Photo courtesy of Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa
Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa
A 45-minute drive from the densely packed skyscrapers and shopping malls of Dubai, Al Maha, which opened in 1999 as the UAE’s first luxury desert resort, lies within a 55,600-acre nature reserve. Al Maha operates on the African safari model, with early morning and sunset excursions by 4x4, camel, and horseback. Linked by paved pathways to the restaurant, spa, and lobby, the resort’s 42 tented suites are spaced far enough apart from one another to feel entirely private. Decks and plunge pools provide panoramic views of sand dunes and a water hole that lures more than 400 Arabian oryx, an indigenous species brought back from near extinction following 20th-century overhunting.
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Although the resort offers day trips into Dubai, the reason to stay is for desert scenery and solitude. Rolling dunes and stands of ghaf trees provide habitat for Arabian oryx, two gazelle species, and smaller desert creatures such as foxes, Ethiopian hedgehogs, and gerbils. Guests frequently spot oryx grazing on indigenous plant species between suites.
Need to Know
Rooms: 42 rooms; from $790 [2,900 AED]. Check-in: 2 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Al Maha’s single Al Diwan restaurant has a large alfresco deck and an eclectic Middle Eastern and international menu emphasizing organic ingredients and seafood sourced from the Persian Gulf. Staff can arrange in-suite candlelit dinners and starlit desert BBQs. Going into the city for dinner is impractical. Gym and spa details: In addition to a full-service spa, pool, and 63-square-meter fitness center, the resort offers horseback and camel riding, guided nature walks and game drives, and falconry and archery lessons.
Who’s it for: Many guests are privacy-seeking locals and expatriates who want a romantic weekend escape. Our favorite rooms: Most suites have unimpeded views of the desert and distant Hajar mountains; numbers 9, 10 and 11, 12 look directly at the water hole where oryx gather to drink. Plan ahead: Book popular desert activities in advance of arrival, and time the visit with the full moon to see the desert glow at night.