Best Desert Safari in Dubai Comparison

Desert Safari Dubai Land Rover Platinum Heritage

A desert safari in Dubai is often a very high priority on your travel itinerary list. But with so many desert safari companies to choose from, how do you make sure you get the one that is right for you? Most offer very similar activities with a few notable exceptions and there is a wide variant in pricing. Often, what you pay for is what you get, and there are a few other things to be mindful of. If you are planning to do a desert safari in Dubai on your upcoming trip, read on….

Different Types of Desert Safaris

Most desert safaris offer a pretty similar formula: pick up from a Dubai hotel and transport out to the desert. Here you will get a desert drive (often ‘dune bashing’), traditional (and not so traditional) desert activities, entertainment and dinner in the desert. There are also morning desert safaris, luxury desert safaris, overnight desert safaris and ones that focus on something specific such as falconry. In this article we are going to focus on the typical evening desert safari and compare from the very cheap to the higher end, excluding the very luxury desert safaris. The 4 we chose to review were:

Cheap: Cheap desert safari online – the cheapest we could find online
Medium: Ocean Air Travels – they had good reviews on TripAdvisor
Higher End: Arabian Adventures – Subsidiary of Emirates Airlines
Different: Platinum Heritage – Eco-friendly with Vintage Land Rovers

Transport of a Desert Safari

Most desert safaris in Dubai will offer hotel pickups. This excludes the extremely cheap variety where you will meet at a few centrally located pickup points and get a bus out to the desert. Most desert safari companies use Land Cruisers that hold 6 Guests. They use these cars for the pickup and also the desert drive. Be careful of sitting in the back as often there is not a lot of room and you are in the car for a few hours on most standard desert safaris. The condition of these cars will depend on the quality of the desert safari company. Arabian Adventures had slightly nicer, newer and cleaner cars than Ocean Air Travels. Platinum Heritage picked us up in fairly new spacious Ford Expeditions. The highlight of this company however is that once out in the desert, you get to drive in open-top classic Land Rovers.

In the Desert

Regrettably, after two failed pickup attempts, we were unable to join the ‘cheap’ desert safari. They got the day wrong and then didn’t pick us up so we don’t know what happens after pickup. For Ocean Air Travels, we were taken to a Quadbike park where we could purchase a 30-minute quad bike session in a pen. These pens have no direction of travel and have many quad bikes going in various directions. We have heard many reports of accidents at these places so knew not to pay the $50 to join this activity. After this, we went to the desert for a ‘photo opportunity’. This was actually the place where they let the tyres down to be able to go through the desert. It was not photogenic, but had heaps of rubbish and even more tyre tracks – definitely not where we would want to have a picture taken!
Arabian Adventures had a pretty ugly place where they met to let the tyres down. There were bathrooms but they had long queues. After this you met again somewhere else where you could also take ‘photos’ but with ugly pipes and not picturesque desert. We were waiting around for a while and the staff were not friendly or accommodating.

Arabian Adventures Transport

Image taken at Arabian Adventures

With Platinum Heritage, once you get out to the desert you are greeted by the site of the world’s largest active collection and they are stunning to see. Very instagrammable and the staff let you take as many pictures as you like. They give you an ‘Adventure Pack’ that consists of a souvenir bag, stainless steel water bottle and a traditional head gear. The Conservation Guides put these on you so that you are protected in the desert and feel the part!

Desert Safari Dubai Land Rover Platinum Heritage

Image taken at Platinum Heritage

The Desert Drive

It is not commonly known how environmentally damaging dune bashing is to the environment. As an environmentally sustainable company, Platinum Heritage educated us about this and shed some light on the alarming fact that 90% of the desert’s animals live under the surface of the sand and get buried alive during dune bashing. Those that live above it rely on the natural vegetation that is completely destroyed by the practice. The differences in the state of the desert was very clear to us from doing a gentle wildlife drive with Platinum Heritage to tearing up the dunes with Ocean Air Travel. Platinum Heritage only go on set tracks in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and you spot Arabian oryx, gazelles, sand fish and many other animals. The dunes are pristine and breath takingly beautiful.

Arabian Oryx

Image taken at Platinum Heritage

The ‘Red desert’ where Ocean Air Travels conduct their dune bashing is desolate with tyre tracks everywhere. Dune bashing is like a roller coaster ride and although it can be fun, we feel the beauty of the desert is lost. It also can make you feel quite sick and as you are knocked around in the car, it not good if you have any back or neck issues. Arabian Adventures did a combination of the two safari styles, but we didn’t feel like they did either rather well.

Ocean Air Transport

Image taken at Ocean Air Travels

Desert Safari Activities

Once back at the camp, all three companies offered camels rides. The lines can be long but you do feel very ‘Arabian’ participating in this activity. Check your company offers this as part of the package as cheaper safaris don’t. Ocean Air Travels had sand boarding on the desert drive and Arabian Adventures offered it at the camp. Platinum Heritage offered only traditional activities; in line with it’s ‘authentic’ experience promise, it had Arabic coffee making and bread making at the camp. The biggest point of difference is that Platinum Heritage are the only desert safari company to offer a falconry show. Here you will learn how the Bedouins used these birds to hunt to provide their main source of protein and how they were instrumental to their desert survival. Falcons are the fastest animals in the world at full stoop and you watch them fly to the lure in a spectacular show. You can also have your picture taken with them afterwards.

Falcon show

Image taken at Platinum Heritage

At Ocean Air Travels you were able to dress up in the traditional kandura for men and abaya for women and have your picture taken for free while Arabian Adventures charged for this.
All three companies had very talented Henna ladies that provided Henna tattoos. This is something you can check is included in the price.
Platinum Heritage and Ocean Air Travels provided complimentary shisha while Arabian Adventures charged for this.

Desert Safari Camp

Most desert safari camps are made to resemble Bedouin dwellings and have Arabic style tents incorporated. Arabian Adventures has a ‘village’ look to it with the entrance lit by soft lantern style lights. The atmosphere is pleasant and feels high quality. Platinum Heritage has stuck to authentic materials such as goat hair tents, stones and wood and the camp is incredible. The majlis (Arabic for ‘place of sitting’) is extremely comfortable and the stations such as the Arabic coffee making are very picturesque. The toilets are also the best quality of the lot! Ocean Air really let itself down with the camp. It looks tired, has no atmosphere and the stage is a big white painted concrete block. It isn’t very nice at all.

Desert Safari Entertainment

When exploring new regions, it is great to witness traditional forms of entertainment from the destination you are visiting. It has always confused us why entertainment from the region isn’t used on most desert safaris in Dubai. Belly dancing originated in Egypt, very far from Dubai and this is what most desert safari companies include as their entertainment. On Arabian Adventures this was the only entertainment, and although the lady performing was skilful, it was a bit awkward as it was very sensual and probably better suited for a strip club. She gyrated and crawled over the floor in her push up bra with tassels for 5 songs. Ocean Air Travels also had belly dancing, but she seemed to dance more that gyrate and it didn’t go on for as long. They also had a fire show, which was very good and a Tanura dancer, the Turkish dancer that spins. Again, very entertaining but not from Dubai.

Belly Dancing

Image taken at Arabian Adventures

Platinum Heritage kept their entertainment from the region and it was fun and entertaining. They performed an Arabic drumming session where everyone was invited to join in and also a very skilful Yola show where replica guns are tossed high into the air and caught.

Arabic Drumming

Image taken at Platinum Heritage

The Food on Desert Safaris

All the food on the desert safaris seemed to be similar – Arabic BBQ -but the quality and the lines were the major difference. Platinum Heritage was by far the best as they bring the starters to your table. The humous was one of the best quality we have had. The lentil soup was also amazing and the mains were served straight from the grill – Lamb Ouzi, cooked for 24 hours so it was so tender and the opportunity to try camel meat stew, chicken kebabs as well as vegetarian options. We were so full! Ocean Air Travels just had one buffet rather than starters and main course, the lines were long and the food was average but not bad. Arabian Adventures starters we served to us, to make sure we didn’t take two of anything! The main course was better quality and you were allowed to help yourself! I think food is definitely the biggest difference and you certainly get what you pay for! The cheap desert safaris I have been told charge handsomely for everything to make their money back on the low fee to go out to the desert.

Desert Safari Price

Cheap Desert Safari – Bus pick up form meeting point, 10-15 minute dune bash. Nothing else included: 60 AED

Medium Desert Safari – Ocean Air Travels – Land Cruiser Hotel Pick up, Dune bashing, Camel Ride, Sand Boarding, Henna, Shisha, 3 forms of entertainment, local dress up and buffet bbq dinner – 250 AED

High End Desert Safari – Arabian Adventures – Land Cruiser Pick up, Desert Driving, Camel Ride, sand boarding, henna, belly dancing, buffet dinner (slightly better than Ocean air food) – 300AED

Specialty Desert Safari – Plaitnum Heritage desert Safari – Ford Expedition pick up, Vintage Land Rover Wild Life Drive, Full Falconry Show, Henna, Bread Making, Coffee Making, Camel Ride, 3 forms of entertainment, shisha, 3 course high quality dinner – 595AED

Susan Ocean Air

Image taken at Ocean Air Travels

Guides

The Platinum Heritage Guides call themselves Conservation Guides and are very proud of the intense training they have been through to get this title. They are trained not only on facts about Dubai to entertain you on the trip out to the desert, but they have extensive knowledge about the flora and fauna of the Dubai desert. They identified bushes and told us how Bedouin would use the plants for their survival such as Fire Bush and the Sodoms Apple. They explained how non-environmentally friendly dune bashing is and told us about the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and the efforts to bring back the Arabian oryx from extinction. They were friendly, helpful and professional.

The Guide from Ocean Air had many facts about Dubai, but didn’t understand us many times. He told us to take photos of one part of the desert and we said ‘with all this rubbish?’ and he said – ‘yes take photos and put them on TripAdvisor’. We probably will! He even asked me to take photos of him with my phone to ‘put on TripAdvisor’. He barely said goodbye but still messaged after to (guess what) review him on TripAdvisor. It was a bit much!

The Guide form Arabian Adventures was nice enough but was a supervisor and more concerned with operations than us most of the time. We were the last to arrive everywhere and he wasn’t around us in the evening at all. We couldn’t even find a good place to sit as it was free seating and we were late in the camp so all the spots seemed to be ‘reserved’.

With any safari company, make sure you get a highly trained employee, many companies use freelancers and this means they don’t care as much.

Best Desert Safari

We felt by far that Platinum Heritage’s Heritage Desert Safari was worth every penny – it was in a class of its own. From start to finish it was impeccable, with all the finer details being looked after and the quality exceptional. This is the only desert safari we recommend to our guests. If you are on a tight budget, then we felt overall Ocean Air was better value than Arabian Adventures if you don’t mind the condition of the camp and food and the fact that they harass you to review them on TripAdvisor throughout.