When in the United Arab Emirates, a desert safari is something that must be experienced. We did it when we visited Dubai for the first time in 2006 and it was a blast. On this trip, we wanted our children to experience it too. As we were based mainly in Abu Dhabi, we decided to go on the desert safari from there.
What to expect on a desert safari
Our field marshal, Shafiq from Emirates Tours, picked us up from the Royal Rose Hotel at 3 pm. After picking another couple up, we left the bustle of the city and headed for the desert dunes about 45 minutes away. Once we got there, Shafiq stopped to deflate the tyres on the four-wheel drive vehicle and we began bouncing on the sandy desert roads. We joined other vehicles from Emirates Tours, and experienced the desert ambience for a while until everyone was ready. There is something timeless and bewitching about the desert landscape that harkens back to the time when most Emiratis lived in the desert, and I could fully comprehend why so many locals return to it at almost every opportunity they get.
Once everyone was in position, we set off to do some adrenaline-fuelled dune-bashing in a convoy of about 40 cars. The skilled drivers navigated the challenging dunes expertly. Bouncing and bumping on the steep, rolling dunes and through small sand valleys kept us entertained and in stitches. It was like an extended roller coaster ride. Having experienced it before, I knew what to expect but I kept looking at my children to see their reactions and I was gratified to see the permanent smiles on their faces. Now and then, we passed camels who stared at us with big, curious eyes.
We stopped at a camel farm to take some photos then headed for the Bedouin-style camp where a host of activities awaited us.
Sand-boarding, quad-biking and camel-riding were among the most popular things to do. Then there were henna artists, a shisha smoking area, and a dress-up area where one could wear traditional Arab outfits and take photos. Tea, coffee and soft drinks were available on tap as we enjoyed the numerous activities. My kids had loads of fun skiing down the sand dunes on boards, while we watched the orange sun drop below the horizon, surrounded by endless rippling sands.
Then it was time for dinner. The camp was set up majlis-style with pillows and low benches laid out on Arab rugs on the sand, for hundreds of people. Everyone sat with their groups. Dinner was a huge buffet with traditional dishes consisting of shish tawook, chicken biryani, grilled chicken and vegetables and some Western dishes like pasta and fries as well. Everything was delicious and we all went back for seconds. For dessert, we had Umm Ali, a traditional Arab dessert similar to bread pudding but sprinkled with coconut, pistachios and other nuts.
Dinner was followed by entertainment. A belly dancer came on stage. She did a few dances then asked guests to join her on stage. Many did, including the very old and the very young. Everyone was having fun. Then came a Tanoura dance, a folkloric dance where the male dancer wears a multi-coloured skirt and spins continuously like the whirling dervishes of Turkey, to haunting tunes. He did this for a prolonged period, then his multi-layered skirt lit up, prompting oohs and aahs from the fascinated crowd. It was the first time we had seen something like that and we were mesmerised.
After the performances, the lights were switched off for a while so that we could experience the magical desert atmosphere by moon and star light. We returned to our hotel after an unforgettable evening in the Abu Dhabi desert , which everyone loved – kids and adults alike.
Our desert safari was arranged by dnata travel. Dnata is the leading travel management company in the Middle East. They offer a comprehensive range of products and services, covering every aspect of the travel industry. Contact dnata travel to arrange your UAE itinerary.
See some videos of the Tanoura dance here:
Read more about our experiences in Abu Dhabi here.