Camping in the UAE and beyond: The best places to pitch your tent
Keen to spend a weekend away in the great outdoors? Here are the best camping options that are driving distance from Dubai…
White Sands Beach
Perfect for: Beach-loving campers
Photo: Pete Maloney
The lowdown: White Sands Beach isn’t an official area, but rather a nickname given to a stretch of coastline in Oman located between Fins and Wadi Shab. We won’t lie – it’s a long drive, but well worth it to pitch your tent on a cliff above an empty sandy beach and fall asleep to the sound of the waves. Plus, the remote nature of the area means you hopefully won’t have to share your spot with many other campers.
Things to do in the area: For water babies, it’s the perfect camping spot. Bring your snorkels and paddleboards for exploring the coastline (keep an eye out for sea urchins near the beach though). Be sure to visit Wadi Shab just a short drive away, where you can hike through the dramatic wadis and cool off by diving into the deep, emerald green pools.
Difficulty rating: 3/5. Medium. It’s not a complicated route, but the long drive is not one you’d want to take alone.
4×4 needed? Not essential, but recommended.
Time: Seven hours
Directions from Dubai: Drive towards Muscat but just before you get to the city, get on the new Muscat Expressway. Head in the direction of Sur and follow the coastline until you find a good spot.
Perfect for: Desert adventurers and Star Wars fans
The lowdown: It’s been a couple of years since Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens hit our screens, and we’re still excited at the prospect of visiting one of the filming locations. Liwa is located in the Empty Quarter, or Rub Al Khali, the largest sand desert in the world. We can’t guarantee that you’ll find an abandoned Millennium Falcon, but you will experience incredible (and massive) sand dunes, miles of wilderness and some of the brightest starry nights you’ll ever see in the UAE.
Things to do in the area: We recommend renting a couple of fat bikes beforehand (you can pick one up from Adventure HQ for Dhs150 per day): there’s nothing better than zipping across the dunes on their puffy tyres, especially as the sun is setting. Experienced off-roaders will have a blast doing a bit of dune bashing, but keep in mind that this is not an easy area to get out of if you get into trouble: carry plenty of food and water, and don’t travel in convoys of less than three 4x4s, just in case someone needs towing.
Difficulty rating: 4/5. Medium to hard. It’s relatively simple to find, but you’ll need some off-roading skills if you want to head off the beaten path and into the dunes. It’s not one for beginners – we recommend travelling with an experienced group.
4×4 needed? Essential
Time: Four hours
Directions from Dubai: Drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, take the E11, turn on to E65 to Emirates National Auto Museum. Keep following the E65 until you see the sign to Qasr Al Sarab. Ignore it – follow the road right instead.
Al Qudra Lakes
Perfect for: Beginners
The lowdown: Al Qudra Lakes is the ideal location if you’re new to camping in the UAE, or just looking for a low-key break from the city that won’t require a huge amount of effort. You won’t need a 4×4 to reach these picturesque lakes, and the area is within half an hour’s drive of the city. Keep in mind that because it’s so easily accessible, it’s popular with weekend warriors.
Things to do in the area: Al Qudra Lakes might be manmade but it’s still a picturesque slice of greenery, with plenty of trees and wildlife, especially birds, to be spotted in and around the water. If you’re feeling sporty you could also go for a bike around the nearby Al Qudra Cycle Track, where you might also spot wild oryx and gazelle (rent a bike from the Trek store). If the great outdoors get too much for you, there’s always Bab Al Shams Resort And Spa nearby for a little R&R. It’s unlikely you’ll need it though, as there are plenty of amenities in the area. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, see if you can track down Dubai’s new man-made Love Lakes.
Difficulty rating: 1/5. An easy to reach spot with minimal off-roading.
4×4 needed? No
Time: Half an hour
Directions from Dubai: Take Hessa Street to the start of Al Qudra Cycle Track, turn left, turn right and take the off-road track. Follow it until you find a good spot.
Fossil Rock, Sharjah
Perfect for: Day trippers and desert newbies
The lowdown: Fossil Rock is one of the most popular hangout spots for Dubai’s weekend warriors, from dune bashers and dune buggy riders to trail runners. The surrounding dunes are the perfect location to set up camp, especially for large groups who don’t mind a bit of noise and excitement. It’s also close enough to civilisation that newbies can feel comfortable knowing their home comforts are not too far away.
Things to see and do: This is one of the best places in the UAE for a spot of dune bashing, but we recommend it for experienced off-roaders only. The Camel Rock nearby is also worth a visit, as is Big Red, a huge red dune that’s popular with dune buggying daredevils.
Difficulty rating: 2/5. Easy to medium – it’s simple to get to, but requires some off-roading skills.
4×4 needed? Essential for navigating the sand dunes.
Time: One hour
Directions from Dubai: Take the 611 towards Sharjah. Turn right onto the Sharjah-Kalba Road, then turn right again at the big junction surrounded by pylons.
… and for glamping
Perfect for: A weekend with your novice camper friends
The lowdown: Set on the shoreline near Jebel Ali, this picture-perfect camping spot is kitted out with dozens of colourful wooden-framed tents and chalets for a more luxury experience – so you don’t need to bring your own, plus a barbecue area, and hammocks. It’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Things to see and do: As well as wiling away the day in a hammock, or BBQing by the beach, there’s also facilities including watersports and a mini market onsite. Fancying practicing your shooting? Head to the nearby Jebel Ali Shooting Club
Difficulty rating: 1/5. Easy – it’s simple to get to and you’ve got everything you’ll need on site.
4×4 needed? No.
Time: 20 minutes
Directions from Dubai: Take the E11 towards Abu Dhabi. Exit at exit 13 in the direction of D53/Al Maktoum airport Street towards Jebel Ali Port 7 and 8. Take the third exit at the roundabout, then first right opposite the Jebel Ali shooting club and follow the signs.
Hatta Sedr Trailers
Perfect for: Getting outdoors without the stress of pitching your tent
The lowdown: Not much of a camper? Hatta is now home to the region’s first “trailer hotel”, where visitors can camp along the banks of Hatta Dam in luxuriously appointed trailers. There’s two types of unit – the Hatta Sedr trailers, and the slightly bigger Hatta Damani Lodges, with rates from Dhs250 per night.
Things to see and do: Hatta is becoming quite the go-to destination for adventurers. There’s the new Hatta Wadi Hub, which offers a range of both paid and free activities such as mountain biking, downhill carting, axe throwing, archery, adventure rope courses, and more. Soon you’ll also get to experience Hatta Drop-In, a “water jump park” with crazy slides, as well as a human slingshot and zip lines.
Difficulty rating: 0/5. Super easy – it’s a more luxurious version of camping.
4×4 needed? No.
Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Directions from Dubai: Take the S102 out of Dubai towards the S116 and follow onto the E102 Sharjah/Kalba road. Head onto the E44 Dubai-Hatta road and follow signs for Hatta Oman, taking the second exit at the roundabout.