What Sand? Defying the Lack of Water in the Desert

Since spring is officially here now, I’ve been thinking about our version of the season and how there is plenty of green around even though we live in the desert.  When you’re on the ground in Dubai, at times it’s easy to forget you live in the “sandpit” as many expats call it. Take a short drive outside of the city or look out a window a few floors up and your perspective will change.

Burj Khalifa from Safa Park

What sand? Just look at that impossibly green grass. (taken from Safa Park)

view from Burj Khalifa

Reality check (view from Burj Khalifa)

Dubai suffers from a bit of a Napoleon Complex in the water department; there seems to be a need to overcompensate for the lack of fresh water in the area by creating anything one can possibly imagine that requires a ton of water.  I’ve never seen so many water parks in a 90 minute driving radius. (five of them!) The landscaping can be over-the-top with flower lined highways and immaculately maintained neighborhood gardens.  There’s even the world’s largest flower garden featuring millions and millions of flowers laid out in geometric shapes and patters, called Miracle Garden. (some people call it “awe-inspiring” as in the linked article, but I find it sterile and too artificial).  There’s also the man-made Marina and the man-made islands which are occupied by hotels, houses, shopping and dining areas, all within a stone’s throw from water, of course.  Even the names of neighborhoods play into the fantasy:  Discovery Gardens, The Greens, The Meadows, The Green Community, Arabian Ranches, the Springs.  Can’t you just smell the freshly cut grass and visualize the expansive pastures?

Dubai is also peppered with plenty of parks.  Even though all the manicured flowers, grass and bushes generally make me feel uneasy because it’s so out of sync with the natural landscape of the region, I do enjoy the city’s green spaces.  When I lived in Austin and Houston, Town Lake and Memorial Park were a short drive from my house and were my favorite places to run (ahem, when I managed to run).  Safa Park is likewise encircled by a running track (a bit short at just over 2 miles, but nice and cushiony).  On Fridays through June, there is a food and craft market featuring organic produce and countless gourmet goodies, treats to eat, cookbooks and fresh flowers to buy.  The food section follows the crafts area which is bursting with products to browse including toys, clothes and decorative items for children, soaps, jewelry, artwork, and pet items.  It’s a great place to people watch as Dubai’s diversity is on full display.  Absorb countless languages, variations of accent and styles of dress, all while enjoying a delicious snack and a leisurely shopping experience.  What a fun way to spend a Friday afternoon.

Signs along Sheikh Zayed Road (the major highway that runs parallel to the park on one of its sides) indicate that major construction is about to begin to extend Dubai’s creek through Business Bay, cutting across Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah Beach Road and lead out to the ocean. Part of the transformation includes reducing Safa Park’s green space to include more, you guessed it, water.  This is unfortunate because on weekends when the weather is nice, it’s already packed wall-to-wall with families barbecuing, people playing soccer and Frisbee, and children playing.  (Especially if you have lived in Dubai at some point, check out this article in Time Out to see a graphic of what it will look like, and then click through the slide show to see other up and coming projects.  This city is changing at warp speed.)  The parking lot near entrance 5 of Safa Park is already closed due to construction and I suspect this new project is the reason.  Of course, this new extension of the creek plays in nicely with the water motif, as there will plenty of new shopping areas, biking trails, homes and hotels along the canal.

A few pics of Safa Park and Ripe’s Market follow.  If you haven’t been to the market yet, check it out before temperatures become unbearable.  Tick tock!

For more info about Safa Park, check out this post from fellow Dubai blog, Abby’s Roads.

Safa Park

soccer Safa Park

children’s soccer class

Ferris Wheel Safa Park

This ferris wheel stands as an iconic marker just inside the gate of the park, but I’ve never seen it move in the 3+ years we’ve been here.

jogging track Safa park

Jogging track around the perimeter of the park. It offers great views of the buildings along Sheikh Zayed Road. This stretch is shady but other parts are not.

Safa Park

yellow flower safa park 2


Dubai safa park

crowds at the farmer's market

crowd at the food and craft market








farmer's market safa park (

paella Safa Park

what’s left of a giant paella



Coconut water safa park

Coconut water sells like crazy. Stick a straw inside to hydrate after shopping.

Hello Kitty Ripe Market Safa Park

Hello Kitty was very popular.

pillows safa park

flowers safa park

Ripe market safa park Farmer's market safa park dresses Ripe Market Safa cookies farmers market safa park


About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
This entry was posted in Day-to-day living in Dubai, Playing tourist - attractions and activities and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to What Sand? Defying the Lack of Water in the Desert

  1. safia says:

    Great post – you capture the essence of the Safa Park area. I lived in the Green Community and commuted to Jumeirah each day and I must admit to being mystified when I heard about the plans to change Safa Park. To me, it’s perfect as it is although as you noticed, a bit more shade around the perimeter for joggers would be good. Fantastic photos of the market – love those vegetables in brown paper bags.

    • Lynda says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Safia. I agree – why on earth would they change Safa Park so much? When I first looked at the map I thought they were just lopping off a bit on the side and seemed to ignore the part in the text about the “beach” that will be inserted. Then I looked again and thought wait…. the little paddle boat pond isn’t that big?? So strange. I love the brown paper bags too – had to make hard choices about which to include b/c I had several pics of veggies from the market that I liked. 🙂

  2. aBs says:

    Thanks for linking up – love this post, esp the comment about the Napoleonic syndrome haha – definitely spot on!

  3. Laura says:

    Wow, I learn something new every time I read your blog! I never would’ve guessed Dubai is so “green,” and I would be in heaven at that market! Where does the water come from? Is there a desalination plant nearby? As you may know, here in NM we have the Ogallala Aquifer but it is not meant to support so many as it is now. There is hideous development on the “west side” of Albuquerque, basically a desert mesa, that was also marketed in its beginning stages as an “oasis”. One ad even had a guy parasailing on a huge body of water! Ridiculous. But thanks for sharing more about Dubai!

    • Lynda says:

      Well, in the case of “Miracle Garden” – they use treated waste water (??) but yes, the entire region is completely dependent on desalinated water. Apparently it’s drinkable but most people choose to have mineral water delivered to their homes using big jugs/dispensers. So funny that the desert area was marketed as an oasis! I do think some people end up buying into the fantasy.

  4. surprisebjg says:

    Wooow looks great I want fresh coconut juice please! :))

  5. It really is sad that Safa Park will be another casualty in Dubai’s development. I’ve been there just this past Friday, and loved the market and busy-ness of the park in general. The weather was just perfect and like you say, so many people make use of this lovely space. I don’t often venture to Dubai, but Safa Park is one of my favourite Dubai spots. I can spend hours in the Archive Café browsing through their books . . .

    • Lynda says:

      I agree – Archive is such a treat to visit! I had planned to save it for a future “art” post, but in hindsight I should have at least mentioned it here.

  6. Mitzie Mee says:

    I’ve never been to the market, but I really want to go. Hope they still got something left of that good-looking paella:)

  7. I never pictured Dubai to be such a green city. It much take a lot of energy and effort to keep it so green in the middle of this «sandpit». Wonderful images that show a different side of Dubai compared to what we usually get in the media.

  8. Sally says:

    So true that Napolean complex – the fountains and water features that abound always astonish me. Have you visited the Farmers’ Market at Emirates Towers on a Friday? Smaller and just food but rather lovely (and much cheaper). I can’t think what the parking must be like if some is cordoned off at Safa. You’ve made me think I should get down to Safa Park with my camera before the change. Easy to take things for granted until they are gone – love your pics.

    • Lynda says:

      Thanks so much Sally. No I haven’t been there but I think I’ve read about it on your blog, right? Cheaper would be nice. 🙂 I’ll have to check it out. So true about taking things for granted.

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