Desert Camping | Abu Dhabi

In a well-ordered universe…camping would take place indoors.” Morgan Matson

So I finally caved after many conversations, lots of cajoling and much procrastination on my part (believe me many, many chats and persuasive tactics were used) this expat princess went camping in the desert. Last Friday, I was sipping on chocolate martinis at the 5* Ritz Carlton brunch and this weekend I was climbing dunes, sitting round the camp fire under the stars and peeing in the sand, get me and my diverse lifestyle, impressed much?

So after a couple of visits to adventure/equipment type shops (such fun, yawn) we are the proud (ish) owners of a fast assembly tent, huge blow-up bed, a couple of sleeping bags and camping chairs! With our car boots full to the brim, our trio of 4 x 4’s set off with my sense of humour hanging in the balance. This newbie camper and self proclaimed non-outdoorsy person was as ready as she would ever be, but in all honestly my expectations were low and trepidation was off the scale!


With the UAE being made up of 80% desert it was inevitable that a camping trip was on the cards at some point in my expat existence, especially with friends who are keen campers and really living here it would be shame not to experience it (yes, I did actually write that, it must the lack of sleep from the night in the tent!). So our little ‘test the water’ overnight jaunt was to the Al Hayer Forest (forest being a few trees not like the New Forest) area which is nestled in-between some impressive red sand dunes, a sparse scattering of trees, some camel farms and the Omani mountains in the distance as it’s right near to the electrified Oman border fence.

After settling on our final location (which criteria included no other campers and a view of the mountains), we pitched the three tents and set up our little camping haven and celebrated with tea and posh biscuits (how very British, standards darling standards) before some of us climbed up the nearby beautiful dunes to check out the awesome views across the valley and the Omani Mountains beyond, such a perfect elevated spot to watch the sunset.

The dunes were breathtaking (both visually and physically too as they took your breath away as you climbed them) and the sand patterns across the valleys were stunning, mother nature can sure be pretty sometimes. It’s a great place for dune bashing too and a couple of 4 x 4’s cruised past when we were sat on top of one of the dunes. It’s amazing to think that Bedouin people lived here in tents without modern amenities not that long ago and the camels herders at the farms near our camp still live in this traditional and simple way.


Our little camp was positioned around a central campfire which was built up for maximum warmth after three whole marinated chickens were roasted over the flames on a motorised spit (one campers new toy). The camp was surrounded by a ring of tall bamboo torches, chairs and a bbq, what more could you need right? Well a Portaloo would not have gone a miss! The boxes of red and white grape beverages, hops and apple based drinks we brought along certainly helped the mood and my peeing inhibitions too, needs must people!

I had anticipated it getting a little chilly when the sun went down (apparently the desert is approximately 10 degrees cooler but it felt way colder than that) and it’s a good job I packed so many layers (bobble hat, ski socks and all) as the temperature plummeted. Despite the chill factor it was still pretty awesome sitting round the fire with the sky illuminated by the almost full moon and star/planet gazing courtesy of a nifty little app and the utter peace and quiet (except the odd wild beast sound from in the distance, just kidding, I think).

So apart from freezing our bits off all night (even with three layers, a towel and sleeping bag) to sweating in the morning sun in the tent hot house and absolutely no phone service, I survived my first desert camping trip! Luckily my camping was critter free (one friend saw two scorpions and there were huge beetles burrowed under two of the tents (not ours). We did have an early morning visit from a friendly herd of camels (cute baby ones too) as they ambled right through our camp site following their herder who had passed by earlier with their breakfast on the back of his truck, so cool and a great photo opportunity too (as you can see).


Lots of laughs were had, sausage gate (bbq sausages are supposed to have a sandy coating in the desert right) was hilarious, much debate and deliberation of the quality and arrangement of the firewood, wafting of said fire for optimum warmth and a generally good time was had by all, even me!


Packing up after breakfast (tea makes me human) we set off for home and encountered lots more dromedary friends en route to the main road, both in penned areas and roaming free. Despite the lack of sleep and bathroom facilities, I would go again and I don’t think I even moaned once (outloud), I know unbelievable right! 

I apologise for all the camel spam but seriously how cute are they? With their big eyes and long eyelashes they look super adorable and cuddly and it was great to get up and personal with them but I was really wary of being spat on, not sure if that’s a myth but I wasn’t taking any chances! Just as we left the area another herd of ‘ships of the desert’ passed by completely unfazed by cars and people, perfect end to the trip well that and the toilet at the nearby petrol station!


Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved. YMCA on the dunes and Camel Safari photos courtesy of Robin Attwater

7 thoughts on “Desert Camping | Abu Dhabi

    1. Thank you re the photos, I’m really pleased with them! I never thought I would enjoy it let but it was fun and the place was so amazing 😉

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