It might be tempting to spend your Dubai break sprawled on a sun lounger, but this corner of the world is packed with high-octane, adrenaline-charged activities. There are adventures to be had in the sand, sea and snow (yes, really), and all are within a short taxi ride of each other. Got a need for speed? Go wakeboarding, skiing, sliding or racing F1-style – Dubai has got it all.
Sandboarding and desert safaris
Beyond Dubai's architectural giants are vast desert dunes of various colours and shapes. The UAE’s stunt riders head out to Big Red, an area packed with thousands of sandy mounds, where you can watch pro quadbikers, 4x4 drivers and sandboarders launching themselves off ledges and peaks. Fancy a go yourself? Adventure companies will drive willing participants to suitably high dunes, strap them to a board and send them hurtling down the slopes. Most companies will throw in some belly-flipping dune bashing for free too. It doesn't hurt when you tumble, but be prepared to get a workout climbing back up the sandy hills. After a session, stick around to watch the desert sunset, where bright pinks, oranges, yellows and mauves combine, as gazelles dart off into the horizon.
Do it: Prices start from Dhs292 (US$80) for an afternoon desert safari (request sandboarding when you book). Book a driver and gear with Alpha Tours.
Skiing and snowboarding
In the centre of Dubai sits a huge refrigerator, containing one of the largest man-made ski slopes on the planet. Inside Ski Dubai, visitors will find 6000 tons of powdery snow and a 400-metre slope. With temperatures between -2°C and -9°C, you can pretend you’re in the Swiss Alps rather than a sweltering desert. While it’s not somewhere to try speed skiing (although you may find a few teenagers whizzing around), it is the ideal environment to hone your technique or learn the basics. You can also swing down an indoor sub-zero zip line.
Do it: Dhs275 (US$75) for a snow park pass.
The single-seater experience at Dubai Autodrome is as close as a novice can get to being Lewis Hamilton for the day. After a quick classroom lesson, the racetrack instructors will strap rookie gearheads into an ultra lightweight 180bhp car and set them loose on a mile-long circuit. Following a specially tuned Audi TTS, drivers will experience 0-100kph in four seconds, the roar of the engine and the smell of rubber as they crank the car around the 17 technical turns. Pounding along the track, beginners will feel how vulnerable Formula One drivers really are; one false move could send you spinning into another car, with nothing but fibreglass bodywork to protect you.
Do it: Dhs875 (US$238). Instructors will kit you out in racing gear and a helmet, brief you and line you up to race for 20 minutes on the track.
Zooming across the water at speeds of 40mph with the warm Gulf air against your face, wakeboarding gives you the rush of snowboarding but doesn’t hurt when you fall off. In Dubai’s Jebel Ali area, daredevils will find the perfect secluded spot, with optimum conditions for the sport. Unlike surfing or kiteboarding, wakeboarding is best done in calm conditions when the water is glassy and still. Just offshore from the Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, the crest of the nearby Palm Jebel Ali creates a tranquil lagoon where visitors can slice through the duck-egg-blue aqua, while holding onto a cable attached to a 150 break horsepower boat. Whether you are a beginner, learning to do your first jump over the frothy wake or can expertly land 360s and backflips, the adrenaline factor never wears off.
Do it: A 20-minute wakeboarding lesson costs Dhs250 (US$68) including board hire. Wetsuit hire starts from Dh50 (US$13), Watercooled at Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, enter via Club Joumana.
Bound down 1.6m of rapids, catapult yourself past a shark tank at 60mph or stand on a 75ft high trapdoor that opens beneath your feet and sends you hurtling through a double looped flume – it’s just another day at Aquaventure at Atlantis, The Palm. Rides dart out from ancient Middle Eastern-themed buildings, and the views from the waterpark, over the Palm Jumeirah with calm turquoise sea and the city’s skyscrapers beyond, are nothing short of stunning (and a nice distraction as you queue for your impending doom).
Do it: Full day passes cost Dhs260 (US$71).
Fancy jumping out of a perfectly good plane at 4,000m? Skydive Dubai offers tandem jumps, where you’re harnessed to a qualified instructor, over the spectacular Palm Jumeirah. After a minute-long free fall, your chute is deployed at around 1800m so you can soak up the views of Dubai’s man-made islands, skyscrapers and sprawling desert as you glide back down to terra firma. Dates get booked up quickly, so check the website ahead of your trip. Alternatively, you can jump at the desert drop zone (closed from 1 June – 30 August). If you’d rather not make the leap, iFly Dubai lets you defy gravity during a simulated skydiving experience in its indoor vertical wind tunnel.
Do it: A tandem skydive costs Dhs1999 (US$544) at Palm Jumeirah or Dhs1699 (US$463) at the desert campus. Indoor skydiving costs Dhs195 (US$53) including two flights.
First published in January 2015