Picture this: an exhilarating ride across picturesque landscapes of burnt orange dunes, traditional Emirati hospitality of the warmest kind, your choice of thrilling sandy sports and delicious food, and a complete local and cultural immersion.
Now, who wouldn’t want some of that?
It comes as no surprise that the desert safari is so wildly popular. Whether you’re a long-time resident or a newbie tourist visiting the city, it should be on your must-experience list. Tourist packages for Dubai often include it and several independent tours are also available for residents.
The desert has been, for the longest time, a significant part of the city’s cultural and social structure. Tightly woven into the lives of the locals and their heritage, it is an inseparable part of Dubai’s domestic and international identity. A symbol of history and a reminder of what was before the iconic skyline of the Sheikh Zayed Road appeared on the horizon, it is a treasure for Dubai, not just in a cultural sense but also due to what comes from within it. Amidst the explosive development of skyscrapers and towers, the desert is, in and of itself, a symbol of local identity.
The Empty Quarter, a widespread sea of sand dunes that give way into the larger Arabian Desert, is an ecosystem in itself, thriving with wildlife and plant life indigenous to this region. Naturally, these features of the desert are an integral part of the once prominent Bedouin lifestyle, and therefore have a deeply seeded impact and influence on Emirati culture and hospitality. The desert occupies the largest area in the city and is very important.
Visiting the Burj Khalifa or the Palm Jumeirah will show the Dubai of now, but taking a tour of the desert will transport you to the centre of local life in all its authenticity and show you the Dubai that was and always will be.
A typical desert safari tour is jam-packed with activities to do so there is never a dull moment, starting from when the sun is in the sky until when it sets, and night falls upon the desert.
Generally, a safari starts in the late afternoon at around 3:00 PM and continues until 8:00 PM. Visitors are picked up from hotels and designated locations outside the desert sands and are then taken in four-wheel drive cars to the camps. The camps are set up deep inside the desert, but the fun begins before the visitors even reach, as the ride to the camp is 20 to 30 minutes of exciting dune bashing.
The dune bashing is done by highly trained professionals who can be trusted with the wheel, so the whole experience is absolutely safe and guaranteed to give you an adrenaline rush. Upon reaching the camp, visitors are served traditional refreshments like dates, Arabic Qahwa and tea, and typical Emirati sweets and snacks.
The daytime is when visitors get a chance to engage in sporting events like sandboarding, a ride down sand dunes on a special board and quad bike riding, camel riding as well as one on one interaction with the animal life found in the desert. Artists specializing in henna, traditional body art worn by local women, are there to give visitors memorable temporary tattoos. Some tours also offer photography in traditional Emirati attire or with falcons as souvenirs. A DJ and a dance floor may be present, depending on the type of tour you opt for.
As evening comes around, an elaborate dinner buffet is laid out, complete with starters, traditional barbecue, local dishes, drinks and desserts. The buffet has a number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options to suit the choices of all visitors. They can enjoy their three-course meal on an authentic majlis set up, as seen in typical Emirati homes.
Dinner is accompanied by, or in some cases, followed by live performances and shows for a chance to experience the local entertainment. Belly dancing, or Tanoura, a form of dance that involves tricks performed while continuously spinning and elaborate costumes, and fire shows are the most popular ones. The performances continue till later in the evening and are usually enjoyed with drinks and hookah or shisha in a wide variety of flavours to choose from.
Once the tour comes to an end, visitors are taken back to the designated drop-off points or their hotels.
Throughout the visit, water and soft drinks are provided on an unlimited basis. The entire experience is coordinated professionally and up to the highest standards of safety and hygiene.
Desert safari tour packages in Dubai are of many different varieties. The basic packages are generally the same, but additional services may change depending on the price and provider.
A basic shared desert safari package will cost you an average of AED 65 to 100 per person, with more elaborate and luxurious packages at AED 250 to 300 per person. Expensive packages may include VIP services like pick up and drop off at your residence, bashing in desert dune buggies, horse riding, and exclusive tents.
Private desert safari tours are available at slightly higher charges for those who want to enjoy the trip exclusively with their family and friends.
An overnight desert safari stay is also available where visitors get to camp in the desert for the night, and enjoy all the activities of a typical tour along with a bonfire and an early morning breakfast. Campers are provided with all necessary items like sleeping bags, pillows and blankets, and can indulge in some stargazing at night and gorgeous sunrise photography the next morning. The stay is planned out professionally within the parameters of safety and security of the campers. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and worth the added expense. Charges per person vary from AED 300 to 500.
For those who wish to take the tour at a specific time, morning or evening safaris with different services are available. The morning tour does not include the camp visit and instead has sporting activities like ATV riding, camel riding, horse riding, and a long drive through the desert with plenty of opportunities to photograph the dunes in all their morning glory. It is perfect for someone who may not have enough time to spare on a full day spent in the desert, but does not want to miss out on the fun. Evening tours are more elaborate and usually take up a large portion of the day.
Desert safari tours are perfectly safe and conducted by reliable organisers with guidelines for safety and hygiene in place. Nevertheless, here are some important points to consider before you book your own tour.
Those with issues like motion sickness or vertigo may experience some discomfort. The movement of the vehicle in the dune bashing could trigger motion sickness. Open camps will be exposed to the sand and may trigger sickness in people who suffer from dust or other allergies. It is best to carry some medication and a first aid kit that may help in such a case.
Expecting women and children under the age of five are advised to proceed with caution as the dune bashing and sporting activities may not be the most suitable for them.
It is advised to refrain from carrying expensive or important items such as laptops or jewellery since they may get lost. Visitors should ensure that their personal belongings like mobile phones and identification documents like passports or Emirates IDs are kept as safely as possible.
Make sure to have an experienced and knowledgeable guide with you at all times. This will help you navigate the desert landscape as well as keep yourself safe and connected.
Saving a list of emergency contact numbers in a place that is easily accessible is a responsible and practical thing to do.
Visitors are advised to opt for comfortable clothing and easily removable layers as the climate in the desert changes rapidly from morning to evening. Wear something loose and airy for the hot afternoon and carry a jacket or two for when it gets chilly at night!
The desert safari is a memorable experience that is exclusive only to Dubai. A fantastic opportunity to enjoy with family and friends, it is a chance to step into Dubai’s own culture and witness the welcoming nature of local hospitality, all while admiring the desert’s natural beauty and magnificence.
To dive headfirst into the action, adventure, and a whole lot of fun, you can book your own tour here.