Liwa Desert, United Arab Emirates

This arid, enigmatic area is about 150km southwest of Abu Dhabi via a poker-straight strip of tarmac that looks like it’s dropped out of the skies into virtually uninhabited desert. Take a local guide and play at Wilfred Thesiger, rewriting your own Arabian Sands exploration of Middle Eastern mysteries and mirages. You’ll stumble upon the odd verdant oasis, wandering camel or weekending Emirati, but you’ll need to go a long way to meet much else out here – the nearest neighbour is the fabled Empty Quarter (itself the size of France and the world’s largest expanse of sand). Scale the sands on a camel trek, or explore in a dune-bashing 4x4 in a thrilling duel of man and machine versus Mother Nature. The greatest riches here are humble pleasures – feeling smaller than a grain of sand among those magnificent mountainous dunes, sipping mint tea in a traditional majlis, or huddling together under a Bedouin tent for dinner in the desert, telling tall tales as the moon slides skywards.

Recommended offers

See our boutique hotel deals

When to go

Basking in year-round sun, with little rainfall and cloudless skies, the Liwa is primed for pool action regardless of the time of year you visit. Bear in mind that from May to September, the midday mercury can hit a staggering 40 degrees – you may prefer to visit in the cooler months of November–March, when the rays are less intense and desert activities more plentiful. During Ramadan, many hotel restaurants and bars have restricted service (or close altogether), so check what's on offer when booking.

Follow us on Instagram

See the world through @smithhotels

view on instagram
  • Best price guaranteed

    Found your stay cheaper? We’ll match the price and give you a $75 voucher

  • Smith Extra on arrival

    Enjoy extras such as a picnic lunch, champagne or spa treatments, on the house

Getting there

  • Planes

    Abu Dhabi International Airport ( is the closest option, a 200km or two-hour drive away – Dubai International Airport ( is an alternative option (it’s further though, at 300km away). Arrange transfers in advance.
  • Automobiles

    There’s only one highway running poker-straight through the middle of the sand – you can choose to hire your own car and drive from the airport, but don’t bank on using it during your stay at the hotel. The only way to take on the desert once the highway’s in your rear-view mirror is in a 4WD offroader – and even then you'll need a bit of desert know-how and emergency supplies.