Dubai Snapshots: Desert Safari Experience

Every visit to Dubai will never be complete without a Desert Safari experience. From an exhilarating dune bashing ride and that obligatory photo with a sweeping sand dune backdrop, to riding a camel or an ATV and watching restless Tanura and belly dancers as you drink your third cup of hot tea, it's really one of those top touristy things you just have to do when in Dubai.

In our over seven years here in Dubai, I already lost count how many desert safaris we have gone to because every year there would be atleast one friend from back home who would come and visit us. My husband and I are huge fans of the weekend anyway, so if the desert safari is happening on our day off, it really takes a lot of will power for us to say no (unless of course when the weather is burning). We would always tag along our tourist friends and sometimes would even organize the entire thing for them when we have the time or when we're just feeling extra hospitable. It's always fun, and ‘never say no to a fun-filled experience’ has always been our life’s mantra.

I have learned quite a few things and some lessons too (sometimes even the hard way) over those years that we've been going on desert safaris with family and friends. So here are some tips and tricks that I hope would help you guys to make sure that you will have a fun and memorable Dubai Desert Safari experience.
Choose a reliable tour guide
There are a lot of travel agencies and tour operators who offer Dubai Desert Safari tour services at different price points. I know that it’s very easy to opt for the cheapest tour, but you really have to be smart about it as cheapest doesn't always translate to quality. And just the same, expensive doesn't always mean the best. Sadly, I have learned this thing the hard way.

One important tip: Always read and understand the fine print of your booking. A couple of years ago, we paid extra for an exclusive VIP tour after calling up the agency and made to believe that our group will have the van all to ourselves. However, after picking us up from our place, we were shocked to discover that there were going to be other people with us too on the same van but what’s worse was that we were even made to wait for almost an hour because the other group came down late. The stressful complaining and confrontations we had with the tour operator that followed after almost ruined the entire trip for us.

Also, be wary of those tour operators who offer Desert Safari services at dirt-cheap prices. You can find these ‘too good to be true’ trap tours from so many couponing or discount websites. The keyword here to avoid getting duped is RESEARCH. Do your research about the company, call up, ask around, and read reviews online: lots and lots of it. Unless you personally know and trust the person who's written a positive review about a particular company or tour service, it's not enough that you read only one or two reviews before booking.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Clarify anything that confuses you to make sure that you will definitely be getting both your time and money’s worth from the get-go.

Planning is a friend
Most desert safari tours are being booked online for its convenience and because of the many promotional discounts available online. But before you finalize a purchase, call and check available dates with the company first. It’s actually much better if you could also email them to make sure that you have confirmation in writing and that the date is aligned with your itinerary. This will avoid last-minute surprises and will help in processing refunds in case the tour didn’t happen according to what was confirmed. 

Last December, I made the big mistake of booking without calling first. As a result of that carelessness, we ended up going on the desert safari a mere two days before my mom and brother’s flight back to Manila because it was the only date the company had open. That was a close one, and really made me realize that planning ahead is necessary to avoid hiccups in your itinerary.

Don’t forget to check the weather forecast too and schedule your tour when the weather is just right. You wouldn’t want to go on a desert safari when it’s scorching hot outside or even when you know you’re not only going to freeze your butt off but also be literally eating dust because of the sandstorms. Sandstorms may look super badass in the movies, but trust me, they’re not very pretty in real life. Just no, honey.

Inform ahead any special request
It is really important that you call up and inform your guide about your tour group’s details and special needs before the start of the tour for them to know what to expect and in order to manage your expectations as well. This would give your tour guide enough time to prepare, sort out questions, and avoid issues or any untoward incident as much as possible. This is highly advisable especially when you’re going on a desert safari with an elderly, small children, or those with special needs.

There was this one time when we went on a desert safari with our family’s friends who were both senior citizens. We specifically instructed our tour guide that we need to skip the dune bashing ride and go straight to the camp site instead as our friends might not be in the perfect condition for the experience. However, the guide transferred us to a separate vehicle and totally forgot to relay the information to the new driver. Of course the clueless driver started driving like mad thinking we were game. It took us a dreadful five minutes and a lot of screaming to clearly explain to him (P.S. The driver understood very little English by the way) that we cannot proceed with the dune bashing anymore. We got so worried, but fortunately, our elderly companions though a bit shaken by the experience, were still fine. I think I was the one who almost had a heart attack because of that misunderstanding. So not cool.

Bring snacks with you
After you’re driven to the camp site, you have to take note that food is not always served right away. Most often than not, it would take an hour or two before it’s served and you even need to line up for food and drinks.  Your patience can really be tested and with the long waiting time, it’s going to be so easy to turn from hungry to hANGRY real fast. Believe me when I say that nothing good ever comes out of that awful transition. 

My advice: Come prepared. Pack some light snacks with you like biscuits, fruits or chocolates to keep everyone sane while waiting for the buffet. Don’t forget to also bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated. You will thank me later. You’re welcome.

Say cheese without breaking the bank
Majority of Emirati males wear a keffiyeh or that traditional cotton scarf worn over their heads. These are sold in the camp site at around 25 to 30 dirhams each in various colors and can really be a nice souvenir from the experience. One tip: Instead of going straight to the booth who sells the scarves, wait for the vendors to visit your table. Oftentimes, they offer the scarves at a discounted price and they could even easily give in to your haggling. So instead of paying full price, you only shell out around 15 to 20 dirhams. 
What’s a desert safari experience without a cool photo riding a camel to add to your imaginary swag bag, right? If you are anything like me who loves documenting her adventures and enjoys taking photos for posterity’s sake, you need to write this one down.

Don’t fall for those professional on-site photographers who charge an arm and a leg for a not so flattering photo. If you have the money and you look gorgeously happy on the photo, why not? Go ahead. I won’t take it against you. But if you want to be practical and make sure that you get a winning shot in your best angle, just lean on a friend. I recommend that you guys split up and ride the camel in separate groups so you and your friends can take turns in taking each other’s photos. If they’re really your friends, they will take awesome Instagrammable photos (maybe even a video or two) so your narcissistic self can have a ball. If you don’t have talented friends and you really want to have some photos as a souvenir, then come in loaded because you will surely splurge some serious cash.

But you know what? Scratch that entire previous paragraph and take this advice to heart instead: ‘BE IN THE MOMENT’. You will enjoy more when you’re not constantly worried about looking good and documenting everything. Your eyes may not have photographs to see in the future, but what’s most important is your heart will remember and that will definitely help you look back on the fun experience with a smile. Photos are nice but you actually don’t need them to have a great time. 

Yes, you can plan ahead every detail of your trip, but sometimes life just works out differently than what we've planned. That's just how it is because we don't always get what we want. You all know the drill with Murphy's law, right? Anything that can possibly go wrong will go wrong no matter how careful you are and how much you try to avoid it. My point is: having a fun-loving and ever so game attitude and bringing wonderful friends with you to share the good and the bad are more than enough to make Desert Safari in Dubai an experience that’s totally one for the books.

Have you ever been to Dubai before and experienced going on a Desert Safari? How was it?

By the way, how cool is it that my little slice of the interwebs here in Icing & Write has been selected by Feedspot as one of the Top 50 Dubai Lifestyle Blogs on the web? I just read their email the other day and I still couldn't believe it. So honored! Thank you, Feedspot team! :)

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