The UAE’s best camping spots are revealed to Time Out by those in the know. Now get packing...
Time Out Dubai staff
Mark Miller, Desert Rangers
‘The perfect camping spot for me, without question, is down in Liwa, around 50km from Hamim village. With 200m sand dunes as a backdrop, no light or noise pollution and no tyre tracks, it is absolutely idyllic. You immediately feel relaxed and totally mesmerised by the scenery, which looks as though somebody has painted it on a big canvas. ‘This part of the desert is very clean, which makes a welcome change. My spot is actually around 35km into Liwa, so you don’t tend to get many day trippers in the area, hence the lack of rubbish.
‘There are also some great driving routes in the immediate area. The nearest point of interest is the Liwa Oasis and Moreeb Hill, which will take a good five or six hours. There’s a fantastic motor museum on the road down to Hamim, which people should visit. It’s owned by the ‘Rainbow Sheikh’ – Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family. Though opening times are a bit hit or miss, there are some mad vehicles to see. It’s free to get in and a good break on the journey down.
‘Apart from the normal reptiles, such as the sand monitor and other lizards, I have seen a sand cat and desert gazelle out there, which were both real treats. Though they are not in abundance they can sometimes be spotted around that area.’
Directions: ‘Head towards Abu Dhabi and Hamim village – it will take about two and a half hours to get there. A few kilometres after you’ve been through Hamim, you will see a petrol station on the left. A couple of kilometres further on you will spot a fairly wide track. Stay on the track for as long as you want and turn into the desert at any point – just wherever you like the look of, and then pitch up!’ 04 340 2408, www.desertrangers.com
Christophe Chellapermal, Discover Nomad
‘My favourite camping spot is in the desert, on the road to Dhaid. I just love the desert around this region because we can four-wheel drive all the way to Fossil Rock, and it is also easily accessible from Dubai. The road is not too far away – just in case of emergencies. If you’re a keen wildlife spotter, there are wild rabbits in these parts, as well as rare insects. Unfortunately, there is a lot of rubbish here, as most visitors tend to forget to take it home with them.
‘Please be sensible and pick up your leftovers, or, even better, recycle and separate the trash. Last but not least, I’d never go camping without my barbecue. I love to cook right out in the desert.’
Directions: ‘Take exit nine on Sharjah Airport Road in the direction of Dhaid. Then just pick any spot that looks like it can accommodate you around that area.’ 050 885 3238, www.discovernomad.com
Zahsheen Malik, Arabian Adventures
‘Whenever I have some free time I like to go to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, 60km up the Al Ain Highway. It’s completely isolated, away from all the city noises and the traffic. I go with a group of friends and family and it refreshes the soul and person. You occasionally see oryx around there, as well as other species such as lizards, sand cats and gazelles – but they’re often out at night so they’re hard to see.
‘The sand is generally a beautiful orange-brown colour and very soft. Unfortunately, in the past five years the area has become more popular and therefore more and more messy, especially after the weekends. Sunday is normally the best day to go, as by then the litter has either blown away, been covered by sand or all been cleared up by Dubai Municipality.’ Directions: ‘Take the Al Ain Highway in the direction of Al Ain. Get off at the seventh interchange. You’ll pass Village Margham. After 5km, you’ll find the desert reserve on the left and right of the road.’ 04 303 4888, www.arabian-adventures.com
Paul Oliver, Absolute Adventure
‘I do really like going up to Wadi Hatta. It’s not that easy to get to, nor is it well known, so the wadi is very, very clean. Plenty of water, oleander, nice rock formations and good spots to camp. We see lots of donkeys in there and plenty of birdlife and you see snakes near the water. We even saw nocturnal foxes last time we were there. Make sure you bring a mat with you, though, as the ground is uneven and pretty hard up there.’
Directions: ‘Go through the town of Hatta and head towards the Hatta pools. Turn off the dirt road that leads to the pools and go through the small village that leads to the plateau above the wadi. Park up and there is a trail there leading down into the wadi. It’s pretty off the beaten trail.’ 04 345 9900, www.adventure.ae
Across the border
The coastline from Muscat to Sur is, in a word, spectacular. The endless blue ocean stretches as far as the eye can see, and the waters are so clean you can even expect to see turtles bobbing around close to the shore.
White Beach is a special favourite here at Time Out, thanks to its glistening white sand and the outstanding swimming, with gentle rolling waves – and when night falls, there’s a good chance phosphorous will glimmer in the water. White Beach is also very close to some of Oman’s most beautiful wadis – Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab – which are a short drive away and the entire backdrop behind the highway is framed by the craggy Hajar mountain range.
You can drive your car right onto the beach, and pitch up your tent anywhere nearby using the sand as a mattress, though it’s worth arriving early as it’s not exactly a secret camping destination and it’s hugely popular among locals. It’s also a good idea to bring along something for shade, like a tarpaulin or large beach umbrella, to take refuge from the searing heat; though the rocky crops of cliff gently rise on either side of this beach, the remainder is fairly exposed. Don’t forget your snorkelling gear – the waters are teeming with marine life.
Directions: White Beach is easily reached – it’s located off the new Muscat-Sur highway between Quriyat and Wadi Tiwi. The turn off is well signposted; simply follow the road down to the coast. It’s advisable to have a 4x4, though, as the road is quite rough.
Leave no trace
‘Leave No Trace’ is an American system for camping that’s designed to leave the spot you pitch up at exactly the same as you found it. Paul Oliver from Absolute Adventure gives us a quick rundown
Know before you go Be prepared: take the right gear, check the weather forecast, have the right clothing. Know all there is to know about where you are going.
Choose the right path Stay on a proper trail; don’t create a new path if you don’t have to. If you’ve got to have a toilet spot, have it at least 100m from a water source. Trash your trash Take everything out with you that you brought in, bury all excreta and carry out toilet paper with you, preferably.
Leave what you find Just take photographs and memories with you, don’t take anything else. Even shells should be left behind so they can be enjoyed by the next user.
Be careful with fire If you have to make a fire, make a fire ring [a ring of stones to keep the fire contained]. Every time you build a fire it damages the soil underneath. Try to find a place that’s been used for a fire before, not on virgin ground.
Respect wildlife Don’t approach them, don’t feed them, don’t follow them and don’t chase them.
Be kind to other visitors Respect every other user – people cycling, trekking or on horseback. Don’t make noise that is going to disturb people who are there for a wilderness experience.
For all in-tents and purposes
If there’s one man who knows about camping in the region it’s Carl DeVilliers, founder of Surf School UAE and outdoor enthusiast. Carl shares his know-how with Time Out
• Learn the basics of Arabic like how to greet someone and explain you can’t speak the language. It will take you far!
• Always take adequate shade, sun block and water. Nothing’s worse than sunburn and/or dehydration on the first day of a trip.
• Take a big, round water cooler and fill it to the brim with ice, then fill it with water. If kept in the shade you should have cold clean water to use for about three to four days.
• Always pack for cold weather. It may be 40°C in the day, but the Middle East has some of the biggest temperature inversions on the planet – and nobody likes to spend a night freezing.
• Always know where you are going and try to plan how to get there including how long it will take so you don’t have to find it in the dark. Also, try to plan all your meals ahead of time and plan how the food will stay fresh the duration of the trip. Foods like noodles, long-life milk and cereals are winners.
• Cook your meat on the first day. You can cook more than you need and if you keep it cool it will last the next day or longer easily.
• Take trash bags and take your rubbish with you. Nobody likes arriving at a camping spot littered with someone else’s rubbish.
• Use paper plates for food – you can use them to keep the fire alight afterwards.
• Keep drinks and food separate when using ice in coolers – water soaked meat and cheese is not great and the water will go off after a day. In short: pack cleverly.
• Always tell someone you are going away and when you will be back.
• Try to preserve your phone battery for the entire trip so you always have an emergency line if there is any issue.
• Always take jump leads – many travellers have been stranded after running the battery flat on the car listening to the radio!
• Always have a spare tyre and know how to change it yourself.
1 A sleeping bag: Don’t be fooled by daytime temperatures – things can get chilly at night, especially out in the open.
2 A tent!: Setting up a tent no longer need to be a long, humiliating experience – nearly all camping outlets stock nifty pop-up tents that can be, quite literally, popped up in seconds.
3 Head torch: Reading, cooking, going to the loo – once the sun goes down, a head torch is required for just about anything you can imagine.
4 First aid kit: From splinters to more serious ailments, you’d be a fool to head out into the wilderness without a first-aid kit. You can also polish up on your mouth-to-mouth at the Keith Nicholl Medical Centre (050 953 5075), which offers first-aid courses from Dhs250.
5 A sleeping mat: A lot of great camping spots are located on hard, rocky ground, thus a roll mat is essential for a decent night’s sleep.
6 Portable stove/ barbecue trays: The old military adage ‘any fool can live in discomfort’ couldn’t be more appropriate – just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a slap-up dinner. And if you’re planning on eating well, you’ll need the appropriate apparatus.
7 Dry bags: Okay, so it doesn’t rain a great deal round here, but dry bags are a great way in which to compartmentalising your stuff within a rucksack, thus save you the time, effort and frustration of rummaging around your bag looking for things. Also, if perchance your bag does take a tumble into a wadi, then a properly sealed dry bag will keep your socks from getting soggy and may save any cameras or iPods you have with you.
8 A Buff: A what? Basically a stretchy piece of material that you can wear as a head warmer, scarf, sand mask, sleeping mask… Surprisingly useful. Not sure what we’re on about? Check out www.buffwear.co.uk
9 Bungee chords: Can be used to attach extra baggage to your rucksack, stow equipment on a car roof rack, fashioned into a washing line…