What do you do on a nice sunny afternoon with an SUV and a huge desert in your backyard? Go on a desert safari of course. Our ride for the day will be a gag guzzling Toyota land cruiser manual, good thing fuel here is dirt cheap like water. The desert is rather unforgiving in nature and the sun and sands will be harsh, so it pays to pack in lots of gear such as liquids, food from one of the many roadside stores along your way to the desert. Cool desert gear is optional but recommended!
The desert is not too far off the heart of Dubai, a short 30 minute drive eastbound after exiting the Dubai-Adu Dhabi freeway will bring you along the sand covered freeways which is typical of a desert road leading to a highway. There is nothing much to see here except just the road by your center and simply just sand dunes both left and right, with an occasional shrub or hill appearing in the middle of nowhere. The roads in some of the intersections are quite hard to see as well, not to mention the occasional sand blasted worn-out signboard.
All the roads here are continuously blasted by sand, covering much of the road marking and even at times, burying the slip roads off the freeway, it pays to watch your speed around these corners as tires do handle very differently when you suddenly transition from road to sand and vice versa. Who knows sand can be so slippery! We were the first at the meeting point into the desert by the highway, waited about 15 minutes before the other 3 land cruisers in our convoy appeared, joining us in our trip. There were 4 land cruisers in total per convoy and you can always catch many other convoys in their own groups on the highway or hitting the sand in the distance too. After a tire pressure check and deflation, we are off and hitting the dunes of Dubai.
A point land cruiser was chosen in the group, taking the point lead while the others follow pretty much in a train convoy manner. The point SUV has the responsibly to handle navigation to our next checkpoint, together with overcoming the harsh desert terrain all about us by taking the less dangerous slopes and tackle inclines negotiating steep slopes and warn of sudden drops and inclines with their brake lamps. All these in the light of safety of not possibly overturning our vehicle if we hit or tackle slops at an awkward angle.
Good thing our land cruiser comes equipped with a roll cage if the need arises. As an off-road freak, hitting and riding the dunes at speed almost like being on the Dakar rally. There were several planned rest points along our desert trail as planned by the point SUV, allowing guests to rest from the drive which can be rather nauseating to some passengers. As a side bonus, it seems that our point SUV does know the place very well, with all our vantage points being high ground desert scenic sights as well:
Dubai Desert Safari Vantage Point
Reiterating my point of being literally in the middle of nowhere, in fact GPS is what runs almost the whole show here, despite the desert outlook. The lack of cloud cover here makes the connection and line of sight to any overhead satellites a breeze. Moreover, the desert wonderland here in Dubai is in fact rather well served by surrounding roads, if you ever get lost, just keep going straight in a random direction and you will hit a road under an hour.
Just before night fall, we started navigating our way towards one of the commercial camp sites where we will be treated to a scrumptious dinner in no other better way offered than right in the middle of the desert. There are many other attractions to boot too such as sand duneboarding (dune snow-boarding) as well as ATV and camel rides, with the first 2 a chargeable extra. The camp, called the desert oasis itself is large, but minute in the vast desert it is built in, it is an installation sized about at least a 100 by 100m square.
The campsite itself is a self sufficient little town decked and themed in an Arabian town, complete with wells and surrounding fortress walls, in a marketplace like atmosphere. Lined along the perimeter of the walls are various stores hawking Arabian ware, such as souvenirs and textiles, rather touristy. There are few interesting ones such as hernia tattoo booths and even an Arabian costume “try it on” area. The center piece of the oasis will be the central courtyard, where all the guest seating is located surround an open-air red carpeted central podium or stage where all the night performances are held.
This is a central sitting area, Arabian style, with low tables and no seats, almost like Japanese style traditional seating too if you can find something familiar to relate it to. Everything here is kept as close as authentic to the Arabian theme in the most commercially viable way as possible. We kept ourselves pretty much entertained with the camel rides out of the camp till it turned dark, as with health and safety protocols, even the camels here have to be muzzled!
All the drinks and food are on the house, which is technically paid for in the package which includes the vehicle for the desert safari. We literally spent the evening chilling out by the camp bar and trying out the hooka (hubbly-bubbly’s) before finding our way towards the central sitting area with our desert safari group. This is no of course filling up our plates with food from the buffet servery areas, with food all cooked openly on the BBQs by the camp site staff members. You can have a go at the BBQ yourself, but most of the guests there would rather leave the cooking to the staff and chow on the cooked food. All the BBQ food served is buffet style with unlimited servings.
There is quite a variety of main courses as well as desserts to go on the menu. An eccentric mix of western and Arabian cuisine was offered which will appeal to any western traveler without a drastic change in the choice of foods, if they so prefer more familiar or less spicy food like that back at home. For us Asians, it wasn’t much of an issue. Anyway what is a trip to the middle east without trying out their Arabian cuisines?
Everyone’s all at center stage enjoying their meals on the tables while the performance entertain guests with a series of musical performances and belly dancing. The “dance” floor or rather, mat will remain open after the performance for you to have a go at dancing with the performers and other guest alike, you can have a try at learning a thing or two about shaking your hips in belly dancing. Humorously, that is not a thing many guests can do after a huge multi-course buffet dinner.
The place closes about 10pm-ish, where you can choose to leave in your groups for the convoy back to downtown Dubai, which is about less than an hour’s drive away. The desert at night is a complete pitch black, so it pays to drive with low beams only as an indicator to oncoming traffic without destroying much of your night vision, turning only to high beam if you see a dip on the dunes or when in doubt. You will be surprised with the lack of clouds in the desert, driving under the moonlight can be a surreal experience, with the whole desert decked in a soft blue. There are several convenience stores lined along the freeway on route back for you to pump your tires back up to road pressure, so do look for them on your journey back along the highway.
So that’s all for my trip to the desert safari, it was sun-blastingly fun!
- Dubai city sights Part 1 (Dubai city photo album)
- Dubai city sights, creek and souks Part 2
- The Dubai mall, aquarium and zoo (Dubai mall photo album)
- Up the Burj Khalifa (Photo sights up the Burj Khalifa)
- Dubai historical sites and Dhow River cruise (Historical site and Dhow cruise album)
- Dubai Desert Safari (Safari photo album)
- Adu Dhabi (Adu Dhahi photo album)
- Yas island (Yas island photo album)
- Jumeirah, Wadi wadi waterpark (Wadi wadi Photo album)