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Dubai Desert Safari

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Our short 3-day layover in Dubai included visits to the largest shopping mall in the world as well as to Burj Khalifa – the tallest building. For our final full day in the United Arab Emirates, we were off on the obligatory Dubai Desert Safari.

We were not expecting much, but it turned out to be great fun with Dune Bashing, an Arab campsite way out in the desert, sunset photos, getting dressed up in the traditional gear, henna tattooing, camels, shishas, tea, barbecue, birds of prey and belly dancing!

What more could you want?

Booking in Advance

A month earlier we had sent an email to dsdbookings@gmail.com requesting rates and itinerary for their Evening Desert Safari.

They advise you to make a prior reservation before arrival into Dubai in order to avoid any over-booking problems on your chosen date. You simply send them your name, direct contact number, pick up location and the exact date you want to do the tour. They then send you the booking details. Payment can be made in cash/credit card on the first date of the safari excursion directly to their English-speaking drivers.

We agreed to pay AED 195 ($53) per person to share a Land Cruiser, including a complimentary pick-up and drop-off service from our hotel in Dubai. For a bit extra, you can take a private Land Cruiser or even a private Hummer.

Hotel Pickup

The guide arrived in the lobby of our hotel – Winchester Hotel Apartments – right on time between 3.00 pm-3.30 pm, and we mounted a comfortable air-conditioned 4×4 Land Cruiser. We then drove around the suburbs of Dubai while the driver picked up another 3 people (5 of us in all, plus the driver). For us, even this part of the trip was interesting as we hadn’t had time to discover ourselves the less touristy areas of the city.

We were quite impressed with the quality, style and cleanliness of the suburban estates we passed through. Everywhere seemed to be very calm and organized (this may also have been just a natural reaction immediately following 3 weeks travelling around Sri Lanka).

Before long, we were heading out of the city and into the desert via a modern well-maintained highway. Along the way, we noticed various tented camps by the roadside. Apparently, local families often camp out in the desert at weekends to take a break from the city (and to let the camel stretch it’s legs 😎 ).

Getting into the Mood

After around 40 minutes we stopped at what looked like a final frontier town before starting the desert safari proper. There were a lot of coaches and Land Cruisers like our own. There were also large groups of foreigners milling around the souvenir shops and coke stands. This was obviously the usual tourist drop-off and assembly area.

We were divided into little convoys of vehicles (almost like the old “caravans”). Each group would travel separately over the dunes to the main desert safari campsite several kilometers away.

Before setting out into the sand dunes, we took a look around the little shops. I couldn’t resist buying a keffiyeh, the traditional Middle Eastern cotton headdress fashioned from a square scarf and typically worn by Arabs and Kurds. The keffiyeh came to prominence during the 1960s with the beginning of the Palestinian Liberation movement and its adoption by Palestinian politician Yasser Arafat.

Dune Bashing Desert Safari & Arab Campsite in Dubai United Arab Emirates

Dubai Desert Safari – Keffiyeh Krazy!

With a little help from the vendors, I learned how to tie the scarf and was surprised how light and comfortable it was. I kept it on for the rest of the evening.

Dune Bashing Brilliance

After a quick potty break, it was time to head out into the desert for the really active part of the evening. We drove out slowly over the dunes in a convoy of around 5 or 6 Land Cruisers. When we were a good way out into the desert, well clear of any signs of civilization, the driver stopped the vehicle. By this time, we also seemed to have lost the other vehicles in our convoy. We all got out while he deflated the tyres to around 50%.

Now is about the time you might start to regret having that last serving of curry and rice for lunch.

When we got back in, the driver started slowly to test the suspension. One of the 2 young girls in the back yelled out:

 “Go for it! Real Animal-Style!”

Without the need for any further subtle hints, the driver put the pedal to the metal.

So this was Dune Bashing. A race up the incline of successively higher dune formations, then frantic skidding around on the crests, punctuated by some truly stomach-churning drops and jarring twists. Visibility periodically disappears in torrential sprays of displaced red sand.

Encouraged by the cries and squeals of his captive audience, our driver kept going for it, and I could see the face of the young woman in the front seat of the vehicle steadily going green.

After around 15 minutes the driver stopped, at the request of the green lady. She was given about 3 minutes to recover, and then we were off again. This time we were both shaken and stirred.

Though doubtless the driver driver had done this hundreds of times, I was impressed at how he managed to keep the vehicle upright.

Sunset in the Desert

Another 15 minutes and we’d all just about had enough. We parked up in a nice secluded area of the desert and took some refreshment.

They time these safari events perfectly: It was about 30 minutes before sunset, and we were rewarded with some breathtaking vistas of the (now) peaceful desert. The color and even the texture of the sand is really something special.

We all separated on foot and found our own little spots in the dunes to enjoy the sunset. As far as we were concerned, this little safari trip had already been well worth the effort.

Dune Bashing Desert Safari & Arab Campsite in Dubai United Arab Emirates

Dubai Desert Safari – Sunset in the desert

As the day was drawing to a close, we headed on further into the desert to the North Tours ‘Desert Safari Campsite’. This area is set up like a traditional enclosed circular Bedouin camp.

Before the evening festivities start, you have an hour or so of free time to try out a number of interesting activities. For AED 100/-pp, you can try your hand (or should I say feet) at Sand boarding. If you’re not feeling so energetic, you can hire a Quad Bike instead AED 125/-pp. For the kids (or the young at heart) you can take a short camel ride through the desert.

Inside the Dubai Desert Safari Campsite

Inside the camp, there is a tent stocked with traditional Arab clothing. There you’ll find some smiling assistants who will help you don a dishdasha (long white robe) and headscarf (keffiyeh).

For the ladies, you can don the abaya, a long black robe with a hijab (the head-scarf which covers the neck and part of the head). You can even add a niqab which covers the mouth and nose and only leaves the eyes exposed. You can try on what you want, and take photos using some of the traditional bedouin backdrops that are built in and around the campsite.

Dune Bashing Desert Safari & Arab Campsite in Dubai United Arab Emirates

“Fetch me water for tea, woman!”

If you have time, you can even get an intricate henna tattoo to really put you in the mood. All of these little extras are complimentary.

It’s around this time that you can finally pay the Dubai Desert Safari company for your tickets. It’s probably better to do this with a credit card, since you’ll be needing your cash for the bar. By now you’ll be ready for some alcohol (there is a fully stocked bar – pay per consumption – cash only).

Soft drinks are complimentary.

Dune Bashing Desert Safari & Arab Campsite in Dubai United Arab Emirates

Red Wine and Henna

The campsite has a large central podium around which the Arabic seating is arranged (floor furnished with carpets, low tables and cushions). Behind the seating area they had set up two kitchen areas – one on each side. Here you can take a plate and choose from a good selection of meats and veggies (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options are available).

The campsite is big – catering to perhaps 500 or 600 people – but is well organized, and queueing isn’t a problem. There are also separate restroom facilities for men and women.

There is entertainment during dinner, with music, fire dancers and finally the long-awaited belly dancer (our belly dancer turned out to be Russian!). All top-notch fun, and not in the least tacky. There is even an exquisitely well-dressed guy walking around the site with a falcon.

Dune Bashing Desert Safari & Arab Campsite in Dubai United Arab Emirates

Dubai Desert Safari – Belly Dancer Grand Finale

Back to the City

As soon as the belly dancer has finished her act it’s time to find your guide, and then locate your transport to head back to the city. The whole safari experience takes around 6 hours, but seems much less, and at $53 per person is unbeatable value.

Our driver dropped us off just after 9.00 pm. He was taking us back to our hotel, but we asked him to instead drop us off at the Dubai Mall (for a last shop-around before our departure the following day). This he did with no problem.

Our Dubai Desert Safari experience made a fitting end to this short stopover in the city. After our final trip to the Mall, all that remained was to sleep for 3 hours before yet again getting up at 5 am for our final flights back home.


If you enjoyed our Dune Bashing Desert Safari, check out our other Short Breaks & City Stops. You may also like:

Dubai Desert Safari Pin

Dubai Desert Safari


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Dubai Stopover

A Short Dubai Stopover

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Since a lot of South-East Asian flights stop there en route, a Dubai stopover seems to be a great addition to your vacation. In fact, for many travellers this is often where the holiday begins (or ends).

For us, this came at the end of our trip to the Maldives and Sri Lanka. Our Emirates return flight had a change in Dubai, so we decided to treat this as a stopover and spend a couple of days there.

Dubai Layover Visa Requirements

Note that although most nationalities are allowed to pass through Dubai in transit, some nationalities (Russians for example) require a visa to leave the airport and visit Dubai. However, this can easily be arranged online by visiting www.dubaivisa.net.

The cost for this service when we applied was $63 per person, although this may have changed in the meantime.

If you fly with Emirates and your flight necessitates a Dubai stopover in excess of 6 or 8 hours, Like Turkish Airlines, Emirates will provide free transfers and hotel accommodation for 1 night. However, there really has to be no other flight options available to you for this offer to be valid.

In our case, we paid a small supplement to break our journey in Dubai, and searched for our own accommodation.

Winchester Hotel Apartments, Bur Dubai

We used Hotelclub to find and book our accommodation in Dubai. We chose an apartment hotel in Bur Dubai, close to the center, and paid €78 for a 2-person apartment for 2 nights. We also arranged an airport pick-up (Dhs 60) and drop-off (Dhs 40) from the same hotel.

The place we chose was the Winchester Hotel Apartments.

They provided us with a spacious, clean and well-equipped apartment. We had a comfortable living room with TV, and a separate bedroom and kitchen. The apartments are cleaned every day, and towels changed unless you request otherwise.

The hotel has a large reception area on the ground floor that is staffed 24/7, and is always available for help. Not far from the hotel there is a metro stop for easy access to the city. Beyond the metro stop there is a wide boulevard with plenty of shops, supermarkets and even a few restaurants.

Although we didn’t have the time to try them, the Winchester offers complimentary use of a gym, sauna and swimming pool. They also offer a free shuttle service to and from the Dubai Mall, running 2 or 3 times a day.

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What to do with just a 3-day Dubai stopover

There’s plenty to do in Dubai, so we had to be selective on how we would use our limited time.

Take a Desert Safari

The activity that was a “must-do” for us was the evening Desert Safari. Since we had 2 nights in Dubai, we booked this for the 2nd evening.

There are a number of different companies that offer this activity, all with variable TripAdvisor reviews.

After a lot of research, we chose Desert Safari Dubai. Having read the bad reviews as well as the good we decided to just take it as it comes, and do our best to enjoy whatever they had to offer.

As it turned out, we had absolutely nothing to worry about (see Dubai Desert Safari).

Dubai Stopover

A short Dubai stopover in the desert – An evening here is not to be missed

We booked our Desert Safari online several weeks in advance to ensure we’d have a place. There was no payment upfront, simply an exchange of details by email. Payment is made by cash or credit card when your Guide picks you up from your hotel.

You can book this from their website www.desertsafaridubai.com

Shop till you drop at the Dubai mall

Of course, during our Dubai stopover we were understandably keen to check out the biggest and best shopping experience on the planet. The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping mall based on total area.

The mall also includes a Gi-normous fish tank: The 10-million liter Dubai Aquarium tank, located on the ground level of the Dubai mall, is the largest suspended aquarium in the world.

It houses thousands of aquatic animals, comprising over 140 species. More than 300 sharks and rays live in this tank, including the largest collection of Sand Tiger sharks in the world. There are numerous ways you can experience the main Aquarium tank, which measures 51 meters in length and 11 meters in depth. One of these is to hire some scuba gear and take a swim with the fish.

Burj Khalifa Lake & Tower

We also had to check out the daily aquatic fountain & light show. Set on the 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake, the fountain shoots water jets as high as 500 ft (150 meters), equivalent to that of a 50-storey building. The fountain is 900 ft (275 meters) long and has five circles of varying sizes and two central arcs.

The beam of light shining upward from the fountain can be seen from over 20 miles away, and is visible from space making it the brightest spot in the Middle East, and quite possibly in the entire world.

Dubai Stopover

Burj Khalifa Fountain during the day

Speaking of the largest things in the world, Dubai also boasts the highest man-made structure in the world. Standing at 829.8 m is the iconic Burj Khalifa. The tip of the spire can be seen from 95 kilometers away.

Dubai Stopover

A short Dubai stopover – Burj Khalifa: It’s……. big

We therefore had an appointment with a lift to take us to the top of the world (well, the top of the tallest man-made structure in the world). For more details on this, check out Burj Khalifa.


If you enjoyed Dubai Stopover, check out our Short Breaks & City Stops. You may also like:

Dubai


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