The largest dune in the Liwa region of the Abu Dhabi Emirate in the United Arab Emirates is the Tal Moreeb dune, also known as the Al Moreeb Dune.
Overview of Liwa and Its Dunes
Liwa is an oasis area located in the desert in the western region of Abu Dhabi. It is known for its beautiful yet imposing golden sand dunes, which have formed over thousands of years due to the area’s wind and weather conditions. Some key things to know about the Liwa dunes:
- The dunes cover an area of over 22,000 square kilometers.
- Some dunes in Liwa reach heights of over 300 meters (over 980 feet), equivalent to around 100-story skyscrapers.
- The dunes are part of the larger Rub’ al Khali desert, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world spanning parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, and the UAE.
- The shapes and locations of the dunes are continually changing as winds reshape the sands. Old dunes disappear and new ones form.
Tal Moreeb – The Tallest Dune
The tallest sand dune in Liwa is Tal Moreeb, also referred to as Al Moreeb Dune or Moreeb Hill. Some key facts about Tal Moreeb:
- Height: Tal Moreeb rises to a height of about 300 meters (984 feet), making it almost as tall as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
- Slope angle: The windward slope has an incredibly steep 50-degree angle.
- Color: The dune exhibits a reddish-orange hue due to an underlying layer of red sand that peeks through the overlaying layers of yellowish sand.
- Changing shape: Tal Moreeb’s shape transforms seasonally and annually as winds shift sands across its peak. The dune moves southwesterly at an average rate of 1 meter per year.
- Activities: Going on a dune drive to traverse Tal Moreeb’s imposing face is a popular desert activity. Camel trekking expeditions scaling the dune are also common. At the top, visitors are rewarded with phenomenal panoramas of the sea of surrounding dunes.
The sand that makes up Tal Moreeb and Liwa’s other dunes originates from sediments carried over millions of years into the Rub’ Al Khali basin by rivers flowing east from Africa’s Ethiopian Highlands. These wind-blown sediments accumulated in the basin to depths exceeding 1,000 feet to form today’s expansive sand desert.
The dunes themselves consist of distinct layers:
- Surface layer: The top layer comprises dry loose sand grains shuffled by persistent winds.
- Aeolian sand deposits: Underneath lies sand bound together by moisture to form harder accumulations.
- Red silicified sand: Beneath this is a layer of red sand cemented into sandstone over 65 million years ago. This dense ancient layer occasionally peeks through to the surface to color some dunes reddish-orange.
- Ancient riverbed gravel deposits: The lowest strata are gravels deposited by ancient river systems that once flowed through the area. These define the basement on which all the sand layers accumulated.
What causes the shape and size of the Liwa dunes?
The impressive shape and scale of the Liwa dunes like Tal Moreeb are influenced by several geographic factors:
Wind Strength and Direction
- The powerful prevailing winds in the region, driven by different wind regimes depending on the season, blow large quantities of sand northeastwards. This transports sediment that gradually accumulates into enormous dunes.
- There are rich sources of sand all around Liwa, supplied by the surrounding sands of the vast Rub’ al Khali desert. This feeds the growth of the dunes.
- The relatively flat plain provides an ideal platform for dunes to advance across. Without obstacles in their path, the dunes can migrate freely.
- Subtle humidity from the nearby Persian Gulf and intermittent rainfall cause moisture differences within dunes. This makes layers within Tal Moreeb and other dunes more prone to erosion, influencing their shapes.
- The dunes change shape seasonally and annually as they slowly advance northeastwards, driven by winds periodically shifting direction.
How do people visit and traverse the Liwa dunes?
Visitors to Liwa seeking to experience its magnificent dunes first-hand typically embark on popular pastimes such as dune driving, dune bashing, sandboarding and camel trekking:
- Special 4×4 vehicles with rugged tires drive enthusiasts up and over the dunes, including to the peak of Tal Moreeb.
- Drivers require skill to traverse the ultra-steep dune faces without flipping or getting stuck.
- Dune bashing involves driving 4x4s at speed up and down the dunes’ slopes while sharply turning and spinning through the sands.
- This adrenaline-fueled activity allows riders to experience the extreme terrain.
- Adventure seekers slide down the towering dune faces on sandboards, gaining tremendous speeds.
- It’s considered safer than snowboarding given the soft landing on sand.
- Visitors can saddle up camels for multi-day trekking tours marching through the desert and climbing to the summits of dunes like Tal Moreeb.
- Camel rides provide a traditional Bedouin method to experience the desert terrain.
Safety is paramount for all desert activities – drivers and guides must have proper training and credentials. With the proper precautions, traversing Liwa’s massive dunes can create adventurous memories that last a lifetime.
When is the best time of day and year to see the Liwa dunes?
The lighting and coloration of the Liwa dunes shift beautifully throughout the day and in different seasons. Here is an overview of the best times to view the dunes:
Time of Day
Early morning and late afternoon tend to provide the most visually stunning light:
- Sunrise/sunset: Low angle light at dawn and dusk casts long shadows and intensely illuminates the dunes in warm golden hues.
- Mid-day: Harsh overhead sunlight tends to bleach out some of the coloration.
Time of Year
The shifting seasons also impact the dunes’ appearance:
- Spring: In March/April, strong winds reshape the crests, revealing more reddish sands that color the dunes vividly.
- Summer: Late May to August brings hazy horizons obscuring views and very hot temperatures making mid-day visits unbearable.
- Fall: September through November offer clear skies providing crisp views. Dune driving adventures peak during this popular time of year.
- Winter: December to February brings occasional rains that add lush greenery at the dunes’ bases and to the nearby oases contrasting beautifully with amber sands.
So for the best experience, visitors should aim for sunrise/sunset tours in the fall or winter months. But the dunes offer stunning vistas year-round at different times, revealing their ever-changing nature.
Key Takeaways: Visiting Liwa’s Soaring Dunes
- Tal Moreeb towering over 300 meters is the tallest sand dune in Liwa, UAE and the world.
- Liwa’s dunes constantly change shape and move across the desert landscape driven by winds.
- Popular ways to traverse the massive dunes are by 4×4 driving, sandboarding, and camel treks to the summits.
- The best times for photography are sunrise/sunset, and the fall season offers ideal dune driving conditions.
- The enormous scale and shifting nature of the dunes make Liwa an incredible destination for dune adventures.
The colossal orange Tal Moreeb sand dune dominates Liwa’s stunning desert landscape. This fluid mountain of sand towering over 300 meters morphs shape constantly according to the shifting winds. The amazing dune formations draw adventures from around the world to drive, sandboard and camel trek their way up the steep slopes. With its vibrant ever-changing terrain, Liwa provides one of the top destinations in the world to experience the beauty and thrill of desert dunes. As the tallest on the planet, a visit to marvel at Tal Moreeb’s grandeur is a must for any dune enthusiast.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What country is the Liwa desert located in?
Liwa is part of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
- How tall are the tallest dunes at Liwa?
The tallest dune at 300 meters (984 feet) is Tal Moreeb, also known as Moreeb Dune and Al Moreeb. This makes it almost as tall as the Eiffel Tower.
- What color are the dunes at Liwa?
The Liwa dunes range in color from intense orange to a more yellowish hue, depending on factors like composition and lighting conditions. The reddish tones emerge from an underlying layer of red sandstone bedrock.
- What causes the Liwa dunes to form and move?
Shifting wind directions and speeds combined with rich sand sources all around drive the growth and northeastern creep of the Liwa dunes at an average pace of 1 meter per year.
- Why are the Liwa dunes so steep and tall compared to other dunes?
A rare combination of strong winds, an underlying gravel bed, moisture seepage causing erosion, and steady sediment feeding from surrounding sands leads to Liwa’s exceptionally steep and towering dunes.
- What is the name of the desert encompassing Liwa?
The Liwa Oasis lies within the southern portion of the massive Rub’ al Khali desert, spanning Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and the UAE.
- What activities can visitors do at the Liwa dunes?
Popular adventure activities include dune driving 4×4 vehicles up and down the imposing sloped dunes, tobogganing down the dunes on sandboards, and trekking on camelback caravans for multi-day desert crossings.
- Is it safe to sandboard and drive 4x4s on the colossal dunes at Liwa?
Yes, when undertaken with licensed companies utilizing properly trained guides and drivers, activities like sandboarding and 4×4 dune driving offer thrilling yet relatively safe adventures on the giant dunes.
- What is the best time of day and year to see the Liwa dunes?
The early mornings and late afternoons provide the best golden light. And the fall season from September to November is peak time for clear skies and visitation.
- Do the massive dunes have special names?
Yes, Tal Moreeb (also called Al Moreeb and Moreeb Hill) is the official name of the tallest Liwa dune rising 300 meters high. Various other surrounding dunes also have nicknames.
- Does wildlife inhabit the Liwa desert region?
Yes, some surprising animals manage to eke out an existence in Liwa’s harsh arid environment, including red foxes, hares, snakes, and birds like quails, falcons and Houbara bustards.
- Are camel racing and camping under the stars popular activities?
Yes, Liwa has a heritage of camel racing and racing festivals, given its historic reliance on camels. Camping overnight lets visitors gaze in awe at the crystal-clear starry skies and Milky Way arching overhead.
- Do the dunes sometimes take on a singing or rumbling characteristic?
Yes, when the steep dune faces erode it can create an unearthly singing or rumbling emanating from the sand, known mysteriously as the “song of the sands”.
- Are the dunes shifting in location or do they stay in one spot?
The dunes are constantly on the move, shifted northeastwards by seasonal winds, at an average pace of 1 meter of movement annually. So the dunes’ shape and position are always slowly evolving.
- Do people live amongst the Liwa dunes or just visit?
A few small villages and hamlets are scattered amongst the dunes and surrounding oases, occupied by hardworking Bedouin families. But most visitors stay in the main Liwa town area.
- Are the Liwa dunes taller than dunes in other deserts?
Yes, at over 300 meters the Tal Moreeb dune is the tallest in the world, considerably taller than dunes typically found in places like the Sahara (Erg Chebbi maxes out at 150 meters) and Great Sandy Desert.
- Why are sections of some Liwa dunes very steep while others are more gradual sloped?
The steepness depends largely on levels of moisture and erosion causing formations like a steep windward face, gradual leeward slope and different layers. This adds to the diversity and beauty of Liwa’s dunes.
- What are some main safety concerns for people visiting and playing atop the giant dunes?
Key risks include getting stuck or rolling a vehicle while dune driving if lacking proper skills, and exhaustion or overheating if attempting long ascents by foot without enough water and protection from the blazing sun.