Crossing the Line: The Tropic of Cancer in the UAE

I have long been fascinated with boundaries, tri-points, confluence points and the likes – and now I find myself living just 25kms up the road from this one!  I had regularly crossed it since we first visited Liwa in 2009 and never given it much thought, that is until 2012 when I was driving with a friend who made a point of stopping for a cup of tea exactly on the tropic line.

Firstly here’s some background

The Tropic of Cancer is one of five major circles of latitude.  The tropic of cancer marks the southern extreme of the north temperate zone and the northern extreme of the tropics.

  • Arctic Circle – 66 degrees north
  • Tropic of Cancer – 23.26 degrees north
  • Equator – 0 degrees
  • Tropic of Capricorn – 23.26 degrees south
  • Antarctic Circle- 66 degrees south

In 2016, it is at a northern latitude of 23.26 or 23.4371 but each year it changes slightly due to the axial tilt of the earth (which is why the line shown on google earth is too far north!).  Each year it progresses approx 15 metres towards the equator, not that you would really notice much though!

Currently measuring 36,788kms, it passes through 17 countries on its journey around the earth.  I tried to include a link for an interesting article on each but they dried up in Africa!

And 3 Oceans, 1 strait and 2 Gulfs

  • Indian Ocean, Taiwan Strait, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of California, Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic

The line marks the most northerly latitude that the sun will be directly overhead – at the summer solstice, June 21 – and is named because the sun is entering the constellation of Cancer at that time.

The Tropic of Cancer in the UAE

toc part 1

The TOC crosses theUAE, completely within Abu Dhabi Emirate, for a distance of 337kms approx.  It’s pretty much sand all the way; in the west the dunes are quite small, white and technical (difficult to navigate) but after crossing the E15 (Ruwais to Arada Road) at 23.4372 N 53.0624 N the dunes become bigger and more spectacular.

toc part 2

The next road it crosses is the E45 (road from the coast to Liwa City) at 23.4372 N 53.7545 and it is here that travelers start to encounter real problems; the Etihad Railway Line is just 200 metres from the road crossing, although there are some underpasses to allow eastwards access; further on there are some fenced areas requiring 4x4s to make some diversions.

toc part 3

The last crossing in the Liwa area is the E65 (coast road to Himeem) -at 23.4372 N 54.3911 E and from hereon the dunes take on a darker colour and if you are driving then the going becomes a little bit easier.  The final road to be crossed is the E90 (from Al Ain to Al Qua’a) at 23.4372 N 55.4380 E, just 500 metres short of the UAE/Oman border fence.

toc all the way

One man who has walked, yes you read that right, walked the UAE stretch of the TOC  is Max Calderan.  It was my great honour to be part of his support team for a day (4 of 6) back in March when he became the first foot traveler to successfully complete this feat.  If you were to encounter Max in the city you might not give this tall, slim, middle aged man a second glance but seeing him stride purposefully through the dunes almost 80 hours after he set off, having taken less than 10 hours sleep, was a sight to behold – he truly is the “son of the desert”!  A true test of physical and mental strength, the TOC gave him seemingly endless undulating terrain to contend with; mother nature added an extra challenge by throwing in some extreme weather – yet not even thunder & lightening, heavy rain or a sandstorm could halt this superman!  You can read more about his extraordinary journey here.

Now if you want to tackle driving the route, you will find full details in Mike Nott’s Advanced Offroad Adventure Routes UAE & Oman – Route 4. (Note – Max and his team used this book when planning for the trip)  In the main the route is still driveable, however in the 50 or so kms before Al Qua’a there is now an oryx sanctuary as well as a military area so you may wish to complete the route using the road from Razeen to Al Qua’a.  Please note it is a Grade 3 trip and is all sand duning – there are some extremely technical sections and I would suggest this would be most suitable for experienced offroaders, in a small team with 3-5 (very reliable) cars.


The Gulf News Fun Drive, an annual event which sees 800-900 cars participate over a 200km+ route, crossed the Tropic on their Liwa Route last year and I am sure that sometime in the future this event will head southwards to the Empty Quarter again.  Picture from Gulf News.!/image/201110320.jpg

National Geographic produced a documentary about the TOC in 2015, which you can read about here.  I was approached to be a researcher on the program, but the company which hired me sadly did not produce the final product so my 15 minutes of fame (getting a mention in the credits) didn’t happen either.

If marathon offroad driving is not for you, why not check out the TOC when it crosses the blacktop roads listed above – it could be something to do in the summer on your way to the lovely Liwa Hotel for some R&R.  I grabbed a few snaps on the E45 crossing yesterday – but if you go please be careful as there is nowhere to park off the road until 300 metres after the point itself.  If you have a 4×4 you can drive down to the end of the barrier then turn onto the sand sandy area which borders the road to reach somewhere safe to park your car.  When doing my research there were surprisingly few countries, including the UAE, with signs marking the TOC – so I took my own. (Note – as of April 2017 there is now a sign at the Al Qua’a TOC)

Why not make your own sign before you go, or alternatively you can download your own Desert Diva sign here.


Further reading – if you were to continue your journey into Oman, the journey would be very different.  Here is an interesting article by Tony Walsh. Now there’s an idea for a journey!


  1. Omaima Mohammad says:

    Hi, interested to go to Tropic of Cancer this week . Any suggestions & plans that your team is going? Thanks

      • Hi

        Can you please guide us on how to reach TOC from AL AIN


        • Marina Bruce says:

          Hi Siraj – from Al Ain take the Al Wagan road and keep going til you reach the sign at Al Qua’a. Enjoy!

  2. Sunil HS says:

    Hi. Thank you for your well written article. Can you drop a pin on google maps where exactly the TOC boards are situated? We are planning to drive to TOC from Abu Dhabi and do not want to venture too deep into the dunes. Probably close to the roads is good enough. There seems to be road leading to a dead-end between E45 and E65 – called Asab area. Is it good enough? And we are driving 4×4 vehicle. And we sure would be carrying your Desert diva TOC sign !

    • Marina Bruce says:

      Good morning Sunil and thank you for getting in touch.
      To find the points please copy and paste the co-ordinates on the blogpost into google maps. The only place thete is a brown roadside sign is Al Qua’a south of Al Ain. I do not recommend you go down the Asab road as it leads to an oilfield/restricted area and stops short of the TOC. There are fences on each side of the 3 paved roads which cross the tropic, hard to go directly into the dunes from any of them. I don’t recommend you go with just one car if you are offroading! That being said, the scenery even from the road is fantastic!
      You might also consider joining one of my tag along trips – most cross the TOC including the ones on 2 feb, 9 feb and 16 feb
      All the best

      • AJAY KANE says:

        hello marina, kindly advise the sat2feb2018 plan for toc. there will be two four-wheeler vehicles. we are eager to view toc. thanks in advance.

        • Marina Bruce says:

          Hello Ajay
          I have sent an email to the address you registered your comment with. If you haven’t received it please whatsapp +971 509 478 563. thanks, Marina

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