The Pros + Cons of a Dubai Desert Safari
When researching our Dubai itinerary, I kept coming across Facebook posts of people out somewhere in the middle of the Emirati desert sandboarding, dune bashing, and riding camels through the desert as part of a desert safari experience. I was intrigued. When a friend of mine, who returned from Dubai a month prior to our visit, texted me and told me that we just had to go on a desert safari, I was sold.
Knowing that desert life is a huge aspect of Emirati culture, I knew that we’d be remiss if we left the UAE without venturing deeper into the desert, so we booked an evening safari through Desert Safari Dubai.
While I’m glad that we got the chance to see another side of Dubai, in retrospect, I wasn’t blown away by the experience. For those of you considering booking a desert safari, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the pros and cons from our experience.
PRO: Desert Safari Dubai picked us up from our hotel
Desert Safari Dubai conveniently picked us up from our hotel and drove us further out into the desert. I’m sure that most desert safari companies in Dubai do the same, so I’m not sure if this is really a strong selling point. Still, I’ll consider this a pro since transportation was included in our tour total of 390 AED / $106 USD for both of us.
CON: En route to the desert, our guide didn’t share any info with us about Bedouin culture
In addition to us, there were four other people in our SUV – Canadian cousins, one of whom lives in Dubai, and a honeymooning couple from Turkey who currently live in Germany. While Jave and I had a great time chatting it up with our jeep mates, our guide didn’t really engage with us at all (no tip for him!) which was pretty disappointing. One of the main reasons I travel is to learn, and our guide totally didn’t care to share anything about Bedouin desert culture with us. During the hour or so it took to get to the desert, it would’ve been great if our guide had shared tidbits about the Bedouin lifestyle, cultural practices, etc. because it would’ve provided great context for what we were going to experience later on during the safari.
PRO: You get to ride a camel
One of the main things I was really looking forward to during our safari was the chance to ride a camel. My only other camel encounter was in Cappadocia where it was a mere hop on-hop off kind of experience.
CON: The ride only lasts five minutes
For whatever reason, I envisioned us being able to ride the camel for a good little distance, but in reality, our camel ride literally only lasted about five minutes. After mounting our camel, someone guided it in a circle twice, and just like that, our ride was over. It reminded me of riding a pony at a carnival when I was a kid. Kind of disappointing.
Fortunately, the camels’ mouths were covered because I’m convinced that the camel that was walking behind ours would’ve bitten the crap out of my shoulder if his mouth hadn’t been bound shut as it kept nudging my shoulder and grunting.
PRO: You can get a henna tattoo
I’ve always wanted to get a henna tattoo, so I was happy to finally get one at a booth that was set up at our desert safari camp.
CON: The henna artists don’t engage
It would’ve been great if, while applying the henna, the artist had given us some background about the henna tradition in the UAE and the rest of the Arab world and what it’s used for now. But nope, the artist worked in silence. To be fair, I don’t think she spoke English.
PRO: The food is tasty
There were a few huge buffet tables set up with servers manning each food warmer to scoop food onto our plates as requested. I have to say, the food was really, really tasty and there were lots of options, so there’s no way that you should walk away from the buffet with your stomach grumbling.
There’s also a booth where we bought some delicious roasted corn sprinkled with salt and lime.
CON: There aren’t many Emirati dishes
With the exception of kebabs, there weren’t many Emirati dishes to choose from at the buffet. In general, Emirati cuisine seems hard to come by in the UAE since most restaurants cater to expats who come from all corners of the globe. If there was one place I thought I’d get a taste of traditional Emirati cuisine, it was at the desert safari dinner. But nope, there was no kabsa, machbous, or harees to be found.
PRO: There’s entertainment
Our dinner in the desert would’ve been mighty quiet if there hadn’t been any music or entertainment. Thankfully, a few dancers performed to keep us engaged.
CON: The performances are just “meh”
There were a total of two performers – one male and one female. While the female dancer was by far a better performer, there was nothing extraordinary about either performance. The performances were just something to watch to pass the time.
PRO: The night’s events run like clockwork
One thing I appreciated about our evening desert safari is that everything ran on schedule from the time we got picked up from our hotel to the time we got dropped off.
CON: It’s really, really touristy
Although I appreciated the efficiency of the evening’s events, at the same time, it gave the safari such a rigid, cookie cutter feel. Like I said, apart from Facebook pictures, I really didn’t know what to expect during the safari, but I certainly thought that it would provide a glimpse into Dubai’s authentic side. For me, the safari just didn’t accomplish that.
After the entertainment ended, the emcee thanked us for coming out, and everyone shuffled back through the sand to their jeeps.
Looking back, I don’t think I’d go on another desert safari. During our next trip to Dubai, we’ll likely head to the desert again, but the next time around, we’ll visit the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve instead. By the looks of their website, it seems like it would offer a more authentic and intimate experience with activities that are more suited to individual interests. Plus, a stay at the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa would provide a unique opportunity to stay somewhere that resembles a Bedouin camp deep in the heart of the desert.