Your ultimate guide to all things camping in the UAE

If you want to explore the natural beauty of the UAE away from the beaten track then camping could be the perfect fit

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The weather is cooler and it’s the perfect time of year to venture outdoors and see more of the beautiful country that we live in.

One way to make the most of living in the UAE is to go on a camping trip to take in the sights, sounds and smells of nature, plus it can be a relatively inexpensive option for keen travellers who aren’t afraid of a little bit of sand.

But before you pack the car and venture off into the unknown, there are a few things you should consider to make the most of it.

First things first

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You might think that camping is as easy as buying a tent but there’s far more to it than that.

For many people it can be a case of ‘all the gear and no idea’, which can be dangerous, especially when heading off the beaten track.

So where can you start?

“You don’t need a lot of equipment; all you really need for the first time camping, especially if you’re with a group, is a tent and some sleeping bags,” explains Edwin George, member of UAE Camping Club.

“I’d recommend new campers to attend one event with an established group. It gives you the chance to learn the basics, see what equipment you need and is a safe way to introduce yourself to camping in the UAE. From there you can start to do your own thing.”

Once you’ve spent a night in the great outdoors you’ll understand what it’s all about more clearly, learn what you need for your next trip and will also find out if it’s something that you can see yourself doing more regularly.

Not everyone will want to swap the luxury of Abu Dhabi for sleeping in the sand, but getting out of the city can be a rewarding experience for
the adventurous.

“When you spend all week working in offices, surrounded by buildings, it’s an amazing feeling to escape it all and enjoy some peace and the natural beauty of the country,” continues Edwin.

“It’s good for the mind to get away from the busy city and relax.”

Staying safe

Okay, so you’ve decided to give camping a go, maybe you’ve already been on a trip with a group, but what should you keep in mind if setting out on your own with a few friends for
a trip?

“If you’re going out camping, ensure you know the location you’re going to and let someone who’s not going on the trip know where you are going to be,” advises Edwin.

“Also, expect the weather to change drastically. It can be very hot during the day and very cold at night, so bring warmer clothes and clothes to protect from the heat as well.

“It goes without saying, but water is so important. Every person that goes out should take a minimum of three litres of water with them, even if you’re only going out for the day. You need to keep hydrated.

“Finally, and most importantly, do not leave waste behind. Respect the environment. You should clean up so that it’s almost cleaner than before you got there; be responsible.”

Get the gear

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Buying camping gear can be expensive if you’re starting from scratch but you don’t need every gadget under the sun to go camping for the first time.

Buy the essentials, then if you start camping more frequently you may decide to add some extra items to your collection to make your experience more enjoyable.

So what essentials do you need? Well a tent, sleeping bag and camping chairs are a good place to start, with a barbecue, cool box and spade (in case your vehicle gets stuck in the sand) are also beneficial.

Shops like Carrefour, ACE and Adventure HQ will stock all of these items but if you want to pick up a bargain try looking on Dubizzle or Facebook groups selling second hand goods where you can pick up great gear for cheap prices.

Camping equipment can also vary wildly in price so make sure to shop around to find the best deal instead of stocking up with the first items you see. It’s also worth asking experienced campers about the best products to buy to suit your needs.

Four to try 

Now you know what you’re doing, you’ve got the gear and your safety briefing, where should you go?

Here are five great options for you to try out.

Al Qudra Lakes

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This site is ideal for beginners as you don’t need a 4×4 to access it, but having a desert-ready vehicle is always a bonus. The winding man-made lakes and roads provide loads of great places to stop and make camp with the water a stone’s throw away. With close proximity to Abu Dhabi and Dubai the site can get very busy on the weekends and if you’re not planning an overnight trip, remember the route out of the camp because it gets very dark at night and you can easily get lost. Location: 24.837159, 55.371434

Al Wathba 

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Located a short drive from the city, this location is good for beginner to intermediate campers. Giving the feeling of being in the desert without being too remote, the site is surrounded by some small dunes that can be fun to drive on, especially if you’re learning how to handle a vehicle off road. Plus, with its close proximity to Al Wathba Cycle Track, farms and other facilities, you’re not far from help if you run into some trouble. The only down side is that the proximity to Abu Dhabi means that the light pollution might affect your stargazing in the nighttime. Location: 24.11648, 54.786194

Al Dhafra

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This site is perfect for intermediates and requires a little off-roading but nothing too complex so don’t panic. Once you arrive at the beach, Al Dhafra is your oyster: with the water in close proximity you can snorkel, kayak or splash around or if you’re a land lover you can kick back and soak up the sun. Just remember to check the tide before you pitch the tent, as you could get washed out and that’s not much fun. Location: Take the E11 west, drive along the coast past ADNOC Beach Club and access the beach near Sir Bani Yas Island jetty.

Liwa desert

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Definitely a trip for more experienced drivers, a camping trip to Rub Al Khali in Liwa, the largest sand desert in the world, is an unforgettable experience. With rolling dunes as far as the eye can see, there are unlimited places to set up shop, enjoy incredible views or go dune bashing. With such a remote location, it is essential to ride as part of a convoy with very experienced drivers and pack a tow rope and shovel to help when you get stuck, because you will. Location: Drive down the E65 towards Hamim and set your GPS for 22.884421,54.343872

For more information, search for UAE Camping Club on Facebook and meetup.com

Quick tips 

  • Not every site allows fires. Check first and abide by the rules.
  • Leave the site as you found it.
  • Take all litter with you.
  • Don’t go dune bashing if you don’t have a 4×4. You will get stuck.
  • If camping on the beach, camp away from the water. Tides change.
  • Don’t camp at the foot of a dune in a popular driving area. Drivers coming over the dune might not know you’re at the bottom.
  • Don’t go off road alone. If you get stuck, you’ll be in trouble.
  • If you’re going off road, let your tyres down by about half to aid driving, and be sure to have recovery gear with you including a tow rope and shovel.
  • It can get cold at night out in the desert. Pack warm clothes.
  • Find a site to settle and camp before the sun goes down. It’s hard to put up a tent in the dark and you may lose your bearings.

WORDS Colin Armstrong

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