Three outdoor experts tell you where to pitch your tent
Time Out staff
Think you know the UAE? Think again. The country is 80 percent desert, yet has some stunning mountainous areas in the north-east, not to mention acres of beachfront. This means there’s no shortage of places to explore, and the weather is now perfect for camping (yes, you may even need to take a sweater and pair of socks). But before you buy yourself a tent, it’s important to know where you’re going and exactly what you’ll need for your trip. To help you avoid any potential pitfalls we’ve spoken to three experts, who reveal their top camping destinations, as well as tips on how to get there, what to do when you’re there, and a tentful of other useful info.
The expert: Simon Cahil, Arabia Outdoors Hajar Foothills Directions Hit Emirates Road heading north, and take the Al Dhaid Road (E88) towards Masafi. To the west of Masafi, and enclosed on four sides by main roads (E87, E88, E89 and E19), you’ll find a maze of wadis and tracks to explore on foot, in the car or by mountain bike.
Description of site For those with a 4x4, start at Wadi Seder (25° 31.633’N, 56° 7.110’E). Follow the trail up to a village in the foothills of the Hajar Mountains, turn right (25° 29.742’N, 56° 7.944’E) and rejoin the tarmac road (25° 30.430’N, 56° 10.091’E) – 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.
Gear You’ll need four-wheel drive to tackle the above route, though you can easily take your two-wheel-drive car into Wadi Koo (25° 29.810’N, 56° 4.168’E) for an abundance of secret places to camp or hike. For mountain bikers, the region offers ideal tracks with 50km-plus trails.
Top tip Be sure to visit the small local museum in the village of Taybah.
Beach camping in Umm Al Quwain Directions Take Emirates Road north towards Ajman, turning off when you see signs for Dreamland Waterpark. Head for Al Rafaah.
Description of site You can camp on the beach to the north and south of Al Rafaah. Choose your spot with care – 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. Those who prefer to camp away from the coast road can find a secluded spot just off the main road. Try the area close to 25° 37.021’N, 55° 44.855’E.
Gear Binoculars, kayaks and fishing gear.
Top tip Visit the old fishing villages along the peninsula at Al Raas: take your fishing gear and binoculars to spot wild birds including flamingos. If you have a kayak, use it to explore the mangroves along the coast.
Ras Al Khaimah desert Directions Take Emirates Road heading north towards Ras Al Khaimah, then take the J119. Head south-east along the truck road for 2.5km and turn left onto a hard, gravel track leading to the small farms at 25° 37.398’N, 55° 51.091’E.
Description Camp near the farms (but not too close – you don’t want to disturb the locals) or, if you have four-wheel drive, explore the sand dunes. There are many good sand tracks in the area, linking camel pens and small oasis farms. Banyan trees, palms, wild birds and Arabian oryx can be seen on an early morning walk or drive around your camp.
Gear There are no facilities, so take everything with you, including plenty of food and drink. The hard track can be reached with care in a two-wheel-drive car: if you venture off the track, take care not to get stuck.
Top tip Camp in an open space, and be aware of other off-roaders coming over sand dunes.
Further afield… Khasab and Al Sayah Plateau, Musandam Directions If you’re prepared for a longer drive (four hours from Dubai), and are maybe planning two nights out of the city, why not try the northern approach to Musandam from Al Rams? This can be reached by following the road through Ras Al Khaimah straight up to the border. Pass through the border at Al Rams (border fees apply: a ten-day tourist visa costs OMR5; approx Dhs50) and drive along the spectacular coast road to Khasab.
Description On the first night, camp on the beach at Khasab. From here, head up into the mountains, find the track to the Al Sayah Plateau and camp in fields a few kilometres further on (25° 57.862’N, 56° 12.334’E). Enjoy mountain hiking, mountain biking or just chilling out in the camp and admiring the views. An option for your third day could be an early morning drive back down into Khasab and a dhow cruise (Dhs250 per person, Arabian Tours, 050 628 9667 – advance booking required), where you’ll see dolphins and snorkel around Telegraph Island. Dhow trips can be booked through the Khasab Hotel (www.khasabhotel.net, +968 2673 0267) or directly with the dhow companies on the day.
Gear Take bikes, snorkels and Oman car insurance – the latter can be arranged in advance or at the border. Don’t forget your passport!
Top tip Check the up-to-date border information (www.rop.gov.om); you may need to apply in advance for a road permit to enter Musandam.
Jebel Shams Directions Take the E66 into the centre of Al Ain, then take 137th Street onto Highway 21. Stay on Highway 21 and pass through Ibri and Bahla.
Description Jebel Shams is the highest mountain in Oman, standing at about 2,999m. The good news is you can drive to 2,000m, where there is an excellent base camp known as Jebel Shams Heights (23° 13.616’N, 57° 12.131’E). 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.
Gear Take your passport, GPS, charged phone and sturdy walking boots.
Top tip 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 (traditional water channels) and ancient buildings. Enjoy a stroll around and be sure to take your camera. Finally, visit the historic towns of Ibri and Nizwa, or the caves at Al Hoota.
Arabia Outdoors offers guided tours and camping trips for individuals and corporate groups. Prices from Dhs150 per person for a day hike, from Dhs350 for an overnight trip (including activity). www.arabiaoutdoors.com (055 955 6209).
The experts: Brendan Cottle and Francis Versola, Adventure HQ Al Dhafra Beach, Abu Dhabi Directions Drive straight down Sheikh Zayed Road (E11) through Abu Dhabi. Follow the signs towards Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort or Al Dhafra Golf Links. The beach can be accessed through the golf club by driving via the clubhouse entrance before the hotel roundabout and driveway. The drive will take up to three hours – it’s a long straight road, but there is some great scenery, especially after passing the outskirts of Abu Dhabi city.
Description There have been sightings of sea turtles and flamingoes in this area. If fishing is your game, you can try to catch some snapper, queen and trevally.
Gear This is a great place for diving, snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding and the like, so take your swimming gear.
Top tip The water and scenery is incredibly beautiful and pristine, making this an ideal spot for some photography.
Khor Najd, Musandam Directions Drive north towards and past Ras Al Khaimah to the Musandam border, then continue along the beautiful winding coastal road for around 50km, round to Khasab. Drive south through Khasab until you get to Wadi Khasab: take a left here onto the track and follow the signs to Dibba. Drive for about 7km to 8km, and then take a left up Wadi Sal Al A’la. After 5km, take another left, past a military firing range. The beach is another 5km up and over a dramatic narrow road over the mountain (26˚ 05.30 89’N, 56˚ 19.32.64’E).
Description This is a beautiful beach location that’s hidden away from all roads and city noise. It’s great for bonfires, marshmallows and ghost stories. For those travelling with a guide, a kayak session along the mountain face dropping into the sea is amazing, especially through some of the open caves.
Gear Ground mats are required for camping here, as the ground is hard, especially if you camp further from the sea to avoid high tide. It’s a good idea to drive here in a 4x4, as the road over the mountain to the beach is made of gravel, and can get quite steep at times.
Top tip Go prepared: there are no stores or petrol stations close to this area. Travel with a buddy, and preferably in a two-car convoy. Also, there’s an old graveyard at the base of the mountain – be respectful of this and don’t set up camp too close.
Three more to try Don’t want to brave the desert alone? Try an organised tour…
Arabian Adventures This tour group runs a number of different trips, including one to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR). The standard package includes a barbecue dinner and all camping equipment, though to make your trip extra-special, bubbly and canapés can be arranged, as well as a falcon show. Following breakfast the next morning, you’ll set off in search of the Arabian oryx, gazelles and other local wildlife. Pick-up and drop-offs included. Dhs695 per person. Various locations (04 303 4888).
Extreme Adventure Dubai Go camping in the Lahbab desert’s higher dune areas, near Fossil Rock. Extreme Adventure offers both private and shared tours, and provides individual tents, sleeping bags, breakfast, shisha and camp fires during the winter months. You can also opt for a barbecue, sound system and power generator. Private trips from Dhs2,500 for two people, shared trips from Dhs600 per person. Various locations (050 883 8833).
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. Dhs195 per person. Dibba (+968 2 683 6551).
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Bettina Schmit Jan 08, 2015 01:17 pm
Please note this place is not accessible anymore...
Oliver&Nikki Feb 04, 2014 09:27 am
Based on the recommendation we found here, we went to Al Dhafra Beach, Abu Dhabi last weekend 31/01/14. However, I think that the “ Experts” must have gone to a different beach, as we found a totally different place when we arrived!
Upon arriving, we were stopped directly by an Al Dhafra Golf Links committee member demanding that we pay 100Dh per tent before they would allow us access to the track that leads to the beach. After a long discussion with them and looking at our alternative options, we finally agreed to pay for two tents rather than face turning back so late in the day.
Once we accessed the now very expensive campsite! We found a scene that is as far from the picture described above as it gets! The review describes “The water and scenery is incredibly beautiful and pristine, making this an ideal spot for some photography.” We found, a beach located between to industrial plants, completely littered in debris…1000s of bottles, Plastic, timber, foam, glass, metal…. You name it, or threw it in the sea and it’s there! So unless you like bottles and garbage strewn across the landscape, I would suggest leaving the camera at home. As far as wildlife goes, we took our kayak, nothing… not even a fish. Although, a few birds flew past! But even they must have thought it wasn’t worth landing for… Hahaha.
On the plus side, we made the most of it with our friends and the fire was burning all night thanks to the abundance of free timber on the beach. But we will never go down there again.
The picture used was not taken there. Not worth the journey at all. There are much nicer / cleaner places to camp throughout the UAE.
Olivier Oct 20, 2013 07:59 am
we went specially to this location you mention in your top 10 best spot for camping after driving 3 hrs from Dubai
all you can find is power plant station , oil terminal and black smoke
you should go there and update your info...
haffi Jan 22, 2013 07:23 am
can you please share the location where it is i wanna go there for camping