The green, tree-lined arrival to Al-Ain (the UAE’s half of the Buraimi Oasis) is in stark contrast to the magnificent desert dunes you pass on the way there. Once a five-day camel trek from Abu Dhabi, and now around a two-hour easy drive, it’s little wonder that its relatively cool, dry climate has always attracted those looking for respite from the harsh and hot conditions elsewhere in the emirate. The birthplace of Sheikh Zayed, Al-Ain has benefited from his patronage and passion for greening the desert, with its verdant streets and kitschy decorated roundabouts.
But the desert is never far from this capital of the eastern region of Abu Dhabi emirate. The winding road up to the Jebel Hafeet lookout offers a magnificent view of the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia, as well as a hotel perched on a precipice. With lively markets, myriad forts and museums to explore, and a famous date-palm oasis, Al-Ain is a breath of fresh air and worthy of a relaxing couple of days.
The oasis’ other half, which has kept the original name of Buraimi, is across the border in Oman and is nowhere near as affluent, a telling indicator of what the presence of ample reserves of oil can do for a national economy. The border between the two countries was agreed in 1966, after Al-Ain and Buraimi co-opted the assistance of the British to fend off Saudi Arabia, which had occupied the Buraimi area and laid claim to the entire oasis in 1953. It wasn’t until 1974 that the Saudis renounced their claim.