I’ve read a couple of fiction novels set in the desert in the past couple of years. Suddenly that all feels like some sort of preparation for this moment. I wasn’t expecting to get to experience being in the desert at any capacity anytime soon and was content with just reading about it, so just imagine my excitement! If I had to pick one favourite attraction from this trip, this would be it.
It would be a mistake to leave this emirate without going on a Dubai Desert Safari. I’d love to come back for other sand activities. I really would.
In a nutshell, the desert is one of the most unique locations I’ve ever been to, and the safari most definitely employs one of the most unforgettable methods to get there. If you’re planning to embark on a desert safari, I would suggest preparing yourself for one heck of a ride. Literally. Especially for first timers, I think you will find the journey quite something.
Standing in the desert was both different and at the same time exactly how I imagined. I am filled with awe and wonder, trying to compare the things I’ve seen in movies, read in books, from the actual sprawling terrain before me. In both versions there are camels slowly lumbering about, but here’s where reality gives a clearer picture of things: the ground isn’t a single earthy colour but a sometimes-red-sometimes-yellow-tinged sand so fine it melts through the spaces between your fingers.
It seems like the sand is alive and moving along with the whims of the sun, and it makes me think all the more how similar this place is to the open sea. Obvious dissimilarities aside, water may reflect the sun’s rays to make it shine like spilled diamonds, but the sand… Well it seems to copy the sun’s mood more than anything.
I did a little light reading about geography so I have a bit of an idea about sand dunes or slipfaces and stuff like that. The sand dunes become more impressive the deeper into the Arabian desert you go, usually where the wind blows more fiercely.
We’re lucky to experience the desert in what Dubai refers to as their “winter”. That is the first thing that pops into my head as I take my first step into the desert, feeling the cool breeze brush against my cheek. I am positive I would hate to be here in the summer. We ride on paved roads from the city for about 30 to 40 minutes until we enter the area where concrete meets sand.
‘This is the real beginning of the desert adventure,’ I think to myself. Of course, I was right.
Our destination is an Arabian camp somewhere in the middle of the desert, but before that we get to have a feel of the place as we park at one of the designated stops. Actually this is where our drivers prepare the van for the safari.
Our rides are small 4×4 vans that can fit 6 people, plus the driver. Before driving out to the desert the wheels are seemingly deflated to be able to handle the bumpy and soft terrain a little better. Wheels that are firm enough for city roads simply will not do here.
At the start of the safari, the sandy terrain is rather even and the ride is rather calm, but the deeper you go into the desert the wilder the ride becomes. I’m talking about your butt floating a few inches above your seat in some instances. Imagine riding an enclosed roller coaster that hurtles left and right rather sharply at every turn. You have to hold on to your seats and make sure you strap yourself in. I wouldn’t call it scary, but I’m not going to lie: You might need a doggie bag just in case you get major nausea.
I think you’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about if you watch my travel video down below. The desert safari is at the 3:50 mark.
The drivers are fantastic at navigating the terrain, but it can be an extremely dizzying experience. Just remember to take deep breaths until you get to another pitstop. I find if you look out to the distance and watch the other jeeps fly through the terrain you’d be shocked that you just drove through those major humps and dips as well! It’s like watching an ant climb up and around half a ball.
The second stop is way deeper into the desert already. I can’t remember clearly but it must’ve been at least 20 minutes away from the last stop. In this one the driver let us stay a lot longer so we can “play” before the sun sets. Nothing extreme like sandboarding or biking, but more like running up the slipface of a sand dune and sitting on top, posing for photos. Haha!
By the time we left stop #2, the sun was quickly fusing with the horizon. Hurriedly we boarded our vans and drove towards the camp. This third stop isn’t as far as the first two thankfully, and by this time I guess I was beginning to get used to the way the car jerks me about. The return trip was nothing. (I’m starting to sound like an adrenaline junkie.)
AT THE CAMP
I had to capitalize on the very last of sunlight that was left when we arrived at the gates of the desert camp. I remember I had a tough time taking decent photos of the horizon and the camel.
The camel-ride is totally optional, and I didn’t bother with it though it was nice seeing a camel up close. It smelled not so nice but what did I expect? I was more excited for the camp though. It’s such a great immersive idea to be there, I think.
Inside the camp it feels kind of like a fair. There are long rows of dining tables set atop a long carpet with pillows for chairs. At the center of the camp is a stage. There are booths/huts for food and coffee (and booze), one for henna tattoos, plus an open area to smoke shisha (with juice!) to your heart’s content. Actually it feels like a fair and a mini-community at the same time.
Can you imagine what it might’ve been like in the old days, when the locals engaged in these sorts of activities in this kind of setting too? I’m always the sort who fills in the blanks with my imagination so sometimes I end up more enthusiastic than other people, which is always a good thing when traveling.
At this point I can’t help but feel like I’m stepping into one of those desert stories.
Ironically, we were warned about the food here in the desert camp. Apparently most people hailing from the Philippines were not too pleased with it, but I actually enjoyed it. Then again, I do like these types of cuisines.
The spread is more or less typical spice-filled Arabic food– falafel, samoas, beans, pita bread, salad greens with dressing. I think there were some grits there too if I remember correctly. The best were the barbecued lamb and fish. I think people tend to get a little overwhelmed by the scent and taste created by the mixture of spices, but that doesn’t really mean the food tastes bad. They also had macaroni for the kids I think, or for the adults looking for something familiar. The dessert was sort of like a fruit salad with bits of pie crust coated in condensed milk.
After dinner, we got to witness the highlight of the desert camp, involving two sets of dances performed by a man and woman. A beautiful Lebanese belly-dancer goes first, busting out some Shakira-esque moves that completely capture the attention of all the males in the camp. Haha! You can witness her dancing in the travel video below.
Yep, she totally did that.
Next up we have the Tanoura dance performed by our male dancer, and it involves him basically spinning around in a circle for about 15 minutes without stopping, all the while using his long colourful costume to tell a story. (Kind of like a whirling dervish, if you know that.) He keeps spinning and spinning and it is amazing how much control he has over his own dizziness. By the end of it though he stops and starts just spinning his skirt.
Now the cool thing about his costume is how it lights up! They switch off all the floodlights for maximum effect and it is quite a sight! I don’t care if it’s a touristy thing to say, but I loved the Desert Safari experience.
What a way to end the night!
I think the desert safari is probably one of the most authentic experiences Dubai can offer, so you must not miss it when you visit! Together with The Yellow Boat tour, this is also another of my favourite experiences from my trip to Dubai. Looks like I saved the best for last huh? I’m not entirely sure why my favourites involve the ones with semi-wild rides.
And while this may be my last post on Dubai, I do still have two posts left to share, this time of the Abu Dhabi leg of my trip to the UAE. Those will be up by next week so stay tuned! I hope you’ve enjoyed my Dubai series! 🙂
Here’s my travel video that pretty much sums up all the highlights of my Dubai trip. Check it out to know what to expect in my Dubai Travel Blog series! The part about the Desert Safari starts at the 3:50 mark.
Other posts in this series:
- Part 1: Exploring the city + Souks of Dubai
- Part 2: A bit of history + views around Jumeirah
- Part 3: Things to do inside the malls in Dubai
- Part 4: A night and half a day at Atlantis The Palm
- Part 5: The awesomest Yellow Boat Experience
- Part 7: Crossing over to Abu Dhabi
- Part 8: The grandest mosque I ever did see