Join us on an afternoon Bedouin desert safari with a BBQ dinner and traditional entertainment in Dubai.
To The Red Dunes & Campsite
The whole thing started off a bit shaky with a misunderstanding between us and the tour guide about the day we booked. Plus the pickup process and the ride in the ancient white box-type minibus felt a bit dodgy. However, things got better once we arrived at the safari drop-off point in the Arabian desert, only an hour away from The Mall of Emirates in Dubai. After a short wait, we transferred to a brand new Landcruiser for the short 4×4 dune-bashing ride to the campsite. Oh, and that was fun!
Dune-bashing lasted about ten minutes, and although I really enjoyed it, it was long enough for me. The driver apparently held back a bit because we had a toddler (our three-year-old) in the car with us. I was very grateful for that because I don’t think I myself, being a total whoos, could’ve stomached anything more daring.
Brendan and our older kids absolutely loved every minute of it and it was the highlight of the evening for Matt. The drivers really know their stuff. It’s great fun and I can recommend it for families. Just brace yourself, hold on tight and make sure that little ones are safely secured in their seats.
Bedouin Desert Safari Activities
Once we arrived at the campsite there were a number of activities to get into. The kids played on the dunes and we took thousands of photos of a beautiful desert sunset; a first for us.
I’m thankful for digital technology, but when I have to work through all the photos afterwards, I remember old film cameras.
Remember when you had only 24 or 48 photos per film? You had to use each one carefully, wait for the right moment and hope you get the shot. Then, maybe you do and maybe you don’t take the film to the developers after your holiday. Sometimes you have tons of film left still to develop at the end of the year!
When you finally pick up the developed photos; all shiny (or matt), smooth and neatly packed in an envelope together with the original film strip, you’re equally as surprised as your friends are about what’s on there. Fun times, but back to the present…
Our bedouin desert safari package included:
- Collection and drop-off in Dubai behind the Mall of Emirates
- Dune bashing,
- Camel rides,
- Drinks (no alcohol),
- Henna tattoo for ladies,
- Traditional costume
- Shared shisha in a communal area
Read the fine print when you book your safari because different tours include some activities for free and others come at an extra cost.
Be aware that when they put the traditional hats on your head, they will ask for money. Those are not free. Remember to take cash when you go (durams only) to pay for optional extras.
On the outside, we could do sandboarding, camel rides, quad bikes and have our family photo taken.
Photographers approached us for a family photo as we got out of the 4×4. Three quick but lovely shots taken were later made available to us inside the camp at an extra cost and included a desert-safari-themed cardboard frame. Digital copies were emailed to me.
B had an awesome experience sandboarding in Namibia so we were looking forward to doing this with the kids, who were all revved up and ready to give it a go. Unfortunately, it wasn’t happening as advertised, which was a bit of a letdown.
They directed us to the top of a sand dune and that was the end of staff involvement. The equipment was scattered and seemed broken, with no-one in sight to assist. We couldn’t figure out how to assemble or use the pieces we found, so we gave up. Hard luck.
QUADS & CAMEL RIDES
We chose not to do quad bikes (extra cost) or the camel rides, which were included in our ticket price. Being allergic to queues, we’ve also been on both camels and quad bikes before in South Africa.
Here, pictured above, you can see the queue for camel rides to the left with the Landcruisers and the entrance to the campsite behind it. To the right is the quad bike area. In the photo, we’re approaching the camp from the big dune.
For us, it made sense to spend more time on the dune to enjoy a rarely seen desert sunset and the views over having to queue to ride a quad in circles or to ride a few meters on a camel’s back. The kids really enjoyed playing on the massive dune, running up, tumbling down, tackling and chasing after each other. Just loving the open space and fresh air.
A note on animal care, from our observation, the camels looked well cared for. Each ride lasted literally only for a few meters for each person and they had resting camels to rotate.
Extras and upgrades are offered by staff who moved between the tables or who will come to your table to tell you about what’s on offer.
Inside the camp, we bought trinkets. The kids watched as the vendor demonstrated how to make the colourful sand in a bottle creation with all our names artfully worked into the sand. It’s a lovely keepsake.
DRESS UP, HENNA TATTOOS & FALCON
You can dress up in Arabian clothes, but we skipped that. Us girls got free henna tattoos on our hands. It’s nothing elaborate and the tattoo lady does it really fast, but it looked great.
A word of warning; if like us you’ve never had a henna tattoo before, you should know that once the wet paint bit dries it comes off your hand. What remains is the brown tattoo that stays on your skin for weeks. We worried about it being on Megan’s hand when she had to go back to school a few weeks later, but it was very faded by then.
You can pose with a falcon and his handler for an additional fee, which we didn’t but I’m sure it makes a great photo.
What we did splurge on was to have our own shisha (hooka / hubbly bubbly) on the table with a choice of three different fruit flavours. You can try a shared pipe for free in the designated communal area at the back of the camp, but we preferred to have our own at the table so that we didn’t have to take turns leaving the children.
It cost extra but the large silver shisha pipe is a beautiful object that itself fits into the bedouin scene so perfectly. Fruit-flavoured tobacco these days are made without nicotine and if the shisha we smoked contained any, it must’ve been very little because we didn’t notice it.
It’s a bit of harmless fun when done on the odd occasion, especially one like this. Plus it added to the whole vibe as we, non-smokers, effortlessly puffed away at the lovely fruit flavoured hubbly bubbly.
I just want to say that we do not condone regular hookah smoking and that we are aware of the related health risks, especially for young people.
DESIGNATED WAITER SERVICE
Another extra offered inside the camp is designated table service. Your waiter will serve all three courses and keep the soft drinks coming all evening. That means you don’t have to queue to get a drink – and you can only get one soft drink per person at a time – or when the three-course meal is served over three consecutive stages.
We chose not to pay for this because we found the queues moved fast enough. The serving teams are well organised and waiting times are minimal.
Dinner & Drinks
We found the section of tables reserved for our group by our tour operator, Luxurytours.ae, near the stage. We were happy to sit on the large pillows placed on the sand at low tables. It all added to the experience and ethnic atmosphere but if you don’t want to sit on pillows for medical or whatever reason, you can order or request a table with chairs when you make your booking
Milly made a friend on the bus from Dubai. She got to play with the little girl, who’s parents sat at a table on the other side of the stage but within full view of where we sat. Win-win for both families.
A three-course buffet meal is served before the show. Starters, mains and desserts are not all offered at the same time for you to pick from at your leisure as they usually are at regular buffets.
First, everyone will queue for starters. Once that is cleared away from the serving area, the main barbeque meal is laid out. Two queues are formed on each side of a long table. You can dish up for yourself everything apart from the meat, which is put on your plate by a server at the end of the line.
After the main course, a different serving area is opened, from where dessert is served. We enjoyed the Arabian coffee and dates.
READ THIS: GOING TO DUBAI WITH KIDS
Dinner was nothing to write home about. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t leave hungry. There is enough to choose from and try out to fill all tummies, but many of the beautifully displayed dishes looked better than it tasted. I think the warm dessert sun may have an effect on the freshness of some of the vegetable dishes and the bbq meat was overdone and as dry as the desert sand we sat on.
Foodies may be disappointed, my Mom certainly would be. I always think of her when we eat somewhere interesting because she loves food and cooking so much and I can just hear her critique in my mind.
If you can keep in mind that it’s all about the collective experience, which felt authentic, unique to this part of the world and most of all, unforgettable, you’ll have a good time and enjoy your Bedouin desert safari as much as we did.
The evening’s entertainment, on the other hand, I’m pleased to say was fabulous. We watched a traditional Tanoura dance, a fire show and a belly dancer.
Tanoura dancing is also known as Sufi whirling or turning and is traditionally performed by a Sufi male, but is also widely done at folk dances and festivals. Sufism is a religious order of the Islam denomination and the mesmerizing dance is more spiritually meaningful many spectators realise.
This traditional spinning dance is a form of deep meditation to let go of the ego by focusing on the music to focus on God. The dancer spins repetitively symbolising spinning planets orbiting the sun. The camels’ hair hat represents the death of one’s ego and the wide heavy skirt (tanoura) represents the ego. When the skirt is removed the dancer is spiritually reborn to truth and can receive God’s blessing.
How the dancer stays focused while spinning super fast on one spot for a really long time and puts on a good show with the obviously heavy skirt plus props, truly is impressive. Towards the end of the dance, his skirt and costume lights up and becomes two parts which he masterfully manipulates in all directions. And all the while, he has the biggest smile on his friendly face.
FIRE SHOW & BELLY DANCER
A fire dancer put on a stunning show. It was fun watching the children’s reactions who were gripped from the moment everything went dark, the flames were lit, and the music started pumping.
A lovely belly dancer completed the lineup. The children were mesmerized as they’ve never seen anything like it in their little lives! We were thoroughly entertained and did not want the night to end.
I nearly cried when it was over! No, it’s too soon! I wanted to shout at them and I think I actually did. Milly didn’t want to leave her friend, we were just getting the hang of puffing at our shisha and all of us wanted to see more dancing, but no such luck.
The night came to an abrupt end straight after the belly dancer left the stage. On came the floodlights and out we were, loaded up into the Landcruisers in under fifteen minutes and back at the hotel by 10 pm.
In hindsight, we could’ve reached our hotel earlier if we had booked a premium safari with a hotel pick up in a private vehicle. Our group transfer in the old box bus back to Dubai meant we got dropped off behind the Mall of Emirates from where we had to walk ten minutes to take the metro back to our hotel in JBR.
We bought our tickets at a bargain on Groupon.ae. Everything went relatively well and we had a tremendous desert safari, but I suggest booking a premium tour if you can. Or book direct with a reputable agency such as Viator or GetYourGuide.
At a cost of about £28 per person, you can get a good tour that will guarantee a smooth effortless experience with private hotel transfers. Prices for different tour types, including morning safari’s or overnight camping (would love to stay overnight if it’s just B and I) varies from £30 to £100 and more, depending on what you want and who you book with.
All-in-all, our Bedouin desert safari in Dubai was unforgettable. To be immersed in something that would otherwise be an untouchable way of life, a bedouin culture we could only read about in storybooks, that many would never have the chance to see up close much less get into; we shared that with each other and with our children in Dubai.
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