My cousin once referred to Dubai as the Las Vegas of the Middle East, and as soon as I got there I knew exactly what she meant by that. Between skydiving, eating at fancy restaurants, shopping at the world’s largest mall or visiting the world’s largest flower garden, Dubai, like Vegas, has tons of “funtivities.” (That’s short for “fun activities” and it is a completely invented word by my friends in case you were wondering.)
My friend/generous host in Dubai planned a whole week of incredible funtivities for me and my cousin, but the one I was looking forward to most was the desert safari.
On the safari we would take an intense dune-bashing drive through the desert and stop at a campsite where we would ride camels and ATV’s, go sand boarding, get henna tattoos and eat a traditional Emirati meal while watching a belly dancing show. With all that planned for one day you can see why I was excited, right?
On the day of the tour, my cousin and I picked out our perfect desert safari outfits and headed out on our adventure with a trusted guide. Don’t ask me what the exact criteria was for those perfect outfits, though. We just wanted to be cute and comfortable for the mini photo shoot we knew we would have that day.
We were in the desert from early afternoon until late into the night, and as I expected, the desert safari became one of my favorite funtivities in Dubai. For anyone headed to the United Arab Emirates, I would obviously recommend my favorite funtivity, but there are definitely a few things you should keep in mind before signing up and heading out on your adventure.
Here’s what to expect on a desert safari in Dubai:
There will be people from several different companies at the same campsite.
The number of people at the campsite gets to about 200, and they all come in with different guides that represent several companies. That little fact won’t affect your experience on the safari, but it will affect how much you pay. Everyone at the campsite is enjoying the same food and entertainment, but they didn’t all pay the same price. Moral of the story: make sure you shop around and negotiate a bit to get the best price.
Bring some spending money with you to the campsite.
Since I knew that my meal and all the activities I wanted to do were included in the price of the desert safari, I wasn’t carrying much money with me that day. When I saw all the cute clothes, shoes, and souvenirs they were selling at the campsite, I regretted not having more cash.
You can ride 4-wheel ATV’s at the campsite but only on a small closed course, and you have to pay a little extra to do it.
Riding the ATV’s is actually the one activity at the campsite that isn’t included in the price of the desert safari. Since I didn’t care to ride on the ATV’s, I didn’t pay the extra fee. When I got to the campsite and saw the closed course where they would be driving, I was happy with my decision. I’m sure riding the ATV’s was fun for those who did it, but if you go to the desert safari hoping to go on a crazy ride up and down the sand dunes making sharp turns and going as fast as you want, you will be disappointed. Riding ATV’s like that is actually pretty dangerous, especially in the desert, so I don’t blame the companies for making everyone stick to a small, flat course, but it’s something to keep in mind if the ATV ride is what you’re looking forward to most.
The dune-bashing ride will give you all the thrills you need.
I didn’t ride on the ATV’s, but I definitely got my thrills with the dune-bashing drive that got us to the campsite. Dune-bashing is basically just driving around the desert, going up and down the sand dunes, but you do it in literally the craziest way possible. The ride feels like a roller coaster both in the excitement and in that fun little fear of “Oh my god is this thing gonna kill me?” The ride in the SUV is taken care of by the guide, though, so you don’t really have anything to worry about. Just leave it to the pros.
The camel ride is short…very short.
I stood in line waiting to get on one of the camels, and when I finally did, the ride lasted about two minutes. We walked in one big circle, and before I knew it the ride was over. I think I spent more time waiting than actually riding the camel. Would I have liked a longer camel ride? Yes. But did it satisfy my curiosity enough? Yes. I only bring it up because if you’re hoping to go on an epic journey through the desert on a camel, that is not what you’ll be getting at the desert safari. There are different tours that do offer that though.
You’re on your own for sand boarding.
Although I was a danger to everyone on the slopes that one day I tried snowboarding years ago, I was really excited to give sand boarding a try. At the campsite, I didn’t see anyone around helping out with the sand boarding so I asked one of the guides where to go. He told me to just grab a board, walk up the sand dune and try it…. It was an EPIC fail.
Since I didn’t want my impending failure to leave me rolling all the way down the sand dune, I didn’t walk too far up. I just didn’t want to be on a really steep slope. Turns out that was my mistake. Sand doesn’t work like snow. It’s not as slippery so you need to be high up and on a steep slope for gravity to push you down. Since I didn’t know this and had no one to tell me, I was left halfway up the slope trying really hard and really awkwardly to force myself down the slope.
I barely moved and just gave up after a while. It wasn’t until way later that I found out how I should have done it from some preteens who were braver than me and went to the top of the sand dune. A little guidance before that would’ve been nice, but at least now you know not to make the same mistake as me whether it’s in Dubai or some other desert.
A desert sunset is stunningly gorgeous.
There is something incredibly calming and beautiful about watching the sun set over the desert. Even though I was surrounded by tons of other people, I was at peace watching the sun light up the sky with strokes of purple and pink until it disappeared behind the sand dunes in the distance. Zoning out in my mind and just staring at the nothingness of the desert was a beautiful change in comparison to the manmade city we left behind. The sunset was definitely one of the highlights of my day.
The desert gets really cold at night.
Remember those perfect desert safari outfits my cousin and I picked out? Well, turns out they weren’t so perfect. I was wearing a short sleeve shirt, which was perfectly fine during the day, but as soon as that incredible sunset was over, I was freezing. The desert heat only lasts as long as the sun is up so make sure you’re prepared by bringing a light jacket or sweater with you.
Getting dinner is a slightly chaotic experience.
When dinner is finally served about halfway through the night, the guides try to get people to go up in small groups to get their food, but it doesn’t particularly work. The tourists in Dubai come from a wide variety of countries with an even wider variety of… ummm I’ll call them “theories” on how a line should work. It can be slightly frustrating, but be patient with the little bits of chaos, and it will pay off. The food is delicious, and the belly dancing show that comes afterwards is highly entertaining.
Keep these few things in mind when you head out on your adventurous day in the desert, and I can almost guarantee that the desert safari will become one of your favorite funtivities in Dubai too.