From elephants to sharks, horses to dolphins there are plenty of opportunities for the kiddos to encounter all sorts of creatures and critters right here in the UAE. We’ve rounded up our top animal adventures guaranteed to make lasting memories mamas!
Al Tamimi Stables
From little fluffy hamsters to goats, ponies to camels, Al Tamimi Stables is a privately owned farm and educational centre located over 30 acres of lush farmland in the desert of Sharjah. A petting zoo and family friendly farm, little hands are encouraged to stroke, play and groom the animals and there are pony rides and guided nature tours to enjoy plus falcon shows where visitors are invited to hold and touch the birds before watching their amazing hunt for food. We recommend visiting on one of the regularly held family fun days for a truly fab day out in the fresh air.
Open every day from 9am – 6pm (all activities finish at 5pm)
Al Tamimi Stables, Al Zubair, Sharjah, (+ 971) (0)6 743 1122, www.tamimistables.com
Camels – Al Ain Camel Market
We’re guessing that you won’t be doing much shopping at the Camel Souk mamas – but a visit to this unique market (the last of its kind in the UAE) is a fun way to meet the locals (both two and four legged) and witness some lively trading action. In exchange for a tip the kids are often invited to sit on the camels if they’re feeling brave – or just pose for a few photos with their humped friends! Noisy, dusty and a little smelly this is a great way to experience a little slice of history and understand the importance of camels to the region.
Psst…While photo opportunities are endless, remember to ask permission before you snap away mamas – and make sure to dress conservatively.
Open sunrise to sunset (trading takes place mainly in the morning)
Al Ain Camel Market, www.adach.ae/en/portal/alain.camelmarket.aspx
Dolphin Encounter Atlantis, The Palm
Dolphin Bay offers a range of dolphin experiences but for families with young children and non-swimmers, the dolphin encounter is perfect. This involves 30 very special minutes in shallow water meeting and playing with a bottlenose dolphin before watching some amazing dolphin aquatic skills. It’s not cheap – a 90 minute session will set you back AED 790 per person (with discounts for hotel guests) Your family and friends can watch and take photos from the beach for AED 300 – prices include access to Aquaventure and 25% off access to The Lost Chambers.
Psst… Book in advance and save AED 50. Show the kids the website before you go so that they know what to expect – whilst a wonderful experience it can be quite overwhelming when you’re very little!
Atlantis The Palm, (+971) (0)4 426 0000, www.atlantisthepalm.com/marineandwaterpark/dolphinbay/dolphinencounter
Elephant Encounter at Emirates Park Zoo
Let’s address the elephant in the room mamas – or rather let’s feed the elephants at Emirates Park Zoo! A must do for any animal lovers, young or old, getting to feed Madu and Rada – two beautiful Indian female Elephants while listening to fascinating elephant facts is an experience not to be missed. With a laidback and family-oriented atmosphere, the zoo is a place that inspires and encourages kids and adults alike to explore, have fun and stay connected to nature and wildlife. In addition to the ellys, kids (and mamas – we don’t want to miss out on this!) can feed giraffes, goats, monkeys and camels. They say an elephant never forgets – we guarantee the kiddos won’t forget this special encounter either.
Open daily from 9am – 9pm
Elephant encounter costs AED 20 per person (under 5’s go free)
Flamingos at Ras Al Khor Nature Reserve
With early wake-up calls expected every morning mamas, pack up breakfast to go and head to the Ras Al Khor Nature Reserve (and in particular to the flamingo roost at the junction of the Al Wasl and Oud Metha roads). The Nation’s first Ramsar wetland site at the head of Dubai Creek the reserve features saline flats, mud flats, mangroves, small lagoons and pools and a few tiny islands.
This is a super kid-friendly place to visit – in winter pretty pink flamingos steal the show but there are so many different bird species that can be viewed through fantastically sharp binoculars (this part alone is exciting for little people!) Strict pathways lead to 3 hides deep in the mangroves, which literally offer you a birds-eye view of the wildlife.
Psst…Ras Al Khor Nature Reserve is free to visit but you must register online first!
Ras Al Khor Nature Reserve, (+971) (0)4 606 6826, www.wildlife.ae
Giraffe Feeding at Al Ain Zoo
Make a day of it at Al Ain Zoo, home to over 4000 animals housed in enclosures which closely resemble their natural habitats – no tiny little cages here – we approve. While there’s plenty to do and see here, from train tours to a fab kids play area, camel rides and animal petting (plus the opportunity to learn about the conservation efforts of the zoo and its commitment to protecting endangered species), the unique opportunity to interact with the giraffes wins our vote every time. Make your way to the giraffe feeding area to offer a tasty treat in the form of a crunchy carrot or lettuce leaf to your new long-legged friends and let the littlies come face to face with the tallest animals on land. Magical – the stuff of childhood dreams.
The Giraffe Feeding is located next to the Reptile House and takes place at regular times throughout the day. Tickets are available at the designated kiosk within the feeding area.
Opening hours 9am – 8pm daily (shorter hours during the hot summer months)
Al Ain Zoo, www.alainzoo.ae
Horse riding at Desert Palm
Tally up the kids and head out to The Desert Palm Riding School, next to the luxurious Desert Palm Hotel, for a lovely afternoon visit to the stables and a whole lot of horsing around. Hand-led 10 and 20 minute horse rides for all ages are available every day (except Fridays) at a cost of AED 10-30 depending on how long your little one wants to stay in the saddle for.
Not only does this feel like a bit of an oasis in the desert but it’s also a place where your kids can get down and dirty and enjoy the great outdoors. Take a picnic and feed the clan on the lovely big lawn just next to the hotel overlooking the polo fields – there are often horses grazing nearby and fallen trees to climb. Horsey heaven.
Pssst…read our full review here mamas!
The Desert Palm Riding School, Hatta Road (next to Desert Palm Hotel) Dubai, (+971) (0)4 3238010, www.dubaipoloclub.com
Meet The Penguins at Ski Dubai
The snowy slopes of Emirates Mall are home to a little colony of King and Gentoo Penguins who – in typical Dubai style – have a VIP enclosure complete with private pool, top deck area and a private section (yes even these pampered penguins need a little privacy sometimes).
Treat the fam to a Penguin Encounter and the amazing opportunities to get up close and personal with one of these beautiful birds – they all have their own unique personality (we’re particular fans of WallE and Lollipop but frankly all of the penguins are so darn cute we want to meet every single one of them). There are 3 penguin experiences available depending on how many penguins you’d like to encounter and if you want access to the snow park included and there’s also a free daily march through the park at 2,4,6 and 8 where you can watch your feathery friends strut their stuff in the alpine surroundings.
Kiddies must be over the age of 3 and accompanied by an adult.
Peng-Friend Encounter AED 150 per person
Exclusive Peng-Friend Encounter AED 500 per person
Ultimate Peng-Friend Encounter AED 850 per person
Clothes and gloves included in the price.
Ski Dubai, Mall Of The Emirates, (+971) (0)4 409 4090, www.skidubaipenguins.com
Sharjah Desert Park
Not only is this the only ‘zoo’ in Arabia to exhibit all of the animals naturally occurring in the Arabian Peninsula but it is also the only zoological park in the Middle East to be completely indoors, making it perfect for a day out when temperatures outside reach their peak. A walk-through aviary allows visitors to get close to birds and smaller animals while ‘the cage’ area offers a view of larger mamals roaming freely in an open environment. Your mini nature lovers will love viewing the venomous vipers, spotting the endangered Arabian leopards and discovering life after dark in the nocturnal house.
Sunday – Thursday 9am – 5.30pm (closed on Tuesdays)
Friday 2pm – 5.30pm
Saturday: 11am – 5.30pm
Adults: AED 15, Children under 12 go free
Sharjah Desert Park, (+971) (0)6 5311999, www.sharjahmydestination.ae/en-us/Explore-Sharjah/Nature-Reserves
Sharks, fish and water animals
The 10 million litre Dubai Aquarium tank, located on the Ground Floor of The Dubai Mall, is one of the largest suspended aquariums in the world and houses thousands of aquatic animals including the largest collection of Sand Tiger Sharks.
Your budding Jacque Cousteau will love the walk-through tunnel which provides amazing views from 11 metres below the surface of the tank, separating you from sharks and rays with only a few inches of glass. The aquarium houses a huge number of fish and animals – there are even 2 species of penguin which delight visitors young and old, as well as a creepy crawlie section with spiders and snakes galore.
Open Sunday – Wednesday 10am – 10pm and Thursdays – Saturdays 10am – 12am.
Adults pay AED 70 and children (below 12 years) pay AED 55
Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Mall, (+971) (0)4 448 5200, www.thedubaiaquarium.com
Turtles at Madinat Jumeirah
The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP) is based at Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah and is run in collaboration with Dubai’s Wildlife Protection Office, with essential veterinary support provided by the Dubai Falcon Clinic and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory. If you would like to visit the sanctuary, there is a holding pen next to the Wharf Restaurant, just before the entrance to the Mina A’Salam pool and beach and another between Al Muna and Zheng He’s restaurants. There are also scheduled feeding sessions on Wednesdays at 11am and Fridays at 1pm for a chance for you and the kids to feed the turtles yourselves – a really lovely and totally free activity! Jump on an Abra and head to Toscana for lunch afterwards.
The Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project, Mina A’Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, Al Sufouh Road, (+971) (0)4 301 7198, www.jumeirah.com/turtles
Wildlife Drives – Sir Bani Yas Island
Who doesn’t have a safari on their must-do list? Well mamas if you thought that this trip of a lifetime has to involve a long-haul flight and a few months of savings then think again. Sir Bani Yas Island, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi, is home to thousands of large free-roaming animals, trees and plants. A bird sanctuary as well as a wildlife reserve, visitors can get up close and personal with the island’s giraffes from a purpose-built viewing platform or splash out on a family stay at the boutique Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara and take a 4×4 Nature & Wildlife drive to see Arabian Oryx, gazelles, giraffes and even the odd hyena and cheetah if you’re lucky. A safari-esque experience without ever leaving the UAE mamas!
Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, (+971) (0)2 801 5400, www.desertislands.anantara.com