Best camping spots
Camp with flamingos in Umm Al Quwain
Best for: Wildlife lovers.
Although this emirate has something of a dearth of attractions, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. It also just so happens to be one of the quieter, more secluded destinations for a spot of camping. On the beach, choose your camping spot with care to avoid being flooded at high tide. Once set up, visit the nearby fishing village at Al Raas, where you’ll spot wild flamingos.
Take the E311 north towards Ajman, turning off when you see signs for Dreamland Waterpark. Head for Al Rafaah.
Go glamping in Mubazzarah Park
Best for: Families.
For some easy kid-friendly camping, take a trip to this beautiful green space at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, one of the country’s best known mountains with plenty of space for running around. The park is home to hot springs, swimming pools, a mini train, a boating lake and chalets to stay in.
Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain (03 783 9555).
Desert dune camping near Big Red
Best for: Novice campers.
For a taste of desert dune camping without travelling too far afield, the area around Big Red is perfect. Those in 4x4s can venture into the rich red sand to try a spot of dune bashing and find the ideal camping spot, while those without a 4x4 can park up on the side of the highway and walk through the dunes on foot. Our favourite spot is about 9km before the village of Madam; we usually ditch the car roadside and carry our gear over the fence and into the dunes. We’d recommend travelling light and choosing a spot between dunes to protect from the wind.
Head down the Dubai-Hatta Road (E44) for about 45 minutes towards the village of Madam, which is just before the Hatta border crossing.
We usually drive right down to the Madam roundabout, do a U-turn and then take the E44 towards Dubai, scouting out the landscape until we spot a gap in the fence and the perfect camping patch.
Easy camping at Al Qudra
Best for: Novice campers.
For the inexperienced, a good option is to head towards Al Qudra cycle track, about 20 minutes from Dubai. This is a popular spot, and there are usually a number of groups in the area who are happy to help those that get badly stuck driving off road (an inevitability for the inexperienced). There are great camping spots to be found very close to the road, but you’d never know how close you are to civilization once the sun goes down and the stars come out. There’s also a good little shop next to the Trek Bicycle Store that stocks a good range of essentials and serves breakfast food.
4x4 essential. Head down Al Qudra Road (D63) past Arabian Ranches and continue straight until you reach the roundabout in front of Trek Bike Shop. Turn left here and follow the route of the cycle path on your right until the landscape turns to sand dunes. Turn off the road when you see a good route into the dunes, crossing the cycle track, and off road until you find a suitable spot.
Adventurous camping in the Empty Quarter
Best for: Experienced campers.
Head out into the vast Liwa Desert – appropriately also called the Empty Quarter – to camp amid awe-inspiring sand dunes and sleep under a breath-taking star-filled sky. This is the ultimate desert camping experience, and there’s nothing else quite like it in the UAE. We’d recommend this spot for experienced campers who already possess the correct equipment. A GPS is absolutely essential, as is travelling with an absolute minimum of two cars, due to the vast and confusing nature of this desolate stretch of desert. The towering dunes are tricky to negotiate, even for experienced off-roaders, so it’s easy to get lost, and you certainly don’t want to be stuck here alone.
4x4 essetnail. Head out of Abu Dhabi on the E11 towards Ruwais. Exit near Tarif on road E45 towards Liwa. You’ll come to the small town of Mezaira’a where there’s a petrol station and shops. Once through here, head right on the E90 and then follow signs to Liwa Guesthouse, but continue straight at the roundabout by the entrance to the hotel. At the next roundabout turn left towards Tal Mireb. Once on this road, keep driving until you find a good spot to turn off and explore.
Wilderness camping at Wadi Bih
Best for: Experienced hikers and campers.
Well-known for its dramatic scenery and abundance of desert wildlife, Wadi Bih should be a bucket-list spot for camping enthusiasts. Unfortunately it’s tricky to reach. You can’t access the wadi from Ras Al Khaimah and will therefore need to drive the long way around and cross the UAE-Oman border at Dibba. Even here, entry to Oman is sometimes refused without a confirmed hotel or tour reservation. But if you can make it to the wadi it’s a breathtaking experience. After a drive up through the dramatic Wadi Kham Al Shamis, and a steep ascent to the summit, you’ll find some of best mountain views in the country. You can camp here, or continue down the steep track into the wadi itself, where there are some peaceful camping spots below towering cliffs. This whole area is full of incredible hikes, climbs and mountain biking routes of varying difficulties – all with spectacular views.
Passports and 4x4 essential. Once through the border crossing at Dibba, continue straight ahead until you reach a roundabout next to a mosque. Go left at the roundabout and continue straight for roughly 1km before turning left towards Khasab. Continue straight to the T-junction and turn right. Continue straight until you reach the end of the tarmac where the road turns into Wadi Khab Al Shamis. Begin your drive up through the wadi.
Tours and glamping sites
If you aren’t adventurous enough to go it alone, or just prefer to explore in a bit more comfort, check out some of these tour companies and desert ‘glamping’ sites where you can sit back, (mostly) relax and let someone else do all the planning for you.
Bedouin Oasis Camp, Ras Al Khaimah
Head to RAK for a traditional Bedouin experience, crossed with glamping. You’ll find flushing toilets here and towels are provided, plus there’s a light buffet breakfast. There are real goat hair tents, an authentic underground oven, an evening barbecue and a camp fire. The setting is ideal for big groups who plan to stay up late into the evening chatting, star gazing and enjoying shisha. Various activities are also on offer for additional cost, such as self-drives and horse riding.
Tents from Dhs550 per night. www.arabianincentive.com, email@example.com (04 266 6020).
Beach camping in Musandam
Dolphin Khasab Tours offer a full-day traditional dhow cruise with swimming, snorkelling, lunch and, if you’re lucky, dolphin sightings. You’ll be transferred by speedboat to a secluded beach to camp for the evening. There are beach activities such as volleyball and badminton as well as a barbecue dinner, and breakfast. Sleeping bags, tents, chairs, tables, firewood and water are all arranged. The whole trip lasts 24 hours, including the return trip to Khasab harbour.
Dolphin Khasab Tours, www.dolphinkhasabtours.com (00968 995 666 72).
Hud Hud Travels, Oman
Hud Hud has a series of luxury private camps in rural Oman. Their locations include the Hajar mountains, Khalouf Beach and the Wahiba Sands, where you can stay in luxury tents and enjoy delicious traditional Arabic meals. Each camp site is located in a beautiful setting with amazing views of mountains, coast or desert, and all are well-positioned for day trips to surrounding villages and sights. Hud Hud also organises bespoke tours of the country.
www.hudhudtravels.com (00968 9980 2922).