Things to Do in Dubai – desert safari

The desert camps are lively and a congregation of all desert duners at the end of a thrilling ride.  Colourful tents, rugs and cushions are used to create a real Bedouin feel and duners can participate in a number of activities such as camel riding, dune bashing, henna painting and so on. Indeed, what better way to remember going on a desert safari than chilling out on the Persian carpet floor within a traditional Bedouin tent, smoking a shisha, sipping Arabic coffee and munching on fresh dates?

By the early evening you get to watch the beauty and peace of a desert sunset and the barbecues kick in.  Traditional belly dancers will keep you entertained and aid the digestion.   We say traditional, but it really isn’t a tradition in the UAE – and likely your belly dancer is probably from Eastern Europe or Turkey rather than from the region!  Either way, it’s fun. All good things have to come to an end and so does this trip when the vehicles head back towards the rendezvous point and leave you at your hotel. You also have the option of spending the night in the desert and if you like to be one with nature in the dark of night, without a light in site, this is for you. It’s remarkable how dark darkness actually is. That’s a weird comment to make, but you’ll never understand how dark it can get in the desert until you experience it yourself.  The stars at night are amazing

The desert safari is a balance of many things that touch on the pet loves of a tourist, from meandering through the dunes, to watching the sun set in the peace of the desert.  While it doesn’t quite live up to how the Bedouin used to travel, you get to see the beauty of the desert in its raw form.

While it is true that when people think of Dubai the first few images conjured up by the mind are those of shopping malls and contagious commercialization, there are certain off-beat options like going on a desert safari which take you away from the roller coaster lifestyle to sample the peace and calm of the desert.

Most of the major hotels in Dubai are pick up points for the tour operators that organise the desert safaris.  The hotel you’ll be staying at will certainly have all the information to organise a trip or you can use our recommended operators.  The tours normally begin pick up at mid afternoon and you usually travel as a party of six – or less if you want a private group.  The safaris take place in a 4 wheel drive and will make their way to the centre point of the desert, normally about a 30 min drive out of the Dubai city or towards Al Ain.  The tyres are let down before you go onto the sand and the tour guide takes a peek round in case someone has a last minute panic attack.. From this point on, the real thrill and mood of being in an isolated and barren landscape sets in especially when the vehicles traverse through the sand dunes at all possible awkward angles. You really think that the car is going to topple over – and yes, they sometimes do get stuck. This phase of the desert safari is rough and exciting and lasts for around 90 minutes before finally coming to rest at a central camp.

Dunebashing in Dubai

If you’re feeling queasy, then sit in the front.  On the way into the desert, you sometimes stop at a camel farm to see the humped ones up close and personal. After the dune bashing you are often given the opportunity to have a go on some dune buggies for an extra charge as well as sand surfing, sand skiing or sand boarding, and riding on the camel depending on which tour operator you get. Once you get to the camp, you’ll be provided with a barbeque meal and if there are enough of you a belly dancer from Eastern Europe or Russia. Of course, this is the least realistic UAE experience, but it’s a lot of fun. All this while you sip on your ghawa and smoke your shisha before you get taken back to your hotel.

There is always the option to stay overnight in the desert under the stars, staying in tents. There’s something to be said for being at one with the stars. You’ll be woken in the morning for breakfast before your hosts drive you back to you hotel.

If you’re not really into the whole shebang of dune bashing, some of the tour operators set up a very early morning drive into the desert to watch the sun come up over dates and Arabic coffee. You may even see some of the desert animals come to life at that time.

Prices start at roughly 300 Dhs per adult and you are picked up at your hotel or close by to where you are. Also, note that if there aren’t enough people you might not get everything you paid for, e.g. the belly dancer – everyone has their price you know.


Points of note –

Because driving through the desert is not everyone’s cup of tea, you should decide whether this is for you. If you get travel sick, either don’t go, or sit in the front of the car.  This is definitely not one for expectant mums!

Make sure that the operator you use is licensed and has insurance coverage

An up-and-down drive through the dunes would be uncomfortable on a full stomach and therefore it is advisable to have a light meal prior to the trip and avoid drinking too much water.

Light clothes and slippers/floaters are the best options to dress up in while going on a desert safari – if you are comfortable then venturing bare-foot into the sand is strongly recommended. But make sure you bring a shawl or a sweatshirt with you for when the sun goes down. It can get quite nippy in the open air.

Most people opt for the sundowner, but it’s possible to opt for the dawn trip as an alternative.

Take a camera with you – but be careful not to let the sand get in!

When – A desert safari is most popular in the late afternoon although there are packages for the early morning.

How long – The time spent varies according to the package chosen and the tour operator – for example an evening safari begins at 4 in the afternoon and you would be back in your hotel by 10 at night.

Location – Going on a desert safari is best left to the experienced drivers – they’ll pick you up from your hotel.

Cost – Packages start at roughly 300Dhs . You have to book in advance

More info: There are loads of operators. Our preferred ones are Arabian Adventures. , 04  303 4888, Explorer Tours explorertours.ae04  2861991, Alpha Tours ,  04  294 9888.

Dubai Travel Guide
Things to Do in Dubai

Things to Do in Dubai – desert safari