Everything you will need to hit the great outdoors
Now the readings on the thermometer are decreasing steadily, it’s time to pencil in some outdoor activity, and if you want to call yourself a true UAE expat we recommend you start seriously thinking about giving camping a whirl. While some aspects of the camping adventure can take some getting used to (nobody likes sharing their sleeping bag with bugs), other elements will keep you coming back for more.
While in UAE (either as a resident or passing through), you are in a prime spot for an unforgettable outdoor experience. Not only is the city perfectly positioned so as to give you access to many great locations, but since camping and outdoor activities are part of the local heritage, you will find a rich culture that supports it.
Camping can be fun for a group of friends or the entire family. It’s all about spending a night in the wilderness, and while some people go the full feral route, travelling to remote locations with the bare necessities, others congregate in designated sites armed with all kinds of amenities. Nevertheless, there are some crucial factors that need to be considered before trying to get in touch with your primal side.
Location, location, location! One of the most important aspects of your outdoor adventure is choosing your destination. Although the United Arab Emirates is filled with excellent spots, many of which are easily accessible, you do need to do some careful forward planning before heading out with a packed car. First off, you need to settle on what activities you want to do because this will influence your choice of location. This is, obviously, pretty essential.
If you and your entourage prefer water-based activities, then you definitely need to head to somewhere by the shore. Great locations include the beaches near Snoopy Island in Fujairah, which is roughly 3.5 hours drive from Abu Dhabi. Shaped like a sleeping Snoopy, the island is full of coral reefs and rich marine life, including turtles, cuttlefish and sharks. If you don’t want to venture quite that far, you can visit one of the nearby islands, such as Bahraini, although you do need a boat to reach it.
There are also excellent sites in neighbouring Oman which offer breathtaking landscapes and wildlife. Musandam also has some stunning locations, although you do need to sort your visa and passport at border control. There are also many organised tour groups with different packages, depending on the level of adventure you are looking for.
We recommend Musandam Sea Adventure Travel & Tourism (www.msaoman.com) and Khasab Travel & Tours (www.khasabtours.com), although there are plenty to choose from. Also, a bit of online research to check for reliability and reputability will do you no harm.
For those who’d rather forgo the beach and its infinite wonders, then desert camping is the perfect alternative. Get yourself to Al Ain, which is only an hour’s drive from the city, if you’re up for a bit of sand boarding or duning in a 4x4. If none of this sounds appealing then you can join an organised tour for some camel riding and other fun organised activities. We like Off-road Adventures (www.arabiantours.com) and Abu Dhabi Desert Safari (www.desertsafariinabudhabi.com). Before you set off, always make sure you have a map or a GPS and plan out your route prior to departing. Some excellent resources for the different types of terrain and roads within the UAE and Oman are the Explorer Off Road series (Oman and UAE), which can be picked up for Dhs125. For a cheaper alternative, you can purchase second hand copies from sites such as www.dubizzle.com and www.souk.com. Another great resource is the Off-road Adventure Routes: UAE & Oman book, which will set you back Dhs99 and can be ordered online from www.adventurehq.ae.
Get your gear in check! Depending on the level of comfort that you are looking for, you can pack anything from a simple sleeping bag to a portable toilet. Carrefour stocks a lot of camping gear at reasonable prices, so it’s always a good idea to browse through their selection. Nevertheless, the essentials include night lights, wood for a bonfire (as temperatures do tend to drop significantly at night), sleeping bags, tents, cool boxes for food and beverages, cooking gear, and a large mat for everyone to sit on.
Your most important item will, of course be your tent and these can range in quality and price, costing as little as Dhs60 or as much as Dhs400. Most tents do need to be set up, however the process is very simple and shouldn’t take more than ten minutes with two people. While most campers prefer sleeping in a tent, the other option is to simply kip outside. There’s something inherently magical about dozing off by a dwindling camp fire, under a starry blanketed sky. A word of caution though: while sleeping outside is a special experience, you will be woken up at day break with the quickly rising temperatures and eye-scorching light.
Whether you are intent on sleeping within the confines of a tent or not, you will need to purchase a sleeping bag. If possible, try to buy one made with natural material because synthetic fibres will cause you to perspire more and will make the morning hours very uncomfortable.
We advise investing in some kind of awning to protect you from the sun, too. There are a wide variety of options to choose from, with basic ones that can be attached to your car or more elaborate ones that can cover large groups of people.
You can also settle for simple beach umbrellas. If you are taking along young children or pets, do make sure that they are not over-exposed to the sun.
What about a set of wheels? While some locations are easily accessible many of the best and secluded spots will require an extra bit of grunt. If you do own a 4x4 and have never taken it off-roading, we recommend going with an experienced and very skilled driver on your maiden voyage and beware of driving over large dunes. Also, before driving onto any sandy terrain, you will need to let out some air from your tyres to avoid getting stuck. However, remember to refill your tyres at the nearest station before you head back home.
Games and gripes One of the greatest aspects of camping is the freedom of being outdoors. There are numerous activities you can do, from organised sports such as beach volleyball to flying a kite. Investing in a little item such as a Frisbee or a football can provide hours of healthy entertainment.
On the other hand, the only real problem we note with the camping experience is the lack of bathroom facilities. However, there are numerous camping sites situated near hotels, while others do have basic public amenities.
Always Respect Mother Nature While we encourage everyone to enjoy connecting with the outdoors, we do stress that cleaning up before heading back home is vital to other campers and the environment. Leaving trash is not only an aesthetic eyesore but could potentially damage the existing ecosystem. Ideally, round up all your rubbish in large bags and take them to the nearest bins. Most camp sites will have large metal containers designated for waste. But not having them doesn’t excuse leaving a mess. The only things you should leave behind are your footsteps!
Safety first Always pack a first-aid kit, and take note of the nearby hospitals or health centres. On an outdoor excursion it’s prudent to be ready for any eventuality and accidents do happen, so a little precautionary planning will go a long way.
A very common mishap that occurs during camping adventures are burns; many people will accidentally walk on hot coal during the night or just step too close to the fire. So don’t forget to pack some aloe vera gel and anti-burn cream. Alternatively, toothpaste with flouride will do the trick.
Food and water One of the greatest aspects of the camping experience is grilling your own dinner! Depending on the number of people in your group, you can opt for frozen meats, leg of lamb or fish. Make sure to buy cool boxes and cooling bottles to keep your food fresh and cold. However, when staying out for more than a night, you should plan to purchase the next day’s food somewhere locally, because you won’t be able to keep anything fresh in a cool box for longer than 24 hours.
If you are building a camp fire, you can either choose to grill your food on or near it, or purchase a grilling unit. Local grocery stores do carry many models, some of which are disposable. In either case, you will need to purchase charcoal as well.
Make sure you get plenty of water. Being outside all day will cause you to dehydrate quicker and water is essential to help your body keep its temperature regulated and hydrated. Depending on the number of nights you are staying, pack at least three large bottles of water per person per day.
Recipe for salmon We’ve cooked up an easy and delicious camping-friendly recipe that is excellent for salmon lovers and doesn’t need too much preparation – leaving you plenty of time for having fun!
Ingredients needed Fresh cuts of salmon Heavy duty aluminium foil Salt Lemon Garlic Seasoning spices (dill works well) Olive oil Mushrooms (or vegetables of your choice)
Instructions Lay out your salmon on a large open piece of aluminium foil. Rub both sides of the salmon with lemon and drizzle on some olive oil. Cut up some cloves of garlic and push them into the flesh of the salmon. Sprinkle on some seasoning and salt. Cover the salmon completely with the foil. Dig a hole in the sand right up next to the camp fire where it is very hot and place your salmon parcel in the hole. Wrap up some mushrooms and vegetables in aluminium foil and place over the sand, near the fire. Check in 20 minutes and your fish should be ready to eat!