With both hands clutching some part of the 4×4, flip flop-clad feet digging into the floor, and seatbelt tightly fastened, I prepared for my lose my stomach like I was heading down the first hill of a roller coaster. Surrounded by mountains of endless, red sand in the middle of the desert in Dubai, I was seconds away from dune bashing.
On a recent trip to Dubai, I went on an Arabian Nights Safari. This adventures starts with dune-bashing through the desert to a Bedouin campsite, where you sit on magic carpets and feast on a giant spread of traditional Middle Eastern food while belly dancers, camel rides, and henna artists entertain you!
I was in Middle East earlier this year for the first time, fulfilling a life-long Aladdin fantasy. At age 7, Agrabah was the most exotic place I’d seen in real or cartoon form and I was smitten. Sand dunes, camels, pet monkeys, amazing two-piece outfits and gold accessories – from my first viewing of Aladdin, I wanted to experience it all.
After spending a week in Bahrain, where my husband performed in the first ever magic show in the country put on by One With Magic, we headed over to Dubai to visit my family. My cousins are living abroad for a few years, and my cousin Laura and I have a common love for adventure, style, wine, pampering – so I trusted her recommendation that going on a desert safari, while a bit touristy, was a fun evening.
There are not a lot of cultural experiences to be had in Dubai, so a desert safari did not come at the expense of something authentic. If this is your first time seeing the desert, a safari is not only worth doing but worth sharing.
Arabian Nights Tour will pick you up in a private vehicle late in the afternoon at your hotel or residence, and drive you about an hour away, out into the heart of the desert. This was my first time seeing a landscape of endless mountains of golden sand, and it was straight out of the opening scene of Aladdin. I was just waiting for that giant sand tiger to appear, asking for the diamond in the rough. Before the dune bashing begins, our driver stopped to let us see the desert up close and take photos.
I ran around the dunes like a kid let loose in a playground, climbing to the top of the highest hill and jumping off, landing in a soft pillow of sand. I couldn’t get over how the sand looked. It lies so perfectly it looks like a screensaver.
Once we started dune bashing, I laughed the whole time. You’re in a big vehicle that can take on anything in it’s path – with a totally fearless driver. Your car spins and swerves around the hills, going up and down so fast you don’t even have a chance to catch your stomach or breathe. I made sure I snagged a window seat so I could look out and actually see the crazy things our driver and the others around us were attempting.
After about a half hour of bashing around the dunes, we arrived at camp, which was an open-air area with big carpets laid out on the sand, tables on the floor, and a stage in the middle. As we pulled up I saw the camels outside the entrance and jumped out of the car and ran over to them, wide-eyed. I love seeing big animals in the their natural environments, so although these aren’t wild camels, the sight of a group of camels crossing the dessert sand is iconic.
Camels get a bad rap – I heard repeatedly that they spat and stunk, and riding them was uncomfortable. Maybe I just had a particularly awesome camel – but I loved the whole experience and my camel. He had beautiful, thick eyelashes, a chic, knitted mouth guard to prevent him from spitting, and excellent hygiene and manners. I also found his hump totally comfy, as far as humps go. I named him Humphrey and wanted to take him home with me.
Inside the Bedouin camp, the air was filled with fresh-baking bread, spices, and roasting chicken. Huge kebobs of shawarma on giant spits, big salads, stews, and an endless supply of hummus make up a buffet with more food than anyone but Josh could handle. Everything was being made fresh as we arrived and the quality was much better than I expected. I had worked up quite an appetite running around the desert, so I spent a good portion of the mealtime camped out next to the area where they pulled the fresh-baked flatbread out of the stone oven and stack it in a mound for the taking.
My expectations were pretty low for the traditional show, but I’d never heard of Whirling Dervish. A gigantic man, dressed in what seems to be at least 10 layers of garments comes out and performs a dance spinning himself and his clothes around in the air – in a totally non-Chip-n’Dale way. This is Dubai after all. If it sounds weird, it’s because it definitely is – but I challenge anyone to sit through his performance without your jaw dropping. What this man can do with his skirt!
There’s also a belly dancer, but that’s a little on the cheesy side and when she started scanning the audience for ladies to join her onstage I bolted to the bathroom to hide. Aside from the performances, there is a henna artist and an area where you can dress up in traditional Middle Eastern outfits.
When the whirling winded down and I finally cleaned the bread man out of his supply, it was time to pack up and go. My cousins did not lead us astray – we had a great time together on our desert safari. The only disappointing part of the entire evening was dessert – a table of dates. I should have known to BYO.
Arabian Nights did not sponsor this trip, all thoughts and opinions are my own. But a huge thanks must be said to my awesome cousins for hosting us in Dubai and taking us on this adventure!