48 Hours in Dubai
As world travelers know, the Emirate of Dubai has become an important travel hub. Located in the United Arab Emirates on the Arabian Peninsula, Dubai is geographically convenient, bridging Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and beyond. In addition, Dubai beckons travelers with its world-class modern airport and with its consistently ranked top airlines in the world, Emirates.
Over many centuries, Dubai was a strategic location on the Persian Gulf for trade, especially for trading pearls and fish. The name Dubai is thought to translate to “transit” or “money”. Because Dubai had limited oil resources, it began to transform itself into a diversified economy back in the 1970s. Now Dubai has become a mega city, breaking world record after record and engaging in massive initiatives such as building a complete indoor city by 2020. So naturally, when on an extended layover in Dubai, seeing the city and its surrounding area is a must. Come join me in my 48-hour exploration of Dubai, as I did in 2016.
As you fly over Dubai you can see the desert haze engulf the city. Even the tallest tower in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is hidden by the desert elements. We arrived to Dubai in early May just as their hot season started. If you travel to the Emirates during the cooler months between January and March, be sure to check out the outdoor activities such as playing camel polo. A two-day tour can include a combination of a private tour, in our case given by our wonderful guide Shan who I highly recommend, a tour bus, and taxis.
Exploring the City of Dubai
Dubai is just a 30-minute taxi ride from the airport. First we stopped in the outskirts of the city at the Camelicious market. Here we tried ice cream made out of camel milk and saw the camel milk, camel milk chocolate, and camel meat products for sale in the store. Then we toured the camel racetrack and the stables nearby. Racing camels (or more precisely, dromedaries) are slender, resembling greyhound racing dogs.
Next stop was to the Dubai Mall, where the Burj Khalifa is located. Named after the current President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa, the Burj Khalifa is the the tallest structure ever built by humans standing at 2,722 feet with 163 floors. We booked our ticket to the 124th floor observation deck for a specified time in advance. Be sure to get to the Burj early as the heat and sandstorms later in the day could impact your view. The Burj offers panoramic views of the sprawling city stretching out to the desert’s edge. Each new building seems to be taller than the next one and more were under construction. Cars below looked like the size of a pinhead. Surrounding buildings were lego-sized. It was incredible to be standing this high in the sky looking as far out into the desert that blended into the hazy horizon. From here we could see the Burj al Arab al Jumeirah, better known as the sailboat hotel, and the World, the man-made 300-island chain laid out in the shape of the continents.
Next, we went ziplining across the fountains and the Burj, ending at the Dubai Mall. We signed up at a kiosk in the mall and took a short walk to the site. Ziplining was fun, quick way to cool off at the high noon heat.
From the mall, we took a double decker tour bus around the city. We drove through the Jumeirah district to see the Burj Al Arab up close. Then we drove through the Palm, another collection of man-made islands formed in the shape of a palm tree. We made a quick stop to the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm before heading onward. We traveled along the 16-lane Sheikh Zayed Road to the gold and spice souqs in the heritage district of Deria. Lastly, we took a breezy old-fashioned boat ride in the Al Faihidi historic district of Dubai.
In the evening, went to the Emirates Mall to go skiing at Ski Dubai, complete with two ski slopes, chairlifts, a snow park, and penguins. Where else could you go skiing in the middle of a desert? After spending a day in this exaggerated city, nothing surprised me.
Sand-dune bashing in a 4×4
The next morning, Shan took us to go sand-dune bashing in his special 4×4 truck. The mega city soon turned into a flat barren desert landscape. Right away we could begin to feel the intensity of the heat through the car. Shan is very experienced at driving the dunes and has a specially made car with an inner roll bar, a GPS tracking device, and other sensors on the car in case of an emergency. We went to the Maliha Desert, an area not well traveled to by tourists. The dunes over 40 feet high and undulated like ocean waves. They were peach colored, beautifully contrasting against the grey mountains in the distance.
The sand was burning to the touch. The sun was intense. I started to sweat, but interestingly enough it evaporated away so quickly. The temperature was already 113 degrees and would rise to 118 degrees, the hottest temperature I have ever experienced. Dead branches on the sand were so dry that they felt as light as a feather. No cactus plants grow in this desert.
We drove up, down, and to the side of the hills like a rollercoaster. At times we were at nearly 90-degree angles. We continued driving around until we saw a herd of camels appear. They were leisurely walking in a line with nothing to do and nowhere to be. This scene made for an iconic desert photo with the rolling waves of sand, the camels and the mountains in the distance.
Our day concluded with an open-air Arabian dinner under the stars with local entertainment and cuisine. I watched the sun set over the rolling dunes of the desert. With the pastel colors and the perfect circle of the sun, it was one the most spectacular sunsets I have seen in all my travels. It was an Arabian adventure indeed.
And that’s how to spend a fun-filled 48 hours in Dubai!
I thank travel agent Spice Road Travel for their help in organizing this trip.