A story, a review and a wonderful photo journal – this is our time in UAE’s top dune region.
Our trip to Abu Dhabi had seen us chasing pucks in an ice rink instead of sipping bitter Arab coffee in an oasis in the middle of the desert.
Fortunately, on the last day of the 9 days we were in Abu Dhabi, we manage to eat up the desert miles with a purpose in mind – the desert sands and a few sips of shishas.
Spending an evening or a night in the desert is something every traveller dream about. And here we are, on our way to make the most out of our last day in Abu Dhabi.
Off-Roading Into a Sea of Sand
Al Khatim lies in between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. It’s roughly 82 km out of Abu Dhabi and 72km from Al Ain. Just before the tracks, we drove on arrow-straight roads where there were occasional mini sand waves giving you an indication of light wind in the air.
You can tell you’re almost there when you stop seeing speed limit signs and more camel signs. Al Khatim is remote, quiet and accompanied by rolling landscapes, and is unremarkable with the slow growth of ghaf trees. Despite it being a sunstruck sandbowl, Al Khatim is one of UAE’s top dune regions. It’s perfect for desert adventures.
Getting to the tracks from our hotel at Abu Dhabi International Airport, was about a 45-minute drive.
Just before we hit the sand tracks, our driver, Syed stops to reduce tyre pressure for maximum traction when we move against the sand. It was also an opportunity for the other 4x4s to catch up and join us.
Once the convoy was ready, with Syed behind the wheel, and the upbeat middle eastern soundtrack, all 4x4s headed off the asphalt and navigated the bumpy trails of Al Khatim desert dunes.
Syed navigates through a bewildering number of hairpin bends on mountainous sand dune edges that doesn’t seem like it will end. That alone was the longest 30-minute continuous skid and slips in our seats.
At times we could feel the vehicle tilting at an angle so close to the sand floors, we can almost touch it if we roll down the windows. Other times, the ride feels like a bumpy rollercoaster whirlwind. Puking is possible.
Occasionally we see, Syed, manoeuvering the steering wheel with one hand and a phone on the other. We weren’t too sure if we should be chilled or if we should worry. He somehow manages to make it look meh.
On route, we made a short pit stop at the camel (and donkey) farm where we were greeted so enthusiastically by the tour leader.
Catching the Arabian Sunset
Our camp for the evening – was set in perfect Bedouin-style camp, discreet isolation and bordered by sand dunes. Reams of red carpets laid out and cushioned floor seats with knee-level tables set around a stage that was meant for dancers to perform later in the evening. It surpassed our expectations.
There are other camps out here and certainly with the same kind of itinerary that our safari operator provides – the 4×4 dune bashing, sandboarding, ATV, camel ride, henna painting, and a chance to dress up in Arabian costumes. Getting to hold a falcon is also part of the itinerary.
As the dipping sun stole the last of the desert heat, we indulged in sandboarding, killing time so we can catch something magical – our very own sunset!
While the sun sets behind the dunes, we spent the evening trying to stand on our boards over and over again while some of us resorted to camel riding and chill sessions.
We laughed, we tumbled, we ran on the dunes, we sat on them with sand in our faces and we smiled while our bare toes buried in the cool sand. Truly one of those moments which we all travel for. Time moves slowly and always seemed like it’s on our side.
The Trip Organiser
We didn’t spend a long time trying to find the right desert safari adventure. All it took was for us to Google Desert Safari Adventure and this excursion was one of the first to rank in our search.
With a bit of review and background checks, we quickly booked our spots via Trip Advisor. The booking was easy and secure but most importantly, every key question you might have about the trip can be found on their trip page. If not, their phone customer service is very knowledgable and helpful too.
What impressed me the most was that their timing from the point of pick up till the drop off back at our hotel was absolutely smooth.
Not only was the camp beautifully set up, but the many elements that were set in place to ensure the quality created a fantastic experience for each guest.
The facilities are fairly decent, the dinner was freshly prepared and tasty, and there was plenty of space for guests to sit in splendid isolation or in a group to make friends.
So even though the itinerary mentions belly dance performance, there is another dance that was included – the Tanoura dance. It’s an Egyptian folk dance with a weighted skirt that is used during the dance. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures for this one. My camera died on me.
And after the dance performances, we were treated with a moment to lay on our backs and stargaze into the beautiful dark desert sky. It was very therapeutic.
The trip was organised by Emirates Tours and Safaris. If you plan to do this excursion, you can either book a place with them or via Trip Advisor. Check here for more info.
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