Nature enthusiasts have pretty slim pickings in Dubai – which makes Ras al Khor (“Head of the Creek”) Wildlife Sanctuary as welcome as it is unexpected. Ras al Khor protects an extensive inland lagoon dotted with mangroves and surrounded by intertidal salt- and mud-flats – the one and only area of completely unspoilt nature this close to the city centre. The sanctuary serves as an important stopover on winter migratory routes between East Africa to West Asia (almost 70 different species have been recorded here) although it’s best known for its aquatic birdlife, particularly its colourful flocks of bright pink flamingoes – one of Dubai’s weirdest sights when seen posed incongruously against the hazy outlines of the soaring city skyscrapers beyond.
You can’t actually go inside the sanctuary, although there are two hides on its edge from which to birdwatch, with free binoculars and identification charts provided – although the roar of nearby traffic somewhat detracts from the experience. The Fantir (“Flamingo”) hide is on the west side of the sanctuary, beside the E66 Highway just north of the junction with the Hatta Road; the Gum (“Mangrove”) hide is on the south side of the sanctuary, on the north side of the Hatta Road, although to reach this one from central Dubai you’ll need to do an 8km loop to get yourself on the correct side of the highway. Signage is minimal and you’ll need a car to reach either of the hides – but don’t expect taxi drivers to know where they are.