The inspiration for this post came from the many people who ask me for advice on where to camp in the Liwa area – so I thought the easiest thing to do would be to list some to be ready for the next season. Of course if you want to camp in the summer, Liwa is still open, but with daytime temps of 50C+ and the mercury only dropping to 35-40C at night, it could be a little bit warm for even the most adventurous camper!
- These are not hard-core offroading routes; they are relatively easy access tracks aimed at family groups who want to see the sun set and rise in the desert!
- The routes are spread out all over the Liwa Desert; each area’s dunes are slightly different so it’s well worth a few visits – see the overview map at the bottom of this page.
- The attached files should be read in conjunction with The Desert Diva Disclaimer.
- The Google Earth screen grabs are quite small but if you download the route files which you can access via the link near the bottom of the page you will be able to open them on GE on your own computer and zoom in to your heart’s content.
- If you are quite new to offroading then I recommend you read this blogpost.
- The pictures attached to each location are to give you an idea of the colour and type of dune; shifting sands change the landscape continually so the dune you took a picture of last season will no longer look the same!
- You do not need to drive all the way along the supplied tracks – these are given to help you find your way into some easily accessible desert.
- You do not necessarily need to stop at the end of my track either – if your group is driving well and the way in front is suitable for everyone then don’t let me stop you!
Any questions/feedback? Need an escort to take a family group camping? Contact me using the link at the right hand side of this page or email me on fullemptyquarter at gmail dot com.
Starting at “home” – well for me anyway! Madinat Zayed is the “Capital” of Al Gharbia, the Western Region of Abu Dhabi.
1) MZ South (Green, easy)
Travel 14kms south of Madinat Zayed and come off the road at the slip road marked “Fodder Farm.” With all these routes you should consider deflating your tyres – you will be travelling over gatch tracks, sand tracks and some soft sand so I would recommend you deflate to 20PSI; you can always let your tyres down a bit more if you find the going tough.
Follow the track up the gatch, then on to the sand and head NW – there are many good places here to pitch your tent for the night. Keep away from camel farms – or at least upwind from them – and bear in mind the further you go in the less traffic there will be to disturb you during the night. Try to pick up a well used sand-track which will help you get deeper into the desert with relative ease.
2) Pylon Gatch (Red, quite tricky in places)
This gatch was constructed in 2013 to facilitate the installation of pylons to feed electricity to the Liwa Water Project but now the construction is complete the gatch is no longer maintained. That being said, it does offer a slightly easier way to travel deep into the desert than taking dunes all the way. I have rated it as red, making it the most difficult of the ten camping areas to access, but if you have experienced offroaders in your convoy then chances are you will make it with no problem. As you pass each valley, have a look into it and assess the difficulty level of access and most importantly – exit – and when you see one that looks doable both ways, and your group likes it, then get those tents pitched!
The west end of the Liwa Crescent is one of the most remote places in the UAE. Some 275kms from Abu Dhabi yet only 20kms or so from the Saudi border you will find some of the largest dunes in the world.
3) Arada South East (Yellow, very remote)
Dune massifs rise up from sabkah (salt flats) to a height of over 300 metres above sea level; the north wind causes billions of sand particles to spill over these and cascade to the sabkah below creating awesome slipfaces. These are amazing to see, sometimes scary to drive down and incredible to photograph! Find a sand track to exit from the road near the start of the gps track then drive eastwards over sabkah and sand tracks until you find a place to your liking.
4) Arada North West (Green, easy)
The gatch track which marks the start point for my annual Dark Skies Challenge offers some great possibilities for camping – go 2 or 3 kms away from the road (which probably is only ever busy on the day of the DSC!) and find a sheltered spot to lay your head for the night.
5) Solar Powered Oasis Gatch (Green, easy)
This gatch track, maintained in Feb/March 2016, gives you an easy way to drive into some amazing dunescapes. It leads to what must be one of the most remote farms in the UAE – a Date Palm Oasis with waterpumps powered by a bank of solar panels and manned by one or two workers who rarely see another soul and are always friendly and welcoming when we drop by! There are many huge bowls just off the track but before you drop down into one, ensure that you have the vehicles and experience to get back out!
A good 2-way blacktop road leads from Liwa City into the site of the annual Moreeb Challenge – an almost vertical drag race up an impossibly steep dune! This road gives 2WD drivers the chance to explore the dunes, from the safety of a proper road, and many park up in a layby and carry their camping gear a little bit away from the road. This is the only route in this blog post that I recommend for camping expeditions powered by 2WD – all others listed, regardless of how easy, require an AWD or 4×4.
6) Sandtracks and Sabkah (Green, easy)
Take a left off the Moreeb road and follow the sand track over the sabkah, past the camel farms until you find a suitable spot.
7) UPDATE DEC 2020: THIS ROUTE IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE AS THERE IS A GLAMPING SITE RIGHT AT THE ENTRANCE, COMPLETE WITH A GATE TO KEEP OFFROADERS OUT.
Slipface View (Yellow, a little care required when choosing your path)
Take a right further along the Moreeb road and follow the sand track in to the desert. You will see a massive slipface to your right and in fact if you carry on the sandtrack you will see many more! It is difficult to exit the desert at the end of my track so I recommend backtracking to the start point.
This small town marks the eastern extent of the Liwa Crescent and from here northwards the dunes gradually become smaller. To the south west of Himeem there are oil and gas fields and these should be avoided at all costs!
8) Khis Gatch (Green, easy)
The Khis Gatch is an old, well maintained gatch track which takes you down as far as the Saudi Border; you will find many good campspots down the length of this track but I suggest travelling at least 10kms down it to get away from light pollution. Exit the E90 Liwa Crescent road and head along the Al Hosn Gas Plant road and MOST IMPORTANTLY, at the first roundabout turn left and join the Khis Gatch.
White Sands Area
The name for this area comes from the Truck Stop “White Sands” restaurant and grocery which have been plying their trade on this route for many years.
9) Al Hamra to Mast (Green, easy)
This is an easy sandtrack route which will take you deep into the dunes in an area that is paradise for photographers. Dark red dunes are interspersed with near-white ones and gazelle and other wildlife can often be spotted here.
10) White Sands (Green, easy)
This route is especially easy – a gatch track takes you around 20kms from the nearest civilisation followed by a sandtrack which takes you even further “away from it all.” The surrounding dunes are not huge, but they are pretty and this routes relatively close proximity to Abu Dhabi and Al Ain could make it quite appealing!
Need a tent? Check out my review of Coleman Instant Tents!
Download the route file here –