‘The most 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 almost animated – 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 real interest to head for is the Liwa Oasis and Moreeb Hill, which will take a good five or six hours. There is 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
‘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 trash here, as most visitors tend to forget to pick it up.
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
‘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.
At the moment the sand is rough, after all the rain. But generally it’s an 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
‘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
Leave No Trace
This is an American system for camping and trekking 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 about where you’re 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, 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.
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.
We never go camping without…
…and where to get it
Picnico (04 394 1653)
Stocks all of the above, and is a stockist of Coleman gear for true campers. Jumeriah Beach Road (behind Eppco petrol station), Jumeirah 3.
Go Sports (04 341 3251)
Head torches and a few other bits can be picked up here, as well as a few other bargains if you rummage around. Mall of the Emirates.
Ace Hardware (800 275 223)
Suprisingly large camping section with a few gadgets you might not find elsewhere. Branches in Festival City and on Sheikh Zayed Road.
Dragon Mart (04 368 7070) Recently got a new camping section. Al Khail Road, Near International City.
Go with the glow
James Wilkinson discovers a natural miracle in Musandam
‘Camping is, essentially, a matter of balance. It’s about finding a spot where everything is just right: the views, the foliage, the lack of rampaging animals. But sometimes there’s a spot where one thing happens to be spectacular enough that the site’s other deficiencies can be forgotten. And in the case of Musandam’s secluded beach coves, that is definitely the case.
‘Oh, the wind might blow your tent down if you don’t peg it in properly – that has certainly happened to us – the beach may be a collection of heel-shredding rocks and it might be strewn with litter, but after the sun descends, something truly magical happens: step into the water (with your flip-flops on; urchins and spiny beasts come out to play in the dark) and you’ll find yourself trailed by underwater fire.
It’s not dangerous, though, just the result of phosphorescent algae in the water emitting bright swirls of blue light on contact with swimmers. There’s no natural experience in the region that’s quite as beautiful or memorable. And then the sun rises on the litter-strewn beach. Ah, well.
‘Just a few words of advice. Firstly, while trips can be organised by just rocking up to Khasab Port and negotiating with the salty sea dogs out there to sail you out to these beaches, you might want to compare prices with the Golden Tulip Khasab Resort (+968 2473 0777) and Dolphin Tours (+968 9242 3833) first. Also, if you do haggle with a local sailor, only pay half upfront – to make sure he comes back to pick you up.
And here’s the biggest thing: help out by clearing up at least some of the trash left by others as well as your own before you leave. Other visitors might not mind ruining an area of natural beauty, but we know that Time Out’s readers are that little bit more considerate.’
Is it the right time to go?
According to the meteorology department at Dubai Airport, there is statistically less chance of rainfall in the UAE during April than March. So go grab your pegs! (After you’ve checked an up-to-date local weather website,of course).
You should never journey into the desert without another vehicle – or another two if you’re going into Liwa. You must also be a competent desert driver and equipped with GPS. Be sure to check all fluid levels, tyres and the weather forecast before setting out. Remember, if you’re unsure, there are plenty of tour companies that can take you there safely.