Do want to know where to go desert camping in Abu Dhabi.
There are few sights in this emirate as staggering and beautiful than the natural desert landscape.
Golden sand, rolling dunes, quiet calm and of course only a million photo opportunities too, it’s a great place to explore.
Want to really soak up the atmosphere? There really isn’t anything quite like staying overnight under the stars.
Whether you’re ready to pitch up yourself and take the lead or want to full-out glamping experience, there are loads of ways to get camping in the Abu Dhabi desert.
Planning on camping on your own? Plan ahead and make sure you’re prepared by reading our guide to camping here.
Places to pitch
Al Dhafra Beach, Abu Dhabi
It’s where the desert meets the sea, or so many campers say. And how could it not? Al Dhafra takes up two thirds of the desert in Abu Dhabi, which means hundreds of kilometres worth of spectacular beaches to set up camp. There’s no reason not to camp along some of the biggest sand dunes in the UAE, but that’s what the ‘Empty Quarter’ is for (see Liwa Oasis if that does strike your fancy). Al Dhafra Beach is the real highlight, and we can’t see many who wouldn’t want a DIY beach retreat. Head towards the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort west on the E11, there’ll be signs along the road to help you get there, and you’ll find your way there. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to access the beach as Al Dhafra Golf Links say it’s for members only. Don’t fret though, as all you’ll need to do is keep going along the old E11, between Shuweihat Power Complex and Al Hamra airport, and an expansive white sandy beach awaits. Tides can also be a nuisance to setting up your beach camp, so be sure to check the tide forecast by visiting www.tide-forecast.com. Apart from that, enjoy a beachy weekend, campers.
Head on the E11 from Dubai to Abu Dhabi then take the E45 towards Madinat Zayed al Al Gharbia. Once you hit the E90, you’re in prime dessert territory, and can set up camp anywhere in the so-called “Empty Quarter” of the UAE. Why is it called that? Because it’s basically void of anything except sand and wildlife, and that means you need to come prepared to get through a weekend here. Like in most other places on this list, water is vital, but even more bottles are needed here just for emergencies. A map, GPS and compass will be your saving grace as well, as this barren plain of land tends to make people lose trust in their sense of direction. It’s easy to get lost here, so make sure to bring as much petrol as you can carry. Oh, and if you don’t have a four-wheel drive, forget about camping here. Piqued your sense of adventure? Good, as Liwa is one of the most beautiful deserts to camp in, with lush sand dunes, picturesque landscapes and a host of wildlife. It’s for those who want complete seclusion from the outside world, and the campers who are trusted to venture out on their own. And since you’re on your own, you’ll have plenty of privacy for sand boarding and dune bashing.
With it being about as far west in the UAE as you can go, being all the way between Al Hamra and Ruwais, Shuweihat Island takes some real commitment to get to. And if you go all that way without a 4x4, it will be a wasted journey. But if all is prepared and you finally arrive at your destination, you’ll be granted access to serene island unlike any other beach spot in the UAE. Filled with glistening waterways, low-lying cliffs and caves covered with the colours of beautiful sand rock, coming here is like camping on your own private island. Because of how difficult it can be to get to, including getting past rocky paths and low tide waters, you’ll need to bring plenty of the essentials. Make sure to bring a kayak to cruise through the clear sea, a head-torch to explore the cliffs at night and even wall-climbing gear for some low-level bouldering. It takes just over three hours to reach the island via the E11 from Dubai, so make this camping expedition a long weekend affair rather than a one night stay. Also, because of its shoreline proximity, it would be a good idea to come with a few layers, as temperatures can drop at night. It’s a long journey, but definitely worth it.
Jebel Hafit Desert Park
The new Jebel Hafit Desert Park, on the eastern flank of the mountain, includes historic remains from the Neolithic period (8,000 years ago) and the 5,000-year-old tombs that were excavated at the request of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1959. The Bronze Age tombs are made of local unworked or roughly cut stones and were created between 3200BCE and 2700BCE. It is now an iconic attraction offering activities for every kind of visitor, including biking, hiking, with trails led by professional guides and a camping area, where you can pitch up your own tent. There’s also the option for serviced camping, which includes a fully serviced overnight desert camping package, including meals in a Bedouin-style tent, or you can choose a luxury camping option which offers a five-star glamping experience in an air-conditioned bubble tent that offers the utmost comfort in a luxurious setting. You can also book guided 4x4 tours.
Jebel Hafit Desert Park, Al Ain, www.jebelhafitdesertpark.ae.
Elsewhere in the UAE
Al Qudra Lakes, Dubai
This one is for the beginner campers who still want the sight of Dubai’s skyline in the background to not feel too homesick. Although, once you see the lush greenery surrounding wherever you set up, the free-roaming (harmless) wildlife and beautifully quaint lakes, you’ll want to make this your new home instead. The handiest piece of equipment to bring is probably a pair of binoculars, as there are 100 different species of bird roaming around the lakes, along with dessert plants to look out for. Forget the 4x4s and extreme sport equipment, this is an oasis that’s best spent taking in the scenery. But those who do fancy a good workout can take their bikes around Al Qudra Cycle Track, spanning 86km which includes a 50km loop – just in case you’re afraid of venturing a tad too far. You’ll find a camping area at Al Qudra Lakes East, and from there you can pitch up that tent and officially become a camper of Dubai. If you’re in the mood for more of a romantic camping trip, you may want to set up shop near Al Qudra’s “Love Lakes” right next to The Last Lake of Al Qudra, but it won’t be too hard to find either as signs have been set around the lakes that point to the spot.
Desert Camping, Ajman
Ever been driving on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road in Ajman during sunset and wonder why there are so many SUVs parked throughout the desert? For one, that stunning UAE sunset we all love and know calls all manner of families to sit out and watch it, but it’s also prime camping destination for the more easy-going lot of the UAE. The stretch of desert is one of the top spots to whip out your barbecue grill and campfire gear, sit back and enjoy the bliss of the desert. Well, there may be background chatter from other groups in the distance, but that only adds to the charm. And, if you decide the night air is a tad too chilly, or you forgot the very important meats to barbecue, you won’t be too far away from civilisation to up and leave.
Hajar Mountains (foothills)
For those with a 4x4, start at Wadi Seder. Follow the trail up to a village in the foothills of the Hajar Mountains, turn right and rejoin the tarmac road – within a kilometre you’ll find the village of Al Hala. Here, you can enter Wadi Taybah and drive through to the village of Al Taybah. Rejoin the highway at Al Taybah and follow it to Masafi, famous for its spring water and Friday market (which is actually open every day). There are no options for camping in Wadi Taybah, but plenty on the approach through the mountains. You’ll need four-wheel drive to tackle the above route, though you can easily take your two-wheel-drive car into Wadi Koo for an abundance of secret places to camp or hike. For mountain bikers, the region offers ideal tracks with 50km-plus trails. Be sure to visit the small local museum in the village of Taybah.
Fossil Rock, Sharjah
Is that a massive chunk of rock in the middle of rolling sand dunes? That’s what we imagine you’ll be saying if you take a trip about an hour out of the city of Sharjah towards Mleiha. It acts as a homing beacon for avid campers of the UAE, and we can see why – perfect for hiking trails, acres of space to set up camp and a whole structure to explore. Yup, it isn’t called Fossil Rock for no reason, as it’s an archaeological site teeming with marine fossils to check out. Worthy of taking out your pick axe? Possibly, but before any of that, be sure to drive in a 4x4 to get there, as roads can be tough to get around. Other than that, let the fossil hunting commence.
For those mountain climbers and trekkers that haven’t heard about Jebel Shams – shame on you. But you’re forgiven as it’s the highest mountain in Oman rather than the UAE, standing at about 3,028m. The good news is you can drive to 2,000m, where there is an excellent base camp known as Jebel Shams Heights. You can either bring your own camping gear or rent basic huts with bathroom facilities at very reasonable rates. From base camp, the hike to Jebel Shams summit is long and strenuous. It takes at least 12 hours, so is probably best left to very fit and experienced hikers. But don’t be disappointed – there are other well-marked trails that offer spectacular scenery. A short drive from base camp will take you to Al Khataym, the start of a hike along an ancient donkey trail leading to the abandoned village of As Sab. This hike is relatively flat on good trails and takes about four hours there and back. For a longer mountain hike, drive back down to the old village of Al Ghul and follow a path up through the village and onto the canyon rim (‘The Grand Canyon’ of the Middle East): it will take a fit hiker about six hours to reach base camp from Al Ghul. If this sounds too strenuous, drive to Al Hamra and then onto Misfat al Abriyin, an old village with an incredible maze of falaj water systems and ancient buildings. Finally, visit the historic towns of Ibri and Nizwa, or the caves at Al Hoota.
Ras Al Khaimah Desert
If you’re yearning for a proper desert camping experience but don’t want to be too out of touch with the world, Ras Al Khaimah Desert is a popular option. Not only are there local farms and camel pens spaced out all over the place and proper tracks to follow, but you’ll find tourists and other explorers taking four-wheel drive safaris or camel treks across the plain. It’s all because this part of the UAE is rich in Bedouin history, and shows off a glimpse of what it was like living in the desert back in the day. That’s all the more reason to pitch up a tent along this huge landscape. While civilisation may be close by, that doesn’t mean you can forget about your survival instincts, as it’s still a harsh desert environment you’re camping in. There are no facilities, so take everything with you, including plenty of food and water. Once you’re all set, you’ll be treated to surprising diversity of plants such as desert ephemerals, hyacinths and thumbs flourish, along with banyan trees, palms, wild birds and Arabian oryx to be seen on an early morning walk.
Just outside of Fujairah you’ll find Sheesa Beach, Try an overnight stay at this tour operator’s plantation camp in Dibba. There are 15 tents on site that can accommodate up to 12 people each, and the package includes a buffet dinner and breakfast, Arabic tea, coffee, juice, water and fruits. There are bunk beds, but you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bags, towels and toiletries. There are also male and female bathrooms with showers, basins and toilets for those who don’t want to sacrifice too many comforts. There’s even the option to combine your camping with a dhow cruise or speedboat trip around the coast.
Umm Al Quwain Coast
Being able to wake up to the sound of the ocean is always a treat, but that’s only the tip of the sand castle when camping on the popular shores of Umm Al Quwain. It’s the perfect spot to swim, kayak, fish, barbecue, chill – you name it. Think of this camping experience as a much happier version of Cast Away, one where you have your essentials, aren’t fighting for your survival and don’t have a volleyball named Wilson. Camping on the beach is generally favoured, but travellers can find a secluded spot just off the E11 main road. As for the beachgoers, they can camp on the beach to the north and south of Al Rafaah. Choose your spot with care, as some areas, especially those close to the river outlet, are dry at low tide but flooded at high tide. Also, take care not to camp on private property, you don’t want to be shooed away just as soon as your tent it pitched. As for that gear, make sure to bring some kayaks and fishing gear, because not only are they both a classic past time to enjoy on a typical camping trip, but they provide the perfect means of catching your breakfast/lunch/dinner for the day. Top tip, visit the old fishing villages along the peninsula at Al Raas and take your fishing gear and binoculars to spot wild birds, including a few pink flamingos. Those with a kayak will be treated to an adventure through the mangroves along the coast.