Camping Somewhere in the Dubai Desert

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camp dunes
camp dunes

About an hour’s drive from Dubai, towards the direction of Hatta, the desert sand turns from this pale tan hue to a beautiful burnt orange that just mesmerizes.

Of course, it would mesmerize me all the more if I hadn’t been the one driving towards our camp site since Scotch ended up working that weekend.

Nevertheless, the sight of this color change never ceases to fill me with a sense of peace and wonder at the beauty of the desert. For this camping excursion, my friends and I opted to go inland instead of camping by the sea like we have done in the past in Jebel Ali, Dibba and Fujeirah.

setting up camp
setting up camp

As we turned off well-paved Al Khail road, my friend’s husband K announced that it was time to put the SUVs into 4WD mode so that we could drive onto the soft sand. I was instantly excited to be using 4WD for the first time, but first it was imperative that I ask K a very important question.

“How do I turn on 4WD mode?”

“Oh my god,” was K’s response. He came over to the passenger side to show me which was great because it meant I didn’t have to pull out my Land Rover’s user manual.

After engaging 4WD mode (and checking to see if I needed to deflate my tires which I didn’t) and getting used to the loud revving noise of the engine, I followed K into the heart of the desert as he scouted the area and picked a suitable camping spot for us. He showed off a few fancy dune bashing moves which I dared not imitate (he once moonlighted as a desert safari tour guide and is quite adept at dune bashing which he treated us to after we set up camp).

camping kids
Happy Camping Kids

The kids loved running up and over the sand dunes and I was glad there weren’t any other campers around us because the constant sound of my voice screaming after them to come back was sure to be annoying.

Here’s a few tips I picked up for camping with small children – or at least children around my son’s age of three:

  1. Play Area – set up a mini play area for the kids. We had a large straw mat for the kids toys, each had their own chair, and we had brought along sand toys like spades, buckets, sifters. Kids tend to misplace their things all the time and the sand makes it even easier to lose things so it also helps if there is a designated box or bucket (we used a vinyl Ikea bag) to toss all their things into throughout the day.
  2. Hydration – make sure they each have their own special water bottle and encourage them to drink. Ours all happened to have Thermos Funtainers which keep liquids cold well-chilled even in the desert sun and also keeps the dirt out (for the most part). We had this fold-up table with four cup-holes were the perfect size for the Funtainers.
  3. Designated Food Container – the kids were too busy running around and playing to sit down and eat so I told Wee Scotch that his food was in a special plastic container (with hinged lid) that he could access anytime he was hungry. This way, I could toss food into his container as it came off the grill and keep track of how much food he was eating.
  4. Glow Sticks and Flashlights – children love glowing things. I picked up some sh*tty glow necklaces from Geant Hypermarket that leaked as soon as we touched them but luckily the glow sticks from Daiso in the shape of dolphins, pumpkins, and stars fared much better. The children each had their own mini flashlights.
  5. Warm Clothing and Blankets – when the sun goes down, it can get quite cold in the desert so bring extra layers of clothes. The kids (and adults) went from T-shirts and barefeet to sweaters and socks and eventually were wrapped up in fleece blankets. Since we were car camping, it was easy to bring an extra set of everything so that at bed time, I could change my son out of his sandy socks and pants into sand-free clothes so that his bed and sleeping bag weren’t filled with sand. Yes, I am anal that way.
  6. GPS Identification System – when will technology advance so that we can track our children by a chip embedded within their bodies? When the sun set, the only lighting we had were a few headlamps and lanterns. The children were running around freely and sometimes it was hard to remember who was watching over who. Wee Scotch was easily spotted by the headlamp he was wearing around his head. Which made me think that next time, each kid is going to have a specific colored glow necklace/bracelet/whatever affixed to them in some way so as to make them easily spot-table.

If you have young children and have any other camping tips to share – I would greatly appreciate it if you could tell me about them by leaving a blog comment below.

camp fire
K getting the camp fire started

Wee Scotch commandeered my favorite headlamp for the entire evening which I didn’t mind because it meant I always knew where he was by the big bright light on his forehead.

camping lights
camping lights

It was breezy when we arrived which made setting up the tents a little challenging. But I’m glad that the wind died down by dinner time as it’s never any fun to eat BBQ food cooked on an open grill with a mandatory side order of sandy grit.

Camp Dinner
Camp Dinner

K is checking on his BBQ whole chickens that he proudly marinated all by himself (a first says his wife!) with a secret blend of bezar, turmeric, yogurt  and other spices. After spending some time in tin foil, the chickens were then transferred to a large pot to continue cooking – the resulting meat was so flavorful and so tender – just amazing.

K's bbq chicken
K’s bbq chicken


Camp Kebabs
Camp Kebabs

This was my BBQ contribution – chicken thighs marinated in lemon juice and homemade bezar as part of my Emirati “Cooking Local” project (post coming soon).

Emirati Chicken Recipe
Emirati Chicken Recipe

After all the food was devoured, K brewed us a big old pot of hot tea as we sat around the fire, toasted marshmallows, smoked shisha, and enjoyed the chilly desert evening.

camp tea
Camp Tea Around the Fire

I can’t remember how cold it got that night (it was pretty chilly) but I was warm and toasty in my goose down North Face sleeping bag rated to 15ºF (-9.5ºC). Overkill perhaps but the only sleeping bag I own and it has never let me down.

The next morning, the kids were treated to a parade of camels from a nearby camel farm.

camping camels
Camping camels


camping camels
Parade of camels

If my photos haven’t given you a sense of the beauty of the desert, check out this YouTube video from Sheban Naim Imaging:

And click here for more of our previous camping adventures.

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  1. I remember when I visited Dubai 3 months back with my family and camping in desert was really a magical part of the vacation. The Adventure travel agency whom we hired planned a really well adventure trip.

  2. That looks like a lot of fun and the food simply delicious! Why does everything always taste better cooked over an open campfire? I love your idea of a different color light for each child.

  3. Fabulous photography Sandy! We used to go for camping a lot but after the girls were born, I’ve been thinking how to manage the logistics with the children. Do you exactly know the co-ordinates of the location where you camped? Inspired to get back into the camping gear… great going:)

  4. The first image is absolutely stunning. You are braver than me at driving in the desert. I love it once I get there though. Great tips. My children are older now but I would add one – give camping a miss while your children are at the crawling stage…especially beach camping. A baby coated in sand, inside and out!, is not a happy baby.