Crashing over dunes and whipping up red sand, watching the sunset as a falcon displayed its hunting prowess, whizzing down the desert mounds on a sand board. This is just some of what we experienced on our day out on a Dubai desert safari, which I will tell you all about in this post.
Welcome to my first Post on what we got up to in Dubai! There will be others as we got up to so much different stuff, I want to split it up for you so I can do all the places we visited justice. So, starting with my favourite activity we did, lets kick off!
Choosing a desert safari
For Craig’s birthday, he wanted to do a desert safari. What does that entail, you ask?
Well, we looked into it and there seemed to be a variety of options available with loads of different tour operators. Prices seemed to range from around £30 to over £100 per person. All of them appeared to include some ‘dune bashing’ aka driving up and down dunes really fast in a large 4×4, and some kind of BBQ in the desert at whichever company’s desert camp. However, there are lots of different shows, some tours have them some don’t, shisha, quad biking, camel riding, sandboarding, alcohol included or not, all sorts. This post will give a little review of our experience with Orient Tours.
We spent a while checking out lots of different packages on Viator, and opted to go with a mid-priced option of £55 per person for a trip which began mid afternoon, took us out to the desert in the Jeep, had half an hour of dune bashing and included camel riding and sand boarding.
Going out to the desert
We emailed our tour operator, Orient Tours, to ask for pick up at our hotel, which was confirmed on Whatsapp the day before the tour. Jaffa, our guide, picked us up a few minutes early and we headed to another hotel to get another 3 people after. Each Jeep had space for 6 passengers, although we were just 5 in ours.
It was an hour drive out to the desert and Jaffa pointed a few sites of interest, such as the global village and cricket stadium out to us. Had no idea that cricket was popular in Dubai but apparently it is. When we got there, we met up with the other Jeeps to be on the tour, 21 in total.
We had a few minutes for photos while the guides let some air out of the tyres – this increases the grip and allows them to drive around on the dunes without slipping everywhere.
To our delight, it turned out Jaffa was the tour leader, which meant that our Jeep lead the pack for the whole thing, which was awesome. We flew over dune edges, span around, all sorts, which was such good fun even if it did feel like we might roll the Jeep and die, he seemed to know what he was doing – he has been doing it for 21 years and they have to retake their dune driving licence really often so it seems fairly safe.
We had two stops along the way, one for photos, which was great, there is so much space it was pretty easy to get good photos with no one else in even though there were 100 odd people on the tour. The other was at a camel farm. Now I was super excited to see camels in the desert, having never seen them outside a zoo before, but this stop wasn’t quite the romantic illusion I had in mind of a Camel wandering along in front of the sunset.
Nope, they were crammed in to tiny metal fenced cages with not much space to move around. Their front legs were also tied with rope so they couldn’t run off, which isn’t very nice to see. On the plus side though they didn’t have any rings of metal etc through their noses as I have seen on a few travel YouTube things, but still not great. I felt very sorry for the camels and just took one photo to show you here.
We got back in the Jeep and headed for the camp. At this point I really regretted the can of Fanta I drank on the journey, it is way more sugary than UK Fanta (sugar tax life) and it definitely contributed to the sickness feeling I had from the dune bashing. I am not massively prone to car sickness but between that and the slight hangover I was not feeling my best. Fortunately, it wore off as soon as we got out, but be warned, if you are someone who gets travel sick, take precautions.
We arrived at camp just as the sun was sinking low in the sky, to watch the Falconry demonstration. I love birds of prey shows, think they are very impressive animals, and having been to loads in my life I didn’t learn anything new, but the little peregrine falcon, Ghost, was pretty cool to watch nonetheless. You could have a photo holding him, but it was pricey as it was part of a package, which I will come to later.
After this we were able to enter the camp area, which was a large square area with various tents and stalls and lost of seating areas covered in rugs and cushions. We queued for a little bit to do the camel ride. It was a bit lame, it was only in a short circle in groups of 3 camels, 2 riders per camel. As I said I did feel very sorry for the camels, they clearly were not treated the best, but I have always wanted to ride one – blame The Mummy – so I did give it a go, sorry camel. They are very high up and not very comfortable, but my curiosity has now been satisfied.
After that we went straight to the sandboarding down a dune into the camp. If you think carrying a snowboard up a hill when the lifts are off in a ski resort is hard work, try doing it in 40 degree heat on sand. If you have never done either of those things, what I am saying is it is bloody hard work.
We took it in turns to film the other person from the GoPro. Impressively both of us made it down the dune without falling (unlike most of the people who attempted) before both having to fall over to stop so as not to run straight into the guides at the bottom. Minor embarrassment for me that my snowboarding style stop just turned into me falling on my butt, but Craig’s fall was far more a case of eating dust so I will take it ha.
After this we of course headed to the bar tent to grab some beers for a very reasonable 30 AED – approx. £6 – which is cheap for Dubai, especially considering the captive audience. They did try and flog us the professional photos they had been taking with the promise of more throughout the evening, some of ours were pretty nice from the dunes, but you couldn’t pick just one you had to pay the whole 125 AED package for all of them, which is kind of pricey when you have your own photos already in our opinion.
We headed to the Shisha tent as the sun dropped below the horizon and soaked up the atmosphere of the Arabian desert with some mint shisha and dates, local coffee, which almost had a spicy flavour to it and was delicious. I am terrible at shisha (I have the lung capacity of a 2-year-old despite being a former classically trained singer) so Craig had a good laugh at my expense whilst I tried and failed to noticeably improve.
There was a sword dance put on and a fire dancing show, which we observed from afar whilst most people sat around the stage. There was also a small souk selling touristy ‘traditional goods’ and vials of sand with camels and sunsets painted on them, as well as the option to get henna tattoos. I must admit, it was a pretty cool setting watching all this out in the Dubai desert.
After the entertainment came the BBQ. It was a pretty good mix and there was plenty of options for vegetarians – the lentil curry was delicious, but so was the tandoori chicken. Great salad selection and there were soft drinks available all for free. There was also a selection of fresh fruit and Arabic sweets for dessert. The sweets were all either like mini donut tasting things, or nutty pastries. They were all very tasty and the fruit was delightful.
For the last part of the evening, we all gathered around the stage to watch a belly dancing performance, which was cool, before heading back to our Jeeps to be taken back into the City.
Driving through the desert at night was pretty cool, although the tyres had been reinflated ready for the journey back so the jeeps were sliding around a lot which was a little disconcerting. We even saw one or two that had got stuck in the sand and were having to get themselves out .
Jaffa told us that some do not reinflate their tyres until they get back on the road, and the cheaper tours use buses to take people out to the edge of the desert rather than the jeeps themselves. We were told they don’t go as hard on the dunes either…
The journey back was pretty quick, and Jaffa told us all about the physics behind dune bashing, which was pretty interesting.
The desert safari tour was absolutely fantastic, really unforgettable day, which is good since it was my birthday present to Craig and how he spent his last day of his twenties! It was a great combination of adrenaline and chill time, with great food and a fantastic guide who really looked after us. It was so awesome to hang out in the desert all evening and it was nice that you were free to do whichever activities you wanted when we got to the camp.
If you fancy a tour, and frankly I don’t know why you wouldn’t if you are heading out to Dubai as it is the perfect way to get out of the city and see another side to the UAE, then you should definitely look up Orient Tours. The other operators may be just as good, but this one was definitely a good one and I would recommend it to anyone.