There is no experience as quintessentially Dubai as a desert safari. It is a crowd pleaser – fun for couples, families and solo travellers alike. Without a doubt, it should definitely be on your to-do list. Do you want to go dune bashing in a 4×4, try dune boarding, ride a camel, try shisha (hookah pipe), have your hand painted in henna and eat Arabic bbq? Then trust me when I say, you don’t want to miss a Dubai Desert Safari.
The options of desert safari tours in Dubai is endless and the market is kind of saturated with operators to be honest! Trying to pick the right one is a challenge as they all offer more or less the same thing.
But know this… they are not all created equally and the quality varies BIG TIME.
As Dubai expats, we have been on many desert safaris now and so can help you identify what to expect AND what to look for in choosing the right tour provider. Find out the answers to all your Dubai desert safari questions below. Including the best time of the year to visit, minimum age requirements, what to pay and tip, what to wear and WHO you should book your Dubai Desert Safari with for a guaranteed memorable trip.
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What to Expect
The one thing I couldn’t wait to see when I moved to Dubai in 2005 was desert. And as a visitor, I’m sure it is the same for you… the desert sounds sooo exotic right! So you’ll not only want to see the massive skyscrapers and impressive architecture but also some of the natural views. Well don’t worry, because it doesn’t take long as you drive from the city, till you see the rolling sand dunes. And it’s awesome! The colour of the sand dunes become increasingly redder the further you drive from the coastline.
To say the sand dunes are impressive is an understatement. They are stunning, and a desert safari is the best way to experience them. Trust me when I say, you mustn’t leave Dubai without trying it!
When to Visit
A desert safari can be organized at any time during the year and there are some amazing discounts in the summer months of July and August. But that’s for good reason. Let’s be honest… it isn’t the most comfortable of experiences to visit the desert in the peak of summer. It’s doable, but you’ll likely feel a little sweaty. But we’ve done it, and if this is your only chance, then I say go for it! The chance may not return.
What to Wear
As with any place you visit in Dubai, you’ll see all types and walks of life. Some people will cover up and some will show more skin than is appropriate. When it comes to a desert safari it doesn’t matter too much, just dress yourself for comfort. Out of respect, I always like to keep my shoulders covered and when it’s hot you’ll want to go with a light loose-fitting option. Just keep in mind you’ll probably be riding a camel so you’ll want to be practically dressed for such an occasion.
Alternatively, it does get cooler in the desert during the winter months, from November through till February. So be prepared, bring a pashmina or sweater to put on for later in the evening.
A desert safari generally runs from the late afternoon into the evening. You can expect to be collected at between 3pm and 4pm and following a full afternoon and evening of entertainment you’ll be returned to your accommodation by 10pm.
The price varies depending on the organisation that you go with. But this is an experience you don’t want to go too cheap on. I recommend finding a mid-range priced desert safari is best. The cheaper ones we have experienced are cheap for a reason and the desert safari was less memorable. The mid-range to more expensive desert safaris, quite simply put, provide a better product.
Furthermore, over the years the ever-growing list of desert safari providers has meant that quality has notably changed. The increase in tours has also made it overwhelming in finding the right one… am I right?!
However, we have done the research for you. Read on to the end for the best Dubai desert safari for every budget. Our recommendations include big discounts… so make sure you go through our links for the best deals in town.
But hey if you’re in hurry to get it booked, don’t let me stop you… here is our favourite Dubai desert safari tour operator.
What is Included
You’ll be very well looked after on the tour. All refreshments and a BBQ dinner are provided within the package fee, along with pickup and drop-off to your accommodation. The drivers are always good fun for a chat. The 4×4 are often Toyota Landcruisers, with one seat available in the front, three in the middle and room for two in the back.
Children from two or three years and above can join in the fun, but you should contact the tour provider to make arrangements separately for this.
Insider tip: try and get a seat at the front of the 4×4. The closer you get to the front the more adrenaline fuelled the dune bashing will be. But also, the further towards the back of the 4×4, you may be more likely to experience some car sickness. Trust me… you get thrown around.
All activities mentioned below are included in the desert safari package, usually with the exception of dune buggy or motor bike rides, if they are available.
As always, be sure to read the fine print of the tour package you choose before you hit that purchase button!
The Experience of a Dubai Desert Safari
Below are a list of the activities normally included within a desert safari.
As I said earlier the rolling red dunes are incredible and a 4×4 bash around the dunes is so much FUN! I’m not a huge adrenaline junky, but I make an exception for dune bashing (the name given to this crazy fun activity). The driver arrives at the base of the dunes, lets air out of the tyres and off you go. As you boost it to the top of the dune and slide down the other side, it kind of feels like gliding through thick butter. And just at the point it feels like the driver has lost control he spins the wheel and rights the 4×4. As I say… SO MUCH FUN!
Just in time for sunset the driver arrives at the perfect spot to catch the sun disappear. Here you have the opportunity to jump out and take in the view. Soak it up, as it’s a pretty unique experience.
Then when the sun has set and the dune bashing is done, it’s time to head to the bedouin camp for entertainment and dinner.
Take a camel ride! Do it, no questions asked. Because I can tell you there is nothing quite like it. Get your balance as the camel rises from the ground, he throws you forward then backward as he moves his bulk to stand. This is a SUPER touristy experience but hey… when in Dubai, you ride a camel!
Once again, strap that board on and give it a go. Whether you’ve boarded before or not, it isn’t super fast and what’s the worst that can happen if you come off. You’ll just end up with super fine desert sand in all the most annoying places. Nothing major right?!
In a nutshell, this is the Middle Eastern and Indian practice of painting a natural ink in beautiful patterns on wrists and hands. It is left to dry for about 30 minutes, which then leaves a stained pattern in its place. It is pretty and a nice thing to try on a desert safari.
The hookah pipes are locally referred to as shisha. They are filled with a moist fruit flavoured tobacco and are actually pretty fun to try… and I’m not a smoker. Flavours such as double apple or grape with mint are popular and pretty tasty.
Once again, shisha is a local experience and very much embedded in local culture. Give it a try if it’s on offer as you probably won’t get another chance to smoke like this in the desert ever again.
This is always the cringy part of the evening for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the entertainment and the dancers are obviously very talented. But then they bring up the unsuspecting tourist and have them join in with the belly dancing. Avoid eye-contact and don’t sit too close to the front if you don’t want to be singled out as that person. However, if you love that kind of thing then you put that hand up!
To end the evening there is a fantastic BBQ spread, normally complete with breads, hummus, tabouleh, salads, rice and meat. The food is buffet style so you can go up for more, and you probably will because the food is super tasty.
Soft beverages are generally all included in the package, with house beverages available for an extra cost.
The Extras on a Desert Safari
It’s often practice to pull up to a small shop before the dune bashing begins. A place where all the 4×4’s stop to meet before the experience really begins. Be warned, these little shops are extremely expensive, they are somewhat of a tourist trap. Instead bring water with you!
Photos and Videos
Often photographers and videographers will be roaming around during the afternoon and evening. They will collect footage which they then put together to sell you at the end of the night. Insider tip: you can get it at a steal if you say no and wait until just before you leave, as they’ll often significantly discount their prices.
Photos with a Falcon
Be aware also that you should clarify before having a falcon thrust into your hand if the experience is a paid one or not. I’m not sure if this practice is still tried, but often in Dubai this is a common situation.
Dune Buggy & Quad Bikes
There are often opportunities to take buggy rides or quad bike rides at the meeting point before the dune bashing begins or at the bedouin camp. It’s a token experience and you’ll pay extra for this.
If you prefer a self drive quad bike experience instead of dune bashing in a land cruiser, then you might like this Desert Quad Bike Safari.
Tipping the Driver
It is always a courtesy to tip the driver at the end of your desert safari. For a family, anything between 50-100 dirhams is fair based on your enjoyment of the experience of course.
The Best Desert Safari Operator
Okay so now we get to the fun stuff… who to book with. Who is the best out there. I’ve narrowed down two choices for you based on price and experience so all you have to do is select the one that best suits your budget.
Lahbab Red Dunes
If you’re after the cheapest then click here – At just around 100 dirhams this desert safari comes at a steal from Cobone.
These guys are going to tick the desert safari box in that you’ll get to say, hey yes I’ve been there done that. They are the cheapest option here, but if you are travelling as a family this will likely suit you just fine! What’s even better is that this price is discounted through Cobone, which is one of the best platforms for picking up a bargain in Dubai. We use Cobone and if you want to see Dubai on a budget then I recommend you use them too!
I will also mention here that you can book even cheaper still, but honestly I leave them off my list for a reason. Too budget and you loose the reason behind taking this adventure.
NOTE: I must point out that I myself would definitely choose the next tour provider, but understand that from a budget stand point that sometimes finances win out. And so my recommendations of Lahbab Red Dunes are the best option at the cheaper end of the spectrum.
Oceanair come in with two choices, the first is the premium option – a 6 to 7 hour desert safari around 320 dirhams. While the second half-day option is 3 to 4 hours at 150 dirhams. (Prices are accurate to the time of writing.)
This highly recommended desert safari comes through Get Your Guide as an original tour. This means they rate high on the trust factor given that they are true, tried and tested. They are the most frequently booked safari, with the highest reviews. For price, the options are midrange to high, and so they are perfect if you are looking for something a step up from budget.
Note that the links I have shared here are around 10% cheaper compared to booking through their site directly. So you are saving here with Get Your Guide!
More Things to Try in Dubai
That covers just about all I can possibly think of on a Dubai desert safari. If you’d like my insider tips and advice on other must see activities and attractions in Dubai, then read my post on the Best Places to Visit in Dubai. Otherwise what are you waiting for, go book that desert safari!
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