This area of desert is best known for its wonderful cycle track. It's just a 20-minute drive from Dubai, but the dunes either side of the track, and quietness and frequency of seeing team or solo cyclists pass by give it a strong adventure feel. The proximity of good locations to the dunes mean novice campers can pitch up and feel accomplished and safe. Especially with Trek Bikes nearby to top up essentials and breakfast items. You really should take a bike ride in the morning (rentals are available at Trek) for that countryside adventure vibe. Head down Al Qudra Road past Arabian Ranches and continue until you reach Trek Bikes. Turn left at the roundabout and follow the cycle path until the landscape turns to dunes. Turn off the road when you see a good route into the dunes and drive until you find a safe and suitable spot.
It's Dubai's most famous dune and popular with off-road drivers. Quad bikes, buggies and 4x4 vehicles in the area make it unsuitable for camping, but nearby sands are excellent for adventure driving and then hunkering down for the night. Exploration (or a word with a knowledgeable and experienced camper) are the order of the day to find a location you're happy with. Time Outers have been fond of a location a little further on towards the village of Madam. You'll see remnants of previous camps. The terracotta red sand makes for excellent pitching in this part of the desert and you can often hear the murmur of other camps and see the glow of fires on the horizon. Head down the Dubai-Hatta Road towards the village of Madam, which is just before the Hatta border crossing. We usually drive right down to the Madam roundabout, do a U-turn and then take the E44 towards Dubai, scouting out the landscape for an appropriate patch.
For more experienced campers, heading out into the (relatively) unexplored Empty Quarter is the pinnacle of UAE camping. Glamping, roadside dunes and beaches are all well and good for first-timers, but if you're looking for a genuine wilderness challenge, this vast desert is it. GPS, driving experience and telling people where you are going are essential, and a convoy of at least three vehicles is highly recommended. The dunes make for difficult driving, but if you explore deep enough into the desert, you'll be the only person for miles around. Out here, nights seem darker, stars seem brighter and silence is quieter. Drive through Abu Dhabi and exit on the E11 towards Ruwais. Exit near Tarif on road E45 towards Liwa. At the town of Mezaira’a, there is a petrol station and shops. Once through here, head right onto the E90 and then follow signs to and beyond the Liwa Guesthouse. At the next roundabout turn left towards Tal Mireb. Once on this road, keep driving until you find a good spot to turn off and explore.
One of the best-known off-roading spots for amateur dune bashers, it's also a cool camping location. You will have to make time for a little fossil-hunting, making it a popular spot with families, and there are good dunes to drive over, too. The simplicity of the camp makes it all the more popular, and you’re likely to see either campers or remnants of previous camps close to the main attraction. With a 4x4, however, you can explore a little further off-road and find a private enclave. Take the Dubai-Hatta Road for 31km until you reach a flyover. At the roundabout, take the second exit into Al Awir. Take the right turn before the second mosque, then drive past a palatial home and some shops until you reach a sandy track. Head up the dunes, following the power lines across a main road until you reach Camel Rock and, further on, Fossil Rock. Explore the area for a safe and suitable spot to pitch.
There is more to the UAE than sand, so when you want a break from the beach and something different to the dunes, look to the mountains. If you have a few days for camping, stop off at Wadi Sana before a second night with a beach camp in Fujairah or Dibba. Pull away from the Masafi-Dibba Road and towards the village of Sana and there is a mountain track to an impressive plateau. The panoramic views are breathtaking in their rugged, imposing beauty and there are excellent hiking and mountain biking options for after you have woken up in the morning. The elevated position makes this one of the best places to just sit and enjoy the view, which on a clear day extends for miles below. The ground here is harder than in the desert so an airbed or camping mattress is advisable and you will want to scout around to find flat land for your tent to pitch on. Take the E88 from Dubai as far as Masafi. Take the Masafi-Dibba Road before exiting to the small village of Sana and then drive for around two miles up the track to the Wadi Sana plateau.