What’s On reviews Hala Abu Dhabi desert safari in UAE. Plus details of Dadabhai Travel, EA Tours, Arabian Adventures and Platinum Heritage.

Desert safaris are one of those things that combine a bit of kitsch with the perfect excuse to get outside and have a play in the sand. Well-suited for when you have visitors, safaris can capture the spirit of the UAE. Yet finding a good tour group that will take you out into the real desert (not the pile of sand behind the shop) in a car (not a rickety old bus) can be a bit of a challenge.

Fortunately Etihad Airways has a partner, Hala Abu Dhabi, which has launched a new desert safari that ticks all the boxes. The safari lasts four hours and begins with pick up from an Abu Dhabi hotel around 4:30pm. Trained drivers (including the first woman in Abu Dhabi to be licensed as a guest guide and off-road driver by TCA Abu Dhabi) sit behind the wheel. The vehicles are spacious, with a mini-fridge holding drinks. A 90-minute drive includes a brief stop at a petrol station for snacks and stretches and a slight detour to see where camels are trained to race.

By the time you hit the desert, the sun will have begun to set. Hala’s drivers rev up and over through the sand dunes, before pausing near a camel feeding ground, and then again several times throughout the ride to allow for sunset photos.

Next comes the camp, which is no-fuss but comfortable. Arabic coffee and dates, shisha, and henna stations are spread on the perimeter. Camels wait outside to be ridden (on a rather small loop, it must be said), while inside several low tables and cushions are ready for dinner. The food is set up in buffet style, and hummous, tabbouleh, fattoush and a mixed grill are all on offer. It is perfectly pleasant, if a bit simple. While you eat, belly dancers perform.

After a bit of stargazing, the tour guides rustle everyone back into the vans to return home, arriving in Abu Dhabi at about 10pm. In the hit and miss world of desert safaris, Hala Abu Dhabi has figured out how to make the idea of an enjoyable safari more than just a mirage.

Hala Abu Dhabi, daily 8am to 8pm, Dhs290 for adults, Dhs200 for children four and above. Tel: (02) 5990700. halaabudhabi.com


Dadabhai Travel
If you fancy staying the night rather than just staying for a meal, Dadabhai Travel might be the one for you. The Overnight Desert Safari includes a tent stay followed by breakfast.

Dhs360, desertsafaridubai.ae

EA Tours
Promising to give guests the ‘true desert of Abu Dhabi’, its Half Day Desert Safari has camels, a barbecue dinner, dune bashing, sand skiing, belly dancing, henna painting, Arabic sweets and more.

Dhs350, eatours.ae 

Arabian Adventures
Known for high-quality tours, this company organises some of the most word-of-mouth recommended safaris. The Sundowner Safari trip has food, camel riding, and a Bedouin-style camp.

Dhs360, arabian-adventures.com

Platinum Heritage Safaris
Even if cars aren’t your thing, you’ll still appreciate the cool factor that comes with driving over desert dunes in a classic 1950s Land Rover. Platinum Heritage’s vintage vehicles make a desert safari extra special. Strapped into the back of a Land Rover jeep, with the city far in the distance and nothing but sand stretching in all directions, it’s easy to believe you’ve been transported to another time.

Tel: (04) 3884044. platinum-heritage.com