Review: Rainforest camping at The Green Planet Dubai
Our verdict on this unique rumble in a Dubai jungle…
Being in the desert didn’t stop Dubai from building a ski resort, so despite the fact it receives an average of around 5 inches of rain a year, we really shouldn’t be that surprised that it has its own flourishing rainforest.
The Green Planet is a work of engineering genius, a man-made equatorial biome that is positively teeming with tropical life, including over 3,000 plants, animals and things with eyes that could still really fall under either category.
They offer some extraordinary experiences too, you can swim with piranhas (a perfect gift for the person who has everything, especially if you’re next in line to inherit everything); brunch with a sloth; you can cuddle a sugar glider; or embark on encounters with exotic birds and reptiles.
Excitingly, they recently started overnight glamping trips in the rainforest – without the need for machetes or intercontinental travel. And after having watched more Bear Grylls and David Attenborough than any sane human should, it’s a trip we felt born to take.
Need to know before you go
Look, we shouldn’t have to make this disclaimer, but in case there are any lingering doubts out there — the tents are pitched inside the biome. Most of the animals do not retire to cages overnight, the creepy crawlies are free to crawl wherever they wish, and the larger animals are at liberty to strut and swoop.
You are a privileged visitor in their manor. This is all part of the attraction for some, but we realise it may be a deal-breaker for others. If your heart rate maxes out when a moth flies in the room — camping, in general, may not be for you.
There’s also a bit of an unconventional parking situation at the moment. The traditional parking area is currently occupied by the SEHA drive-through testing centre, so you’ll have to park roadside. Your Green Planet hosts will be happy to guide you and even validate some types of tickets.
The experience takes you from 7pm on either a Thursday or Friday night to 8am the following morning, so you can pack light. We took a change of clothes, some toiletries and a few midnight snacks.
The rainforest camping experience welcomes kids aged two upwards, and there really is plenty of engaging wildlife whimsy for all ages. On the evening of your arrival, there are scavenger hunts, a bout of animal bingo and a chance to prepare food for, and feed, some of the biome’s charismatic inhabitants.
There’s an exclusive night tour too, illuminated by red-lit head torches (provided), offering a unique insight into the after-hour antics of the Green Planet’s nocturnal specimens. You’re likely to cross paths with sloths, turtles, night birds, and, bizarrely, little fluffy bunnies.
The morning feed is perhaps the most enjoyably frenetic experience of the trip. Led by the arrival of a ‘conspiracy of lemurs’ (yes that is the very apt official collective noun for the mad cap Madagascan primates), joyfully strutting about with sufficient King Julian swagger to make you think they own the place. And maybe they do.
The Green Planet has an astonishing biodiversity, represented by every conceivable colour combination of scale, feather and crest. We’ve already name-dropped a lot of the attraction’s most popular tenants, but we found a particular affinity for the squirrel monkeys. Nature’s little Kanyes.
One of the biggest reasons to visit though, is down to nature’s most prolific apex predator… man (if the nature documentaries can do it, then so can we). The expert staff were informative, patient, clearly passionate about their conservation mission and happy to answer endless questions from midnight-snack-hyped four-year-olds.
Base camp is relatively basic, but when it’s time to bed down, that’s all you really need. The tents are spread out from the upper canopy right down to the forest floor and come in two-man or four-man variations. Before lights out, you have the option of a bedtime movie, which is another huge win, if you’re bunking with bambinos.
If you’re looking for a full restful night’s sleep, we suggest you book a five-star room with blackout blinds. Here the Amazonian orchestra (including what we can only assume must be a jetlagged tropical rooster) of a real jungle makes it tough to get more than a few straight hours. But you don’t come to the jungle to sleep, you come to live. And the excitement hormones are more than enough to pull you through.
Your evening meal on day one is an outdoor nighttime barbecue and buffet. It’s certainly not the main attraction but it is deliciously varied and the flame-cooked fare, surprisingly flavoursome. Fair warning, your meal might be interrupted by the arrival of some (handler-led) furry and scaly party-crashers.
Breakfast is also an alfresco affair, taking the form of a buffet-on-the-terrace before you head home
Prices for this experience start at just Dhs700, and we can borderline guarantee that you will earn every dirham of that back in fun and learning many times over. There are moments where it can feel a little disorganised, but that often only adds to the realism of the experience. You will struggle to find this level of safe access to exotic creatures, with a team of experts on hand, anywhere else. It’s the fuel for forever memories, a living window onto another world.
The Green Planet Dubai, City Walk, Thu-Fri and Fri-Sat, from Dhs700. Tel: (800) 7699, thegreenplanetdubai.com