Desert safari in Abu Dhabi to discover the nomad roots

The hustle and bustle of our modern life little allow us to establish a true contact with Nature. This is why sometimes we desperately feel the need for that something ancestral that we know exists but can hardly catch. I found a desert safari in Abu Dhabi showed me just that.

I would suggest you to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life with an Abu Dhabi desert safari. There’s plenty to see and do on a safari, from camel rides and 4×4 drives to learning about the nomadic roots of this region. So pack your bags and get ready for an adventure!

Things to Do on a Desert Safari in Abu Dhabi and Discover the Local Nomad Roots

desert safari in Abu Dhabi
Dunes in Abu Dhabi desert

I wanted to see by myself how a country can combine the most luxurious experiences and still manages to keep its oldest traditions. The ever-evolving Abu Dhabi Emirate proved to be the right choice.

The first impact staring at shiny skyscrapers, luxurious hotels and flashy shopping malls is one of astonishment, especially when catching a fleeting glimpse of the lithesome figures of local women, all spruced up in their traditional abaya and carrying shopping bags from Valentino, Gucci, Chanel with absolute nonchalance. But this was not what I was looking for. I was bent on going local, eating like a local, living like one.

Since 1971, when the seven Emirates officially became the United Arab Emirates, led by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, first President of the UAE and first ruler of Abu Dhabi, the winds of change have relentlessly blown over this huge desert that still now constitutes most of the territory, as if Nature is still trying to reclaim what she could. There is something timeless in those desert landscapes, and the effect given by the unfolding panorama is one of bedazzlement. It’s inevitable, it captures you completely.

Experiencing the Thrills of Dune Bashing

desert safari in Abu Dhabi
Local driver and his car during our desert safari in Abu Dhabi

Our safari counted fifteen 4×4 Land Cruisers. The meeting point was the Fairmont Hotel and from there we made our way towards adventure. Forty-five minutes drive separated us from the ancestral traditions of a country that is making the whole world talk about its sudden modernization and state-of-the-art architecture. Don’t get me wrong here: local Emiratis are undoubtedly pleased with their glamorous lifestyle, but they remain very proud of their roots and, as soon as they can, they reach those boundless landscapes to be in familiar surroundings.

I knew since the beginning that the first activity of our safari program was dune driving, but in my naive mind, I thought we would only be the spectators of the show. Wrong: we were the show.

Each group belonged to a car, and when we reached the right spot local drivers prepared the vehicles for the tours partially deflating the wheels, to ensure a better road holding in those windless sandy mountains. The air was dry but less stifling than in the city, and it tasted of stone. Seldom pieces of vegetation populate the forsaken, yet bewitching view and the skyline was barely detectable against the far border. If I closed my eyes, I could sense the calm beneath that infinite monochromatic land and feel close to legendary nomads such as Islam’s greatest traveller, Moroccan Ibn Battutah, who had walked along those sun-struck paths hundreds of years before me.

desert safari in Abu Dhabi
Dune driving during our desert safari in Abu Dhabi

When I acknowledged that we were supposed to be in the car for the dune driving I tried to babble some lame excuse of the likes “But I want to take pictures of the cars!” “We will stop at some point, and you’ll have the opportunity to take photos of the cars behind us,” retorted our driver, seemingly used to such last-minute endeavors of retreat.

We got on the car, I sat in the middle row, and the race started: up and down the sand dunes, running on two wheels along the razor-sharp pinnacles, or vertically most of the time when we were heading downwards. We went on this way for about ten minutes, then we stopped, our stomachs upside down, and then back again on track for other ten minutes. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to take any picture, as I was too busy grabbing any handle within my reach.

The organizers, however, knew full well that this is a spectacular show and that most people don’t want to waste this unique opportunity to capture such adrenaline moments. So, after being the actors, we were kindly allowed to enjoy one of the highly-trained drivers live up to his reputation and flaunt his skills up and down the gigantic dune in front of us, provoking a long “Oooohhh” for each and every one of his stunts.

desert safari in Abu Dhabi
Dune driving, Abu Dhabi

In the desert, the prevailing winds of fashion that have taken over the main shopping malls all throughout the country, are undetectable, and sometimes the impression is to be in one of those rare places still untouched by the modern world. Swarthy camel farmers live how they lived their ancestors, unscathed by the effects of globalization and maintaining the same contact with Nature as they would in the past.

Enjoy a Camel Ride on your Abu Dhabi Safari

desert safari in Abu Dhabi
Visiting a camel farm during our desert safari in Abu Dhabi

With still a tinge of fear due to the reckless dune driving, we were allowed to visit a camel farm. This was the part I was truly looking forward to. I’ve always been attracted by deserts’ atmosphere and in my mind camels are the epitome of company, mystery and safety where nothing else is available. In the desert, camels represent wealth, and farmers take good care of their treasure, sharing with them travels and goods.

As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed by a herd of dark beige camels who, fully aware of being the stars of the moment, calmly kept chomping their grass while posing in front of our cameras. I was all over the place, I couldn’t stop playing with camels and feeding them. In all this camel-burst I completely forgot my camera, but fortunately, my friend Boff knew full well I would have never forgiven myself for missing the occasion to bring with me the evidence and the memory of those precious moments, and took plenty of photographs of me with those “ships of the desert”.

Riding a camel, however, is different from feeding one. I wanted to feel the thrill of wandering like a Bedouin for a handful of seconds, so I asked the farmer if he’d let me ride his camel, thinking that it would have been a little like sitting on a horse. I was met with a witty giggle from the tunic-clad farmer, who kindly helped me clamber on the dozing animal. “Easy,” I thought until the camel stood up. You are not aware of a camels’ size until you are riding one. I realized I was taking it too easy and managed to grab the rope just in time to avoid falling off the tallest animal I had ever ridden. Other safari companions preferred to perform a more familiar activity and went skiing down the huge sandy slopes.

With my great sadness, at the sunset, we were said to let camels rest from the heavy working day and we were off to the camp, to enjoy a typical, glamorous night in the desert. As soon as we got there, I took my shoes off to feel the soft sand under my feet, despite the temperature having cooled down dramatically.

Have a Henna tattoo and try traditional Abayah in the Safai

Once in the camp, we tired wanderers back from the fatigues of dune driving and camel farming were offered excellent traditional refreshments, to be chosen among Arabic tea and coffee. Little by little the ladies grew impatient in the wait for the Ethiopian henna painter, who slowly prepared her tools under a big tent, conscious of being observed by the growing queue waiting for her services.

On a neighboring tent, there was Salim, the fashion designer of the group, who helped men and women who wanted to try the traditional Arabic garments. I couldn’t miss that occasion and, after getting my hand henna-painted, I rushed to the fashion department to spruce myself up by wearing the fascinating traditional abayah.

As Sardinia was half-Arab in the Middle Age, my Sardinian origins give me a strong Arabian look, to the extent that, wherever I go, Arabs address me in Arabic. Moreover, traditional Sardinian and Arabian costumes look impressively similar, maybe that’s why I felt unusually comfortable with the hijab on.

Taste the Arabian Gastronomic Delicacies

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With locals

These leisure activities were in preparation for the crowning moment of the evening, to be enjoyed after the succulent kebab-based barbecue. The dinner was performed in a proper desert-like style. Big, colorful cushions were our chairs, and the low tables ware set all around, a huge stage. I didn’t feel hungry until I saw the self-service buffet: a great choice of Arabian gastronomic delicacies involving all sorts of salads, kebabs and meatballs was on display before us. I had no choice but to take the plunge.

Enjoy Watching Belly Dancing on Your Safari

bellydancing CU - Travel Images

After the dinner, we were introduced to the highlight of the evening: a winsome Tunisia-born belly-dancer glided in and started enchanting all presents, men and women alike, with her engaging manners and sensual dancing skills, embodying what in the West has always evoked forbidden mores and inaccessible costumes.

From our colored cushions, we enjoyed the exotic show, until the dancer challenged the spectators to join her on stage. I had acted like a child with no self-dignity all day, especially when we were at the camel farm, but I wasn’t ready to humiliate myself belly-dancing. Nevertheless, some of the spectators were far less shy and performed a sort of mock-belly-dancing provoking the general hilarity.

Smoke shisha also known as Nargileh

travel to afghanistan smoking hookah herat

In Arab land, there is no proper ending of a night out without the traditional sheesha, or more commonly known as nargileh. I had already smoked water pipe during my last visit in Istanbul and I had enjoyed it, but the one I had in Abu Dhabi desert was truly aphrodisiac, apple-flavored and exquisitely balanced so that the smoke didn’t prevent from properly tasting the tobacco.

As the gloom deepened, the laid-back vibe of the desert’s inhabitants had totally conquered me, to the extent that I would have found perfectly natural spending the night in a tent. In ancient times, only seldom Bedouins would venture throughout the dunes from oases to oases, while now tourist organizations offer the possibility to visitors coming from every corner of the planet to experience the life in the desert.

If compared to the plush atmosphere of UAE’s main cities such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, we would tend to believe that camel farmers living in weathered tents in the middle of nowhere was a lifestyle belonging to a remote past in the Emirates’ history. However, as I ventured deeper among the dunes, spoke to locals and delved into the country’s history, I was somehow pleased to find out that the modern world got there rather recently, and that only forty years ago the Emirates was a desert land. This, for that matter, explains full well the passion that still today local Emiratis have for their desert, and why they enjoy venture in such excursions whenever they can.

No matter how many Ferrari, Maserati or Lamborghini dart in Abu Dhabi or Dubai roads, or how many luxury desert resorts are in the UAE, the soul of Emirati people belongs to the desert. And the way Sheikhs govern their Emirate has retained much of the tribal care and solidarity towards the other members of the clan.

It’s this fleeting yet intense experience that will be impressed in my memory for the time being. At the end of the evening, lights were turned off and we were brought back to reality by the same 4×4 Land Cruiser that had introduced us to the desert only a couple of hours earlier. After a day spent in such a primordial reality, I can see why camel farmers and desert-dwellers are not envious of our fast-paced routine.

Surf the great sand sea on a sand board

If you’re looking for a truly unique and fan experience, why not try sand surfing in Abu Dhabi? This desert city is home to the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert, and it’s a great place to try this new sport. Sand surfing is similar to regular surfing, but instead of riding on waves, you ride on sand dunes. It’s a great way to get a adrenaline rush while enjoying the stunning desert scenery. There are plenty of sand boarding operators in Abu Dhabi, so you can easily find a company that will provide you with all the equipment you need. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, sand surfing is sure to give you an unforgettable experience if you are up for it.

Speed across the desert on a quad bike

If you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping activity during your Abu Dhabi safari, look no further than a quad bike tour. Speeding across the desert sands on one of these powerful machines is an exhilarating experience that you won’t soon forget. And with a knowledgeable guide leading the way, you can rest assured that you’ll be in good hands. Just be sure to dress for the occasion, as you’re sure to get dusty and dirty during your tour!

Practical Tips To Enjoy an Abu Dhabi Safari

Morning, Afternoon or Overnight safari?

Abu Dhabi is a renowned tourist destination for its luxury hotels and resorts, but there’s so much more to see in this Arabian city. One of the best ways to experience Abu Dhabi is on a morning desert safari. Depending not he season, the morning Safaris can get pretty hot, plus t’s mainly focused on the desert itself rather than on entertainment that you would get in the afternoon Abu Dhabi Safaris.

Afternoon Safari on the other hand is the most popular option. They tend to take off after the heat of the day has gone and focus both on the desert itself as well as evining entertainment. I would highly suggest the after Safaris, especially if you are in the country in summer where it’s unbearably hot.

A visit to the Abu Dhabi Desert Safari is complete if you manage to spend at least one night under the stars. An overnight stay will allow you to see the desert in all of its glory, at sunset and sunrise. You will also have a greater chance of encountering wildlife as the creatures of the desert are more active during the night time. An overnight safari also offers the chance to stargaze and take in majestic and unpolluted views of the night sky. If you have time within your schedule, an overnight stay is highly recommended.

During the safari, you might have the chance to see some of Abu Dhabi’s iconic landmarks, including the Liwa Oasis and Jebel Hafeet Mountain. You’ll also get up close and personal with some of the local wildlife, such as camels and Arabian gazelles.

How to book a desert safari in Abu Dhabi

When it comes to booking a desert safari, there are a number of things to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s important to choose a reputable and reliable operator. We recommend booking through ‘Get Your Guide’, as they offer a simple and easy booking system, along with instant confirmation texts and the option to cancel for free up to 24 hours before your planned excursion. This gives you that extra peace of mind, especially with current uncertainty around travel plans.

Another important consideration is what type of tour you want to book. There are a variety of different options available, from camel rides and dune safaris to overnight camping trips. Be sure to do your research and choose the tour that best suits your interests and needs. Most tours are conducted in English, but some tour providers can offer alternative languages – so be sure to check the language options before you book.

Finally, don’t forget to factor in the cost of the tour when making your decision. While most Abu Dhabi desert safaris are reasonably priced, there are always going to be some variants depending on the operator and the type of tour you choose. By keeping all of these factors in mind, you’re sure to have a desert safari experience that you’ll never

Best Season for an Abu Dhabi Desert Safari

The best season for a desert safari in Abu Dhabi is from late November to Early March. This is when the weather is cooler and ideal for spending time in the desert. During this season, you can expect to see a variety of wildlife and plant life, as well as stunning views of the sand dunes. Abu Dhabi can get extremely hot during the summer months making it difficult to do the safari.

Additionally, winter is the busiest time of year for the Abu Dhabi safari which means that you will be able to see more animals during this time. There are also many activities to keep you busy during these months of the year in Abu Dhabi, such as camel riding, sand boarding, and quad biking.

Climate in Abu Dhabi, the Capital of the United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and is located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The climate in Abu Dhabi is classified as a hot desert climate, with very little rainfall and extremely high temperatures. During the summer months, temperatures can often exceed 50 degrees Celsius.

However, Abu Dhabi is also one of the driest places on Earth, with an average rainfall of just 50 millimeters per year. As a result, the climate in Abu Dhabi can be quite harsh and difficult to adjust to.

There are only two seasons in the United Arab Emirates. Summer and Winter, or also referred to as hot and hotter. The warmest climate lasts around 9 months and the coldest climate only last 3 months.

Abu Dhabi has a sub-tropical, arid climate, which means that it is relatively hot and dry all year round. However, in the cooler months (from November to March), temperatures hover around 20-24°C in the day and 10-15°C at night. This makes Abu Dhabi an ideal winter getaway for those who want to escape the cold weather. Not to mention, Abu Dhabi is home to some of the most luxurious hotels and resorts in the world, so you can enjoy all the Abu Dhabi has to offer in style.

What to pack and wear for an Abu Dhabi Desert Safari

There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re packing for an Abu Dhabi Desert Safari to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.

Pack loose comfortable clothing

When planning what to wear for an Abu Dhabi Desert Safari, it’s important to remember that you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in a hot, sandy environment. Loose fitting clothing made from natural fibers like cotton or linen will help you stay cool and comfortable. And while there’s no need to completely cover up, it’s important to observe the local dress code and avoid wearing anything too revealing. Ladies should stick to long pants or skirts and avoid short skirts as they are not very practical for sitting on the ground. Men should wear long pants and shirts that covers their chests and shoulders. With a little advance planning, you can be sure to pack the perfect outfit for your Abu Dhabi Desert Safari.

Wear socks and closed toe trainers

When packing for an Abu Dhabi Desert Safari, it’s important to keep in mind the activities you’ll be taking part in. Closed-toe trainers are a must for desert and sand-boarding, and a spare pair of flip flops will come in handy for other activities in the camp. It’s also important to dress appropriately for the desert climate, so instead of winter shoes, light and breathable shoes would be ideal.

A scarf to wrap around your neck

Aside from wearing loose, comfortable clothing, and packing plenty of water and snacks to stay hydrated and fueled during your adventure, don’t forget to pack a scarf or other item to cover your head and face to protect you from the sand and dust. Not always needed but if the sun is too strong or there is a little wind, it comes really handy.

A wrap, sweater or a cardigan

Abu Dhabi’s desert evenings can get chilly, so it’s important to pack a sweater or cardigan for your safari. If you’re planning to spend time in the desert during the winter months, you’ll also want to pack a heavier coat to keep you warm. A scarf or wrap will also come in handy for keeping your head and neck warm.

Sunscreen and a hat if you choose day safari

If you’re planning a trip to Abu Dhabi, be sure to pack sunscreen and a hat. Even if you’re only going to be in the desert for a short time, the sun can be extremely harsh. A good sunscreen will protect your skin from sunburn, while a hat will help keep your head cool and prevent heatstroke. In addition, it’s always a good idea to have plenty of water with you. The desert can be very dehydrating, especially for kids.

Pack sanitizer to keep you hands clean

Abu Dhabi is well known for its desert safaris. These safaris typically involve riding in a 4×4 vehicle over sand dunes, and they often culminate with a visit to a camel farm. If you’re planning to go on a desert safari, there are a few things you should pack. In addition to sunscreen and water, be sure to bring along hand sanitizer. The desert is full of dust and other particles that can quickly make your hands dirty. By sanitizing before you eat, you can help to prevent the spread of germs. And after you’ve been petting or feeding the camels, it’s important to sanitize again. The animals are often carriers of bacteria that can cause stomach upset, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and give your hands a good scrub before you eat anything else.

Take tissues and wet wipes on your Safari

When packing for an Abu Dhabi Desert Safari, be sure to include tissues and wet wipes. The desert can be a dusty and dirty place, and your children will likely end up with messy faces and hands. Tissues and wet wipes will help to keep them clean and comfortable. Wet wipes are also useful for cleaning up spills and messes in the car or on the campground.

Pack water and snacks for the excursion

In addition, pack plenty of water and snacks to keep your children hydrated and fed. It’s always a good ideal to carry snacks in case they serve the food later than you kids are used or the Arabic meal is not to your little ones’ taste.

Don’t eat before dune bashing

The Abu Dhabi Desert Safari is a thrilling experience, but it can also be a bit of an intestine-wrenching one. That’s why it’s important to follow some simple tips to avoid feeling sick during or after your safari. First, make sure you eat a light meal at least an hour before your desert excursion. A heavier meal will just make you feel more uncomfortable when the SUV moves around. Second, avoid drinking any alcohol before the safari. The last thing you want is to add dehydration to the mix. Third, bring along some ginger candy or tea to help settle your stomach if you start to feel queasy. Finally, try to relax and take deep breaths when the Jeep hits bumps in the sand. By following these tips, you can ensure that you’ll have a fun and memorable experience on your Abu Dhabi Desert Safari.

Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance

One of the most popular tourist activities in Abu Dhabi is a desert safari. These types of safaris typically involve an off-road journey through the desert, followed by a sunset camel ride and a traditional Arabic dinner. While most desert safaris are safe and enjoyable, there are always risks involved when travelling to a foreign country. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have travel insurance before you go. Here are a few tips to help you choose the right policy:

  • First, consider what type of coverage you need. If you’re only planning on doing a desert safari, then you probably don’t need comprehensive coverage. A basic policy that covers medical expenses and evacuation should be sufficient.
  • Second, check to see if your existing health insurance will cover you while you’re abroad. If it does, you may not need to purchase travel insurance at all.
  • Finally, compare policies from different providers to find the one that best meets your needs. Be sure to read the fine print so that you understand what is and isn’t covered. By following these tips, you can be confident that you’ll have the right travel insurance policy in

You read my experience on a Safari in Abu Dhabi and I am interested to know how was your experience of Abu Dhabi desert safari. Here are a couple of questions, feel free to share your answers, tips and suggestions in the comment section below.

  1. What was your favorite animal you saw on the safari?
  2. What was the best part of the safari for you?
  3. Did you go on a safari in Abu Dhabi before? If so, what did you think of it?
  4. Do you have any funny or interesting stories from your safari experience?
  5. Would you recommend going on a safari in Abu Dhabi to others?

Not tired of the UAE yet? Check out our other articles:

Sightseeing in Dubai, the old and the new

Traveling to Al Ain, in the footsteps of Sheikh Zayed

Visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque? The dress code for men and women

about me: Angela Corrias
About the author

I'm Angela Corrias, an Italian journalist, photographer, and travel writer located in the heart of Italy's capital. Welcome to my website, your comprehensive source for your travels and expert guidance for crafting your dream travel experience.

23 thoughts on “Desert safari in Abu Dhabi to discover the nomad roots”

  1. Articles et photos absolument interessants! J’espère retrouver ce que tu décris à Noel 2011, quand, si tout ira comme prévu, je ferai mon premier voyage dans les Emirats!!!

    • They organize the same tour in Dubai too, I’ve been to Jaisalmer desert in India and although there were many people, I didn’t see any dune driving. I love the desert, every time I have the possibility I try to spend at least half a day on the sand :)

  2. I’m glad you had the great experience, but I’m sorry to see the four wheeling on the dunes. In southern California, outside Yuma, AZ, the dunes still bear the marks of machinery driven over them during training missions in World War II. They hold those images so much longer than you would think.

    • Omg still from WWII?? They go to Abu Dhabi desert every day, not only for tourists, I think also young people just for driving, but to be honest I didn’t see very strong marks, and the landscape was not spoiled. Although for sure it’s not really ideal every day driving on dunes..

      • Glad you had such a great time in what’s been my home since ’98. Wish we’d been there when you dropped in. You’ve made me miss those things…
        I’ve researched dune damage a lot over the years for guidebooks/stories & there are a number of schools of thought, from “the dunes are experiencing irreparable damage & dune-driving prevents vegetation from growing” to “the dunes are constantly shifting anyway” (though that’s something they’d do less with some vegetation).
        The dune drives *are* exhilarating but the dunes are also precious. I’d prefer to see the driving restricted to certain confined areas. But then tourists dont want to drive on areas marked by tracks, they want pristine, perfect dunes. Ah, the dilemma…
        Personally, I’d like more opportunities for longer camel rides/treks – there are very few.

        • True, camel riding was very short, in Jaisalmer desert I haven’t seen dune driving but we could ride the camel for truly long distances, it was a real means of transportation, which felt very authentic.
          I miss Abu Dhabi too, I’m trying to go back for Xmas, not sure if I manage. If you are there would be lovely to meet up :)

  3. This is such a wonderful story, Angela. It just makes me want to be able to have the same adventure. I’ve been fascinated with deserts from an early age, but have only actually been to those in the U.S.

    Fabulous photos!

    • Thanks Cathy! If you can, don’t even think about it, just book a ticket to the Emirates, it’s fascinating :)

    • If you go back, make sure you do a safari in the desert, it’s very fascinating, they organize the same also for Dubai.

  4. Camel rides, flavoured pipes, belly dancers and dates are not the only attractions when travelers set off on the desert safari Dubai, the main highlight of the trip is the serene desert itself.

  5. what a blast! although i think i’d much prefer a camel to the dune buggies (we have them here, on our sand dunes, by lake michigan)…

    • Yes, riding a camel is very nice, they also told me it’s comfortable, which I didn’t really think it was.. Maybe I just need to get used to it :P


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