The Liwa Oasis is a cluster of villages and oasis in the United Arab Emirates.
The area is populated by a collection of Bedouin villages that follow along the oasis at the Northern edge of the Rub al Khali. The center of this is Mezaira'a, which offers a few shops and services as well as a gas station.
Liwa Oasis is the historical home of the Nahyan family, the leaders of Abu Dhabi emirate and the UAE. It was historically, and remains to this day, a date-palm cultivating region for bedouin tribes, especially the Bani Yas. The cultivated palm forests may come as a surprise in the middle of the desert.
Liwa is at the edge of the UAE's most impressive desert region, when considering the size of the dunes. It is a great launching off point for self-led or pre-arranged dune-bashing and other desert safaris. It may also be a good place to learn more about Bedouin culture, though most of the settlements are by now built of concrete, and walled off to the rest of the world.
There are two roads from the north leading to the oasis region. The main road branches off the E11 motorway near Tarif. From there on it is about an hour drive passing Madinat Zayed on a well maintained, four-lane paved road.
Settlements in the oasis region are lined up on the only big road like a pearls on a string. If you arrive from Tarif the road ends in Mezaira'a, at the center of the area.
At the eastern end of the oasis region a new road connects straight back to the E11 motorway close to Abu Dhabi. Though it is wide and well maintained, at only two lanes speed limits are set to 80 kph, vs. 120 kph on the main road.
There are several ADNOC gas stations in Liwa, one new station on the road in from Madinat Zayed, and some older-style stations along the road through the oasis. They are not well signposted, keep an eye out for the white 'fort' that used to be characteristic of ADNOC stations.
You must have your own car to get around in Liwa. There is some hitchhiking but do not count on it.
The most impressive dune in the Emirates, Moreeb dune or Tal Mireb, is south of the other settlements, and though most of the year there are no events there, the way to the dune makes it worth visiting anytime. Few cars use the road as virtually nobody lives along it. You will bump into more camels than people. In addition it is one of the roads were very few trees and overland power lines spoil the view across the dunescape.
To get to Tal Mireb road follow the brown signs as shown in the picture. Markers can be found along the main road as well as the roundabouts in Mezzaira'a. It's a one mile drive to the road from the main roundabout in Mezzaira'a. The dune itself is about 25 km along the road, be sure to have petrol for the round trip, as the road is hilly.
Get out into the desert. Moreeb dune, or Tal Mireb, is a 300 meter high dune that is used for 4x4 competitions. The road out to Tal Mireb gives great opportunities to get out of the car and take photographs, or in the cooler season, to have a picnic and watch the sun go down.
There are a few local restaurants in Mezaira'a, and a Cooperative Society grocery store on the road from Madinat Zayed. For tourism-quality restaurants, eat in the Liwa Hotel.
Like most of Abu Dhabi emirate, alcoholic beverages are only served in the hotel.
- Liwa Hotel *** is a basic luxury hotel belonging to the Danat chain. It is pricey but the expansive pool area is a luxurious and quiet retreat in the desert.
- Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort ***** is a new luxury hotel on the eastern edge of the oasis, and caters to weekend retreats for wealthy city-types from the capital and Dubai.
Camping is an option out in the desert. Check with a travel service to arrange vehicles and for more advice. Always have more than one 4x4, some means to remove the vehicles from sand, and ample water supplies if going off road. Though uncommon, it is possible to camp near the road to Tal Mireb without driving off road.
An alternative to the main E45 via Madinat Zayed is the road out from Hameem. Though it is only two lanes (with broad shoulders) it is rarely used, straight and provides better views of the desert. Halfway along this road is the main garbage incinerators for Abu Dhabi, which is a bleak reminder of the fragility of even the desert environment.
Madinat Zayed, approximately 60 km to the North, is a slightly larger town but is generally not considered a tourist destination, except during the annual Al Dhafra Festival, when camel traders from around the Gulf arrive to show off their best camels.
The Emirates National Auto Museum is along the eastern road into Liwa, near Abu Dhabi, and is open on Fridays to see an astonishing collection of cars belonging to members of the ruling family.
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