Monday, Oct. 13, 2008


Avoid the controversial dolphinaria that have recently opened in Creek Park and on the Palm and head out to the glorious Musandam peninsula to see bottlenoses on their home turf. About two hours' drive away, and part of the neighboring country of Oman, the Musandam is not for those on a tight timeline. But a day or two spent on its east coast will draw gasps from even the most experienced traveler. While there's not a great deal to do in the area's main town of Khasab (although the Old Souk is worth a visit) it acts as a springboard into the dramatic waterways known as the "Fjords of the Middle East." There's only one major hotel, the Golden Tulip, from which you can organize your early morning boat ride. Your gaze will be torn between the dramatic cliffs surrounding you and (if you're lucky) the dolphins yo-yoing in and out of the water alongside. A blissful experience.

The easiest way to reach the Musandam is to rent a car (try Fast Rent A Car) and drive the 65 km (40 mi.) north. Don't forget to ask for Omani travel insurance when renting, as you will need it to get your visa at the Omani border post. Also, make sure that you have a visitor visa that allows you to reenter the UAE after your trip; check with the Dubai Department of Tourism (971-4-223-0000) before leaving the UAE.


For those of you seeking a bit of R & R away from the big city, Fujairah is the place to head — or, to be more accurate, the stretch between the fishing village of Dibba and Fujairah town. Here you'll find an array of sleeping options ranging from the plush Le Meridien Al Aqah with its giant swimming pool to the more down-at-heel (but charming) Sandy Beach Motel whose villas each come with their own barbeque area. Out at sea, Snoopy Rock (an outcropping that looks a little like everyone's favorite Peanut character napping on the roof of his house) is surrounded by great snorkeling, while life on land tends to be lived at an idyllic crawl.

Dibba is approximately 100 km (62 miles) from Dubai and the drive, which takes you past the misnamed Friday Market (it's open throughout the week) and the mountains surrounding Masafi, is an impressive one. You can rent a car (see Musandam), which would allow you to explore the area, but if you're just planning on lazing on the beach, don't bother. Just take a taxi, which will cost roughly AED 200.

Abu Dhabi

The United Arab Emirates' capital has long lived in the shadow of its brasher, brattier brother down the road. But Abu Dhabi is increasingly attracting visitors looking for a break from Dubai's breakneck pace. The city's cultural scene is gathering steam, with Abu Dhabi's very own outposts of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums (the latter designed by Frank Gehry) scheduled to open by 2012. For those of you who are more interested in racing than Renoir, the Formula One will roar into town in 2009 for the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. So there's plenty in the pipeline, but what can visitors expect to see this year? For now, a smaller, less crowded Dubai.

Abu Dhabi is 150 km (93 miles) southwest of Dubai down Sheikh Zayed Road. You can rent a car or jump in a taxi, which will cost AED 250 if you flag one from the street or AED 150 if you pre-book with Al Ghazal Express (02-444-5885), but the cheapest way of getting to the capital is by bus. Minibuses leave the Bur Dubai bus station regularly, the route is timetabled, but most drivers tend to wait until the bus is full before leaving. This may mean a crowded and slightly claustrophobic experience, but for AED 15 you can't really complain. You will be dropped off at the central bus station in Abu Dhabi from which local taxis (which are cheaper than their Dubai counterparts) are available.