Al Wathba Fossil Dunes: Abu Dhabi’s Fascinating Hidden Gem

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2020 has been a crazy year – to say the least. But with all the travel restrictions, the only positive aspect which has come out is that many of us have started exploring our nearby places. I mean, every city has many places which are rather unusual and don’t fall in the regular bucket-list like ‘things to do in X city’. These are destinations which are not very far from your city and can easily be covered in a day-trip. And if you are in Abu Dhabi (like us) Al Wathba Fossil Dunes definitely tops the list!

Al Wathba Fossil Dunes

UAE in general and Abu Dhabi in particular has an abundance of locations with spectacular natural sceneries. And the Fossil Dunes will be right among the top, along with Jabel Hafeet, Wathba Wetlands and many more.

Interesting fact: although they are not so famous among tourists (and some residents as well), Abu Dhabi deserts’ the eerie and ethereal landscape have interested Hollywood filmmakers for long. Especially, the fossil dunes have been featured in movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Six Underground (2019).

About the Fossil Dunes of Abu Dhabi

The stunning Fossil Dunes of the Al Wathba desert are 100% natural landscape formations. One of the most amazing things about this attraction is that there is no entry fee. And you can visit whenever you want to (below we have mentioned the best time to visit).

What are fossil dunes and How are they formed?

Well, just like sand dunes, fossil dunes are also formed by the flow of sand-laden-winds over a long span of time. And thus the structure of these fossil dunes keep changing over time (decades).

Similarly, the Al Wathba fossil dunes are formations of wind-swept sand, permeated with calcium carbonate and hence hardened to form distinct, varied and abstract natural desert sculptures. It is here that you will get a chance to view nature – the artist at work.

Al Wathba Fossil Dunes

Although the exact geo-scientific reason as to why fossil dunes get formed in certain areas and not at other locations is not yet completely understood, if you want to know more, you can read here.

Al Wathba Fossil Dunes Location

Google Maps Locations

Fossil Dunes from Abu Dhabi City – Route Map

Route Map from Abu Dhabi

Fossil Dunes from Dubai City – Route Map

Route Map from Dubai

When to Visit?

Being natural structures that too in the middle of a desert, there are no timings as such. However, we would suggest you avoid the summer months and visit between October-February. Since the temperatures will be moderate, you will be able to enjoy yourself more. Also, there are no shelters or shades nearby, and thus, summer can be scorching.

Artistic beauty of Fossil Dunes!

What to know before you visit?

  • Please refrain from climbing and jumping on the structures, as it might damage them. Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCE) asks all visitors to not touch or disturb the structures.
  • If you are renting a car, I would suggest you select an SUV. This will allow you to take your car inside the desert. Or else, you might need to park your car on the side of the road and walk 5-7 mins to the dunes.
  • Don’t forget to carry water and some snacks along with you as there are no restaurants nearby.
  • Please be careful that there is an army base not-too-far from the location. And hence certain sections of the road have been marked as ‘photography prohibited’.

ALSO READ: How to get Driving License in UAE – step by step guide

Our Road Trip to the Fossil Dunes & Al Wathba Desert

This was in September. Just like most people across the globe, we had also got bored with all the pandemic induced lockdowns and travel restrictions. So, one fine Saturday morning, we just wanted to go out somewhere, for a short drive!

After a bit of ‘googling’, we found the photos of Al Wathba Fossil Dunes really attractive and we headed out to explore them. It was merely an hour’s drive and we had reached the desert area that beholds these fascinating natural structures. This is why having a UAE Driving License is always handy. Because even if you don’t own a car, you can rent a car anytime and go out on road trips.

Al Wathba Fossil Dunes

We realised that we were approaching the dunes once the terrain started changing. Scarce population, military air-base, water treatment plant, power-grid lines – all of these were indicating that we were in outskirts of the city and amidst the barren desert. A few more minutes of drive and we started to notice some distinct and abstract desert formations. We had arrived!

A mistake we made: choice of car! Like always, we had rented a compact sedan – Nissan Sunny. And without thinking much, we took the car off-road & into the desert. As expected – we got stuck. After a few minutes of struggle, a passerby generously offered to help us and pulled us out of the mess!
Hence, if you are renting a car, then try to get an SUV. Or, park your car by the side of the road and walk 5-7 mins to the fossil dunes.

ALSO READ: Golden Chance Driving License in Abu Dhabi

Interesting places around Al Wathba Fossil Dunes

Al Wathba Wetland Reserve

Can you even imagine seeing a flamingo in a desert? What about 4000 flamingoes?

Sounds impossible, right? But its TRUE!

The Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in Abu Dhabi Emirate (just an hour’s drive from the city) becomes home to 250 bird species, which includes around 4000 dazzling pink flamingoes, who migrate here between September and April every year.

[image courtesy: Environment Agency – AbuDhabi]

In a gist:

  • Location of Al Wathba Wetland:
  • Opening hours: October–April, Thursdays & Saturdays, 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM (last entry is at 2:00 PM).
  • Entrance fee: Free
  • What to bring: Water, sunglasses, binoculars, walking shoes, snacks, camera and notebook, a sun hat and sunscreen.
  • Safety precautions: stay on the trails, do not disturb the wildlife.

Al Wathba Desert

Well, the entire area around E30 highway is the Al Wathba Desert. It’s a nice place if you want to try out some desert photography. There are a few ponds scattered here and there, and in addition, there is a bicycle track, a camel-race track and an observatory that you can check out.

We were happy to try out some desert photography, especially of the half-covered roads that we had seen many times in the movies.

to infinity and beyond….

In the end…

Overall, the fossil dunes are a great spot for a short outing, especially for those looking to break the boredom of staying-at-home and get away from the city to enjoy nature. We highly recommend a visit to these formations at least once if you stay in Abu Dhabi city!

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4 thoughts on “Al Wathba Fossil Dunes: Abu Dhabi’s Fascinating Hidden Gem”

  1. This was such a fascinating read – from the very first line way until the end, with an interesting & exhaustive information base, topped up with some amazing photos here and there, sprinkled with generous amounts of sandy knowledge – I absolutely loved this blog post!

    Keep travelling, keep writing and keep posting..

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