One of the most unforgettable experiences your kids can have in the UAE is to go desert camping.
Inspired by our Wadi Rum camping experience in Jordan, we decided that it was the time we took the kids camping (ok they were kinda begging to do it for years!). Now having only camped a little as a child and as an adult, I was fully aware that camping can be most the exhilarating but challenging travel experiences.
I mean I HATE sand! Toileting outside I can surprisingly deal with but the threat of overnight scorpion visitors….to undertake camping in the desert is a whole new level of outdoorsy for me!!!
This post originally appeared on the family travel blog Our Globetrotters and has been republished with permission
In this post we’ll cover
- Best time to camp in the UAE
- Where to camp in the UAE & Oman
- What to bring camping
- Safety precautions for beach & desert camping
- Other UAE camping resources
A forward note…..
Never go desert camping unless you are prepared; It’s not for amateurs, mostly involves off-roading and in many parts, you will be out of mobile range. Read up well, heed warnings from those more experienced than you. Make sure you read the safety precautions at the footer of this article.
and embrace the sand…..
Best time to camp in the UAE
It goes without saying the United Arab Emirates are smack in the centre of the Middle East. Hot and humid to dry weather is prevalent for much of the year so unless you’re up for a hot and sticky experience, the cooler months October through to April are best for outdoor adventures.
That said there are also mountains and wadis. At high elevations, overnight temperatures can drop below zero in the winter. Wadis are also subject to flash flooding so be careful with your winter travel plans and keep an eye on weather forecasts, conditions can change rapidly.
Most locals and expats go camping at the weekend so of course, Thursday to Saturday tend to the busiest days at popular locations. If you are visiting or have the flexibility, try going mid-week, you are bound to have pretty much any of these popular spots for yourself!
Where to camp in the UAE
Most of the seven Emirates have suitable camping spots. We’ve asked a number of friends and avid campers in the know to help put together this list. If we’ve missed any though (that you’re prepared to share!) do let us know so we can add them!
Abu Dhabi – Al Dhafra Beach
How to find it: Take the E11 west and follow signs to Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort / Al Dhafra Golf Links. The beach can be accessed through the Golf club.
(NB as at November 2017 the golf club have blocked access to the beach saying it’s for “members only”. As an alternative keep heading along the old E11. Between Shuweihat Power Complex and Al Hamra Airport, there’s a wide sandy beachfront)
What to expect: A real mixed bag it’s great for diving, snorkelling, swimming, SUP, wildlife spotting. Whilst the sand is soft white and beautiful, the beach is unfortunately not always clean of litter so do expect to clear a spot and take a few garbage bags with you. Beginner level but a little off-roading is required so do take a 4WD.
Tips: As with any sort of beach camping, check your tides before you go! This is a tide chart for Abu Dhabi Emirate – though we can categorial say the tides came in at a completely different time! Stick to setting up your camp on the soft dry sand to be sure.
Nearby Shuweihat Island used to be open to the public to explore but it seems this is no longer possible.
Abu Dhabi – Liwa Desert
How to find it: Follow the E11 West, and take the exit for E45 Madinat Zayed and Mezaira’a. You should see signage for the Liwa Resthouse and turn left at a roundabout signposted Tal Mireb (Moreeb Dune). For a more detailed guide to best locations within Liwa, The Desert Diva has some fabulously detailed maps and advice.
What to expect: It’s not called the Empty Quarter without reason! You are heading into the world’s biggest sand desert so expect to be wowed as the sand dunes turn a deep rich red colour. This is the place for sand boarding and dune bashing, taking advantage of the natural dune formations. Due to its isolation and the size of the dunes, this is one is mostly for the experienced drivers and campers only, though there are some 2WD roads.
Tips: Stock up on any fuel or supplies at Mezaira’a
Dubai – Al Qudra Lakes
How to find it: Located in Bab al Shams and Seih Al Salam desert, take the E77 from Dubai then the D63.
What to expect: Full of wildlife and close to to the city, it’s a great beginner levels spot as most 2WD vehicles can cope with it.
Tips: If you are looking for a serene setting avoid the weekends it gets quite full of party-goers
Dubai – Big Red (Bidayer)
How to find it: An easy 45-minutes from Dubai, take the Dubai-Hatta Road (E44) as if going to the Hatta crossing. Follow signs for Madam and after a bunch of small shops, you should find an entrance on the right. Drive until you find your spot!
What to expect: Outdoor sporting enthusiast love this spot for dune bashing, quad biking, sand boarding – and what do you know, it’s pretty red! Great picturesque spot to pitch your tent.
Tips: Careful where you setting up camp, you don’t want other desert users to unexpectedly find you over a dune.
Dubai: Jebel Ali Open Beach
How to Find it: Drive towards Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, go past the main entrance and you should see a track on your right to access the beachfront.
What to expect: Once a prime spot for Dubai residents to escape, it has become overcrowded and spoilt by surrounding construction. On the plus side, it’s still a convenient distance from town. Waves are gentle as the new Jebel Ali Palm acts as a breakwater.
Tips: Municipality workers do come to collect rubbish from here in the morning – but don’t be lazy, it’s not hard to tidy up a bit and take your own trash.
UPDATE: Jebel Ali became home to Banan Beach – tented glamping site. This also closed in 2019 – rumoured to be reopening in RAK. More information to follow.
Fujairah – Al Aqah Beach
Update as at 21 November 2020
How to find it: Arrive from the north or the south on the E99. Near Le Meridien al Aqah beach resort is a large roundabout with entry to Al Aqah Beach.
What to Expect: Great views to The Gulf of Oman and there are nearby wadi’s and historic buildings for some exploring.
Tips: Your proximity to Le Meridien al Aqah can be a curse, it’s a bit of a party hotel at weekends and campers can bear the brunt of this.
Ras al Khaimah – Jebel Al Jais
How to find it: Take the E11 then the Khuzam Road.
What to Expect: This is the UAE’s highest point so definitely one for the views. We’ve had reports from ‘its just rocks and too much construction’ to how truly spectacular the views are, so you make up your mind! Most people look to day trip but camping is also possible, 2WD about 45 minutes to ascend.
Tips: You’re in the mountains so expect extreme temperature drops overnight and a hard surface – bring ground mats for sleeping.
Sharjah – Fossil Rock (Jebel Melihah)
How to find it: Take the Sharjah-Kalba Road (E102)
What to Expect: This is a fun camping spot, especially for kids who can explore the marine fossils that can be found on the rock’s slopes. As well as the usual adrenaline seekers, its popular with hikers too. The lovely orangey-red colours here come from the presence of iron oxide in the sand.
Umm al Quwain – Beach
How to find it: Head towards the signs for Dreamland on the E11. You are looking for the area called Al Rafaah, turn to your left for the Umm al Quwain coast
What to expect: A good combination of fishing, kayaking in the mangroves or even some flamingo spotting
Tips: Be mindful where exactly you set up camp as it’s quite tidal – don’t forget your fishing gear!
Best camping spots in Oman
These are the best spots that are easily reachable from the UAE. There are plenty more wadi’s and amazing beaches to the south of Oman but we are yet to cover these with any sort of expertise so sticking to those in a few hours drive from Dubai.
As at December 2020, the UAE-Oman Border has re-opened. Check latest Oman E-Visa information here
Please note: You are crossing an international border!! You will need;
- a PASSPORT for everyone in your car
- An eVISA for entry into Oman
- INSURANCE that covers your vehicle in Oman (OK for most residents who own their vehicle but if you are renting or long-term leasing you may need a permission letter from the vehicle’s owner).
- FEES. These can honestly vary depending on which border and who’s on duty that given day. Expect to pay 35AED for your UAE exit stamp and 20OMR (roughy 200AED) for your entry visa to Oman.
How to find it: The nearest entry point is on the east coast, keep driving through Ras Al Khaimah until you hit the border then drive along the Khasab Coastal Road.
What to expect: If you are stating in the very northern part, you could organise a dhow cruise from Khasab Hotel. More adventurous might want to head into the mountains here and Wadi Khasab. We have a complete guide to touring Musandam here.
Tip: If you are camping on the rocks to beat the tide you will need ground mats
How to Find it: Come into the Musandam Peninsula from the west coast, you will drive through RAK & Fujairah on the E87. A recommended spot to stop is near the Golden Tulip Hotel. There’s a gas station nearby that sells firewood, then just beyond the hotel, you will find a beach entrance on the right.
As at November 2017 we are told due to misuse of the beach overnight camping is no longer allowed here; If you have an update, let us know!
How to find it: Cross the border at Al Ain from 137th Street, taking the E21 you will pass through the town of Ibri. At the 2000m point, there is a base camp. Take a left at the sign for the camp and head a few kilometres further on beyond the sealed road.
What to Expect: This tallest point in the Hajar mountains at 2999m Jebel Shams is also known as the Grand Canyon of Oman so you are in for spectacular views, hiking trails, wildlife. You are high in the mountains so do expect at least a 10c+ drop in temperatures overnight.
Tips: You can bring your own camping gear for this one or rent basic tents with bathrooms.
What to Pack for Desert Camping in the UAE
Some absolute essentials to think about;
- Having a good GPS or offline maps – Google maps is good but does have limitations when it comes to off the beaten path. We strongly recommend you pick up a UAE Off-Road Guide by Explorer Publishing, by far the most reliable source of information for off-roading in the region, includes 4WD and hiking tracks.
- 4WD gear – including a shovel and tow ropes should you get stuck
- Rake and garbage bags. It’s unfortunate but some of the country’s best spots are also spoilt by litter
- Take plenty of water and firewood – neither you are likely to find in fresh supply at the beach or in the desert
- Some sort of shade, umbrella, gazebo. Even in the winter, the sun can be oppressively hot and your tent will be an oven you’ll need some sort of shelter as unfortunately there are no UAE beach/desert camping sites that have any sort of natural shade.
- You’ll want a privacy tent or shade of some sort too as all camping spots are pretty exposed, this can reduce the embarrassment in a big group when mother nature calls!
If you are first-time campers getting yourselves set up, some good places to shop for supplies are Carrefour (stock leading camping brands such as Coleman), Ace hardware and IKEA (for all those storage boxes!).
Adventure HQ is another option- a little pricey but great quality camping gear sourced worldwide and the staff seem to really know what they’re talking about.
Water, ice & firewood can be purchased from most petrol stations around the country.
Safety Precautions and camping Guidelines in the UAE
- Camping on some Dubai beaches you need a permit from Dubai Municipality
- Only go off-road in a convoy in case one of you gets stuck
- Always travel with a full tank of petrol
- Check tyre pressure and fluid levels
- Check the weather! Wadis can fill unexpectedly and fast and tides can rise surprisingly high on what might appear to be dry sand
- Always shake shoes for scorpions before putting them on
- Leave it as you found it (or better!)
Other UAE Camping Resources
- Ask friends and family the best spots to go. Although we’ve picked out a few of the popular spots – that can also mean other people know these spots too! Part of the beauty of UAE desert camping is that you have so much space and you can pull up a tent in so many spots, so try and be original!!
- Newbies with limited desert experience may be interested in special events such as Carols in the Desert – a truly unique UAE experience run by St Andrews Church in Abu Dhabi. It’s held in mid-December every year about an hour from the city. You can drive out to the site in convoy, just for the evening or stay overnight with plenty of budding helpers around.
- Just want a taster? No problem, there are loads of operators to choose from. Pop over to Get Your Guide, premier suppliers of tours and events in the UAE they have a wide selection of evening excursions, overnighters and beyond to give you a sample of the desert, but they do the hard work!!
If you’d prefer somebody else does the hard work for you – be it pitching your tent or the whole works of having meals prepared and even bathroom amenities on-site – you’ll want to jump over to our UAE Glamping guide.
We cover eveything from pre-assigned camping plots with a small fee for bathrooms and amenities, through to ultra luxurious bubble tents and campers, still allowing you to get close to nature whilst also enjoying some amazing mod-cons!
If it all gets too much or the idea of that much desert sand curls the toes – try out these desert resort retreats instead!
- Anantara Qasr al Sarab, deep in the Liwa Desert this is serious opulence and has been by far our favourite luxury desert experience.
- Bab al Shams Desert Resort and Spa – a very fancy Dubai alternative with a huge outdoor program but all the luxuries including an infinity pool overlooking the desert.
- The Ritz Ras al Khaimah Al Wadi Desert – Here it’s the exclusive individual villas that are a massive drawcard along with their extensive ‘back to nature’ programs and luxurious rainforest spa
- For a hybrid experience, we loved Arabian Nights Village. Located less than an hour from Abu Dhabi, off the Al Ain road, you could still undertake desert experiences like sandboarding, quad biking, camel riding, but snuggle back in your cosy (luxury!) bayt for overnight.
- A more commercialized beach camp, but nonetheless a lot of fun can be found at Longbeach Campground in Ras Al Khaimah.
If staying overnight in the desert still doesn’t sound appealing, you could try just a morning or evening desert safari for an introductory taster, then be back cosily in your hotel room by dinner time!
Most importantly have fun. Embrace the sand and get out there and explore!
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More adventures from around the UAE
If you’ve enjoyed this post, why not also check out
- Our Ultimate UAE Staycations guide – every Emirate of the UAE from cultural attract5iosn to outdoor experiences and the best resort stays
- Winter Weekends in the UAE – includes a printable checklist you can stick to your fridge with all the best outdoor adventures across the UAE
- Ecotourism in the UAE – sustainability professional Shea talks us through her favourite Eco experiences to take with the kids in the UAE, outdoors and indoors in the warmer weather
For more great discussion on what to do with your kids in the UAE and the Middle East, join our dedicated Facebook Group Family Travel Middle East