Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa Insider’s Guide

Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa, is a bucket-list destination that is known mostly to devoted Marriott Bonvoy points hackers, and it is one you will not want to miss. From its breathtaking views within a nature preserve in the Arabian desert to its all-inclusive, top-notch food, this resort is desert luxury at its finest and one of the most aspirational properties in the entire Marriott collection.

Al Maha sundowner activity - woman stands on sand dune
Watching the sunset on the dunes of the nature preserve at Al Maha

To get the most out of your stay at Al Maha, you have to know what to ask for. The staff is incredible, but I did find it baffling how the best experiences and adventures were ones we stumbled on ourselves and then pursued to find out how we could get them. I have to imagine they’re leaving a lot of money on the table that way.

If you’re ready to learn what to do, what to skip, what to eat, and how to arrive in style, you have to grab our exclusive guide – it’s 32 pages of insider information that will save you money and upgrade your stay.

Al Maha Emirates suite primary bedroom
The primary bedroom in the Emirates suite, a 2-bedroom luxury villa

Inside the guide:

  • How to get to the resort, including one surprising way that’s easier and cheaper than it seems
  • What hotel-sponsored activity you have to try…just once
  • Which activity is way more fun than it sounds – and why you want to skip breakfast before it
  • The once-in-a-lifetime experience we stumbled on, and how to get it for yourself
  • Day trips from the hotel
  • Everything you need to know about food, alcohol, and food allergies at Al Maha

But first, get to know Al Maha a bit more with answers to the most common questions.

Can you drink alcohol at Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa?

A glass of sparkling wine at “sundowners”

Al Maha is located a short drive outside Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a predominantly Muslim country in the Middle East. As such, alcohol is highly regulated, but it is available. Al Maha has the Hajar Terrace Bar, where you can get a drink before dinner. Be prepared to pay up, though – alcohol is heavily taxed and a single drink will cost $15-$20. You can order alcohol at the restaurant as well as through room service. A glass of champagne is included each evening if you choose to do the sundowners activity, where you can watch the sunset from a dune overlooking the property. Though Al Maha is an all inclusive resort, alcohol costs extra.

If you get our insider’s guide, you will also learn a clever way to get alcohol for much less.

How many days should you spend at Al Maha?

The dunes feel endless around Al Maha

Most guests stay for just a few short nights at Al Maha. A two or three night stay is the norm. My stay was just over a week, and it was clear that our length of vacation was unusual for the property. The reason really is that while it is a stunning property, it is isolated and the heat, even in winter, can make it prohibitive to do much aside from the daily activities and lying by your own private pool. Don’t get me wrong – this was fantastic – but it is a property in the middle of the desert and designed for quiet relaxation, which some may tire of.

Vacationers often combine Al Maha with another bucket list property nearby, the St. Regis Maldives. If you’re considering it, check out our best-selling insider’s guide to that property.

What kinds of animals will you see at Al Maha Resort?

An Arabian gazelle passing by my private pool

Al Maha sits within the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, which is what makes it such a special destination. Aside from the hotel infrastructure itself, you are truly in the wilds of the desert, with sand dunes stretching out as far as you can see. Surprisingly, though, there is a lot of life in that sand.

The symbol of the resort, and where it gets its name, is the Arabian oryx. These medium-sized white antelope appear sparingly at the property, and it is a treat when you do see one. Because their white fur stands out from the orange sand, it is easy to spot them even when far away.

What you will see everywhere, including wandering up to the private plunge pools and skulking around Al Diwaan restaurant hoping for scraps, are Arabian gazelles. There are dozens, if not more, that live on and around the property. These gazelles are tall but small, with delicate legs and faces, and little to no fear of humans.

One of the desert activities organized by the resort is a falconry demonstration, and it’s one of the most popular activities for a reason. The field guides who lead the demonstration are knowledgable, funny, and have great showmanship. The birds themselves are stunning, and a little frightening, to watch. It’s one of the activities I recommend most.

What is the best room at Al Maha, Luxury Collection Desert Resort?

The living and dining room of the Emirates Suite

The vast majority of visitors to Al Maha will stay in a Bedouin Suite, which is a junior suite with either a king bed or two twins. Bedouin suites offer an entryway with a small desk, mini fridge and coffee station with a Nespresso machine, a main bedroom with a sitting area and coffee table, and a luxurious private bathroom with a walk-in shower. The star of the show, however, is the huge private deck and private pool. The Bedouin suite, though it is the standard room at Al Maha, is perfect for two people and by no means “standard.” Unless you’re really feeling splurgy, you won’t need to upgrade from here.

However, if you do want to go up, there are a few other room categories you might consider. The Royal Suite offers 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a larger pool, with similar finishings and layout to the Bedouin Suites. A step higher are the absolutely stunning 4,000 square foot Emirates Suites, where you will find 2 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a living room and full dining table, in addition to a huge private pool and deck. In case you brought your staff with you – and who doesn’t travel with staff? – they will be comfortable in the Emirates Suite compound, which also staff sleeping areas and a full kitchen.

The only thing better than the Emirates Suite is the Presidential Suite, a 3 bedroom residence built for the royal family. A stunning place to stay, no doubt, but it is a long way from the main building with the restaurant and where all the activities leave from. The resort offers to pick up guests in a golf cart if you don’t want to walk, but the out-of-the-way nature of the Presidential Suite may mean that it is not the best option for all large groups.

What should you wear at Al Maha?

Camel trekking requires comfortable, modest clothing

There is not a dress code per se at Al Maha, but I did find some clothes to be particularly useful…and others were a waste of space. I wrote a separate post about what to pack for Al Maha and Dubai, but here’s the short answer.

Several of the activities, like the sunset camel ride, archery, and horseback riding, need comfortable and active clothes. I brought mostly dresses, and you do not want to be on the back of a camel in a short dress. I did not plan properly for the activities we were going to do, and had to rewear clothes several times. I even wore my pajama shorts to one activity!

As for modesty, I did not find this resort to be like you might find elsewhere in the world, with glamorous resort wear and lots of skin. It is a Muslim country, and though many guests were from the US and other western countries, people rightly aim to respect local customs and cover up more than they would on the beach. In short – leave the cleavage-baring dresses at home.

What is there to do at Al Maha?

The falconry demonstration at Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa

The guide goes in depth on the list of activities at Al Maha and which we recommend most. The activity program is designed to immerse you in the local culture and the unique geography of being in a nature reserve, and I appreciate that one activity per person per day is included in the room rate. It really encourages guests to experience the resort and mingle with other guests in a way I haven’t seen at other resorts.

The activities offered free of charge at Al Maha include:

  1. Wildlife drive – take a guided drive through the desert searching for wildlife and animal prints
  2. Sunset camel trek – ride a camel to a viewpoint to watch the sunset and enjoy sundowners
  3. Sundowners – if you want to skip the camel ride, you can take a car to the sunset viewing spot and still enjoy the complimentary drinks and stunning nightly sunset
  4. Falconry – watch a falconry demonstration and get to hold a falcon
  5. Archery – get an archery lesson and practice your skills in a semi-private experience
  6. Main pool – a large, shared pool near the spa and fitness centre
  7. Fitness center – stay on track with a workout overlooking the main outdoor pool
  8. Nature walk – If you want to explore the Dubai desert reserve on foot, there are guided walking tours you can join

There are also a few activities offered for an additional cost, including:

  1. Dune bashing – take an exhilarating ride through the dunes in a 4 wheel drive vehicle
  2. Horse riding – reserved for experienced riders only. Though I have ridden horses off and on through my life and generally feel comfortable around them, the staff steered me away from this activity because I wasn’t a strong enough rider.
  3. Timeless spa – the onsite spa offers a range of treatment options, as well as a sauna, steam room, and cold plunge

To see which activities were my favorites – and which unforgettable unadvertised ones you can get if you know to ask – check out the Insider’s Guide.

Is Al Maha worth it?

Catching my breath after dune bashing

From the enormous fresh fruit basket waiting in your suite to your private pool to the exceptional service throughout, Al Maha is a truly unique experience. If you are looking for a quiet getaway vacation where your main activity is relaxing and recharging, this is a good property for you.

If you are looking for the buzz of Dubai, a large selection of restaurants, or a chance to meet new people, Al Maha may not be a great place for you. It is really built on seclusion and privacy.

Additionally, if you have younger children, this one isn’t for you – older children ages 10 and up are permitted, but the under-10 policy is strictly enforced. Our guide told us that the Presidential Suite was supposed to be full during our stay but they turned away the group because one of the children was 9 and not 10 (and yes, they check passports to verify!)

Get your guide

Ready to dive in? Get your insider’s guide for exclusive tips and tricks to maximize your stay, and your Marriott points, today.

I'm Ashley, the founder of Wanderlux and a travel junkie. When I'm not at home near Seattle, Washington, you can find me on the beach in Mexico or traveling the world. Wherever I am, I aim to travel respectfully, show my kids new things, and learn more than I teach.




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