What Makes a Middle East Vacation So Unique (and Epic)? Falconry, Dune Bashing, and Fearless Hotel Gazelles

What Makes a Middle East Vacation So Unique (and Epic)? Falconry, Dune Bashing, and Fearless Hotel Gazelles

PART 16: Compared with beaches or urban experiences, the desert vacation may be the most underrated.

Hi again! I'm Ben Schlappig, the full-time traveler behind One Mile at a Time, and the guy who introduced you to my uber-luxury travel lifestyle all made possible by using miles and points. On my last adventure, I was telling you about my experience at a stunning all-inclusive hotel in the Middle East: Al Maha.

After a great first evening at Al Maha taking a sunset camel trek, the next day had even more activities.

We started our morning early with falconry. This is one of the oldest “sports” in the Middle East, and something I enjoyed learning about the first time I visited the resort. Prior to that, my only exposure to falcons was at airports, oddly!

Exploring falconry

Falcons are super expensive, so in many ways they’re a status symbol in the Middle East. I’ve seen people carrying their falcons with them in the first-class lounge, which always gives me a good laugh. Sadly I haven’t had one on my flight yet, though.

Another activity we did was dune bashing. Dune bashing is really, really fun. Essentially, your tour operator slightly deflates the tires of an SUV, and then you ride it through the desert. Keep in mind that the desert is far from level, but rather in some cases there are inclines of a couple of hundred feet.

So you drive along the sides of those, and also up and down them, to the point that you constantly feel like the car is going to tip. Fortunately it doesn’t (at least not usually), but it always gets some screams out of passengers. Let’s just say that you won’t want to do this right after a big meal.

Plus, dunes make for prime photo opps.

While there are lots of other activities, there’s something to be said for how relaxing of a destination this is even without doing anything. Just sitting in our villa’s patio working was relaxing. There are gazelles roaming the entire resort, and they’ll come up and walk on your patio only a few feet from you. They don’t really seem to be scared of humans, and they’re even more encouraged to visit when they see leftover food on your patio.

Hello, wildlife!

Since a stay at this resort includes three meals per day, you can choose to eat either in the restaurant or in your room. As nice as the restaurant is, eating on our private patio overlooking the desert is tough to beat.

Like most resorts, there are plenty of other things to do as well. There’s a bigger pool, and great spa. Service at the hotel is also excellent. As is the norm in the region, most of the staff aren’t actually from the UAE; instead there are a lot of employees from India, the Philippines, Thailand, etc.

If you’ve never before vacationed at a desert resort, it’s something I highly recommend. The Middle East has such diverse landscape, and it’s a completely different experience than you’ll have almost anywhere else.

Comfort and luxury, Middle Eastern style

Best of all, it’s also a region where you can easily combine a beach vacation and a desert vacation — there aren’t many places where that’s the case!

While this property isn’t cheap, I do consider it to be a great value on points, given it includes three meals per day and two activities, which would otherwise likely cost hundreds of dollars per day.

Stay tuned for more of my adventures and insider tips and tricks!


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Wait! Don't waste your points on unworthy travel!

Ben Schlappig, the blogger behind One Mile at a Time, experiences about $1 million worth of travel every year using miles and points — and covers about 400,000 miles annually this way. Ben has teamed up with Bravo’s Jet Set for a series called The Upgrade, in which he shows you how you — yes, you! — can score real-world-ready strategies for upping your travel game. Come along for the adventure!

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