The sport of falconry, where graceful birds of prey swoop through the sky to catch small game, is woven into the cultural heritage of the United Arab Emirates—it's been a part of desert life in the region for hundreds of years. While you might not expect such a sport in ultramodern Dubai, the city is, in fact, an epicenter of falconry and a wonderful place to witness the skill of falconers and their trained birds.
Viewing falconry in action is an impressive and thrilling experience, one that's often included in day tours into the Arabian desert outside of Dubai. These tours are great for those pressed on time, as they typically include a camel ride and dinner in a Bedouin-style camp, allowing travelers to fit many of Dubai's iconic desert experiences, including falconry, into a single day.
The only thing better than watching a falconer in action is becoming a falconer yourself. Pull on a glove for a hands-on lesson in both modern and ancient techniques of falconry from a top-notch falcon trainer. You'll quickly have birds launching from your fist to collect food and return to your waiting hand. These experiences often take place at the Dubai Desert Conversation Reserve, where travelers can begin or end a visit with some wildlife-spotting for gazelle, Arabian oryx or hares.
Tour the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, the region's first and only facility dedicated to falcons, to gain a deeper understanding of the close relationship between the Bedouin culture and the desert's birds of prey. The onsite treatment center rehabilitates injured birds and caregivers are happy to provide insight into common ailments and treatments, while a small museum showcases traditional falconry equipment and information on the various falcon species.