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07 December 2023

A desert safari but not as we know it


By Aimee Greaves

The Al Badeyah Eyes Tourism desert safari is completely different to those I have experienced before. Normally the tour operators have it down to a T; stop by Big Red on the Hatta Road, where people are guaranteed to get ripped off by shop owners before embarking on a crazy, yet exciting hour of dune bashing over some of the largest sand piles, as the driver makes his way to the camp where guests are treated to a barbecue buffet as they are entertained by a belly dancer.

It's such a popular formula, it's one followed by many. But not Al Badeyah. This Abu Dhabi-based company hasn't gone for the conventional.

After meeting at Carrefour on Airport Road, we were bundled in Land Cruisers for the hour's drive to Al Khasna on the Al Ain Road. As we turned off the highway we were taken straight to the camp, which was full of tents and nothing much else.

The brochure sounded fun; sand skiing, sunset watching, goat ranch visit, camel rides, falcon show, quad biking, souvenir shop, etc, etc.

But the falcon show amounted to a blindfolded bird that we were encouraged to stroke and have our picture taken with, the goat ranch visit was a small pen 100 metres from the camp, and the souvenir shop was a few novelties in the corner of the majlis that included Eiffel Tower model boxes.

After an hour of sitting around, we set off for what we thought was the one-hour dune bashing, but instead were deposited at the top of a dune to go what turned out to be sand sledging, not skiing but was fun all the same. Meanwhile, the car went to collect the other group and take them on a drive.

When our turn came, it only lasted 20 minutes and was so tame I have tackled larger dunes. As the sun set it was back to the camp for another hour of sitting around before dinner arrived, which appeared to have been bought in rather than cooked on site. We were then moved outside to sit around the camp fire and drink tea and roasted chestnuts.

We were told there was no belly dancer or entertainment of that ilk because Al Badeyah wants its safaris to reflect the culture and traditions of the UAE, which I can understand, but there was no entertainment of any sort, not even music. When you're sat in a camp in the middle of nowhere you need to be entertained, and it's part of what you pay for, but instead you could hear a pin drop.

As we left, I wish I had taken a pack of cards to keep us entertained.

- Al Badayeh Eyes Tourism runs desert safaris every day from Dh300. Call: 02 556 6723


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