Enjoying the outdoors in style
There’s no need to rough it to enjoy the Middle East’s great outdoors any more – the global phenomenon of glamping (‘glamorous camping’) has finally hit our shores, says Kerry Baggott
Everyone needs to try camping at least once in the UAE or Oman. But be honest, have you really got the know-how? It’s a big desert out there, and even a Toyota Land Cruiser can get stuck in soft sand if you don’t know how to drive it offroad. Then there are the tents, the bedding, the firewood, the torches, the GPS, the shovels, the food, the chairs, the plastic forks… the list goes on.
Can you really be bothered? And, it might sound dramatic, but do you really have the survival skills to ‘rough it’, even for a night?
If the answer is a reluctant no, but you’re still keen to make the most of the UAE’s great outdoors while the weather’s nice, why not delegate all those worries to a company that can sort it all out for you?
Just think: all the tents set up for you, the fire stoked and the barbecue burning. Say hello to the UAE’s first ‘glamp’ sites. Although the true definition of this newfangled word is a portmanteau for glamorous camping, on the whole the Gulf still has some way to go before it rivals the likes of those uber-luxurious, permanent campsites that sit beside the watering holes of the Ngorongoro crater in Africa, for example. The closest, however, is the new camp offered by Arabian Adventures, which opened at the end of last year. If a queen-sized bed and luxury bathrooms in the desert are more your style than roughing it, this could be the camping trip for you. Alternatively, there are a handful of other operators that offer their own version of glamping...
1Dibba’s Adventure House with Absolute Adventure
Glamping is all about balancing the thrill of the great outdoors with some home comforts and at Dibba’s Adventure House, rather than sleeping under the stars, you and 13 others will be sleeping in bunk beds in a traditional stone house on the beach in Dibba, Oman. The mattresses might not be overly thick, but this is more than made up for with air conditioning, clean sheets and pillows, three bathrooms with hot showers, and a semi-equipped kitchen. The house is set in a large courtyard with the beach on one side and the Hajar mountains on the other (you may also find it a comforting thought to learn that it’s also a stone’s throw from the Golden Tulip Hotel).
A massive table sits in the centre of the yard, so it’s fabulous for hosting large groups who can also spread out to chill in the barasti hut on stilts, or lounge on the cushions in the majlis. There’s even a small freshwater pool – fairly old, but perfect for cooling off.
A BBQ grill is provided, and although dinner can be cooked for you, why not head down to the local harbour – about a five-minute drive from the house – when the fishermen bring in their catch? See them unload huge kingfish or snapper, make your choice and then go watch it be gutted and cleaned. Dinner doesn’t come fresher than this. Wood can be delivered to order, allowing you all to pull up a chair around the campfire and roast your marshmallows until the early hours before retiring to your bunk.
But for those who want more adventure, you’ve come to the right place. The name says it all. This is Dibba’s centre for all things adventurous – climbing, kayaking, diving, mountain biking and canyoning. The Adventure House is run by a bunch of outdoor enthusiasts, and there is a whole load of guided activities for you to try, from a two-hour pootle around town on a bike, to a half-day mountain trek.
INFO: From Dh1,950 per night for up to six guests for a weekend in high season. Contact email@example.com or visit www.adventure.ae.
2Musandam with Dolphin Khasab Tours
This is far more than just a camping trip – this is an exhilarating adventure that sees you cruise the fjords of Oman’s Musandam Peninsula taking in overwhelmingly dramatic scenery, snorkelling, chasing dolphins and spending the night under canvas on a remote beach.
Dolphin Khasab Tours collects you from Khasab harbour, the main harbour within this small bite-sized Omani enclave, where you’ll board a traditional wooden dhow to spend the day exploring what is dubbed the ‘Norway of the Middle East’. Although there is no evidence of glaciers having gouged these fjords within a landscape that is grey, barren and austere, the sheer mountainous cliffs plummeting into the sea, the jagged, sun-bleached rocks and the deserted coves are just as mesmerising as any Norwegian picture postcard.
And, as if the scenery were not enough, you’ll be accompanied by schools of playful dolphins ducking and diving as you ply through the water – loads of them.
The cruise will take you passed the historic Telegraph Island (the former British communication base in the region) and the isolated villages of Nadafi, Qanaha, Maqlab and Sham – villages frozen in time in an area that
seems unaware that the century has even turned. At 4pm you’ll be transferred from the dhow into a speedboat and taken to one of the many small sandy beaches where you’ll spend the night.
Muslin tents (they look flimsy but they are perfect for keeping cool and they are taller than normal camping tents, meaning you can stand up in them), sleeping bags, chairs, tables, electricity, firewood, a portable loo and even a fresh water bag for bathing are all set up for you.
If you’re lucky, no other party will join you on ‘your’ beach – there are lots of sandy coves to choose from, so most parties cruise along the coast until they find their own private spot. If you prefer, you can even choose to stay on the dhow for the night. Plus, you can either bring your own food to cook on the barbecue or Dolphin Khasab Tours can rustle this up for you. In fact, they’re happy to tailor-make the tour to your liking. You’ll be returned to Khasab harbour the following morning by 10am.
INFO: From Dhs550 per adult, children (aged four to eight) Dh275. Call 0096 82 673 0813 or visit www.dolphinkhasabtours.com.
3Liwa Desert with Abu Dhabi Adventure Tours
Venture where few have gone before – into the Empty Quarter, or Rub’ Al Khali as it is locally known – the world’s largest uninterrupted desert. Flowing through Oman, Saudi Arabia, the Yemen and the UAE, this ocean of sand was first explored by the famous Etonian explorer Wilfred Thesiger with a caravan of camels and group of Bedouin back in 1945.
Still today, venturing too far into the Liwa Desert is not something to be done on a whim, but it can be if you put yourselves in the hands of Abu Dhabi Adventure Tours.
So, don your khakis and discover for yourself some of the tallest sand dunes in the world and the bizarre rock formations of Saddle Rock, the Ancient Fossil Rocks and Camel Rocks. With rolling waves of sand stretching all around you, you’ll discover that this desolate place is teeming with life and, as the sun traverses the sky casting its myriad of golden colours on the dunes, you’ll agree that this place is as breathtakingly beautiful as it is hauntingly hostile.
The highly experienced drivers at the helm of their Toyota Land Cruisers make small work of the dunes, seeing you roller-coaster and surf the waves.
This is a private tour for a minimum of four people per car, so experiences can be tailored to each group – if you want dune bashing or sand boarding that can be on the cards, but if you prefer a more leisurely sail across the sand that’s OK too.
Camp is set up with all the gear provided – including a barbecue chicken dinner and shisha. Tents are provided of course, but many people choose just to sleep outside beside the campfire. It’s then over to the night sky to provide the evening entertainment as a velvety blanket of stars light up Liwa.
The next morning you’ll watch a magical sun rise before heading back to the capital for noon.
INFO: from Dh3,000 for minimum of four people. To book call 055 357 0011 or visit www.abudhabiadventure.com.
5Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve with Arabian Adventures
Camping with camels, oryx and gazelles is possible within the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, about 45km southeast of the city centre. With the reserve only accessible to authorised tour operators, Arabian Adventures has its own, permanent camp within the area for its Arabian Dreams Overnight Safari guests (separate from the Bedouin camp that entertains day trippers with belly dancers and henna painters).
As expected from this desert giant of a tour operator, everything is well thought out. In fact, this camp has only recently been completely refurbished and opened in December. The emphasis is on luxury: the eight permanent tents sleep two people and come with a queen-sized bed with linen and towels. In fact, all you’ll need to remember to take is your toothbrush – which you can use in the bathrooms that come with all mod cons. You’ll even be collected from your door in the late afternoon arriving in the desert in time for an exhilarating dune drive and to be able to appreciate the sunset.
A lavish dinner is provided of barbecued meats and sweet treats and in the morning you’ll enjoy a full American breakfast – after you’ve watch the magical sunrise, of course.
Even better, you can be back in Dubai by mid-morning – but not before you’ve been taken on a gentle safari of the reserve to learn about the flora and fauna.
INFO: From Dh1,790 per couple. Call 04 214 4888 or visit www.arabianadventures.com.
4Dreamland Aqua Park, Umm Al Quwain
For those who can’t get enough of waterparks, this is literally a dream land. Most of us know the UAE’s oldest and most family-favourite waterpark, but we may not be aware that guests can also camp on-site, in either air-conditioned wooden chalets or in tents.
All the gear is provided, from your BBQ to airbed mattresses, pillows and sleeping bags. This is camping on a full-board basis – breakfast, lunch and BBQ dinner are included. In fact, you and your party will be given a cooler box heaving with a very generous helping of shish taouk that you can cook yourself whenever you wish after the park closes at 6pm. Even after a full day on the rides, campers get access to a designated pool until 1am, or they can choose to simply sit around their campfires while the kids play ball games on the grass just metres away from the Twisting Dragons and Hippos’ Island!
INFO: From Dh550 for a weekday night for two adults, or Dh800 for a family of two adults and two children. For availability call 06 768 1888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.dreamlanduae.com.
the dolphins before camping
on the beach
From kayaking to canyoning, this is the spot for all things
It’s easy to see why Musandam is compared to Norway
will tailor this private trip to suit
Many campers cruise along the coast until they find their own
Arabian Adventures has its own camp, complete with tents containing queensize beds
Even after a full day of rides, campers
get access to a designated pool late
into the night