8 great Middle Eastern winter adventures
Winter in the Middle East means go time for fans of the great outdoors.
Near-perfect weather and vast swathes of open space make it perfect for sun-seeking adventure-travel fans -- but one that won’t remain so under-visited for long.
Paragliding in Doha
Faultless blue skies, decent winds and low chance of rain make the dunes outside the Qatari capital of Doha ideal for paragliding.
Run by expert flyers Marc and Ovi, Qatarparagliding runs tours taking first timers and seasoned gliders out into the dunes on tandem introductory flights or for entire five-day courses.
If you believe the best way to see a place is by air, paragliding throws in an adrenaline fix to boot.
Qatar Paragliding (contact is by email); $140 per person for tandem flights
Mangrove-kayaking in Abu Dhabi
Eco-tourism is gaining favor in Abu Dhabi, and navigating the mangrove fields fringing the UAE capital’s archipelago in a kayak epitomizes this low-impact approach to tourism.
Weaving down small streams and ducking under the canopy of trees, you forget you’re within a cab ride of the city center.
Noukhada Adventures; +971 2 650 3600; $325 in total for mangrove tours for one to eight people
Dune-bashing in Dubai
Hurtling up and over sand dunes at 40 kilometers an hour, shunting violently from side-to-side -- dune-bashing can get pretty rough, but boy is it thrilling.
Just 20 minutes’ drive from Dubai, the rolling desert dunes are a playground to residents pushing their Land Cruisers to the limits.
Novice dune-bashers should play it safe and get a trained driver to take them -- but if you’re in town for a bit, you can learn how to drive on sand yourself.
Arabian Adventures; +971 4 303 4888; $60 per person for a morning dune drive
Sandboarding in Egypt
The pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, luxurious cruises down the Nile?
Extreme-sports freaks can instead hurtle head-first down one of Egypt’s hundreds of enormous sand dunes.
It’s not for the faint-hearted: halfway down one of these dunes you’ll have picked up some serious speed.
Organized sandboarding trips leave from Cairo, Sharm El Sheikh and Dahab, offering 4WD transport, a guide, lunch and plenty of water.
Sadana Sandboarding; +20 106 664 6116; contact for 2014 prices
Camel-trekking in Jordan
Lawrence of Arabia knew it: the only way to really experience the desert is to traverse it by camel.
Tailor-made camel-back treks are available from Jordan's capital, Amman, across the desert plains, past the Dead Sea and towards the ancient city of Petra -- one of the man-made wonders of the world.
Sleeping in camps and tents, you’ll get a real feeling for how the Bedouins lived and experience firsthand the beauty of the desert.
Wadi Rum Bedouin Guides (contact is by email); from $85 per person per day
White-water rafting in Al Ain
Wadi Adventure, the recently opened water sports center in the UAE city of Al Ain, is testament to the growing interest in adventure sports in the Middle East.
This man-made water park boasts three world-class whitewater rafting and kayaking runs with a combined length of 1,133 meters, as well as a surf pool churning out 3.3-meter-high waves every 90 seconds.
The park’s so state-of-the-art that several European kayaking teams are considering it for their winter training base.
Al Ain seems to be learning from nearby Dubai and Abu Dhabi that “if you build it, they will come.”
Wadi Adventure; +971 3 781 8422; park admission from $14 per person
Skydiving in Dubai
Jumping out of a plane strapped to a parachute is the latest craze sweeping skyscraper-crowded Dubai.
Thanks to some heavy investing from the Crown Prince, in only a couple of years Dubai’s marina dropzone has clawed its way to the pinnacle of many skydivers’ “must jump” list.
“What blows everyone’s mind is the view of The Palm as you’re falling,” says former skydiving world champion Craig Girard.
The world’s taking note -- last year Skydive Dubai hosted the Mondial, the world’s biggest parachuting and skydiving event.
Skydive Dubai; +971 501 533 222; $545 per person for a tandem jump
Diving in Oman
The Kingdom of Oman is gaining a reputation as one of the best diving spots in the Middle East.
Coral reefs, wrecks and dramatic drop-offs offer divers of all abilities lots of options -- plus this is one of the best times of year, in water that’s still warm, to spot dolphins, hawksbill turtles and even the odd whale shark.
If you want to go a little further afield, the northern tip of the Arabian Peninsula -- known as the Musandam -- is home to some of the best dive sites in the region.
Muscat Diving & Adventure Center; +968 2448 5663; $415 per person for a two-night diving and accommodation package