Kayaking Through the Mangroves in Abu Dhabi

A few minutes ago we were in Abu Dhabi, a noisy, bustling metropolis of high rise concrete, fast cars and muezzins. But here among the mangroves it is calm and peaceful, and there is no sound apart from the gentle swish of paddles.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • The mangroves provide a complete contrast to the busy high-rise city.
  • You will enjoy the peace and quiet.
  • This is a good place for spotting birds and other wildlife.
  • Good for: nature lovers and anyone who likes to start the day with a good dose of physical activity.

Learning to Paddle

Striated heron

Striated heron

Five minutes after setting off I start to wonder if this is a good idea. I am wet through and I am discovering muscles I never knew I had. “Don’t forget to push as well as pulling,” says my daughter Victoria, who is paddling vigorously in the back of the double kayak. To my surprise, this makes it much easier.

Once I have found my rhythm I relax a little and enjoy the scenery. Leaving the towers of Abu Dhabi behind us, we move out to sea and towards the mangrove swamps. A heron flies past, and then another. The guide paddles up to us and points out little black crabs climbing up the sand banks and fish of all sizes swimming beneath our kayaks. The mangroves are a perfect environment for animal life, he tells us, and 70% of all Abu Dhabi’s fish species originated here. A striated heron is sitting under a tree. “It fishes like a human,” says the guide, explaining that the bird chooses its bait according to what it wants to catch. Sometimes it uses a fly and sometimes one of its own feathers.

Paddling into the swamp

Paddling into the swamp

It is time to go into the swamp. “Hard or easy?” asks our guide. “Hard means narrow.” Perhaps rashly, we opt for hard and paddle through the mangroves. We try to navigate a way between the tangled roots, and when we get stuck in the branches of a tree I find myself using the paddle like a punt pole, pushing the kayak away from the edge. But then we pause for a moment and glide through the quiet waters. I lean back, feeling the early morning sun on my face, and I am overcome by a sense of peace.

Desert Island

We leave the mangroves and head back to the open water, towards an island in the middle of the lagoon. We climb out of our kayaks and on to the sandy bank, glad of a brief respite from paddling. This is a strictly controlled environmental area, with wildlife including foxes and turtles as well as fish and birds, although all we see is a blue crab which wiggles wildly in the guide’s hand as he picks it up.

Desert island

Pausing for breath on a desert island

We wander around the island and the guide stops to pick a sprig of samphire which grows everywhere. We nibble it cautiously; unsurprisingly it tastes salty. Some of the other kayakers have taken the opportunity to swim in the clear water, but we return to our boats. It is time to head back to the shore and find something to eat. For once, I really feel I have earnt my breakfast.


  • Both single and double kayaks are available. A double kayak may be preferable if you have never kayakked before – it allows both of you to have the occasional rest. The stronger person should sit in the back.
  • Beginners are given a brief demonstration of paddling technique before setting off.
  • It can get very hot so try to go as early in the morning as possible. Make sure you have sun cream and a tight fitting hat.
  • Valuables can be left at the jetty before you set off. You will get very wet, so wear old clothes and shoes and, if you take your camera, carry it in a waterproof bag.
  • Double kayaks have a small seat in the middle which a child can sit on, but children do not paddle.
  • Kayak tours can be booked through the Noukhada Adventure Company, and leave from a jetty near to the Eastern Mangroves.

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