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Explore the UAE outback

By Bindu Rai


As the weather hits the right note with the adventurous crowd, the camping season has officially begun in the UAE, where going into the desert is something of an annual obsession. For those who have not yet tried their hand at exploring the country’s famous sand dunes and beaches, Emirates Business provides a few tips to make your expedition safe as well as memorable.


The golden rule of camping is planning ahead. Not arranging for the basics can turn your trip into a damp squib even before it pours in the plains.

Decide on the kind of terrain you prefer and try to answer these simple questions: what is the total drive time? Would a 4x4 be needed? Are there any visa requirements in the area (the Hajar mountain range can be tricky)? Are municipality permits required to set up camp? What outhouse facilities (if any) are available? What activities of interest are there – especially if travelling with children? Have there been any recent flash flood warnings or weather alerts concerning the destination?


Camping gear should be the next most important thing on the agenda. Select your bedroll depending on the type of terrain you choose.

If you plan to camp on the beach or in the desert, a cheaper option would be to carry your comforter at home, while a rolled-up towel can suffice as a pillow. Sleeping bags and air mattresses are also readily available at places like Carrefour and Ace Hardware.

Choosing the right tent is a matter of choice, but a weatherproof tent that comes with a detachable cover is ideal.

Tents are available in all shapes and sizes, but it is always best not to have more than three or four people in one tent because it gets very stuffy inside.

Other helpful things to include: a Swiss army knife (or similar), matches, a powerful torch with extra batteries, rope, cooler, plastic plates and cups, a spatula, barbecue grill, charcoal, skewers, lighter fluid and old newspapers. And if you want the barbecue but do not want the hassle, then consider buying ready grills that are available at major supermarkets, which come with their own charcoal and paper.


Before you start planning your picnic under the stars, remember to pack plenty of drinking water. Some of the most unpleasant surprises can occur, when you find yourself hours from civilisation without a drop of water to quench your thirst.

Food should be kept simple, with leftovers that are easy to dispose of. Face it, no matter how simple a menu you may plan, it always ends up being a little too much, so pack light. Sandwich or Arabic bread, sliced cheese, hummous, chips and colas are some of the easiest things to include.

For the barbecue, instead of marinating the food at home, head to the local supermarkets and shops that sell it prepped by the box.


Comfort should be the word of the day. Wearing a skirt and showing off your latest pair of Jimmy Choos is hardly apt for the occasion. Rather, well-worn cargos, a T-shirt and trainers are perfect camping wear. Always carry an extra set of clothing and a jacket, as nights in the desert get very chilly during the winter months.  


Aside from the usual “Are we there yet?”, the most oft-heard statement will be: “I need to use the restroom.” The first thing to remember is, even though the Ritz is not just around the corner there is no need to panic.

You are camping, so things can get pretty primitive. If going back to nature is not your thing, you are probably better off looking up luxury getaway options.

So carry ample toilet paper, a hand sanitiser, biodegradable soap and plenty of tissues, and you should be fine.

Do not forget to include toothpaste, toothbrush, a hairbrush and other personal items.


If you are anything like me then falling over is probably the second thing you learned after walking. Always keep a well-stocked first-aid kit in the car, including the following: bandages and gauze of various sizes, antiseptic creams and ointments, sterile wipes and rinse solutions, insect repellent, tweezers, scissors and a knife. Also include a sunburn relief spray, medicines for motion sickness and diarrhoea and a standard multi-purpose pain pill.


Once you have reached your camp area, select a site where the ground is even and preferably shady. By doing a campsite inspection before laying down tents, you can look for dead branches overhead, for wasps nests, ant dens or potential lairs for local reptiles, that you may wish to avoid in your choice of your camp site.

Walk the campsite and surrounding environments with safety in mind and only select the area when it meets with your approval from a safety perspective.

While setting up your tent, make things easier on yourself and just follow the instruction manual – we promise not to tell.

Clearing an area for the barbecue and the campfire should be done on a flat ground, and away from dry twigs, leaves or tents that can catch fire.

Ensure there is a designated area for cleaning where you do not harm the local flora with dirty soap water. A biodegradable soap is the best thing to use.


Before starting your fire, ensure there is nothing flammable close by. There is no need to build a large bonfire on your first attempt; a small one will do just as well for roasting those marshmallows.

Learn to start a fire simply with paper, matches and kindling. It is best not to use charcoal lighter fluid, petrol, or kerosene,

as people tend to get a little too excited with them.

Before going to bed or vacating the campsite, make sure that all campfires are put out. Stir the embers and dowse them with water. Repeat the process until every ember is extinguished.


You can never have too much anti-repellent and bug spray. Citronella candles help keep the flying insects away from the immediate area.

Remember to store the leftover food and rubbish away from the sleeping area, as midnight trips from desert animals are always unpleasant. Also, take precautions when putting on your shoes if left unattended, as some creatures have a tendency to make a cosy home for themselves in them.


When camping in the wilderness you have to learn to respect nature. If you have made the mess, then you should also take the responsibility for cleaning it up. Always carry plenty of trash bags and ensure all the rubbish goes into them, and not flying away in the wind around the campsite. The charcoal from the barbecue should be dowsed with water so no runaway sparks and embers exist, which can set your rubbish on fire.

If it is a primitive site you have camped in, then simply carry a cardboard box in the trunk of the car that can store all the trash bags and then drive out to find the nearest rubbish bin to dump it.

On the map


At this town in the Hajar mountains, you can explore the Hatta Pools, head to the local souks, or have a bash at the 100m high “Big Red” dune. You can pitch camp anywhere in the desert, but avoid blind spots at the base of a sand dune to avoid collision with vehicles.


Head southwards and you will hit the Liwa Oasis, located on the edge of the infamous Rub Al Khali or Empty Quarter. Liwa offers a glimpse into the historic heritage of the UAE, and dune bashing in the Empty Quarter is very popular, with 300m high dunes that should only be attempted by the experts. When camping, stay close to the edge of the Liwa Oasis, because while the desert offers a welcome blanket to set up camp, getting lost in the Empty Quarter is quite easy for the inexperienced.


Also in the Hajar mountains, but in Ras Al Khaimah, you can set up camp in Wadi Bih itself. Check the weather before heading out because you do not want to be caught in a wadi during a flash flood; and make sure to pitch your tent at a higher elevation.


On the east coast of the UAE, en route to Fujairah, Khor Kalba is located south of the town of Kalba and offers options for campers looking for something different. Among these are exploring the mangrove forest the place is famous for and the canoe tours that will allow you a few hours of tranquil peace with some fine bird and turtle watching. Rather than camping in Khor Kalba itself, a half-hour drive will see you in Fujairah with its famous beaches that provide ample venues to set up camp.


Worth visiting are the emirate’s golden beaches, forts, watch towers and stunning coral reefs. You can camp on the beach, but if it is privacy you want, head out into the mountains around the hot springs.