Unexpected things to do in UAE – kayaking in the Eastern Mangrove Swamps

When I visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE), I did some of the typical tourist things to do in UAE like visiting the Liwa desert and the bright city lights of Dubai, but one thing I definitely never expected to do was to mangrove kayaking in Abu Dhabi. I mean, kayaking, in the desert?

In hindsight, it seemed a bit silly to assume that given that UAE isn’t just a desert. Most of the UAE’s northern territory is coastline, and Abu Dhabi’s coast faces the Persian Gulf aka the Red Sea, and the Abu Dhabi coastline is home to thousands of hectares of mangrove swamps. Here’s a look at the time I took a kayaking tour to get a closer look at the mangrove swamps for myself.

Abu Dhabi Mangrove Kayaking Roots
Mangrove swamps in Abu Dhabi

Kayaking in the Eastern Mangrove Swamps

In Abu Dhabi, the most accessible mangrove area is the Eastern Mangrove Swamps, and that’s where I headed to get an up close look at some of the mangroves. I booked a kayaking tour with Noukhada Adventure Company for 150AED (about S$55) and headed down to the meeting point at the Anantara-run Eastern Mangrove Hotel and Spa.

Abu Dhabi Mangrove Kayaking Dock
Perfect weather – our kayaks were all ready to go

There was quite a big group for the 11am tour, about 20 people, all Caucasians except for me, ranging from families with older children to couples and other older folk. When everybody arrived, we were given a short briefing on kayaking basics and safety, after that we were helped into our kayaks and set off paddling to the mangroves.

Abu Dhabi Mangrove Kayaking Instruction
Pre-tour briefing

I had a single kayak to myself, and it was pretty easy to maneuver and paddle. The group had two guides, both originally from Philippines and had lived in the UAE for awhile. One lead the group while the other kept watch on the stragglers behind. We paddled into the main channel which is actually an artificial river created as a passage by the Sheikh’s orders. Unfortunately there’s some erosion going on so the channel has expanded quite massively from its original width of 6m, annd the water was also quite murky.

Abu Dhabi Mangrove Kayaking Paddling
Paddling along – the water was really clear off the main channel

We turned into a smaller natural channel, and you could see the change in the water quality – it became so clear you could see the schools of little fishes in the water darting around. The water also became a lot shallower and we had to be careful not to get marooned on sandbanks here. It was nice being able to paddle right up to the aerial roots of the mangrove trees and have a closer look around. You also had the company of the occasional egret and other bird sighting as you paddled.

Abu Dhabi Mangrove Kayaking Trees
See how clear the water is even if it’s not bluish

You could see lots of blackish things scuttling between the mangroves as well – our guide told us these were mangrove tree crabs and they had a symbiotic relationship with the mangrove trees, where the crabs dug holes that aired the roots while the mangrove provided them food and protection.

Abu Dhabi Mangrove Kayaking Roots CloseUp
We got very close to the mangroves – no zoom!

Kayaking can be pretty tiring though. The whole tour took around 2 hours in total – we paddled until it was just too shallow to continue before paddling back, and from the front of the group I gradually lagged till I was near the back… I was quite happy to see our end point.

Abu Dhabi Mangrove Kayaking Channel
Stopping for our guide to tell us more about what we are looking at

Overall it was quite a fun experience – I wished we could have had even more explanation on the animals and plants that we were seeing in the mangrove, but I guess it’s also dependent on what you see on your tour. We saw lots of crabs and some passing egrets but not much more. But ultimately I think it’s a great way to see a lesser-known side of Abu Dhabi, take in some nature and get a bit of a work out too.

WHAT TO WEAR for a kayaking expedition

One thing I didn’t realise going into this trip was that the kayak was open top – I was thinking of those where your legs were covered up. I wore fitting knee length shorts which got pretty soaked from all the water being tossed up from the paddle, and a really terrible tan line above my knees from the sun exposure.

I suggest wearing loose long pants to protect your legs from the sun and a long sleeved windbreaker as well for your torso and shoulders. Make sure it’s stuff you don’t mind getting wet. I’d also consider slippers or sports sandals and maybe a hat too so you don’t get a sunburned scalp.

And don’t be a goondu and remember to bring a full spare change of clothes – I had a spare dress to change into but completely forgot a change of underwear which was… uncomfortable to say the least!


I visited the United Arab Emirates to find a friend and spent my time exploring Dubai and Abu Dhabi with my posse. Read more about my time there.

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