Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the weekend at Al-Wadi Desert, a Ritz-Carlton partner hotel, located on the outskirts of Ras Al-Khaimah and which was until recently known as the Banyan Tree, but is now in the process of rebranding and becoming a full Ritz-Carlton property.
This was my first trip ever to Ras Al-Khaimah and while I initially thought that the hotel would be far off or very deep into the desert, it is in fact located about an hour away from Dubai International Airport, thus making for a perfect road trip from Dubai or even Abu Dhabi, as well as for out of towners who can just grab a taxi from Dubai International Airport if they are arriving there.
The hotel is massive in size at around 500 hectares most of which is a natural reserve that is home to various desert animals (more on that later in this review), and to 101 luxurious villas each with its own private swimming pool. Walking around the hotel was pure bliss even during the rain, but there are golf carts available on call or even by waving them as you are walking.
The villas themselves are huge in size and equipped in the luxurious style you would expect from Ritz-Carlton. What really set this hotel apart for me is the level of authenticity in service and design especially with the villas being designed to look like Arabian desert tents.
For the reasons I will highlight below, I can safely say that this hotel is one of my favorite hotels, and a place I would highly recommend for residents and international visitors.
1. Location: As I mentioned above, the hotel is conveniently located on the outskirts of Ras Al-Khaimah, about an hour from Dubai, and is surrounded by a never-ending desert from all sides. For the first time in a staycation, I actually felt that I left the UAE and was on a foreign land far away. The serenity of the nature around you, the exclusivity of the villas, and the soothing sounds of the birds living on the property all make for a perfect break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the big city. It was an overwhelmingly beautiful and calming experience, and I would even recommend doing it every few months just to decompress.
2. Environment protection and conservation: This is what I absolutely LOVED about this hotel. For many if not most of the hotels in the Middle East (and probably the world), the idea of conservation and protecting the environment is all about putting a sign in your room asking you to use your towels for another day instead of throwing them on the floor for laundry, but not here! Instead of imposing on its desert environment, this hotel blends with it and accepts it. The hotel is home to many oryxes, deer, camels, migratory birds, and other desert animals, some of which roam freely on the property (remember we are talking about 500 hectares here). The hotel is also home to many desert plants and trees, making it the closest thing to Africa’s Serengeti in the heart of the UAE.
3. Activities: When you hear the phrase “luxury hotel in the middle of the desert”, you are probably thinking great, but what is there to do other than lounging by the pool, reading a book or playing with your phone? And you would be wrong as I was! The hotel has a LONG list of activities to keep you (and/or your kids) busy throughout the day. From archery classes, nature walks, yoga, stable tours and stargazing to supervised interaction with owls and falcons, bedtime stories under the stars, pony rides, and fish feeding for the kids, you’d probably have to extend your stay to try out everything. What I really liked about these activities is the hotel staff’s keenness to educate guests about the environment and the animals while keeping us entertained.
4. The food: We had the pleasure of trying the hotel’s Safran restaurant which serves north Indian cuisine. This was definitely one of the best and lightest Indian meals we had with exactly the right amount of spices to fit every palate even if you are not a fan of Indian food (make sure you try the Indian ice cream!). The breakfast at the hotel is wide in range and is fresh with a bit of something for everyone. The hotel has a total of 5 restaurants and lounges, with an option for a private dinner in the desert under the stars which the hotel can arrange upon request (#WeddingProposalGoals).
5. Spa: Unfortunately, we did not have time to try the spa, but Al-Wadi Desert hotel is home to the GCC’s only “Rainforest” which is a “hydrothermal experience combining the best of European spa and hydrothermal therapy with Asian wellness philosophy… that takes you through a trail of 16 state-of-the-art hydrothermal therapies and facilities.” I don’t know about you but I feel relaxed just reading about this! The spa offers several other massages and treatments inspired once again by the surroundings.
You can also follow me on Instagram (@gmr83) for more pictures of this hotel and other travels.