Located 200 kilometers south of Abu Dhabi is the Anantara managed Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort. There, in the middle of the world’s largest contiguous sand desert I tried my hand as a camel rider in the sandstorm…
Katja and I, enjoying our stay at the enchanting Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, were just about to sit down to lunch on the terrace as we glimpsed an orange wall of sand hurtling toward us.
It was a huge sandstorm!
Practically doing a headlong dive, we just made it back into the safety of the restaurant.
All we heard next was the loud whistling of the wind and the crash of falling glasses and vases!
As the storm abates toward evening, we venture gingerly out of doors again. Into a stiff headwind still…
But let’s start at the beginning:
The drive into the Rub al-Khali desert south of Abu Dhabi
The drive to Abu Dhabi went smoothly on the wide paved highway, parts of which have a posted 160 km/h (100 mph) speed limit.
Basically, it is two hours of straight-ahead driving. Get behind the wheel well-rested, so you don’t nod off at the wrong moment.
Also recommended: keep a close eye on the gas gauge, because after the desert adventure you’ll want to make it back to civilization safe and sound.
Our rented Ford SUV is a regular gas guzzler, so that we keep an eagle-eyed lookout for the two sole gas stations along the route.
Fortunately, here in the desert you can see the blue falcon head emblem of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) from afar.
A short while after pulling out of the gas station, I take a turn that takes us even deeper in the now-hilly Rub al-Khali desert, whose name in English means “the empty quarter”.
The sand dunes that go on forever are so impressive that they filmed the desert scenes in the Star Wars movies here.
The way the ribbon of paved road winds in long curves through the fine sand is picturesque indeed.
Our expectations rise from kilometer to kilometer!
Qasr Al Sarab by Anantara — desert resort in the Liwa oasis
Just driving up to the 5-star luxury hotel turns into an experience: You drive over a bridge then through an impressive gate to reach the spacious courtyard.
As is the practice everywhere in the United Arab Emirates, you simply leave your car for the valet to park and step into the noble lobby with adjoining library.
The hotel patterned on a desert fortress sits on very expansive grounds, so that guests and their luggage are whisked around on e-golf carts.
The hotel rooms are very generously sized and overlook the oasis and the desert.
Desert doings – excursion tips
The desert resort comes with a giant pool with bar and next to it the Italian restaurant “Ghadeer”.
But for the more adventurous, I recommend a sunset camel ride!
Impressive and comfortable (!) camel ride
The tour by camel caravan only lasts about an hour and the camels come with comfortable saddles – quite the contrast with tourist camels in the Oman desert. Here is my related review from the Wahiba desert.
Our guide Shalika spares no effort flitting over the dunes with our camera in hand to showcase us in a favorable light ;-),
Climbing the house dune
Another little “field trip” is offered by the 200-meter high house dune adjacent to the hotel.
Barefoot, we explore the dunes on our own without problem. Both at sunrise and sunset. And even in the sandstorm!
The guided desert sunrise hike turned out less well: in the morning, the air was still full of stirred up sand and dust, so that the pictures of the rising sun turn out less impressive than of the setting sun.
Still, the insights our guide named Taj offers into the leading role played by rich Abu Dhabi vis a vis the “wild challenger” Dubai are very interesting.
Also available are night walk excursions and adventurous 4WD treks in the dunes.
On these, the guides drive hell bent for leather into the dunes to let the sand swirl up spectacularly and shake up the passengers. I lived through this in the Qatar desert, which is why this time I opted for the camels.
Restaurants – where a reservation is a must
The main restaurant “Al Waha” is spacious and offers an international cuisine. This is where in the morning and evening the extensive buffets spread out over many stations.
In the winter time, you can eat outdoors under the covered terrace. In the summer, you stay out of the desert.
In the tower above “Al Waha”, the posh “Suhail” restaurant has a spectacular lounge for cocktails at sunset time and sophisticated dinner dishes from the grill.
The prices of their meat specialties, let it be said, are so high that we switched to the other restaurants. If you still want to have the experience, be sure to make a reservation. Despite the costly fare, the restaurant is in high demand!
Right at the foot of the house dune is the “Al Falaj” Arab restaurant. There, on carpets in the sand, they will grill to order to your heart’s content.
The scene is totally atmospheric.
In the evenings, it can get so chilly that they hand out blankets. A sweater will do, while a light down jacket would be too much of a good thing. Those are more appropriate for the mountains of Oman, as we found out there in the Al Jabal Akhdar mountain range (links to our travelogue).
I recommend a two-night stay for the Qasr Al Sarab; that’s enough to get your fill of what’s offered here.
The best time to be there is from November through March: That’s when the daytime temperature ranges from 25 to 35 degrees Celsius (77 – 99 Fahrenheit) ; in the evening, it is still a pleasant 15 to 20 degrees centigrade (59 – 68 Fahrenheit) .
Other valuable tips for your visit to the United Arab Emirates you can find on our UAE country page: travelmemo.com/asia/united-arab-emirates
Prices and availability for the Anantara-managed Hotel are here: