How to enjoy the desert in Dubai
Exotic and spectacular, the desert is one of the most popular settings that visitors to Dubai seek. Pristine golden sands and exciting adventures await, just a short drive from the city centre. With most experiences offering pick-up and drop off at hotels, it’s a worthwhile add-on to your stay.
Conquer the dunes in a 4x4
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. It can be little scary as the 4x4 skirts down the side of a dune, or you find yourself at 90 degrees as you go over a particularly high crest, but you’re in the hands of skilled drivers so enjoy the thrills.
Arabian Adventures offers a popular Dune Dinner Safari, which is a convenient way to sample all the desert has to offer. The tour begins with a fun drive through the sands at dusk. Then it’s on to the Bedouin-style camp where you can enjoy a lavish Arabian buffet meal, while seated on traditional carpets and cushions. Your evening is topped off with upbeat live entertainment. The highlight, though, is when all the camp lights are extinguished, so you can experience the stars and stillness of the desert at night.
Many of Dubai’s best desert experiences offer a brief camel trek; however, to have a longer ride you’ll need to book a specific tour. The Camel Desert Safari with Platinum Heritage is simply unforgettable. After a short drive to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, climb aboard your dromedary (one hump) camel for a trail-style trek at sunset that takes you past desert flora and fauna such as the Arabian gazelles and oryx, plentiful in the reserve.
For those who like a little action, head to Al Marmoom. Here, deep in the desert sands, you can find lively camel races taking place at the Al Marmoom Racetrack. From the grandstand, you can cheer contestants in this thrilling sport that has been integral to Emirati life for centuries. Witness 60 camels race at a time, harnessed by remote-controlled robot jockeys as they speed down the sandy track.
Spend the night
For a real Dubai desert immersion, stay overnight in the dunes. Most overnighters include a desert banquet and the opportunity to stay on at a luxe camp, surrounded by the majestic dunes. Opt for Platinum Heritage’s Overnight Desert safari, which includes camping inside a traditional Arabic stone dwelling with a mattress, pillows and sleeping bags. Make sure to catch the desert sunrise before tucking in to the gourmet breakfast complete with freshly-brewed coffee, smoked salmon, caviar, fruit platters and more.
Many tour organisers will also make sure you see majestic falcons, the national bird of the UAE, up close and expertly handled by experienced trainers. Platinum Heritage offers a range of authentic desert experiences such as the highly-recommended conservation drive, which brings you up close and personal with desert wildlife, including Arabian Oryx and gazelles. A recent addition to their tours is the Al Marmoom Bedouin Experience, offering the chance to get up-close with the Bedouin people and learn about their culture.
Adventure sports in the sands
While desert drives are fun, there are many other adventure activities to try, including dune-boarding or sand surfing – a safe favourite with younger families in particular, that sees the rider glide down the sandy slopes. Families with teens 18 or older can book a quad-biking experience, an adrenaline-pumping sport that will leave you breathless as you careen over the dunes in your own roaring four-wheeled bike.
For a once-in-a-lifetime treat, book a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the rolling dunes with Balloon Adventures. You’ll arrive at the take-off site early in the morning before the balloons are inflated and you soar up 4,000ft. During the flight, falcons can be seen gliding gracefully above the desert as the sun rises over the dramatic Hajar mountains in the distance.