The Pros + Cons of a Dubai Desert Safari

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.

On our way to the desert camp, we stopped at a tourist trap store where one of the salesmen convinced us to buy scarves. Jave still rocks his keffiyeh around the house, so I guess it was worth it.
On our way to the desert camp, we stopped at a tourist trap store where one of the salesmen convinced us to buy scarves. Jave still rocks his keffiyeh around the house, so I guess it was worth it.
Releasing air from the tires to get ready for some dune bashing
Deflating the tires a bit to get ready for some dune bashing

desert-safari-dubai

desert-safari-dubai
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.

desert-safari-dubai

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.

desert-safari-dubai

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.

desert-safari-dubai

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.

desert-safari-dubai

Standing in the buffet line
Standing in the buffet line
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.

desert-safari-dubai

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.

desert-safari-dubai

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.

desert-safari-dubai

desert-safari-dubai
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.

desert-safari-dubai

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.

Although it's "touristy", we couldn't resist the chance to try on traditional dress
Although it’s “touristy”, we couldn’t resist the chance to try on traditional dress
Me in an abaya
Me in an abaya
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.

desert-safari-dubai

desert-safari-dubai

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.

PINNABLE

dubai-desert-safari

Have you been on a desert safari in Dubai? What did you think about it?

  • Frank Thomae

    I like your honest take on it – I was just going to say that it seems overly touristy. Some nice photos though and you got to ride a camel even if only to walk you in a circle 🙂
    Frank (bbqboy)

  • Dubai is on my bucket list. I love your balanced take on it. I can’t wait to visit 🙂

    • Thanks! The UAE is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once. Hope you make it there soon!

  • Valerie Robinson

    Amazing!!!! Dubai is on my bucket list. Now, I’m even more amped to visit. Awesome recap!

  • Along with other places Dubai is on my bucket list. I love how you broke down the pros and cons of each experience. The food looks yummy and I would have wanted to be on the camel for longer than 5 minutes. What was up with that?

    Siobhan
    http://www.befreeproject.com

    • Although the food wasn’t as authentic as I’d hoped, it was definitely delicious. And I think the camel rides were so short because there were so many people waiting for a ride that they wanted to keep things moving. But still… :-/

  • Thank you for the honest review. I have never been but from your post I feel like I have a good idea of what to expect.

  • Jonna

    I’m not a fan of touristy anything. I like to experience as much ‘realness’ as safely possible. And I love a good henna tattoo. One day I want to get an entire body tattoo done – or at least a sleeve.

  • I have dreams of going to Dubai because of luxury. I would be nervous and excited about riding a camel. I’m going to need more than 5 minutes though.

  • The visual of the pony ride at a carnival made me cackle :-p

    I enjoyed your photos (your skin is FLAWLESS). Dubai has lost its appeal to me. Perhaps because I keep hearing how western influenced and inauthentic it is. That has its pros and cons as outlined here. It is definitely low on my list for many reasons you mentioned.

    • Thanks so much, Keisha! 🙂 As I was explaining in a comment below, the UAE definitely feels very authentic to me. Yes, Dubai is really developed but I wouldn’t say that it’s too westernized. Somewhat? Yes! But not entirely. Not sure if you’ve been to Turkey yet (probably since it seems like you’ve been a lot of places), but the UAE definitely feels more like the Middle East than Turkey. I’d definitely encourage you to visit.

  • I am loving this authentic review of the desert safari excursion. I am gonna be honest I probably wont go to Dubai for a while. Its too over hyped and commercialized now although I wanna go I am just not so excited to go. Seemed like it is becoming just a tourist attraction place where they give you the illusion of middle eastern culture, but probably just watered down. A 5 min camel ride…I would of been pissed! So you mean all these IG people who are going over there riding camels are only doing it for 5 mins… sad face!

    • Well, I have to say…as far as the Middle East goes, I’ve been to Turkey and I’ve been to the UAE, and the UAE is definitely the real deal Middle East…even more than Turkey. So although the desert safari was watered down, the UAE itself definitely isn’t because they follow Islamic law unlike somewhere like Turkey which is secular. I’d still encourage you to visit the UAE, but when you do, feel free to skip the safari. 😉 Thanks for your comment!

  • Dubai is in my must travel to places.
    These are all great tips. I think that I would be okay not going on the safari, though.

    • I agree – Dubai is someplace that you should definitely visit at least once! Thanks for reading!

  • Dubai is definitely somewhere I want to travel. My husband was military and was deployed to foreign turf so he’s not very interested in returning back there. I’d love to visit and see what it’s like.

    • Although the desert safari wasn’t the greatest experience, I think Dubai is someplace that you should definitely visit at least once. I hope you make it happen!

  • Tia

    I did not go on a safari while in Dubai but the account from my friends is much like yours. Although I imagine its fun with a group of friends, it doesn’t sound like something I should be sad I missed.

  • Holly

    I have done a safari in Dubai and I have to say this is very accurate. I think pretty much every company does the very exact same thing. I know there are some where you can go overnight, but I honestly don’t think the experience differs too much. A friend of mine who lives there has been on a few and he says every company is pretty much the same, with a few differences here and there. It is very touristy and it would be nice to learn more. Luckily I stayed with people who live there and learned a lot.

    • I think that’s the best way – to stay and/or hang out with locals to learn more about the culture firsthand. I’ll definitely keep that in mind for the next time I go to Dubai.

  • Kemkem

    Did the guide speak English? Federico is one for engagement..haha..he won’t stop till they start talking back :-). We had a chance to do the camel ride in Morocco. I declined. I am ambivalent as to doing it in Dubai as l think you can get the same experience in a good Emirati restaurant. P.S.. I hate henna tattoos! I don’t think l would do one. Maybe sand surfing or something. You guys look so cute in the headgear :-).

    • Yes, the guy spoke perfect English which made his lack of engagement that much more disappointing. Lol at Federico!! At first I was interested in sand surfing, but I remember reading somewhere that people had a hard time getting momentum on the sand board so they barely even moved. :-/

  • Nadeen

    Thank you!! I have in mind that we will also do a dessert safari so this is very useful information. I’ll look into the other hotel and conservation place. However, your pictures look beautiful and I’m glad you at least got to do it once! I agree that knowing more about the customs & traditions vs just being a tourist on an assembly line would have made it more interesting.

    • I agree – I’m happy I had the experience even if it was a bit disappointing because then I would’ve always wondered “what if?”

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