Ride a Mercedes G-Class or 1950s Land Rover into the desert
Dubai’s tourism industry is packed with desert safari options. If you’re a visitor, you’ve most likely been or one (or are about to). Residents: you’ve probably been on between five and 25 since you arrived, depending on how many guests you’ve been tasked with entertaining. And it’s fair to say they all offer a similar thing – a vigorous dune-bashing session that delivers you to a desert camp, where you can watch belly-dancing, ride camels and snap a new Facebook profile picture of you holding a falcon. The influx of group-buying websites in Dubai has also meant there are bargains aplenty when it comes to booking a tour.
Yet one company is on a mission to head in the opposite direction. As the name suggests, Platinum Heritage’s tours aren’t cheap, but neither is what’s on offer. Services are split into two categories: the heritage collection and the platinum collection, with the former making use of the company’s 1940s and ’50s Land Rovers, and the latter transporting guests in Mercedes G-Class 4x4s. Apart from the city drives, everything takes place inside Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, on royal property. Options include wildlife safaris, breakfast with a Bedouin and private falconry experiences, through to a seven-hour dinner safari.
I decide to try a combination of the two different collections to get an idea of what to expect from each. My safari buddy and I are picked up in a shiny black Mercedes G-Class by the instantly amiable Eric, a Filipino whose seven years in Dubai has left him with an impressively robust knowledge of the emirate, its culture and heritage. As we learn on the drive along the E66, Platinum places a great deal of emphasis on conserving the local environment, traditions and culture of the country, combined with an effort to offer something more high-end to an already busy market. And despite having only been up and running for 30 days before my visit, managing director Adam McEwan explains that the private platinum dinner safari package has already hosted a marriage proposal (she said yes, thankfully) and repeat visits from Russian businessmen to seal deals with clients.
When we arrive at the gates to the conservation reserve, we swap vehicles, and jump into a beautiful 1954 Land Rover – one of a fleet that has been carefully assembled with help from Sharjah Classic Cars Museum and a group of private collectors. In a city full of petrolheads, a lot of the lure here is in the transport: during the city drives, a number of the tours’ employees have been stopped and offered money to buy the classic vehicles.
We take a gentle route through the desert, spotting sand gazelles and Arabian oryx before making our way to the falconry demonstration. It’s a world away from the usual photo-op: we’re given an impressive demonstration by expert handler Hendrik, a South African blessed with as much charisma and good humour as passion for the birds themselves, and he enthusiastically answers our questions about Bolt, the young falcon who shows off his hunting skills for us.
As the sun sets, we head over to the main heritage camp, assembled using traditional methods and materials. It uses a limited number of mod-cons to ensure it’s as environmentally sustainable a project as possible. But fear not: the washrooms haven’t been sacrificed – using the bathroom in the desert has probably never been so enjoyable. We take a quick ride on a camel before sitting down under the stars to a four-course dinner, including a delicious Emirati lentil soup.
Before our G-Class departs for the city, we’re taken to the more secluded platinum camp, with private table setups lit only by torches and lanterns. Here, you really are guaranteed seclusion: in a region that values privacy so highly, it’s little wonder the company has had so many enquiries after just a month in business. It’s surely one of the most unique (and romantic) settings in the city.
Without a doubt, this is the ultimate way to impress visitors and give them a glimpse of what Dubai’s desert and heritage really has to offer. But it’s also a thoroughly enjoyable way to get to know your host emirate and its history, regardless of how long you’ve lived here. You may have done 10 desert safaris before now, but you’ve never done one like this. Heritage dinner safari from Dhs495 per person, platinum dinner safari from Dhs1,250 per person. Other packages from Dhs195 for city drives. Platinum Heritage, Office 37, Oasis Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.platinum-heritage.com (04 388 4044).
Three more ways to travel in style
Hire a helicopter Take a 25-minute tour in a five-man helicopter. From Dhs1,250 per person (sharing), Dhs5,000 (private hire). Alpha Tours, www.alphatours dubai.com (04 294 9888).
Cruise in a Rolls-Royce Get chauffeured around in a Phantom. From Dhs1,000 per hour. Limo UAE, www.limo-uae.com (04 332 8779).
Charter a yacht Get a 22ft Bow Rider to cruise the seas, or go all out with the 86ft yacht, which can carry 30 guests. From Dhs300 per hour (22ft), from Dhs3,000 per hour (86ft). Xclusive Yachts, www.xclusiveyachts.com (04 432 7233).