If I were to make a top of the activities that I especially wanted to try in Dubai, surely desert safari would place somewhere in the top three positions. The whole thing with drifting on the sand dunes with a 4*4, the sensational sunset I was hoping to witness, and the interaction with the gorgeous hunched ladies and their endless lashes, also known as camels, seemed super exciting. Said and done. Before I boarded the airplane that had the final destination in Dubai, after an easy 5-hour flight, quite quiet and devoid of any form of turbulence, I searched all the internet looking for best deals.
I found tens, maybe hundreds of companies and various combinations of tours. Of course, there is also the option to go for only the desert safari, but I found a very tempting offer on this website, safari combined with a city tour, for the price of around 100 AED per person (both tours included). I didn’t choose a VIP tour because I want to repeat the experience, and for the first time in the desert, I thought it would be better to go for the low budget group tour, to see how it is going to be and if it’s worth visiting next time on a higher budget. Because yes, desert safari can also reach some very large sums, which sometimes exceed 1000 AED. Of course, it comes with a better comfort, and you can add some extra features to the standard tour. For example, overnight desert accommodation.
Now, going back to our budget-friendly tour, these are the things that were included in the package:
- transfer with a minibus from a meeting place in Dubai to the camp
- buffet middle eastern dinner
- dune bashing
- camel ride
- sunset view
- tea, coffee, and other non-alcoholic beverages unlimited
- the possibility of smoking hookah (not included in the price)
- henna painting
- shows: belly dance, tanoura, and fire show
- traditional Arabic seats in the camp
In the first phase, we had the opportunity to choose which part of the day we wanted to go on a tour, in the morning or in the evening. Of course, in my case, the question was rhetorical, as the sunset in the desert had to be ticked off my bucket list. So, I opted for the tour held in the second part of the day, starting somewhere around 4:30 pm. Several meeting venues were specified on the site, and we chose Deira City Center behind the Day to Day souvenir shop, being close enough to our accommodation.
From here and up to the camp, or camps, because in that place the desert is full of dozens of camps (as can be seen on the image in the Google Maps below), there is about 40 km distance. For those of you who want to get on their own in the desert, here I am for you, with the coordinates prepared 25 ° 10’38.2 “N 55 ° 38’23.0” E. Welcome!
Although it is written that dune bashing lasts for about 15-20 minutes, the truth is that it takes a lot less (almost half) and that depends on where the camp is located. Once at the meeting point, you will be picked up by a 4*4 and driven to the camp in a timely manner, so you can catch a few minutes from the sunset. I advise you to get up as fast as you can in a car because the organization is pretty bad, and you risk not catching the sunset. Or, your driver could get in a small car crash with another 4 * 4, and this little incident will cost you a few good minutes … of your time! Yes, that’s what happened, cuz why not?
Although I was tempted to take as many photos and videos as possible, my first meeting with the desert made me stunned with amazement in front of its beauty, so I left the phone untouched for a few minutes. Even if it was rather short, dune bashing included a rise of adrenaline and much laughter, on some Indian rhythms, not Arabic as I would have expected. However, next time I want to go for a longer and shakier one.
Finally, we arrived at the camp, meaning a place in Arabic style, in the middle of the desert, a square with sides of about 100 meters. Inside, there are various stalls or kiosks where you can buy all sorts of traditional items and souvenirs, a place where you can get a henna painting on your hand, and in the center, a stage where performances are held, surrounded by traditional tables and rugs. Actually, the place where you serve dinner.
Once in the camp, the first thing you have to do is choose a tall sand dune in the direction of the sunset, and start running towards it. That is the place where you will get some beautiful memories and pictures worthy of Instagram. I know that running through the sand may not be your favorite sport, but I assure you that those beautiful sunset captures deserve all the effort and all the muscular fever of the next day. You will not have much time at your disposal, so you have to hurry. Unfortunately, I didn’t witness that desert without vegetation, instead, I found shrubs everywhere, which disappointed me a bit.
Then it’s time to head back to the camp and sit in the queue for the so-called camel ride. I hope they forgave me because I know that for the poor animals it is not easy to ride on their back, dozens, maybe even hundreds of tourists, every single day. However, I didn’t want to miss this chance once in my life, promising to me, as well as to the gorgeous hunched ladies, that it will definitely not happen again. The ride is, of course, a very exaggerated term, as practically meant just a few steps, enough to figure out how it feels, but not enough to call it a ride, in the true sense of the word. You will also get pictures for which you will then be searched among the tables to buy them. It is completely up to you if you will or not.
Next, go for the henna painting, also included in the price. Which was actually a drawing summed up to a maximum of 5 centimeters of skin. For extra henna, you will pay depending on how much you want your drawing to cover. The patterns vary between 5-30 AED.
After henna, we chose a dinner table and sat down with our faces to the scene on which the show of belly dance had already begun. The first dancer, dressed in red and pretty sensual, waved her body beautifully sculptured on a not so desirable music. The playlist was a great disappointment, unfortunately. Then she was followed by another belly dancer, but also a colorful show of tanoura and another with fire, all intensely acclaimed by Indian audiences in particular. The latest was my favorite. As these shows unfolded, the Middle Eastern buffet was already ready. We filled the plates with hummus, tabbouleh, falafel and Baba ghanoush, aware that time was no longer enough for a hookah, as we were previously planning. Sorry, next time!
Leaving aside some aspects that have not met my expectations, the desert safari is a must-try experience when you visit the UAE, whether you choose to do this in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. The feeling that you have when you feel your feet penetrating the fine sand, heated by the strong sun in the Arabian Gulf is unique and worth living at least once in your life. And because your experience needs to be as pleasant as possible, I offer some suggestions or tips to keep in mind.
What you need to know before booking a tour:
You need to know what kind of camp you will have so that the experience is as close as possible to authenticity and pleasant overall. There are exclusive camps for a particular company, a camp divided by several companies, or private camps.
Discover exactly what is included in the tour. Although it has not happened to me, I’ve heard cases mentioning the camel ride as being included in the price, and then tourists discover that there is an additional charge for that. Call the operator or send an email before booking and ask what is included in the tour.
Do a little research about who runs the tour that you want to reserve. Generally, you will find reviews on TripAdvisor or other booking platforms. If you can’t find anything about it, it might be better to re-orientate yourself so that there is no possibility of deception.
Find out what dishes are available for the buffet. Even if is mentioned International Buffet, this may not always be the truth. If you are a vegetarian or have some restrictions, it is advisable to inform yourself about these and to ensure that there are appropriate options on the menu for your diet.
There are options for all pockets. If you go into such a safari for the first time, maybe you will not like it so much and therefore I do not recommend investing a lot of money in this experience. So, you have to know that you can find tours even with less than 50 AED ($ 13), which include all of the above. Prices may go up even more than 1000 AED when you want to go on a private tour or spend the night in such a camp. It depends on your expectations and how much you are willing to contribute.
If you go for the evening tour, you have to know that once the sun goes down, the temperatures will get pretty low, especially if you are in the cold season. Therefore, you should bring some extra layers of clothes. I know it’s not a pleasure to bring a bag but try to make a minimum of effort and take a blazer with you, for example. Instead, if we talk about shoes, the more comfortable they are, the better. Desert means sand as you see, sand that sneaks everywhere, even in the most watertight shoe. So yes, a pair of sandals from which to remove it as quickly as possible, would be ideal.
From the moment you’re “picked up” from the Dubai meeting place to the one where you can dine in the desert, it’s a few hours. I’m sure you already got my point. You might want to eat something before if you want to have enough energy to get on the camel.