If I had to rank my Dubai activities from my favorite to least favorite, the Dubai Desert Safari would definitely be ranked #1! My desert safari driver informed me that the Abu Dhabi one is even better, but all in all, I was extremely happy with the Dubai one so no complaints over here! Having said that, I’m eager to share the joy – so read on if you want to understand how to go on a Desert Safari adventure, as well as what to expect when you do!
What can you expect from a nighttime Desert Safari adventure?
Wear the proper attire – taking into account the heat, the sand, and the picturesque landscape!
Bring a cap, tie up your hair, and slather on the sunblock coz man, it is hot! I know it’s called a Desert Safari, and I therefore should’ve expected it to be hot… but wow, it was hot! Didn’t help that I went during the summer month (although it was just starting at that point)
Wear slippers, NOT closed shoes. I was wearing flats (because I didn’t have any other shoes to my name), and it just kept getting filled with sand. At one point, I thought my pretty flats might have been disfigured for life – because my flats were so full of sand, it was bulging like crazy (and I could barely lift my foot, coz it was so damn heavy). In the end, I opted to just walk around barefoot on the (hot!) sand… the sacrifices we make for our pretty shoes…
Bring your trusty camera!! While sand sand sand might not sound very picturesque, you can take multiple shots from different angles – with the sun setting as the backdrop, with you as the main focal point, capturing the sand flying round and round… Also, the Desert Safari is more than just dune bashing (a form of off-roading on sand dunes), because when night time draws near, there’s still more festivities to come – such as belly dancing, sand boarding, and camel riding to name a few
Be prepared to get picked up by an ultra-luxurious Range Rover any time between 3:00-4:30PM
When booking, the service provider will ask you to indicate which hotel you’d want to be picked up from. The time you get picked up will depend on the location of your hotel – for example, I was staying along Sheikh Zayed Road, and I got picked up at ~3:45PM. Each Range Rover can fit up to seven people. However, the service providers typically match up to two groups in one car only. If you’re a group of 4 or more, then you’ll most likely have the whole car to yourself. As a solo traveler, I was slightly worried who I’d be paired up with. Luckily, I was paired up with another couple who were really easygoing – which meant we assembled relatively quickly after each stop, and most importantly, I GOT THE FRONT SEAT!
This is SUPER important. If you’re an adrenaline junkie like me, you should definitely definitely grab the front seat. How else will you see all the dips and turns before anyone else?!
Strap in for an hour long ride!
The first hour is actually pretty damn boring – as it literally takes 1 hour plus to bring you from the city center (aka your hotel) to the sand dunes-y desert. This one hour is, however, excellent for finishing up work, chatting with friends and co-workers via FB Messenger, or maybe finishing that long novel you never could find the time for (Note: the car stays with you for the entire duration of the trip, so you can lug around a lot of stuff and just leave it in the car, no problem! Having said that, do keep your valuables with you – just in case)
Also, in case you love drinking loads of water and going to the bathroom several times throughout the day – DON’T DRINK WATER BEFORE YOU EMBARK ON THIS ADVENTURE. The only bathroom in the entire trip is at the camp (~2.5 hours from when you leave the hotel)
Wonder why the driver stops the car and starts deflating the tires
You’ll start to notice the city skyline receding, and be replaced by nice dessert land. Your car is still on a highway though – so you figure, hmmm. Guess we’re not there yet! Suddenly, your driver stops the car on the curbside, and starts deflating your tires. Oh no, you wonder what’s happening – is something wrong with the tires? Nope, this is standard practice apparently.
Most modern 4×4 vehicle tires are narrow, to reduce friction during highway travel for improved fuel economy. BUT, narrow tires make cars sink deep in soft surfaces like snow and sand, resulting in lots of extra resistance which prevents your car from moving. By deflating the tires, the tire footprint increases and they won’t sink in as deep – resulting in less resistance therefore less chances of getting stuck!
Tada, Science lesson 101 – now you won’t worry and frantically start to googling what’s happening (like I did…)
Marvel at all the red sand dunes around you
Why are they red? Who knows? Just enjoy the beautiful scenery around you and ready your camera because…
It’s time for the first photo stop!
You’ll see a huge “parking lot” of similar looking cars, with lots of people milling around, climbing sand dunes, and snapping lots of pretty photos of themselves and the sand. Of course, this opportunity should be maximized to the fullest! My favorite photo from the bunch below – where an enthusiastic tourist directed me on how to pose to get nice photos! Joys of traveling alone indeed
Once all the cars of the travel agency you booked with has arrived (can take ~15-45 minutes depending on whether your driver was an early bird or not), you’ll hear cars start to honk – which is basically the signal to skedaddle back to your group. At this point, it’ll be VERY easy to get lost because all the cars pretty much look alike. So make sure you’ve asked for your driver’s name, and taken a photo of the car’s license plate before you scampered off for your photo shoot. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me – wandering around… lost… until the only car left was my car (thank goodness the couple I was with never voiced a single complaint!)
Fasten your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen, you’re in for a bumpy ride!
At last! It’s time for the grand adventure – dune bashing galore!!! Fasten your seat belt tight, hold on to loose objects, take a deep breath and go go go! At first, things start slow – you basically see a whole caravan of cars that all look similar to yours, following the same path on the sand – and you marvel at the logistics of things. This marvel gets cut short when you see your very first dune in front of you – what a whammy! The car accelerates, climbs to the top, and FALLS (as your companion in the back seat emits a terrified squeak). And because you’re a brave soul, you shoulder on even as you stare down at the sand your car’s about to careen straight towards.
In a death defying move, you (and the rest of the car) survives! And the battle for dominance continues, as your car careens sharply to the left, to the right, and bounces back down again. It’s exhilarating, it’s fun, it’s like an unpredictable roller coaster eager to take you out for the spin of your life!
Equally exciting, after you finish a particularly jaw dropping move, look back at the other cars who’re just about to do the same trick as you, and wonder how you survived that
Time for more photos…
To give you time to catch your breath, it’s pictures time again! And this time, you’ve got a lot more sand dunes to work with. But before all that, grab a cup of water from the truck (part of your tour package), remember your driver’s name / car license plate / car parking spot, then set off to find the ultimate photo spot!
I wandered up and down sand dunes (huffing and puffing all the way up, and kind of just skidding my way down), and took lots of random (but pretty photos!)
Afterwards, it’s time to go off again – don’t forget to fasten your seatbelts! This time, the dune bashing was slightly tamer, or maybe I just got used to it. After ~15 more minutes dune bashing, back to the highway we go – it’s now time to head to the camp
Experience camel riding and sand skiing outside the encampment (as you won’t be able to do these once the sun sets)
BEDOUIN CAMP TIME – basically sounded like bathroom time to me!!! At last, my bladder could finally be relieved… The good news, the bathroom’s really clean, phew! Once that was done – our driver informed us which table would be ours, and then he left us so we could explore on our own.
I’d advise you to start with the camel riding first, as a queue tends to start forming there! Try to be the first in line, so you can get nice photos with the camel, ride them, then leave for sandboarding!
The goal is to go the back of the encampment once the sun starts to set. That way, you can take nice shots with the sand, with the sun setting in the background. At the same, you can try your hand at sandboarding (which I totally sucked at)
Head back to the encampment for a chance to dress up in the local attire, smoke up with a shisha, and get your very own henna tattoo!
Never ever go for the activity that has the longest queue – check out the other attractions first – don’t worry, you’ve got time! First, check out the booth where you can dress up in the local attire (this booth is usually quite empty), so you can fool around there first. The clothing is quite simple really, but it’s hot!
Next up, check out the shisha station. I honestly don’t see the appeal of shisha, but I tried a few puffs before I got bored!
Lastly, I got my henna tattoo done. The free version is pretty small, but quite nice. If you want additional tattoos (e.g. to encompass your whole hand), you’ll have to pay extra (up to you how much you want to tip). For me, the free version more than sufficed – don’t let anything smudge the “painting” for 30 mins, until it dries. After ~1 hour, you can rub it off with tissue paper, and it would have left a nice brownish orange mark on your hand! Soo pretty. This will last for ~4-5 days!
Chow time – but don’t expect gourmet food
Seat yourself on a table (your driver would’ve informed you which table number belongs to your group). It’s now time for a buffet dinner with unlimited drinks, coffee, and tea (all of which are included in the package). I’ll be honest though, it’s nothing to write home about (for me!) Traditional food was served, which meant lots of roots, beets, and vegetables (huhu!) The saving grace for me was the shawarma station (woo, get BOTH the beef and chicken! I ended up going back for another beef shawarma – yum yum!)
Lastly, you’ve got dessert! They served fruits, plus gulab jamon UAE version! Gulab jamon is my absolute favorite specialty from Pakistan – so I was really happy to see it here
Enjoy the scintillating traditional tannora dance and a belly dancing show
After dinner, you’ll get the chance to watch the traditional tannora dance – where a man comes out wearing this ornate costume, then starts spinning around in a circle. Incredible, it’s a wonder he didn’t get dizzy… He was also doing these funky bits with the circular rattan he was holding – but my favorite part was when he started shedding off his skirts, and started GLOWING!!
Next up, we had a beautiful belly dancer come up on stage and her belly started shaking. Nothing special to her performance, but I guess it’s because belly dancing is a lot more commonplace – especially when compared to the tannora dance!
Lights off – it’s finally time to go star gazing!
Time to head home yet? Almost! But first, lights out – recline backwards, and watch the night sky start twinkling with stars. What a soothing way to end the day (you should also use this time to go to the bathroom, to prepare for the ~1 hour+ journey back to central Dubai)
Adventure done, head back to your car for a slow and steady ride back to your hotel
All good things must come to an end sadly… Once the lights turn on, hustle back to your car – so that your vehicle can be the first to leave, allowing you and your companions to avoid the pile up!
Now the big question, how do I book my very own Desert Safari Adventure?
My friend recommended that I book via Viator and I certainly don’t regret it. So here I am, encouraging you to do the same! Bookings can range from USD 46 – 60+, depending on when you go. As I booked mine for the week right before Ramadan – I got mine for USD 46 – which is an AWESOME deal!
The travel supplier Viator used was Events Lab L.L.C., contact info: +97144421155. Perhaps try calling them up? Might be cheaper if you book direct, who knows?
Now why you might wonder – what’s wrong with going during Ramadan time, why is it so cheap? Hmm, nothing much. Most tourist just don’t go to UAE during Ramadan time, as there are a lot more restrictions (no alcohol, local restaurants don’t serve food during the day, etc etc) – that’s why most attractions are discounted. Having said that, I don’t think it should stop you (and think of all the $$$ you save!)
What are you waiting for? Go book now, and tell me all about your adventure!!
For other Dubai-related posts (including day trips)
The other highlights of my Dubai trip were as follows:
- Abu Dhabi side trip: Sheikh Zayed Mosque was just AMAZING
- Yellow Boat tour: A chance to see Dubai from another perspective
- Deira (Old Town): Reacquainting myself with the history of Dubai
For first time travelers to Dubai, you may have questions regarding visas, how to get around the country, where to stay, and so on. If so, you might be interested in reading my logistics and travel guide to Dubai blog