A wild four wheel drive ride through red sand dunes, a Bedouin encampment in the desert, camel rides, belly dancing, feasting under a starry desert sky, hunting falcons, henna decoration on the hands and feet… all true?
Well yes, that’s pretty much what you get when you sign up for a Dubai Desert Safari – and for the average three and a half day visitor to Dubai, it’s about as authentic a slice of life in the sand, away from the light and towers of the big city, as you’re likely to get.
And it is fun!
So how do I go about getting it?
There are lots of ways. You can sign up for it all by yourself via the numerous websites offering the service. “Dubai Desert Safari” incidentally is the registered name of just one of the various companies offering the same (or a very similar) experience.
So, don’t confuse Dubai Desert Safari with Desert Safaris Dubai, or Dubai Desert Tours, or Arabian Adventures, and so on. If you think this is all starting to sound a bit “Life of Brian,” don’t worry – they’re all companies with long established track records.
The good thing about so many players in the field is that the competition keeps the prices on the consumers’ side.
So, having chosen your company, fill in the various fields on the website, providing details about yourself, any companions joining you, where you would like to be picked up from (usually your hotel is best), and you’ll be contacted very soon after.
Payment is usually in cash or credit card at time of pickup. Most of the sites recommend booking 48 hours in advance of the time you would like to have your safari.
Alternatively, your hotel can do it all for you! They’ll have a connection with one or two of the companies – just ask at the Hotel Concierge. You may even be able to have the cost of the safari added to hotel bill.
If you are staying privately with friends or family in Dubai, they’ll easily be able to arrange a desert safari for you. They may even have coupons from the Dubai Entertainer, an annually published book of discount coupons to restaurants, attractions, and services, that offer substantial discounts when a voucher is presented.
Desert safari vouchers from the Entertainer are usually of the “two for the price of one” kind.
And what exactly do I get?
As I said above, pickup from virtually anywhere in Dubai and transport (usually by minibus) to a transfer point (usually near Al Awir, not far from the E311 highway, if you want to locate it on or Google Maps), and return to your hotel after it’s all over.
At the transfer stop, you’ll change to a 4 wheel drive vehicle (almost certainly the redoubtable Toyota Landcruiser) and be driven onto the sand for about 30 minutes of up and down sand dunes, along the sides of dunes, and just about anything else you can think of to do with vehicles and sand dune driving.
It’s very safe: the drivers know what they are doing and what the cars are capable of, but for the uninitiated, it can be a bit hair-raising. It’s meant to be! Think of it as a long and thrilling rollercoaster ride; maybe not quite as scary, but one that lasts a lot longer.
For a little extra excitement, one of the vehicles might get stuck in the sand and your driver may have to pull it out. Small word of warning: if you suffer from motion sickness, let the driver know – and see if you can bag the front seat.
You’ll arrive at the “Bedouin” camp about an hour before sunset. You’ll likely need a bit of a leg-stretch after what you’ve just gone through. Climb to the top of a dune or two – you’ll be reassured to see that you’re not very far from “civilization” and see what else is in the camp compound: lots of little stalls selling stuff, hooded falcons on display, henna-painting, camels to ride, and photo-opportunities.
Be aware that most of these are “extras” – i.e. the camel ride may not be included in the safari cost. Professional photographers are on hand, ready to take your photograph on the camel, holding a falcon, dressed up in Bedouin clothing, and so on, but again, if you want the photo, you’re expected to pay for it – either printed on the spot or emailed to you.
After sunset (and it gets dark pretty quickly), the buffet meal will be served, accompanied by entertainment – the belly dancers, the singers, the Arabian oud players, and the last time I did a desert safari, a very spectacular whirling dervish, complete with LED lights sewn into his costume.
It is also possible to smoke sheesha (hubbly-bubbly).
It’s all over by around 8.30. You’ll say your goodbyes and be ferried back to the minibuses, which will in turn take you back to your chosen drop-off spot in Dubai.
So, is it worth it all?
From pick-up in Dubai until drop off, about five hours will elapse. The fee you are paying is really for the whole experience, not just the wild bits in the dunes.
I’d say it represents pretty good value for money, but don’t just take my word for it. Read what others who’ve gone before have said and published – 2300 plus reviews, of which 2000 are in the “excellent” and “very good” categories.
Of course there are always some folks that it just didn’t work for. Read a few of their reviews and comments as well to help you make up your mind.
And finally, is it safe?
Do you mean “have there been any horrific accidents?”
None that I am aware of in the desert, but some vehicles have had crashes on the roads.
Is it safe for single females to go out into the desert? You won’t be alone – there will always be up to a dozen other tourists in the minivan, and a Landcruiser holds 7 passengers, excluding the driver.
The economics of the venture mean that there will always be the passengers of at least 7 or 8 Landcruisers meeting up at the Bedouin camp – i.e. 50 to 60 or more other tourists.
And finally, what about kidnappers, bandits, or jihadis invading the camp by night and taking people hostage or worse? Such things have happened in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, but nothing even remotely like this in the UAE.