We’ve taken two trips to Dubai in the past year and it has proved in more ways than one that reading up about a destination does not reveal all its secrets. One had to visit it, experience it and live it to figure out the real essence of the place. At the end of our trip, we asked many of our friends, some locals and some tour operators if they had done all of these activities in Dubai and to our surprise most of them weren’t aware of the options. We went to Dubai with a lot of research and with the confidence that we had the place figured out, we’ve come back humbled and with a list of things to do in our next trip there. Despite our two very active trips, we have set up alerts to book tickets online in the next sale. We’re listing here both the things we managed to do and the things we have in our to-do list for the next trip.
Hot Air Ballooning
Most people have seen the pictures of hot air balloons over the desert but never cover it as an activity while in Dubai. The reasons for the same ranged for being unaware to simply not having enough time. The excuses are kind of lame given how great the activity is and that it is meant to be done around sunrise which means you’re back at your hotel before 8. There is no greater thrill than flying and though skydiving might be closer to the actual thing, it is quite scary as well. Hot air ballooning is romantic, exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. It was indeed a breath-taking sight which greeted us as the sun slowly emerged from what we can only describe as a hazy horizon. Our unique high vantage point gave us a perspective like none other, further accentuated by the arrival of a paramotor gliding in front of the rising sun. As far as we know, there are two operators for ballooning activities in Dubai. One is Balloon Adventures Dubai which is the more glamorous experience with vintage cars, falcons and gourmet breakfasts thrown in for a lifelong memory. The other is Sindbad Ballooning adventures which is a no-nonsense ballooning ride with only one focus, a great ballooning experience. It had a practical breakfast, a great crew, a 4×4 taking us to our launch point and a non-crowded balloon. We’ve flown with both of them and can promise a great experience with either of them. If you have the budget Balloon Adventures Dubai provides a better overall experience and would be our preference. However Sindbad is as good when it comes to the pilots and the actual ballooning experience and is total value for the money paid.
We aren’t talking about chartered flights across the atlantic but flights as a way of touring Dubai. Paramotors are a great way to do tandem flying and is available across the desert or over Dubai Marina while Gyrocopters provide an unbeatable perspective of this architectural dreamland. There is no feeling which quite describes a 360 degree view of the city and though these activities aren’t cheap, they’re quite worth it if you want a lifetime memory of your trip. Both are offered by Skydive Dubai, the former under their Skyhub Paramotors company and the other as part of the Sky Dubai offerings. We chose to do the Skydive and missed the Gyrocopter flight but we have it under good authority that these aren’t to be missed.
There’s a saying, the best things are often the little things in life. No-one equates a great experience with something as small and simple as an Abra – small wooden ferry boat. Especially not in Dubai where everything is bigger and glitzier than the next one. The Abra ride might be just what the doctor ordered giving you a feel of Old Dubai as you share your ride with locals, all sitting on what is essentially a wooden plank. The driver/captain sits in a sunken out space in the middle with controls and steering which takes you to the other side of the Dubai creek. Evenings or early mornings are the best time to take this ride because you’re surrounded by seagulls and an orange golden sky which just adds to the experience. The best part is that it costs you just 2 AED and is essentially cheaper than anything else you can do in the city.
There are different kinds of Polo matches which happen regularly in winter. The most popular are Horse and Camel Polo matches. We normally aren’t big fans of any animal sports as we hear horror stories on how they’re treated. However we were pleasantly surprised in our conversation with a polo player on the sport. The horses involved in play are changed every Chukka, roughly 7 minutes of play time and sometimes even twice in the time frame depending upon the level of play. A greater preference is given to the protection of the horses than the players especially among experienced players and dangerous plays which put the horses at risk are frowned upon. The horses trained for polo are bred such from a very young age and are strong and friendly rather than aggressive and competitive, a distinct difference from racehorses. The actual gameplay is more fun if one has a better understanding of the gameplay and what is involved in it, others it’s just a few horses with riders running around the field in no particular direction. We were guests of the Desert Palm, Dubai which has their own Polo grounds and riding schools and thus were privileged enough to see a Polo Practice match of 2-4 Chukkas and meet some Polo Players as well. It is possible to get basic training for the sport and though we were surprised enough to watch it, we weren’t quite ready to burden the poor horses by our inefficient riding skills and risk hurting it. That said, we are keen to catch a game of camel polo in our next trip to Dubai!
Dubai is unique among coastal destinations across the globe in terms of the limited access to the beaches in most cases. Add to it the clothing restrictions and that most beaches are private, most tourists does not have too many memories to associate with the sea around it. Yellow Boats Dubai is a fine way to beat the crowd and get a whole new perspective of the city. Most great views in Dubai are from either a very high elevation looking down or from ground up looking towards a skyscraper. The Dubai cityscape has very little probability of including the sea in it except when clicking pics of the Burj Al Arab, Atlantis or the Dubai Marina. The Yellow Boats gives you the thrill of traversing the high seas on a fast motorboat, a unique perspective of the city looking in from the sea and last and probably our favourite, the feel of the moist sea wind blowing across our face! We cannot recommend this activity enough. There are a few options you can choose from but we would recommend the 90 minutes tour which covers everything and probably an evening slot for the best weather, views and the lighting for your pics. A newer option by the team behind Ballooning Adventures Dubai is Hero Boats. A self drive option covering most of what you would cover through the Yellow Boats tour mentioned above. However there is a totally different feel to riding in the open seas at high speeds on a boat/bike/raft (we’re unsure what to call it) with little to worry in terms of safety. There is an experienced team leader accompanying you throughout the 90 minute tour to ensure your safety but you probably won’t notice his/her presence until he asks you to hand over your camera for what is sure to be a memorable pic. We had a gala time with the activity and can’t think of a better way to spend a lazy afternoon in Dubai.
P.S. We’ve seen the Mumbai to Dubai flights at their lowest in the past few sales and the upcoming winter months is the best season to explore Dubai. You might also wish to checkout our review for Radisson Blu, Deira where we stayed while in Dubai.
We’ve listed only 5 activities which we feel are not as well-known as they should be and though they aren’t exactly cheap, they are unique in being experiences you will definitely love talking about on your return. If you have any other activities you would like to recommend, feel free to share in our comments, we will try and include them as well on a bigger post on things to do in Dubai!