When visiting Dubai for the first time, you NEED to do a desert safari. Why? Because it is the most fun way to experience the desert, and you can get a taste of local food and – although highly touristified, the local Bedouin culture.
My husband and I hadn’t gone to a desert safari yet. We were overall more interested in the different brunches the city had to offer. But when our friends came for a visit, we decided it might be a nice idea to do one of these safari’s.
We actually had no idea what to expect when the car picked us up to start our adventure, but all in all it was a pretty awesome experience!
I have put together some great tips and tricks on booking and experiencing desert safari’s and on how to get the most out of your day in the desert.
A desert safari is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the UAE. You drive through the dunes on a 4×4 (It is a thrilling and bumpy ride) and ultimately enjoy a dance show with bbq and local food. We also were offered a camel ride, sand boarding, sheesha, henna and could dress up in traditional dress.
It honestly is a really great day out and my husband and I were sad we had not done it before.
There will be a lot of tour operators and hotels that offer you desert safari’s. You might want to hold out though as these packages can be quite expensive ($100) while you can find the same experiences and packages for half the price or less online.
Booking a desert safari is not that difficult. Just type ‘desert safari’ in Google and you will find a very wide variety of different desert safaris. But what’s the difference between them? And how do you know you got yourself a great deal?
When you want to book a desert safari online, there are multiple websites for you to choose from. You can have a look on Groupon, Viator or even websites of local tour operators.
When our friends were here, I did some in depth research to find a good desert safari at a great price. When you read the fine print and what is included you will find that, actually, most of these desert safari packages will offer the same things. Dune bashing, camel rides, sandboarding, a bbq, henna… the only thing that seems to differ massively was the price.
Most desert safaris were between $50 and $80 per person. That is a lot of money for a mere 5 hours of fun – especially when you will be sitting in the car for at least 2 hours (1 hour to the camp and 1 back).
Booking a desert safari through Groupon
Desert safaris on Groupon can be dirt cheap. In fact, they might be the cheapest I have seen so far. But when inspecting the Groupon desert safaris up close I noticed that a lot of things were actually not included. Most Groupon deals would offer 10 minutes of dune bashing (which is crazy fun) and a bbq with a dance show. In all honesty: by booking a Groupon desert safari you would be missing out on all the fun.
We decided to book our desert safari through Viator. There was a massive choice of desert safaris and we ultimately went for a cheap one ( $39 per person ) with good reviews. It really pays off to do some research on the website as we met a Dutch family that paid $20 more for the exact same experience!
Finding a good deal on a desert safari is not that hard. You just have to research far and wide. Almost all desert safari’s offer the same package. The dune bashing, the camel photo opportunity, the sandboarding, the shows… It actually is all the same.
The only thing that might differ is the quality of the camp and the quality of the food. But as we chose a cheap desert safari ($39) we experienced “cheap” and can honestly say that it was very adequate, that the food was great ( LOVED the Biryani and the curries) and that the dance shows were really good.
Another thing to keep in mind when booking a desert safari is that, no matter how expensive you want to make your standard package, your experience ends at the same time as the one people paid less for. I will talk about the end of the experience further down the article – because it was very weird, but I noticed that when our camp left, people from the other camps were also getting into their cars.
In other words: although paying more might give you a bit of a nicer camp, in the end you will have had the same experience and the same itinerary as anybody else. Probably even the same kind of food give or take a dish or two.
Like I explained before, Viator is actually a great place to start your search for a cheap desert safari. When you only want 10 minutes of dune bashing and a short bbq with some shows you will be okay on Groupon, but I would recommend everyone to buy the full experience.
Do some research and read what is included. You yourself will notice that actually, although the price might be very different, a lot of these listings use the same wording, the same expressions, even the same layout to describe their services. This makes me believe that there is a massive difference in the price people paid even though they end up with the same operator and in the same camp.
There are two different desert safaris offered throughout Dubai and the UAE: a morning desert safari and an evening desert safari. We chose to go for an evening desert safari as the reviews for the evening desert safaris were overall better than the ones for the morning desert safari.
One of the reasons for this is that morning desert safaris are overall shorter and do not include a bbq or a dance show. You might get the idea that these desert safaris are overall cheaper – but do not be misled. They are not. Most of the morning desert safaris are still $45 (we paid $39 for our evening one with food and shows and whatnot) so you will still be overpaying while getting much less in return.
I would almost always opt in for an evening desert safari just so you can get the full experience. The desert is beautiful at sundown and you will get great photo opportunities to take pictures of the desert sunset.
As I said before: my husband and our friends booked a desert safari through Viator. For us it was cheap and it did not seem too different from all the other desert safari packages. In fact – it looked like it was 100% the same experience.
Our pick up was scheduled between 3 and 3:30. This is because a lot of camps are by the Omani or Saudi border and that is about a 1-hour drive. We got a call while still being in the Dubai Mall. Our car was going to be half an hour early so we had to be home by 2:30. That gave us about 45 minutes to get home.
As we live in Al Nahda 2, I was in an understandable panic! Especially since my husband and his friends were still in the aquarium.
We rushed home and 10 minutes after we arrived, I got a call from the driver of our car. He was waiting downstairs.
A man in kandura was waiting fur us by a Toyota 4×4. He was friendly although not very talkative. We drove through Sharjah and took a route out to Al Madam. We were the first group to arrive at the little meeting point and had to wait quite some time before moving on to the dune bashing.
We were dropped off at the Al Madam meeting point. This meeting point is nothing more than 2 tourist shops, some little stalls where you can buy refreshments and a station where you can hire quads.
There is a lot of hustle and bustle at the meeting point. People walk around with falcons for you to take pictures (haggle on the price to take a picture) or will try and lure you into one of the tourist shops.
Although the quad bikes looked like great fun, we did not opt to hire one. They were expensive. It was about 250 AED ($70 or £50) to ride one for a mere 20 minutes. That is a bit too expensive for my taste, especially when I know that in other countries, quad bikes can be rented for a much lower price. I am talking about $15 for an hour of quad fun. If you want to splash out on a quad adventure, you might want to take a quad tour through the desert. Although expensive you might find them better value and much more fun than just driving around in a predefined and fenced off part of the desert.
There were quite a few people on the quad bikes but from what I experienced – and from what I know of sales techniques in this area, I suspected that a number of people riding the bikes were people from the quad rental point. It is always easier to sell something when you see other people doing/using it.
There were a number of refreshment stalls. When we did our desert safari, it had been raining intermittently all day. We weren’t really up for ice cream or fresh juices because of the weather, but I can imagine they are a welcome sight for people arriving in temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius and up.
You will be able to buy water, juice, crisps, ice cream and even coconuts at the stalls. I do not know if haggling works here, but I would definitely give it a try as prices will undoubtedly be high as most of the people taking the desert safari are white tourists.
From the meet up point in Al Madam you will have a nice first view on the desert. There are people walking around in kandoras with falcons for you to take pictures with. This might be an interesting picture and would undoubtedly look good on your Instagram.
However, it might be a good idea to check if your desert safari show has a falcon demonstration included. Sometimes people with falcons walk around in the desert camp as well for you to take pictures with. It is up to you whether you want to take a picture here or in the camp. But when you decide to take a picture at the Al Madam meetup point, you might want to haggle on the price. I would not pay more than 15 AED for a picture.
When we arrived, we noticed two camels at the entrance of the Al Madam meeting point. These animals were sitting lazily on the grass and looked very friendly. You can take pictures for free with the camels but please do not try and sit on them as they have no saddle. You might hurt the animal or yourself when trying to do so.
At the AL Madam meeting point you will be able to find two tourist shops. They are filled with the usual tat, not different from the things you can find at the souks. You will be able to buy mugs, traditional clothes, coffee sets etc.
People will try to lure you inside and sellers can be quite pushy, but that has been my overall experience with tourist areas and shops in Dubai – and almost everywhere in the Middle East. These shops also sell crisps (chips) drinks and cigarettes. If you want/need cigarettes I would buy them in the city before you leave. You will probably pay double the price for a pack in these shops.
I would honestly NOT buy anything in these shops as you probably will get a lot better deal and have more haggling power in the souks. As there are only 2 shops in the are here you cannot really play them off against each other. They are also probably owned by the same person or family and they offer the same (kind of) tourist tat.
I would honestly buy my souvenirs in the Souks (you can shop around and use other prices to haggle from or to) or in the 1 to 10-dirham centre. This is a cheap shop (like a dollar store or a poundshop) in Deira that also offers some souvenirs and even T-shirts.
The toilets at Al Madam meeting point are absolutely gross. I would make sure to empty my blather (or anything else) before getting into the car.
It is a 1 to 2-hour trip to the camp site and the meeting point so make sure you have gone to the toilet even when you do not feel you need to go. The toilets are some of the worst I have seen in Dubai so far, and you do not want to start dune bashing with a full bladder.
One of the highlights of the desert safari for me was the dune bashing. During the dune bashing you drive up and down sand dunes at high speed. It is a very bumpy ride!
I loved the dune bashing as you can enjoy breath-taking views of de desert landscape. Although dune bashing might not be the best idea for elderly people, people with a bad back or people with a heart disease, it is an amazing experience.
I myself am someone who is always scared in theme parks. I would piss in my pants in a fast rollercoaster and I had to push myself in wild wadi waterpark. But I loved the dune bashing. Yes, it was a little bit scary at times, but the driver was obviously very experienced and knew his vehicle very well.
I would go on a desert safari again for the dune bashing alone. It was great!
The dune bashing took about 45 minutes after which we stopped at a high dune to take some pictures.
After the dune bashing, we stopped off at a high dune for a 10 min picture moment. We had a nice view on the desert and some mountains in the distance. We took some nice group pictures.
I had hoped there would be more photo opportunities – it is hard to take pictures while dune bashing, I was very happy with the pictures we ultimately took.
All the base camps lie more or less in the same place. Look up Orient Tours Desert Safari Meeting Point on Google Maps and you will see all the little camps on the satellite view. When inspecting the camps, you will notice they are all more or less the same.
The base camp was another 15 minute drive from the dune bashing. By that point we had travelled from Al Madam (Sharjah) to Al Awir (Sharjah).
When we arrived at the base camp we noticed there were a lot of other base camps in the area. I think all in all there were about 60 to 80 people in our camp.
A camel ride at a desert safari is no half hour long camel track but rather a five-minute hobble from one side of the dune to the other.
The camels are extremely friendly and you can see that they are cared for well. The handler constantly talks to his animals and you can see that he has a bond with his camels. It was lovely to see.
There were three camels so 6 people at a time would be able to take a ride. There was one group of people in front of us but we only had to wait a few minutes. I loved the camel ride. I used to do horseback riding and although the principles are more or less the same, it feels very different.
Sitting on a camel feels less stable than sitting on a horse and when sitting at the back you can expect a little heart attack when the camel unfolds its legs to stand. But trust me: you will not fall off.
It was brief but fun and I would definitely do it again.
The desert camp itself was not very different from the way I pictured it. It was one big square in the sand with little buildings on all sides. There was a little henna station where a lady would draw beautiful designs, on the left of the entrance you could smoke apple shisha and on all sides there was seating area.
In the middle of the square you would find a concrete stage where the dance acts would perform and countless little seats and tables around the stage.
A little tent was set up for tourists to take pictures in the traditional dress and there was even a souvenir shop and a man making little drawings out of sand in flasks.
I don’t think it could have been more comfortable or any better and when looking at the other camps I noticed that they were more or less the same. Some were a bit bigger, some had a different stage, but most of them are very similar.
Included in the price of the desert safari was a BBQ dinner. There was a buffet with salad, pasta salad, noodles and various types of curry and biryani after which you could pick up some meat from the bbq station.
I was honestly impressed by the quality of the food. I loved the biryani and the curries were also very nice. I had expected the food to be a lot worse for the price we paid! I obviously do not know how the food is at other camps, but ours was actually very nice.
There were two deserts of which one was Om Ali (which was very nice) and the other Luqaimat which I do not like anyway.
My friends and my husband were impressed by the variety and the quality of the food as well. The driver told us that the company had hired a different caterer as there had been complaints by customers in the past. It seemed that this was a good thing as the food was nice and the atmosphere was amazing.
Soft drinks were included in the price. You could buy alcohol on the spot, but knowing Dubai this would not be cheap.
During the dinner you could enjoy a nice safari show. First up there was belly dancing. The dancer was very skilled. She interacted nicely with the public and I loved the little show she gave. Next up was the Tanura dance which was very interesting and spectacular. I loved the moment the lights around us went out and the little led lights on his skirt and clothing went on. Absolutely spectacular!
The fire show was great as well. It was the same man as the one doing the Tanura dance. He juggled with sticks on fire and did some spectacular fire breathing.
The weirdest part of the day was the end. Literally. I thought we would have another 20 minutes after food and show to walk around, get some henna done or take a few pics with traditional clothes. But at the end of the show a voice told us that our drivers were waiting and that they hoped we enjoyed the show. We were led back to the cars and driven home. It was about 8pm.
My friends and I had an amazing time at the desert safari. The $39 package was such a good find that I think it would be hard to find something which is as good value for money.
For me the highlights were the beautiful desert vistas and the dune bashing. I loved the bbq and just the overall nice and chill atmosphere.
I have not really done any touristy stuff in Dubai, and it was nice to be a tourist in my own city! I can highly recommend the tour we took both for the great price, the amazing experience and the nice driver we had.