Spending a 20 hour layover in Abu Dhabi

When booking my flight to the Seychelles, I went for a 20 hour layover in Abu Dhabi instead of 3 hours. I was so excited to explore the city without having to book an extra flight and accommodation. These were the places that I visited:

  • Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
  • Heritage Village
  • Marina Mall
  • Desert Safari

I also totally underestimated the distances between places. On the map it all seemed walkable but especially under the heat of the arabian sun, i had to rely on getting a cab every time I wanted to go somewhere else. 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

At this point, it was really difficult for me to get in. Remember that I am only transiting in this country? That means all I have with me is my handcarry backpack so basically, as I am a filmmaker, all my camera equipment, drone and laptop and other valuables. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to bring my laptop and my drone was a total no-go. So I had to take out my camera and leave my bag at the entrance. Out of respect, I also had to take off my shoes. 

I was so excited to be one of the first people there. The mosque was deserted. Empty and no people when I arrived. The light wasn’t perfect and unfortunately there was no way for me to bring a glidecam or any sort of stabilisation in my situation. So I had to rely on the dual IS of my camera and went handheld.

Heritage Village and Breakwater Beach

Heritage Village

From the Grand Mosque, I got a cab going to Heritage Village. On my way there, the driver let me down at some other sights like:

  • The Emirates Palace (7-Star Hotel)
  • UAE Towers
  • Corniche Beach

At Heritage Village, I asked the security guard if it was ok to fly my drone there. He laughed and seemed quite excited. I got an approval as long as you can’t recognise specific people. I was starting to feel really really hot as it was the hottest time of the day. It was a constant 45°C (114°F) and I had my backpack full of heavy stuff. At the same time I couldn’t prevent the urge to film and walk around for awesome sceneries. Luckily I found this guy in the village who was making miniature pots out of clay. His room had an aircon and I stayed for quite a bit to regenerate. He was happy to have some company 🙂

After this I really needed to cool off. So I gathered all my water and strength and walked over to the Marina Mall. The walk was faaaaaar. The maps are fooling you. Or maybe I’m just so German and can’t stand the desert heat. As soon as I entered the mall, it was like my hometown Manila. So many Filipinos.  

Getting the sunset shot in the desert

I went straight to a frozen yoghurt store where I met a nice filipino man serving me the delicious refreshing goodness. It took me like 30 minutes to completely become normal again and cool off. I then observed all the people coming in through the main door. They looked like they just came back from a swim. They were drenched in sweat. 

I had an appointment at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in a few hours which was located right across the Grand Mosque. I didn’t know I would sit here, at the other side of the island, in a cold mall when I first booked the desert safari tour at home. I then called my cab driver (we exchanged numbers) and he brought me to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel where the other driver of the desert safari tour was already waiting for me in the lobby. We drove off in a 4-wheel drive sand jeep and entered the desert. 

Hafik, our professional driver

Desert Safari

I got to make friends with Hafik, our driver. We exchanged numbers and now he is sending me all sorts of videos and i can impress him with some drone footage of his office. 

As soon as the paved roads ended, Hafik stopped the jeep, went out and released air out of the tires. He then explained it’s for better grip on the soft sand. We then drifted through the sand dunes, up and down and sand hills became our halfpipe. On the way we came across some camels and hawks.

As soon as it got dark, we arrived at a camp site where they had a belly dancer and a tanoura dancer (a traditional Egyptian folk dance where the dancer spins his body non-stop) dancing to what sounded like modern Middle Eastern EDM music.

They had an eat&drink-all-you-can buffet, free shishas with all kinds of flavors, nice music and we could even wear some local veils and robes. After the whole event, they switched off the lights for star gazing in the middle of the desert.

At the end of the day, Hafik was so kind to call and ask his boss if he could bring me directly to the airport instead of to the hotel. I had absolutely no business at the hotel or whatsoever. To my luck it worked out and I was brought directly to the airport with still 2 hours to go until boarding. I would say it was a perfect and yes, very productive layover!

I booked my desert safari here for only 50€:
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All the compact gear that I used to make this video: