes and luxurious facilities — try the newly opened Anantara Veli Maldives Resort (pictured) for overwater paradise living — more budget-friendly options such as the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives and the Cinnamon Dhonveli Resort also exist.

How to get there? Etihad operates from Abu Dhabi directly to the Maldives with a journey time of only over four hours. Return fares start from Dh3,995.

4. Kyrgyzstan

Snow-covered mountains near Bishkek make Kyrgyzstan an ideal pick for a wintry getaway.  EPA / Igor Kovalenko

Why go? If you’ve not quite had your fill of winter, Kyrgyzstan is worth considering for a quick getaway next month. The landlocked country is still in its winter wonderland phase, and travellers will need to pack their warmest clothes as temperatures barely creep above zero in Bishkek, Central Asia’s greenest capital.

The freezing weather means it’s the best time of the year to explore the country’s skiing, and there are mountain resorts catering for everyone from complete beginner to expert. There’s also fantastic backcountry skiing, where those with a bit of experience can soar over unmarked virgin peaks as far as the eye can see. Stay warm and cosy at night by joining local villagers inside their fur-insulated yurts, go horse riding across untouched snow-covered fields and see the ancient practice of eagle hunting in action — winter is peak hunting season.

How to get there? It's just under four hours from Dubai, with flydubai offering direct flights to Bishkek from Dh2,078.

5. Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has plenty to offer travellers in February. Photo: Miguel Cunat

Why go? The teardrop island of Sri Lanka has beautiful beaches, grassy plains and cultural attractions aplenty, and February is a good time to visit the country's southern and central areas.

Travellers will find plenty of sunshine on the country’s west and south coastline, where palm-fringed beaches await in places such as Hikkaduwa, Galle and Unawatuna. Pleasant temperatures in the central region also make it a great time to go here — and the newly opened Pekoe Trail is well worth trying. Spanning about 300km, it starts in Kandy and takes visitors through nature-surrounded trails in the forgotten Sri Lankan tea country. Yala National Park in the country’s south-east is home to monkeys, crocodiles, elephants and more and is another good choice for this time of year, as the drier weather guarantees the most reliable wildlife sightings. February is also a time for celebration, with festivals, fireworks and jubilation marking the anniversary of Sri Lankan Independence.

How to get there? Fly from Abu Dhabi to Colombo with Etihad Airways. Fares start from Dh1,631 for the four-and-a-half-hour journey.

6. Jordan

Jordan has an array of spectacular attractions to offer tourists, including the beauty of Wadi Rum. Photo: Daniele Colucci / Unsplash

Why go? A short three-hour flight from the UAE brings you to Amman, Jordan's bustling capital that’s a hub for arts and culture and a foodies' delight. It is also the gateway to the country’s amazing natural landscapes and ancient historical sights. The Dead Sea is within easy reach, and temperatures at the lowest point on earth are in the low to mid-twenties in February, with the water slightly warmer, making it perfect for a crowd-free swim.

Don’t miss the red-stone city of Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and the ancient seat of the Nabataean Kingdom. Stay with locals in the desert wilds of Wadi Rum, trekking across Mars-like landscapes, or go stargazing at the Dana Biosphere Reserve, the country’s largest nature reserve, covering about 320 square kilometres of spectacular mountains and wadis along the face of the Great Rift Valley. If beaches are what you crave, head south to the seaside city of Aqaba, where there are myriad luxury resorts and memorable snorkelling opportunities.

How to get there? Fly from Abu Dhabi to Amman with Wizz Air Abu Dhabi. Flights last three-and-a-half hours, and return fares start from Dh758.

7. Goa, India

The Beach in Goa. Getty Images

Why go? One of India’s most popular destinations, Goa offers a vibrant nightlife, a creative culinary scene and plenty of sun-kissed beaches.

Peak season in the western state is from November to January, but pleasant temperatures linger in February without the hassle of crowds. Explore Margao and its Portuguese colonial past, head south for relaxation and a dip in the Arabian Sea at Benaulim Beach or head to Baga Beach for all-action nightlife. Animal lovers will want to stop at Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, one of Goa’s oldest wildlife sanctuaries that’s home to cascading waterfalls, an amazing array of birdlife, leopards, elephants, deer and more. The end of the month is also when the Goa Carnival takes place, bringing with it four days of celebrations marking the culture and cuisine of Goa in a colourful Mardi Gras-style celebration.

How to get there? It's only three hours from Dubai to Goa, with flights starting at Dh1,673 with Air India.

8. Cyprus

Tourists dip in the sea in Ayia Napa on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. AP Photo / Petros Karadjias

Why go? The Mediterranean island of Cyprus brims with timeless archaeological sites, glorious coastal cities and pristine beaches.

On the west of the island, the Paphos district has the longest coastline in the country with beaches all along its length. The forests of Tilliria are crisscrossed with trails and dotted with picnic sites. Paphos town is also worth a visit with its numerous bars, restaurants and hotels nestled alongside historical remains, some of which have been granted Unesco heritage status. February temperatures average around 18°C, the ideal time to go for trekking, cycling, wild swimming and exploring the island's cultural sites. It’s also a crowd-free period, so you’ll be able to explore Cyprus without having to worry about others interrupting your plans.

How to get there? Flights from Dubai start at Dh2,839 with Emirates and have a journey time of four hours and 35 minutes.

9. Istanbul, Turkey

People stand in the snow over the Bosporus Strait at Istanbul. AP Photo / Emrah Gurel

Why go? In a historically important location, Istanbul lies at the crossheads of two continents.

Here, only five hours from the UAE, you can absorb more than 2,500 years of history, culture, and traditions and enjoy fantastic food, amazing landmarks and views worth travelling for. Visit Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and go shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Winter weather is a combination of sunshine and snow flurries, but not to worry — an ice-dusted Bosphorus makes the entire city even more mystical. And there are plenty of funky bars, restaurants and cafes to dip in and out of if you do happen to visit during a cold snap.

How to get there? Flights take a little under five hours. Flydubai has February fares to Turkey starting from Dh1,408.

10. Uganda

Uganda offers adventure travel within a five-hour flight time from the UAE. Photo: Uganda Tourism Board

Why go? With its equatorial climate, the Pearl of Africa offers wildlife safaris with potential to spot all of the Big Five animals as well as more than 1,000 different bird species.

February is one of the best times to visit, as there’s less vegetation to obstruct your view of wildlife often spotted wandering around watering holes. It’s also a fantastic time for trekking to see the country’s cherished mountain gorillas which live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. For visitors who would rather be on the water, there’s canoeing, cruising, rafting and kayaking options across the Nile, Lake Victoria basin and plenty of other rivers and wetlands.

How to get there? Flight times from Dubai average around five hours and 30 minutes to Entebbe, with Emirates' return fares starting from Dh1,720.

Updated: January 24, 2023, 4:00 AM