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Which area is best for desert safari?

Desert safaris are popular adventures in the United Arab Emirates that allow visitors to experience the thrills of dune bashing, camel rides, sandboarding, quad biking and more against the backdrop of the magnificent desert landscape. When planning your desert safari adventure, one of the first decisions is choosing which area offers the best overall experience. Here we compare the top destinations to help you decide.

Which area is best for desert safari?

Dubai

Dubai is the most popular starting point for desert safari tours in the UAE. Some key advantages of Dubai desert safaris:

  • Dubai has a vast sea of golden sand dunes that make for dramatic scenery and dune bashing. The desert begins just outside the fringes of the city, allowing quick access.
  • Many established and reputable tour operators offering all varieties of desert safaris, from budget to luxury. Lots of reviews available to find the best fit.
  • Great infrastructure, roads and facilities. Comfortable transport to/from the desert sites. Modern desert resorts.
  • Combine desert safari with other Dubai iconic attractions like Burj Khalifa, luxury malls etc

Best For

  • First-time desert safari goers
  • Families and groups with mix of interests
  • Combining with a Dubai city tour

Key Locations

  • Lahbab, Al Awir desert – Dramatic high dunes, camel riding, entertainment
  • Margham – Lower dunes better suited for quad biking

Abu Dhabi

As the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi offers vast swaths of remote and pristine desert, particularly in the Al Dhafra region. Highlights of Abu Dhabi desert safaris:

  • Iconic massive red dunes that rise up to 40 meters in the Al Dhafra desert – Stunning photography
  • Abu Dhabi has regions with no camps/resorts, offering true Arabian nights experience
  • Less commercial activity and crowds than Dubai
  • More options for overnight camping and star-gazing

Best For

  • Desert landscapes photography
  • Overnight camping adventures
  • Avoiding crowds

Key Locations

  • Al Dhafra – Imposing red dunes, luxury camps like Qasr Al Sarab
  • Liwa Oasis – Massive golden dunes, traditional villages

Ras Al Khaimah

The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah has perhaps the most diverse desert terrain in UAE spanning coastal flats to high inland dunes. Benefits include:

  • Jais Sands area has the highest dunes in UAE, over 300m tall. Great for dune bashing.
  • Has a mountain landscape on one side for hiking adventures
  • Unique resorts like DoubleTree by Hilton Marjan Island with private beach
  • Usually more budget-friendly than Dubai/Abu Dhabi

Best For

  • Adventure lovers – dune bashing, hiking variety
  • Scenic diversity
  • Cost-conscious travelers

Key Locations

  • Jais Sands – Extremely tall dunes
  • Al Rams area – Animal farms & resorts

Fujairah

The eastern emirate of Fujairah offers desert safaris focused around the mountains and wadis rather than sand dunes. Highlights include:

  • Get incredible views of the Hajar Mountains while dune bashing
  • Wadis are valleys with running water, greenery – Unique landscapes
  • Bull butcher show and barbeques amidst stunning scenery

Best For

  • Alternative to typical sand dunes desert safari
  • Seeing mountains and wadis rather than endless dunes
  • Cultural shows and barbeques

Key Locations

  • Dibba & Badiyah – Feature dramatic desert-mountain visuals
  • Masafi & Manama – Natural water springs set amidst date farms

Conclusion

In summary, Dubai remains the most popular desert safari destination given its proximity to central attractions and range of tour options. However travelers seeking remote and adventurous overnights in iconic red dunes may prefer Abu Dhabi or Ras Al Khaimah. And for a non-dune focused safari, Fujairah offers mountain wadis. All the emirates offer unique desert safari experiences catering to varied interests and budgets.

Key Takeaways

  • Dubai is best for first-timers seeking convenience, variability, modern amenities
  • Abu Dhabi has remote red dunes suited for overnights and photography
  • Ras Al Khaimah has extremely tall dunes and scenic diversity
  • Fujairah gives a mountains and wadis alternative to sand dunes

FAQs

  1. What is included in desert safari tours?
    Typical desert safari tours include dune bashing, camel rides, sandboarding, quad biking, henna designing, shisha smoking, Arabic costumes for photos, buffet dinner with entertainment shows like belly dancing. Overnight tours add star-gazing, wildlife spotting, camping.

  2. What should I wear?
    Light, loose breathable clothing will keep you coolest on desert safaris along with hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. Open shoes like sandals are fine during tours but avoid high heels. Carry a jacket for cooler nights.

  3. What month is best for desert safaris?
    Desert safaris can be enjoyed year-round as the UAE has sunny weather most of the time. But afternoons get extremely hot May-September. So its best to plan safaris during cooler months of November-April. Morning or overnight tours also avoid the worst heat.

  4. What is dune bashing?
    Dune bashing involves driving SUVs over the sand dunes, sliding up and down steep slopes. Expert drivers intentionally swerve on the dunes at high speeds to thrill passengers. Hold on tight for a bumpy adrenaline rush!

  5. How safe are desert safaris?
    Reputable tour operators emphasize safety with roll cages and seatbelts in vehicles, licensed drivers, medical kits etc. But dune bashing does carry risks. Certain maneuvers like sandboarding may require signing liability waivers. Use caution and common sense.

  6. Can kids join desert safaris?
    Most tour operators allow kids above 3-5 years on desert safaris. Some provide baby car seats. Activities like quad biking have higher age limits around 12+ years. Camel riding, costumes and entertainment make these tours fun for families.

  7. What kind of desert animals can be spotted?
    The Arabian deserts host amazing wildlife like the elegant Arabian Oryx antelope, Gazelles, red foxes, camels, reptiles and birds like falcons, eagles and vultures. Early morning or overnight safaris maximize odds seeing indigenous fauna.

  8. Are there dining options on desert safaris?
    Yes, most evening desert safaris include a buffet spread of Arabic delicacies like hummus, mutabal, mixed grills, rice dishes etc. Alcohol may be available at premium camps. Overnight camps provide breakfast. Carrying your own snacks, water is also fine.

  9. Can I book private desert safari tours?
    Many tour operators offer private desert safari trips for couples, families and groups seeking exclusivity. You can customize the itinerary and not share vehicles with strangers. Private tours are more expensive but flexible.

  10. How is payment typically handled for bookings?
    Most desert safari tours allow online booking with credit/debit card payments. Options like PayPal may also be available. Confirm payment and cancelation policies before booking. Cash payment may be required at some smaller vendors.

  11. What are the extras I can add to my desert safari?
    You can make your desert trip more exciting by opting for extras like hot air balloon rides, falconry demonstrations, henna tattoos, photography sessions wearing traditional Arab costumes, infinity pool access.

  12. Can I do an overnight desert safari while staying in Dubai?
    Yes, travelers staying in Dubai hotels can book convenient overnight desert safaris departing in the afternoon and returning next morning. Transportation and accommodation at desert camps provided.

  13. Is tipping expected on desert safari tours?
    Tips are customary in the UAE to reward good service. 5-10% tips for drivers and servers is considered polite. Carry small denomination bills. Tip camel handlers or instructors teaching activities generously.

  14. Can I drink alcohol on desert safaris?
    Most desert camps serve alcohol with dinner to visitors above 21 years. But drinking is discouraged during dune bashing for safety. Public drunkenness and indecency are punishable offenses in UAE regardless of location. Drink responsibly.

  15. Can I smoke shisha on desert safaris?
    Yes, shisha smoking is a popular part of the cultural experience. Most camps provide complimentary shishas but premium imported flavors may need payment. Non-smokers can avoid designated smoking zones easily.

  16. What kind of bathrooms facilities are available?
    Established desert camps invest in providing clean washrooms and toilets for visitors’ convenience with ample water, soap etc. But remote overnight safaris may rely on very basic temporary toilets. Carry personal sanitation items or wipes.

  17. Can senior citizens join desert safaris?
    While kids love desert adventures, they may not be advisable for elderly travelers with conditions like prior injuries, back problems etc that can be aggravated by a bumpy, shaky dune bashing drive. Camel rising can also be uncomfortable for bad backs, knees etc.

  18. What COVID precautions are taken on desert safaris?
    Reputable operators follow government protocols like vaccination/testing verification, vehicles and camps sanitization, distancing at dining etc. Though tours are outdoors reducing risks. Mask wearing may be required. Confirm latest rules before booking.

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