The area surrounding the shimmering oasis of Dubai is a stark contrast to the city. As the buildings start to thin out, the metropolis gives way to the serene expanse of sand and dunes that is the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR). The DDCR is the UAE’s first national park, created to preserve the desert habitat of various flora and fauna and protect them from the quickly expanding city. It is the perfect place to see what this area of the U.A.E was like before the rapid development took place.
I wasn’t enjoying my time in Dubai – to me the city felt artificial, soulless and inauthentic. It’s not Dubai’s fault – I knew what it was like before I arrived. I was maybe expecting too much to try and get a glimpse into normal middle eastern life in a shining, multinational concrete jungle. Even a walk around the old town and outskirts of the city hadn’t satisfied the cultural itch. I needed to get out of the city. A half day dune bashing trip and desert tour seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Yes, it is very touristy – the camels, people in traditional dress and falconry shows are contrived, feigned displays for the visitors – but I didn’t care. I wanted to get out of town and racing around the sand dunes in a 4×4 seemed like the perfect cure to my Dubai fatigue.
Riding out to the Desert
I was picked up from my hotel around 8am by our driver and tour guide to be driven out to the DDCR. There were 5 of us in this particular vehicle; Becky and I, a mother and her two daughters who were Dubai veterans. She had done this dune bashing trip loads of times. Along the way our guide talked to us about life in Dubai and answering any questions that I had.
He drove us past Al Marmoom camel racetrack where we could see camels training. Camel racing is a serious business in the U.A.E and we could see the camels hurtling along with robotic riders on their saddles, the trainers in jeeps speeding alongside them.
On the outskirts of Dubai we saw the huge villas that some Emirati citizens live in. Our guide explained that they receive housing allowances, marriage allowances and other funds from Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, allowing them to live relatively rich lives. As they only make up 12% of the city’s population and Dubai is so wealthy, the Sheikh feels he can share some of the money with them. However, this is only true for Emirati citizens as many of the immigrant workers in Dubai earn very low wages and live in much poorer conditions. This is also not true for all of the U.A.E; it is only Sheikh Mohammed’s vast wealth that allows for this to happen.
As we got further from the city I could begin to see the yellow dunes rising in the distance. We stopped at the entrance to the reserve so that our guide could begin to deflate the 4×4’s tyres and the dune bashing could begin.
Previously there has been complaints about drivers going over the dunes too quickly and dangerously. There are now strict speed limits in place set by the tourism ministry to ensure that the tours are safe. Even with the speed restrictions this is an exhilarating experience. Our car slowly edged up to the top of a high dune, the two right hand wheels on the ridge with the jeep leaning precariously to the left. We moved forwards slowly until suddenly the car lurched downwards and picked up speed. The bashing had begun.
The driver sped around the dunes, sometimes clinging to the incline of the sandy hills, occasionally approaching them head on so that we really felt the drop at the other side. On the back seats we were thrown from side to side, really feeling each sharp turn. If you get travel sick, this is definitely not recommended. The car takes a predefined route through the dunes but this doesn’t make it any less thrilling. With each turn and drop I slid around the back seat, my stomach doing somersaults and my head spinning. It was incredible fun.
Realising just how dizzy his passengers were, our guide stopped at the top of a dune to allow us to stretch our legs and take some photos of the beautiful desert. The sun was starting to beat down and the dunes were bathed in bright yellow light.
We went for one more round on the dunes before stopping for a breakfast picnic in a desert camp. Here we had the opportunity to take part in some activities. Sandboarding was off the cards due to the sand being a little damp (I wasn’t too bothered as I have sand boarded before) but camel riding was available (again I gave it a miss as I thought it wouldn’t live up to camel trekking in the Sahara). I did give desert biking a go though. These are essentially regular bikes but with large, over inflated tyres to allow you to ride up and down the sand dunes. It was fun for around 10 minutes but cycling up steep inclines in the Dubai heat quickly takes it out of you.
Before long we were loaded back in to our jeep to be driven back to the hotel.
Was it Worth it?
I had a great time driving around the dunes. It was exhilarating and an experience I had never had before so yes, I would say it was worth it. At £60 for the trip it is a little steep but this is Dubai after all, not much comes for free. If you have been to other deserts before, i.e. camel trekked in the Sahara, you may not be too impressed by the scale of the dunes.
The night time tours look a lot of fun if you have more time in the U.A.E. With these you have the same dune bashing experience and activities but also can watch the sun set over the desert. Afterwards you are given dinner and a show in a Bedouin camp complete with a bonfire and unlimited alcoholic drinks. At AED375 (£80) it is better value for money but a little steep for the budget traveller.
About the Tour
I booked my half day trip through Arabian Adventures. There seems to be infinite choice of operators for this kind of tour but AA seemed to be the most reputable, although a little more expensive than most at AED285 (~£60).
The tour takes around 4 hours. I was collected from my hotel reception by our desert guide at 8am and arrived back at about 12pm.
Various activities are included in the price; sand-boarding, camel rides and desert biking (weather permitting).
Food and drink is included – Bottled water is provided while you are in the car and after the dune bashing you are given a picnic breakfast of sandwiches and soft drinks/coffee.
A portion of the tour fee goes towards supporting the DDCR.
Have you been dune bashing before? drop me a comment below.
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