If there’s one thing we have an abundance of here in the UAE it’s desert! In fact, did you know that more than 80% of the surface area of the UAE is desert?
With temperatures significantly dropping now, there’s no better time to get out and explore our magnificent deserts of the UAE. But how? There are plenty of options to look at to suit all adventure levels and interests, so sit back and let British Mums take you on a tour.
Doing it in style
If you like the look of the glistening desert sands but still love your mod cons, then your best bet is to start with a little luxury pampering at some of the UAE’s most highly rated desert resorts. As well as luxurious spas and pools (and kids clubs while you enjoy your pampering), desert resorts run their own outdoor activity programs that will include the likes of camel safari’s, dune bashing, quad biking and traditional Bedouin meals with entertainment – but at the end of the day you can still crawl into your exquisitely appointed room for some serious R&R.
Favourites that comes up every time the words “luxury retreat” are muttered include Qasr Al Sarab in the Liwa Desert; or closer to Dubai you could try Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa or Al Maha – a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa.
If you love your luxury but still want to feel like you’re camping (even just a little bit!) try Banyan Tree Al Wadi Resort – Bedouin tents from the outside but lavishly fitted within. Another luxurious option is Arabian Nights Village. Their rooms and suites are designed based on traditional Bedouin style “bayt” (houses) but with all the luxury appointments inside and pool facilities to cool off after your desert activities.
A Desert Safari
If an overnight adventure under the stars is not your thing but you still want a taster of Bedouin life with an experienced guide, there are several desert safari companies offering half day excursions. These usually include transport from Dubai to desert camps where you will be treated to traditional music, dance, henna painting, dinner, shisha and of course camel riding and all the outdoor sporting favourites.
These trips tend to be popular with visitors and your overseas guests as they only need a half day aside to fit in a lot!
Note: Always check for age appropriateness if travelling with small children. Some companies will do dune bashing as part of your expedition in to the desert camp. For obvious safety reasons, they will not permit children under 5 to partake in dune bashing. They may need to split your group up as appropriate amongst vehicles so everyone can get the most out of the experience.
Top recommended safari companies for evening include Arabian Nights, Desert Safari Dubai and the Emirates owned Arabian Adventures. Platinum Heritage also do a morning safari in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve with vintage, open air Land Rovers for a unique desert experience to bring you closer to nature.
Camping in the desert
If you’ve easily tackled the day safaris before and are looking to be a little more ambitious this winter, why not try desert camping? This will involve a great mix of dune bashing and getting in touch with the great outdoors (read: a lot of sand!) Our best recommendations for family camping spots include;
Approximately 90 minutes from Dubai, Al Wathba is favoured by some families due to its proximity to the Wathba cycling track (meaning water and help are nearby if needed!) and slightly gentler dunes to ease beginners in. It does bring with it the slight con that night skies can be a little affected by the glow from the track, and as its close to the city of Abu Dhabi, it makes it a very popular choice at weekends.
Probably the most beautiful, and most remote deserts – it’s called the Empty Quarter for a reason – but brings with it the reward of some of the most beautiful desert camping you can imagine. With amazing dunes to suit all levels it is worth the 3+ hour drive from Dubai.
Expert local campers precaution that the disadvantage of both of these options are their distance to the nearest petrol station! Another option, still in Abu Dhabi and closer to essential services is Sweihan.
Also known as “Little Liwa” its large dunes are the real attraction, as well as spectacular night skies. Approximately 75 minutes from Dubai it’s still an easy drive to get to, though maybe not as epic as Liwa itself. Recommended more for experienced drivers due to its softer sand and larger dunes – Naqrah Dune is a popular one to tackle.
Practical camping and 4WD precautions for beginners
- Always pack enough water and a first aid kit
- Don’t travel alone
- You MUST let your tires down BEFORE hitting the dunes! (Start with 15 PSI then adjust according to conditions)
- Beware of scorpions – they like to hang out in the bushes near the bottom of the dunes
- You will need special tent pegs for the sand
- Don’t assume that sand is soft to sleep on, so bring a blow-up mattress
- Bring your own fire wood and cover them in sand in the morning
Adrenaline junkies – Dune Bashing, Quad Biking and Sand Boarding
If an overnight adventure is not your thing but you are ready to venture out on your own, there are several fabulous locations across the UAE to try your hand at the dunes and letting gravity help drive your car. (Note though, we thoroughly recommend that amateurs join a 4WD group their first time tackling the dunes for themselves).
The best time to go dune bashing is in the hours just before sunset to enjoy the desert glow. Our experts recommend some of the best desert locations to try your hand;
Also known as the “Big Red” – you can guess why – It’s probably one of the easier dunes for amateurs, but still enjoyable for professionals. Approximately 45 minutes drive from Dubai on the E44 Dubai-Hatta Road, Sharjah. You’ll know you’re getting there as the sands turn from yellow to red!
Al Faya Desert
Also known as “Big Fall”, you will find slightly bigger dunes here than at Al Bidayer. Take the Sharjah-Kalba Road (E55) towards the eastern enclaves, approximately 50 minutes from Dubai. This is a popular spot for camping too, though do be careful where you set up!
Officially called “Jebel Melihah” it is more commonly referred to as Fossil Rock, or mistaken for nearby Camel Rock. Sitting approximately an hour from Dubai on the Sharjah-Kalba Road, Sharjah (E102), it’s popular with hikers, fossil hunters and campers as well as the adrenaline seekers.
Those who prefer their sand boarding to dune bashing may also want to check out Zakher Lake, near Al Ain and the Oman border. And not to be forgotten Umm Al Quwain also offers some luscious red dunes near the fort in the desert at Falaj al Mualla. The best of the best though seems to be widely agreed as the Moreeb Dune in Liwa Desert (about 25km south of Liwa Oasis) – arguably one of the highest sand hills in the world.
More desert driving safety tips
As well as setting out with a full tank of fuel & phone battery, make sure you bring with you a GPS, tyre pressure gauge, spare tyre, tyre inflating pump, tow rope & tow shackles, a shovel, work gloves and an air compressor. Never go alone – always travel in a group and keep a safe driving distance to the car in front.
Do you have a favourite desert spot to share with us? Any further tips on how to handle desert camping? Leave a comment – we’d love to hear from you.
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