Desert Safari in Dubai

The last time I was in a desert was probably 15 years ago, on a family trip to Inner Mongolia. Unfortunately, I don't remember a whole lot from childhood, probably due to a smaller-than-normal memory capacity (and this is why I take lots of pictures to capture the moments!) What I do remember was how sandy, windy, and HOT the desert was. And this time in Dubai was no different, but it was not that hot since we went during the winter (yay!). 

 

THE OUTFIT

When packing for any trip, I generally plan out my outfits for most of the days, especially if I know there are special places or occasions that I’ll be going to. For the Desert Safari, I wanted either some bold prints or one color from top to bottom, so the clothes would really pop against the all-brown backdrop. I also knew we’ll be sitting in a Land Cruiser for at least an hour, so I wanted to wear something somewhat loose-fitted so they’re comfortable to be in.

Jumpsuit: Spiral Girl
Belt: B-Low the Belt

I chose a jumpsuit over a dress because just in case it gets windy (and it did) I wouldn’t accidentally flash everyone. Due to my petite size, it’s very hard for me to find a jumpsuit that fits at any European / American brand. The jumpsuit I was wearing is actually from a Japanese brand called Spiral Girl. It retails for 8,532 yen, and I got it at a discount for around 5,000 yen, which is 45 USD. I’ve been into Japanese fashion ever since I was little. I find that Japanese clothes, in general, fit my frame very well. They also don’t charge a lot for what you get. A note on loose-fitted clothes, you want to make sure the length don’t go all the way down to the ankle, otherwise it’ll look like you’ve been swallowed by the clothes. Best if the hem ends at your calves.

To cinch the waist (and to fake a higher waistline, because why not), I put on a belt that’s quite elaborated to make the whole look more interesting.

Blouse: Talula by Aritzia (Similar Here)

The blouse is really optional. I wore it because I wanted to be respectful to the dress code for women at UAE, since you’re supposed to have your shoulders covered, and my jumpsuit only has teeny straps.

Sandals: Steve Madden (Similar Here)

One burning question I had before heading out the hotel room that day: Sandals or sneakers? I personally hate having sands in between my toes, but my sneakers don’t really go with my outfit….so…..I decided to just suck it up and put on my sandals. It turned out to be a great idea because if you wear sneakers, you will be bringing a lot of sand back to the hotel as souvenir. Just ask my boyfriend.

THE PLANNING

It was a long process trying to narrow down the different travel agencies that offered Desert Safari tours. The prices vary, so I assumed that the quality should vary, too. Then my boyfriend, who has done the desert safari tour a few years ago, told me that all the tours are very similar, since all the agencies take you to the same camps for sand duning. I also read many reviews that confirmed his comment. So the differentiation factors are: 1) How good the dinner is, since most tours include a BBQ dinner, 2) If the tour includes a private pick-up from your hotel or it requires you to meet the driver, 3) How good/new the car is.

I ended up booking with Rayna Tours, which costs 60 USD per person for the tour. You can definitely find tours that cost less, especially if you go on Groupon, which had a list of 10 or so agencies listed. There are also tours that are better known and luxurious, such as Platinum Heritage and Arabian Adventures, but you’ll be paying a premium for those services. There are also add-on options if you want do quad bikes or dune buggy rides. 

THE DAY

Since the driver was supposed to pick us up from the hotel at 2 pm, we figured we had some time to grab a quick bite. Our hotel, Sofitel Dubai Downtown, is really close to the Dubai Mall. It still requires a long walk on the sky bridge though – a good 15 minutes. Having been at Dubai for a few days by then, I wanted to get some healthy (ideally vegan) food to sooth my system and to get ready for more pig-out sessions. I looked on Yelp to see what options there are at the Dubai mall……not a whole lot. I was able to find one inside the Galleries Lafayette, so we walked for a total of 30 minutes to get there. What we thought was a vegan restaurant turned out to be a salad bar, and I was just not in the mood of paying more than 20 USD on a salad (who knew healthy food is so expensive in Dubai?!) so we kept on walking. We ended up eating at Le Gourmet at the Galleries Lafayette, which offers an extensive menu of international cuisines and a lunch set that is a surprisingly good deal.

Then the driver showed up at the hotel early, so we had to jog back to the hotel, grab our cameras, and hop on the Land Cruiser. The car drove on the highway for 30 minutes or so, then the driver stopped on the side of the road. The driver got out the car and bent down to check on a tire. I was wondering what was going on when my boyfriend told me the car had broken down. I believed him for a minute, but the driver started checking on the other tires too…..then I realized he was deflating all the tires. And the car drove into the desert! The thrilling part of sand duning is really when the car is drifting while going up and down the desert hills. It’s a little bit like a rollercoaster ride. I personally didn’t think it was very scary, but I think it depends a lot on the driver. While on the desert, we saw some cars that took alternative routes that seemed more exciting. Some drivers would drive full speed into a bush, then swirl the steering wheel when the car almost hits the bush. The experience also depends on the other people who are in the car with you. The four other people who were in our car were very calm and quiet throughout the whole drive. I would let out an occasional laughter or scream here and there, but after a while I started to feel a bit silly, so I decided to stay quiet.

After dune bashing, the driver took us to a camp for dinner and other activities. The camp was for Rayna Tours only, and even then the whole place was filled up. I got henna done, took a short ride on the camel, and went up the hill to watch the sunset. Then at around 6:30 pm, a buffet dinner was served. There were also performances: a traditional dance, a fire show, and a belly dancing show. 

Style Tips

  • Sandals or sneakers? If you wear sneakers, you will be bringing a lot of sand back to the hotel as souvenir. Just ask my boyfriend. On the flip side (pun intended), you’ll have your feet in the sands entirely while you’re walking on the desert.
     
  • Comfortable clothing is key. You’ll be spending the majority of the time in the car (sitting) and outdoors for the dinner (again, sitting). Save body-con dresses for another day. And avoid flowy dresses since the wind is strong. You don’t want to be flashing everyone at the desert.   

Key Takeaways

  • Pick a tour agency that fits your budget. My experience with Rayna was pretty good overall, but definitely look into some more agencies to compare! You could also get the hotel concierge to help arrange, but it would be more expensive than if you book online by yourself.
     
  • It gets chilly in the desert after sunset, so make sure to bring a hoodie! 


Outfit Details

Jumpsuit: Spiral Girl
Blouse: Talula by Aritzia (Similar Here)
Belt: B-Low the Belt
Sandals: Steve Madden (Similar Here)
Sunglasses: Chanel
Watch: Michael Kors (Similar Here)
Rings: Saint Laurent Paris & Chrome Hearts