Al Maha (meaning ‘The Oryx’) is a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, nestled in a verdant palm oasis, deep within Dubai’s magical dune and desert landscape.
Al Maha Resort leads the way in supporting the region’s conservation efforts. The Dubai Desert Resort around Al Maha is a protected haven for the many species of mammal and birds of Arabia. The Resort has also contributed to large scale habitat rehabilitation programs, including the propagation of over 6,000 indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses, and the re-introduction to the region of the free-roaming herds of endangered oryx and other desert wildlife.
Legend of Al Maha
In a magical tale, as old as time itself, Al Maha was born. It is a tribute to ‘The Legend of Al Maha’.
“Since history has been recorded, men talked of a wondrous place within the depths of shifting dunes. Old men told of this place where water flowed from a rock, the perpetual spring fed by ancient underground lakes. Birds gathered in the dense trees, Gazelle hid from the shimmering heat under matted palms, and occasionally even the hardened, elusive Arabian Leopard was seen in the distant mountains.
“The place took its name from the proudest of all dune dwellers – the Arabian Oryx. Herds of these spear-horned antelope would appear out of the heat haze – nomadic bands seeking this place of shelter and respite. The people named the oasis after them, and ‘Al Maha’ came to be known far and wide. But even amongst the tribes of the desert, the selfishness of one man prevailed. Wishing to control the life around him, he built his camp around the water, used it selfishly and diverted its course.
“The desert is an unforgiving place to those who cannot read its signs or understand its subtle warnings. Without the grasses or the palms, the vengeful sands first covered the dry rock pools, then smothered the trees, and finally buried the encampment that had strangled the flow of water from the rock.
“Through generations, young adventurers were lost in the shifting sand as they searched for signs of Al Maha. Many trekked over the buried place, only to fall next to their exhausted camels, a noble fate at the end of a fruitless journey.
“Confounded by the disobedience of his hunting falcon, a young man followed his bird’s movements over the dunes, only to find it perched on a thin branch protruding through the sand. Approaching the bird, the young man’s anger turned to curiosity when he noticed small green leaves sprouting from the slender branch. Knowing this was a sure sign of water below, the youth and his brothers later returned to the same place and together they dug away the layers of time.
“Finally, after removing a stout wedge in a rocky ledge, the brothers watched as water bubbled out and began to wash the sands away, revealing the ancient walls of the camp. Soon, the lost oasis reformed.
“The brothers settled alongside the pools, vowing that never again would any man or animal of the desert be denied the source of all life. Palms and once-lost wild vegetation flourished around the ancient walls and rocky pools. The wild animals returned, but the surest sign of the rebirth of this fabled place was the return of the Arabian Oryx, after which the oasis had always been named.”
The preservation of the natural desert habitat is integral to Al Maha’s appeal and success as one of the leading Spa Resorts in Dubai, Arabia and the world. Al Maha’s efforts have been internationally acknowledged with The World Legacy Award from National Geographic and the Arab Cities Award for Architecture and for Best Environmental Design, among many others.
From the very beginning, Al Maha has been instrumental in creating the conservation reserve within which it is set. By staying there, you will be actively supporting desert conservation programmes, as a portion of their turnover is used directly by conservation projects.
One of the reasons the resort and the reserve area was originally chosen was due to its ability to protect one the largest, and last remaining underground water reservoirs. Three bore-wells on the reserve provide all the resort water from these ancient aquifers. Free and rid of the heavy demands of spray irrigation and industry these precious aquifers are now sustainably utilized, monitored continuously, and showing no reduction in quality and level from the day Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa began in 1999.
Dubai has come of age in the area of conservation. In a destination known for its mega-projects, a less well-known local fact is that the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve forms the biggest piece of land which Dubai has dedicated to a single project.
The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) is the UAE’s first national park. Carefully planned rehabilitation over the years has resulted in a protected environment for the last of the desert wildernesses. With the rapid development of Dubai as a major business centre in the Gulf, the Dubai Government has long recognised the need to preserve its unique and beautiful desert habitat, and the many threatened flora and fauna species within. This unique reserve was created for the protection of those endangered species and for the conservation of the natural desert habitat and heritage.
Camels are an integral part of life in Al Maha Desert Resort. They arrived in Arabia from Africa 2,000 years ago, introduced by the original nomadic herders.
Rising into the air on a camel for the first time is unlikely to be forgotten and, sitting atop one of these strangely lovely creatures, you’ll soon adopt the gentle rocking motion. A 25 minute ride out into the distant dunes is sufficient for most first-time riders.
You’ll take a leisurely ride out to the crest of a dune, from which you’ll see the sun setting across the desert whilst enjoying Champagne, snacks and fruits. This spectacle takes place surprisingly quickly, with light changing by the second. It is fantastic and exclusive experiences like this “sundowner” that make Al Maha one of the most loved and best spa resorts in Dubai.
After remounting, you’ll ride back in the fading light towards the lights and canopies of the Resort, your journey ending near the resort’s beautifully lit main swimming pool.
After the camel trek experience at the Al Maha, we report an interview to camel farmer Mohammed Salem Al Mansouri, realized by Catriona Doherty in a camel farm
Tell us about your daily routine.
I give the camels water and feed them a type of grass that is full of nutrients. They also eat beans, grains, eggs and dates. After that I prepare them for riding or racing. I also monitor the animal’s condition – if for example I notice the camel has an injury then I will treat it with medicine. I also wash them.
How do you do that?
I scrub them using a brush with a long handle and a special camel shampoo. They need to be washed every week.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I like taking guests on camel rides. Some visitors come for the sunrise or sunset activities, but even if I led camel rides from early morning to night-time I would never get tired of doing it.
Tell us an interesting fact about camels.
I notice that camels really respond to how you treat them. If I tried to take a camel out on too many trips in one day – five or six – then it would get tired and not want to go. It’s easy to tell how they feel by looking at them!