Review: Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai Activities

Filed Under: Starwood Preferred Guest

Rates at Al Maha include full board as well as two desert activities per guest per day. This meant over the course of our two day stay we were entitled to four activities.

The resort offers both morning activities and afternoon activities, given that it cools off during those hours. The choices for activities include the following (see the links above for more details of the specifics):

  • Falconry — You will be guided to the display site to witness the traditional Arabic art of falconry.
  • Nature walk — Your guide will interpret the amazing diversity of life in the desert and will provide an informative and educational experience on all the smaller desert wonders.
  • Ghaf tree walk — A ten minute drive into the conservation area to a grove of Ghaf trees. Wander around our desert “forest” while your guide tells you more about these fascinating life-giving trees.
  • Horse riding — A chance to see the desert from the back of an Arabian horse at sunrise. This is for experienced riders only and an 85kg weight limit applies.
  • Desert drive — A more extreme 4×4 drive in the dunes with beautiful desert scenery.
  • Wild life drive — The ideal opportunity to see the famous Arabian Oryx (Al Maha) and other indigenous fauna and flora.
  • Camel trek — A 25 minute trek from the resort into the dunes, to watch the sunset and toast it with a drink.
  • Sundowners — An alternative to the camels – a short trip in a vehicle out into the dunes to toast the setting sun.
  • Archery — Suitable time to be negotiated with your guide.

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For some more context, here’s a video Al Maha put together about the activities offered by the resort:

With that in mind, I figured I’d share my thoughts on the individual activities we took part in. For what it’s worth, the hotel was extremely flexible with planning the activities, and we didn’t face any capacity controls. You simply let them know what you wanted to do, even if it was 15 minutes before the activity started, and they’d accommodate it.

Al Maha camel trek

This started at 5:15PM, so that we could get to our destination in time for sunset. The camels are all “lined” up, so you’re doing this as a group, with two people per camel.

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Al Maha activities — sunset camel trek

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Al Maha activities — sunset camel trek

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Al Maha activities — sunset camel trek

The camel ride took about 30 minutes, at which point we made it to our destination, a couple of kilometers from the hotel.

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Al Maha activities — sunset camel trek

They had a really cute setup, including champagne, water, and some sweets. It was a nice touch, especially since most of us were going to dinner after the trek.

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Al Maha activities — sunset camel trek snacks & drinks

After a glass of champagne and roughly 20 minute stop, it was time to return to the resort.

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Al Maha activities — sunset camel trek with champagne

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Al Maha activities — sunset camel trek

We watched the sun set even further as we trekked back to the hotel. It was stunning.

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Al Maha activities — sunset camel trek

Overall I enjoyed the trek, and would recommend it. It’s not some super-intimate, private camel trek, but it’s well done given how it’s scaled.

Al Maha falconry

The next morning we did falconry, which I was expecting would be the least interesting activity for me… boy was I wrong!

Falconry took place at sunrise just a few hundred feet from the resort, where the wooden benches are located in the below picture.

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View from Al Maha

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Al Maha falconry

For one, it was beautiful to watch the sunrise as we sat there.

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Al Maha activities — sunrise falconry

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Al Maha activities — sunrise falconry

But beyond that, the whole explanation and “show” was fascinating. I never understood what falconry was, but the South African guides did a great job explaining it. It was explained to us that we were in luck, since there were actually three falcons present, which is one more than usual. The falcons were driven to the “field” in the cars, which I thought was funny.

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Al Maha activities — sunrise falconry

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Al Maha activities — sunrise falconry

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Al Maha activities — peregrine falcon

At first we were shown a couple of types of falcons, and there were even opportunities to hold them. I was a bit scared. Ford, on the other hand, went for it…

Al-Maha-Resort-Dubai - 15Al Maha activities — Ford with peregrine falcon

The display wasn’t limited to falcons, though. We were also shown a desert eagle owl and an eagle. The rivalries between them were interesting, because they seemed to hate one another, and apparently even refused to be in the same car.

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Al Maha activities — desert eagle owl at sunrise falconry

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Al Maha activities — sunrise falconry

Then the actual falconry began, which was incredible. Falcons can fly at around 200mph, so they were set “free” to fly quite far, and then brought back in by swinging a rope with some food on the end.

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Al Maha activities — sunrise falconry

For even further entertainment, one of the falcons actually got free, so they “lost” him. They have tracking devices, though the batteries on them only last for so long. As of that night they still hadn’t found the falcon, so I’m not sure he ever returned. Given how expensive they can be, that’s not a cheap “loss.”

Falconry was the most pleasantly surprising activity. I didn’t expect I’d enjoy it, but I really did.

Al Maha dune bashing

I’ve done dune bashing a couple of times before in the UAE, and have always enjoyed it. It’s exhilarating — you really feel like you could tip at any moment.

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Al Maha activities — dune bashing

Dune bashing doesn’t actually occur near the hotel, but rather is about a 15 minute ride away.

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Al Maha activities — dune bashing

Fortunately the drive was interesting, as there was lots of wildlife to see, including dozens of Arabian oryx.

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Al Maha activities — dune bashing

After the drive we found ourselves at a gate, which a guard opened as we pulled up. The landscape there felt completely different, as if we were on a different planet. There were no shrubs or animals, but rather just sand as far as the eye could see.

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Al Maha activities — dune bashing

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Al Maha activities — dune bashing

Dune bashing occurs in groups, so in our case there were about five cars driving together. That’s in case one car gets stuck. One car basically creates the “tracks,” and the others follow it. I guess it’s a further added security measure.

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Al Maha activities — dune bashing

We made a couple of stops enroute, and the views were stunning. I know I have weird tastes sometimes, but a proper desert view might just be among my favorite scenery out there.

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Al Maha activities — dune bashing

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Al Maha activities — dune bashing

The dune bashing was a lot of fun, and lasted about 90 minutes. I will say, it was a bit milder than some of the dune bashing I’ve done in the past, which is good or bad news depending on your tolerance.

I always enjoy dune bashing, and this was no exception. But if you’re a thrill seeker, you might be a bit let down by this one.

Al Maha Timeless Spa

While not one of the included activties, the hotel has a Timeless Spa, located in a separate building away from the lobby.

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Al Maha spa

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Al Maha spa

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Al Maha spa

You can find the treatment menu for the Al Maha spa here. An hour-long deep tissue massage cost 450AED, or about ~$120. The massage was excellent.

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Al Maha spa

After the massage we were offered tea and fresh fruit.

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Al Maha spa snacks

We also had access to the hot tub, which had pretty cool outdoor views.

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Al Maha spa

Al Maha gym & pool

In the same building as the spa was the gym. It was a decent size, though didn’t feature the most modern equipment. Then again, I don’t exactly think that’s a big deal, given the location.

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Al Maha gym

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Al Maha gym

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Al Maha gym

Outside of the gym and spa was a nice communal seating area, and then also a pool. We never did use the pool, given that we had our own pool.

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Al Maha pool area

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Al Maha pool area

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Al Maha pool area

How many nights should you spend at Al Maha?

I thought two nights at Al Maha was perfect. It allowed us to get in a few activities, enjoy some great meals, and get a spa treatment without feeling rushed.

You could probably visit in one day, given that the hotel is such a short drive from Dubai. You could arrive in the early afternoon, have lunch, do a camel ride in the evening, have dinner, do falconry or dune bashing in the morning, have breakfast, and then get on your way. At the same time, you wouldn’t really have time to stop and enjoy the nature.

I could certainly see a case for staying three days, if you want to spend a day just relaxing and reading on your balcony while enjoying the nature. Anything longer than that seems excessive, at least from a value perspective. That’s not to say you wouldn’t have fun, but rather that there are cheaper places you can “relax.”

There’s nothing I would have changed about how we planned our stay at Al Maha.

Al Maha bottom line

I loved Al Maha, and even at 39,000 Starpoints per night, it was one of my favorite ever uses of points. You really get a ton of value out of activities and food being included, given how much those would otherwise retail for.

Service throughout the resort was exceptional, the food was great, and I enjoyed the activities. It’s also really convenient that Al Maha is so close to Dubai, since it’s not some three hour drive into the desert.

I can’t recommend Al Maha enough.

Have you visited Al Maha yet, and if not, do you have any interest in visiting?

  1. Before reading the reviews on BA I wasn’t too fussed about visiting but now, really looking forward to my stay in a couple of weeks.

  2. Oh yes, I have much interest in visiting. Unfortunately, I think it is never going to happen unless there is an error fare or I win the lottery 🙂

  3. I’ll be the contrarian and say that two nights was far too short for me. We weren’t in “full-on relax mode” when we were there, so that probably makes a difference. We only did two activities, versus four, and didn’t have a chance to visit the spa, etc.

    If you’re trying to stay actively busy the entire time then I can see two being sufficient, but I would have truly been happy with five.

    I can’t think of another hotel I’ve been to that embraced silence and the lack of general noise and cheesy muzak in the common areas was so impactful for me. I could have spent hours at a time just gazing out on the desert, or soaking in the sun with a book, and having it be quiet. Obviously that’s not everyone’s thing, but there was something pretty magical about the whole place for me.

  4. Hi Ben, always love your reviews and trip reports. My wife and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary at Al Maha next year. Wondered if you had any comments on the weather in mid January impacting any of the activities or use of the pools? We were married on Jan. 18th in the middle of a minus 40 cold snap, so I thought a visit to the desert could serve as an anniversary antidote. Keep up the great articles… I’m envious of your job!

  5. I was totally unprepared for the birds of prey fighting over who gets the front seat and almost did a spit take on my laptop! I don’t really dig the desert, but the nature part of this almost convinces me to go. Poolside gazelles are definitely a bonus.

  6. How and when can you get the 39,000 starpoint rate. I will be in Dubai on December 24th 2016 and called SPG and was quoted 70,000 points [suite only]. Anyway, how much in advance do they offer the 39,000 SPG point rate? Thanks for the info, looks great!

  7. I love Al Maha. I will go back this year for my 6th visit. Once I stayed for a week with my parents and I did the camel ride every evening. I will never get bored at Al Maha.

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