Home » Dune Bashing in Dubai: Experience the Ultimate Adventure and Create Unforgettable Memories

Dune Bashing in Dubai: Experience the Ultimate Adventure and Create Unforgettable Memories

by Paola Bertoni
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A must-do activity on a trip to the UAE is the desert safari. Dubai is a mesmerising city with exceptional architecture, light shows, beach clubs, and luxurious hotels. However, to truly experience the essence of the Emirates, you must witness the excitement of a desert sunset. It will leave you breathless and be the most cherished memory to take home from your visit to Dubai.

Why a Desert Safari in Dubai is a Must-Do

Desert safaris organised in the UAE range from the adrenaline rush of dune bashing to camel rides. Even the most touristy tours take nothing away from the thrill of seeing the desert and finding yourself in the middle of a vast expanse of orange sand. If you have never been to the desert, you absolutely must experience it when travelling in Dubai.

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Whatever tour you choose, when you step out of the off-road vehicle, you cannot help but stand in silence and listen to the desert. Being surrounded only by sand as far as the eye can see and watching the sunset will make you feel small and insignificant in the face of nature’s immensity.

Seeing the sunset in the desert is a thrilling experience. And it is even more overwhelming if accompanied by an adrenaline-pumping activity such as dune bashing. With my travelling companions, we jumped on the dunes, laughed and shouted and then remained breathless and speechless, watching the sun get smaller and smaller from the top of a dune.

My group of Italian travel bloggers with our driver Rizwan in the Sharjah desert. From left: me, Giulia, Maria, Libera, Rizwan, Claudia, Silvia
My group of Italian travel bloggers with our driver Rizwan in the Sharjah desert. From left: me, Giulia, Maria, Libera, Rizwan, Claudia, Silvia

What the UAE Deserts Look Like

Every desert in the UAE is different, and you should see all of them. The colour of the sand changes from area to area. Depending on the weather forecast and the time of year, it is better to visit the desert of one Emirate rather than another.

The photos in this article were all taken in the Maleha Desert in Sharjah, the Emirate bordering Dubai. The Sharjah desert is famous for its warm-coloured sand, which is more orange than the sand of the Dubai desert. On the drive from Dubai, we saw the Al Noor mosque standing out from the edge of the desert, populated only by a few grazing camels.

The Bedouin lifestyle in the desert, especially before the discovery of oil in the United Arab Emirates, is utterly different from the city life in Dubai. Travelling all over the Emirates deserts, you will cross different sandy landscapes to get to the Hajar Mountains, barren mountains on the border with Oman.

A desert safari is a unique experience that allows you to experience and look at Dubai from a completely different point of view. For a moment, you leave behind all the reasons why Dubai is known as a luxury tourist destination.

Paola Bertoni in the Sharjah desert, UAE
Me in the Sharjah desert, UAE

How Desert Tours in Dubai Work

If you visit Dubai and want to see the UAE desert, I suggest you hire a specialised tour operator. An excursion on your own is not enough to fully grasp its beauty and culture.

This kind of excursion is not easy to organise on your own because the dunes you can drive through are strictly regulated to preserve the environment. You, therefore, risk hiring a car without knowing where to go. The off-road vehicles used in the tours are all new, comfortable and air-conditioned. Also included in the excursion are plenty of water bottles so you don’t risk getting dehydrated in the desert.

What activities are included in desert tours

In Dubai, many companies organise desert safaris. Generally, the excursion includes a transfer from the hotel and a ride through the desert in a 4WD, with or without dune bashing. Then a camel ride and Bedouin-style barbecue dinner, accompanied by belly dancing and henna painting.

The classic desert excursion from Dubai includes time to take photographs, your chosen activity (dune bashing, quad biking, or sandboarding), sunset views, and a ‘traditional’ dinner before being driven back to your hotel. On the cheaper tours, there is dinner with a show in a fixed camp. Honestly, it’s pretty tacky, but a lot of tourists enjoy it. 

Depending on the time of year, the tour leaves around 16:00 to arrive in the desert and see the sunset during the cooler hours of the day. Drivers pick up the tour participants directly at the hotel. If you have chosen a group tour, you may have to go around to pick up the other participants.

You can go on desert tours until mid-June, then it gets too hot to get out of the air-conditioned car and walk through the dunes. In winter, however, there are also morning tours. If you prefer a more authentic experience, choose a tour that includes a night in the desert.

Bedouin barbecue for dinner: pros and cons

I suggested the option of a night in the desert because the barbecue dinner in the ‘Bedouin camp’ with live entertainment is really a tacky tourist activity. The dinner included on the tour differs from a traditional barbecue in a tented camp set up for the occasion.

The ‘camp’ is a fixed structure with a buffet dinner and three shows that are the same every night: fire dancing, belly dancing, and dancing of the whirling dervishes. In the structure, there are souvenir and hookah shops. You can have your hands painted with henna or touch a trained falcon. Outside the ‘camp’, you can take a ride on a camel.

I didn’t enjoy the Bedouin dinner experience. Still, it might be for you if you want a cheap, all-inclusive package. Alternatively, you can stay one night in a resort on the edge of the desert.

What is dune bashing

On my excursion from Dubai to the Maleha Desert in Sharjah, I tried dune bashing, which means hitting the dunes with a car. In practice, dune bashing is running on the dunes by jumping up and down in an off-road vehicle.

It is a highly adrenaline-pumping experience, but it is affordable for everyone. Our driver, Rizwan (you can find him on Instagram as @mysafarimylove), was really fun and gave our group a great time. On the other hand, we scared him with our screaming!

Dune bashing is safe but a real adrenalinic experience. The feeling you get is similar to that of a rollercoaster. At the top of the dune, you feel safe, but then you feel the thrill of emptiness and the fear of tipping over. The off-road vehicle, however, straightens out on the sand in a few seconds, which seems very long to you!

In practice, during the dune bashing you will be slammed into the cockpit for a good half hour, between abrupt descents and sudden stops. All around is the desert, empty, magnificent, exciting. Once you get off the off-road vehicle you will feel forever linked to your travelling companions by that feeling of surviving an exciting adventure together.

How to dune bash safely

If you are wondering whether dune bashing is safe, the answer is yes. The off-road vehicles used are all state-of-the-art 4x4s reinforced with internal bars. The tyre pressure is adjusted before the activity to run safely on the dunes.

All you have to do is buckle up and prepare for the experience by avoiding heavy meals before dune bashing. Your heart will beat wildly between jumps and descents, but you will surely be amazed by your driver’s skills. He will always keep the off-road vehicle balanced, even when it seems about to tip over.

Dune bashing can only be dangerous if you go with a non-professional driver. For this reason, you should only book desert safaris through an agency; it is best to refrain from improvising driving in the sand. Dune bashing is a suitable activity for almost everyone, excluding only children under the age of 5, people over 65 and those who suffer from back pain.

A family with children can still participate in an off-road safari in the desert, with photos and sunset views. Still, it is highly inadvisable to go dune bashing with young children who may suffer from injuries. Regarding safety, trust the agency, your driver and your instincts, not the advice you find on social media. (Unfortunately, I read that dune bashing is ok for young children. No, it is not!).

Dune bashing in the Sharja desert in the United Arab Emirates
Dune bashing in the Sharja desert in the United Arab Emirates

Other activities to do in the UAE deserts

Besides dune bashing in modern off-road vehicles, you can ride the dunes on dune buggies, frameless cars with wide wheels, or quad bikes. In the desert, you can also ride camels or surf the sand with a sandboard.

To try sandboarding in Dubai, you must choose a desert safari that specifically includes this activity in the experience. Sandboarding is surfing on dunes. This sport has many enthusiasts worldwide searching for the highest dunes in the sandy deserts.

We had only booked dune bashing, but our driver Rizwan had a board with him and let us try a seated descent. To sandboard on dunes, you must wear a helmet, protective elbow and knee pads and carefully follow the instructor’s activities.

If you are interested in this high-adrenaline activity, check that your travel insurance covers it. Not all insurance policies cover sports activities on holiday, especially the riskier ones.

When to go on a desert tour in Dubai

Whether you can go on a desert safari in Dubai depends mainly on the season. In summer, the temperature in the desert rises a lot, so it is not recommended to go during the day, during the hottest hours. In contrast, summer in the United Arab Emirates is the best season to spend a night in a tent in the desert when night temperatures are not too cold.

Winter is definitely better for a tour with activities such as dune bashing or sandboarding, with milder temperatures. Whatever your choice, it is essential to rely on a specialised agency or reliable tour operator who can offer you the best desert safari when you are in Dubai.

The experience of the local staff is crucial to the success of a desert safari. Don’t get hung up on seeing a particular desert; get advice based on your needs, and you’ll be as satisfied as we were.

How to dress for a desert excursion in Dubai

In the desert, when there is a bit of air, sand gets everywhere, so practical clothes and shoes are a must. Fluttery dresses certainly make an impact on Instagram if you seek the perfect pic. Still, they don’t allow you to fully enjoy your dune-bashing experience while getting on and off the ATVs or dune buggies. Wear trousers that are not too tight and a T-shirt, which are perfect for staying comfortable.

As for footwear to wear, once the sun goes down, you can take off your shoes and feel the desert sand under your feet, but during the day, the sand can reach very high temperatures, especially in the warmer months. For this reason, I advise against wearing flip-flops; sneakers or sandals with thick, high soles are better.

Sunglasses and a hat or scarf are also essential in the desert to protect you from the strong sun. Even if your hike is at sunset, always remember sunscreen 50.

Consider that night temperatures are much lower in winter or on an evening tour than during the day. Take a sweater or sweatshirt with you to cover up if necessary.

If you plan an overnight excursion to a desert-tented camp, it is a good idea to dress ‘onion-style’. Several thin layers provide better protection from the cold and sun. To sleep, take a pair of warm, soft socks, pyjamas, or a tracksuit.

Where to stay in Dubai

Often considered a luxury destination, Dubai offers hotels and flats for all budgets and is much cheaper than you think. Below are a few value-for-money establishments that have been tried out by me personally or by friends and fellow bloggers.

For a luxury family holiday, the Bluewaters Beach Hotel, with swimming pools, restaurants to suit all tastes and children’s areas, is a great choice. To spend less but still stay in top-notch facilities, the Hilton Dubai Al Habtoor City or the V Hotel Dubai are great choices, both overlooking the Dubai Water Canal with numerous in-house restaurants to choose from.

Finally, to see Dubai from a different perspective, I suggest you stay at the Al Seef Heritage Hotel Dubai, a unique property built in traditional Arabian style and located a short distance from the historic district and Al Fahidi Fort.

I hope these tips will help you choose the best desert excursion from Dubai that suits your needs. There are many possibilities and price ranges on offer that can please all types of travellers. Feel free to comment which desert activity you prefer and whether you too have seen the sunset surrounded by dunes.

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