How to get the most out of sand and the winter sun
Exotic and spectacular, the desert is one of the most popular experiences among visitors to Dubai. And at less than 30 minutes drive from the city, with most experiences offering pick up and drop off at hotels, it is a simple add on to any journey. Discover the key adventures.
Feasting under the stars
One of the most experienced tour and safari operators in the region, Arabian Adventures, offers a popular Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari tour, which is a convenient way to experience the desert in comfort. After being picked up from your hotel in a new model Land Cruiser, the first stop is the “deflation point”, where some of the air is let out of the tyres for easier desert driving. After that you can enjoy your dune drive, a falcon display and a sunset photo stop (at the top of a dune).
Then it’s onto the Bedouin-style camp where you can experience a desert bonfire, short camel rides, sand-boarding and even henna hand-painting. Enjoy a three-course Arabic-style buffet meal (with vegetarian options), while seated on traditional carpets and cushions. Your evening is topped off with an energetic show or colorful tanoura (sufi) display. The highlight, though, is when all the camp lights are extinguished, so you can experience the stars and stillness of the desert at night.
For a real Dubai desert immersion, stay overnight in the dunes. Most overnights include the desert banquet and the opportunity to stay on at the camp, surrounded by the majestic dunes. You could opt for the more simple sleepover with a sleeping bag and blanket (Desert Safari Dubai) or a two-person tent (North Tours), both of which provide the chance to experience a desert sunrise with coffee or tea and a continental breakfast before heading back to Dubai. North Tours offers optional add-ons such as a lantern, tent, mattress, refreshments in a cooler, and even shower facilities.
Almost all desert experiences will offer a brief five-minute camel ride; however, to have a longer ride you’ll need to book a specific tour. A Camel Trekking experience with Arabian Adventures offers a 5.30am start and a short drive to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Climb aboard your dromedary (one hump) camel for a trail-style trek that takes you past desert flora and fauna such as the Arabian gazelles and oryx, plentiful in the reserve.
If you feel like sleeping in, North Tours offers a sunset version with afternoon pick-up, buffet dinner and entertainment included. Do note, camel rides are not recommended for expectant mothers or those with back problems; children must be at least 6 years old and must be accompanied with a parent or guardian.
Often described as a rollercoaster in the desert, off-roading is a fun-filled adventure ride. Take a large four-wheel drive, an experienced driver, add some gigantic sand dunes, and let the fun begin. Yes, it can be little scary as the 4WD skirts down the side of a dune or you find yourself at 90 degrees as you go over a particularly high crest, but you’ll be in the hands of skilled drivers. One of the best parts of any off-roading experience is simply stopping in the middle of the desert to take in the incredible landscape.
Many tour organisers, such as Platinum Heritage or Royal Shaheen Events will make sure you see, close up, some majestic falcons, the national bird of the UAE, expertly handled by experienced trainers. You may also be given the chance to do some sand skiing or, if you are really adventurous, some desert quad biking. Platinum Heritage offers some authentic desert experiences as well, from rides in a vintage Land Rover to the highly recommended conservation drive, which brings you up close and personal with desert wildlife, including Arabian Oryx and gazelles.