Last weekend we treated ourselves to a little staycation in Dubai. Around 1h drive from our apartment, straight into the desert lies Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa, part of the Marriott Luxury Collection. My better half was the one organising, but of course I did check some pictures ahead and I was quite excited at the idea to spend a relaxing weekend away from the city. Little did we know that this hotel would quickly become one of our favorites.
WHAT IS AL MAHA DESERT RESORT & SPA?
An hour drive from Downtown Dubai, Al Maha Desert Resort And Spa is nested in the middle of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. This natural reserve of 225,000 sqm (5% of Dubai’s land) aims at protecting and ensuring a sustainable future for the fragile ecosystem of the desert.
Part of the reserve is accessible by tour operators, such as Arabian Adventures and Platinum Heritage, while a large area surrounding the hotel is only accessible to staying guests.
Al Maha is the Arabic name of the Arabian Oryx, and one of the main missions of the reserve is to protect and ensure the survival of this endangered species. Once almost extinct, there are now over 700 Arabian Oryx in the reserve.
You can reach Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa with your own car, or with a Uber (around 200 AED – 55 USD). A local taxi should also be able to drop you there. The hotel doesn’t provide any shuttle service.
STAYING AT AL MAHA DESERT RESORT & SPA
To stay true to its sustainability mission, the resort only has 42 rooms. All of them are private little villas with a pool, a sundeck, and a beautiful desert view. There are 4 categories of rooms, from the Bedouin Suite we stayed at (1 bedroom suite), to the 3 Bedroom Presidential Suite which is completely isolated from the rest of the resort with its own dining room, kitchen, etc … (the Sheikh’s choice when he visits the resort!). The whole resort is a tribute to Arabian culture and traditions, and the bedrooms are beautifully decorated with traditional artifacts and antiques.
Thanks to solar panels, the swimming pool is maintained at an ideal temperature all day long, and do I really need to mention how comfortable the bed was?
DINING AT AL MAHA DESERT RESORT & SPA
The best surprise of the trip was to realize it was a full board! Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, both at the restaurant and in-room are all included (except drinks). Can you think of anything better?!!
The breakfast menu is classic but tasty with a combination of a la carte choices (eggs, pancakes, etc …) and a small buffet (for bread, pastries, fresh fruits, dim sums, etc…)
For lunch we ordered in the room and enjoyed a fresh meal by the pool, surrounded by a few gazelles, looking quite interested in what was on our plate. Luckily they never come on the deck, mostly because it is too slippery for their hooves (trust me one gazelle tried and it was hilarious). So they just observe you with their sweet eyes from a safe distance.
We had dinner twice at the Al Diwaan restaurant, facing the desert and a lovely little oasis. The menu offers great variety, including a dedicated section to Arabic specialties. Everything we tried was refined and delicious. Try the Green Veloute for a starter (it was so delicious I had it twice) and the beef as the main course (incredible meat!). For a vegetarian option, you can go for the Pumpkin and Green Beens Tajine which I also loved.
If you feel like a more exotic option, why not ordering the full Sri Lankan dinner (you need to order before 3 pm though)!
Drinks are served all day long at the small Hajar Terrace Bar, facing the beautiful desert, with a One for One Happy Hour offer from 6pm to 8pm.
On a side note, the drinks are surprisingly well priced (aligned with the rest of Dubai, which means very expensive from an international point of view, but not crazy considering the standing of the hotel).
Good to Know : Dining is a serious affair in Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa : Smart dressing is required for dinner, which means long trousers and shirt for men and elegant for ladies. Flip flops are not accepted.
ACTIVITIES AT AL MAHA DESERT RESORT & SPA
The second best surprise of our stay was to realise that we could do 2 activities per person per day for free (Are you starting to get a sense that we do love freebees ? My +1 especially !). Some of the activities offered include :
Falconry (7-8am) : To get know more about falcons and eagles and the traditional art of falconry.
Nature Walk (7-8am) : A guided sunrise walk in the desert to discover more about the reserve bio-diversity.
Ghaf Tree Walk (7-8am) : Drive through the desert and get to know more about this traditional desert tree so precious to bedouin life.
Wild Life Drive (4-5pm) : A 1 hour drive through the desert to learn more about the wild life and the reserve efforts to save the endangered Arabian Onyx. You will also get the opportunity to do a photo stop among beautiful desert dunes.
Camel Trek (5.15-6.45 pm): Leave the resort on camelback and enjoy the sunset from the dunes.
Sundowners (5.30-6.30 pm): An alternative to the camel trek, just hop into a car and drive through the desert before stopping for a drink and toast to the sunset!
Archery: In the morning, to be arranged with one of the guides
Aside from these group activities, Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa has a beautiful spa (which I haven’t tried, I hope there will be a next time!), a common pool facing the desert, and a small gym.
MY PERSONAL OPINION
I loved it !!! Living in Dubai is a fabulous experience but the city life, the constant noise, the traffic etc.. can be tiring. So being able to stay in such a quiet, serene and gorgeous place for a weekend, just 1h drive from Dubai is exceptional. As I write this, I am still in the massive bed of our suite facing the desert and there are 2 doves drinking out of our pool . I can’t hear anything else but the sound of my own laptop and the birds outside! We jokingly said to each other than we have seen more wildlife in 3 days than we have in 3 years in Dubai, but it is probably accurate! We took Thursday off to enjoy the full weekend and that was a great decision. I do recommend to stay at least 2 nights to be able to properly relax and try out several of the resort activities. A good option to enjoy your weekend all the way to the end is to book a spa service after checkout and then chill at the main pool until you are finally ready to leave this little paradise.
Staying here is definitely in the very high bracket (around 2000 USD/ night), unless you make wise use of your Marriott points, but the experience is truly incredible.
BEST TIME TO VISIT AL MAHA DESERT RESORT
As you probably know, the summer temperatures in the UAE are excruciating. Therefore the best time to visit the region and the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa is October to March when the weather is enjoyable. During these 6 months, the resort runs at 95 to 100% occupancy, so you should really consider booking way ahead. I just checked for my birthday weekend in November and it is fully booked already :-(. If you want to know more about the best time to visit Dubai, you will find a lot of details in this article.
If you have any questions about our stay, feel feel to reach out. If you have stayed here before, please share your experience in the comments below !!