As funny as it sounds, sometimes I forget I live in the desert. I am surrounded by concrete buildings and faux rivers. The reminder of my geographical location comes when I either drive to Dubai or other Emirates. Another reminder is a set of activities that is commonly called, “desert safari”. You know the pictures that everyone posts on Instagram of them riding camels in Dubai? Most likely, they were on a desert safari. These safaris are a must when traveling to the United Arab Emirates. I have had the pleasure of going on two desert safaris with two companies at different times of the day. Here I will compare the two experiences so if you come to the United Arab Emirates you can choose which experience you’d like to emulate.
The first safari I went on was when my cousin visited. We purchased a Groupon and were told to meet outside of Madinet Zayed (a mall/flea market) in Abu Dhabi. We left from Abu Dhabi around 3 p.m. and drove two hours to a location in the desert via a 40 passenger bus. When we arrived at the location all of us were separated into smaller groups and went “dune bashing” as we drove to our base camp that was further in the desert. Dune bashing is when you get in a car with an experienced driver and they take you on a ride up the sand dunes in a desert. Once we arrived at the base camp we were told we have until sundown to complete all the activities we liked until the belly dance presentation and dinner. Our options included camel riding, henna, smoking shisha, ATV riding (at an additional cost), holding a falcon, sand surfing and of course just relaxing in the desert sun. There were many groups at the base camp so my cousin and I stood in long lines waiting to participate. After about an hour of walking around, dinner was served and the belly show presentation began. This safari held about 250-300 people.
The second time I went on a desert safari, I was accompanied by two friends. This safari was different because it focused on traditional Emirati culture so no alcohol or shisha was served. The same amenities were included as the first in addition to an ATV ride. I enjoyed this safari experience because it was quieter and we received specialized service. Instead of the mandatory dune bashing to get to the camp, our bus drove us straight to the site and everything was an option. Instead of dune bashing, I should have sat out, because our driver was a true professional. We slipped up and down the dunes in a rollercoaster-like fashion and I got sick. At one point we had the stop the car, I was willing to walk back because the ride was too much! But once back at the base our guides made sure I had a blanket and a place to lay down. I took a twenty-minute nap and after I recuperated I resumed the rest of the activities (camel riding, falcon show, etc.). My favorite was the ATV ride, I was filled with gratitude as I rode through the sand with my little helmet on. My friends had to convince me to do it because after dune bashing I was worn out.
Due to few people at the camp (20), we were permitted to complete all activities and were not in a rush. The food, which the same as the first desert safari consisted of barbecued chicken, beef, and lamb and included hummus, fattoush, Arabic salad, biryani and an Emirati desert (I do not remember the name, but it tasted like vanilla pudding). All in all, I enjoyed both safaris and would recommend that if you pass through the UAE, you give this experience a try. It always amazes me how as human beings we have “advanced” but forget that there is so much natural beauty around us. Going on a desert safari allows you to experience the beauty of the desert mixed with a little comfort and a snapshot of Arab culture.