Dubai is a city built straight up from the desert, so it’s no surprise that one of its most popular tourist activities is taking a 4WD “safari” through the surrounding Desert Conservation Area. But did you know you can do a nighttime desert safari after the sun does down? It’s a great experience to see the local nocturnal animals in a natural environment.
Several weeks ago I did the Arabian Adventures nighttime safari with my partner and his parents. The safari cost about 275 AED each person (about $75 USD) and was a 4-hour round trip, both cheaper and shorter than the other local evening safaris we saw. It seemed like a fun low-key adventure, which was exactly what we wanted.
Our driver picked us up at a local hotel in a large SUV. Luckily, we were the only people who had booked so we got a private ride. I imagine this is one of the advantages of booking in the summer; it’s likely a more popular activity during the cooler winter months. The drive from the hotel to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve took about 45 minutes, and during that time our driver informed us of what to expect on the tour. He also asked us some questions about ourselves and what we expected from the trip.
It was dark by the time we arrived and we stopped briefly before entering the conservation area so the driver could let some pressure out of the tires to optimize their performance on the sand. (If you take the tour, keep in mind that this is the only chance to use the washroom until the end of the safari.)
Once we got underway, were given a spotlight and took turns sweeping it back and forth as we drove slowly between the dunes, watching for the glint of eyes staring out from the darkness. I had expected the desert to be quite barren and was surprised at the amount of plant life that peeked out of the sand. This was not a fast-paced, adventurous tour. Instead, the focus is on observing the native wildlife of the UAE in the 225km² environmental area. The driver was very careful to avoid coming into contact with the animals, though they didn’t seem to be too bothered by our presence.
One of the animals we saw was the Arabian Oryx. These white antelopes are the national symbol of the UAE, and were nearly hunted to extinction by 1972. Currently there are over 1000 of them living in the wild, with up to 7000 more being protected in conservation areas. Lucky for the Oryx, they don’t seem to have any predators here, which likely helps with conservation efforts.
As we drove through the desert, we also caught a glimpse of smaller sand gazelles and foxes. At one point our guide gave us each a small uv light and took us into the dunes by foot, searching for scorpions. He was the first to spot one, and though I was slightly terrified of them, I was also excited to see one in the wild. The one we saw was the not-at-all-terrifyingly-named Arabian Deathstalker. Its exoskeleton glowed vividly under the blacklight and until it started snapping at a fly, it hardly looked real. We walked a bit further, finding a couple more tiny scorpions, before heading back to the car. The rest of our desert safari was more of the same – creeping slowly through the sand dunes and stopping once in a while to get a better look at an animal. It may not sound that exciting, but driving through the desert in the dark was actually pretty cool.
Near the end of the trip, we stopped at a private tent for some light refreshments. Several bamboo torches gave off a nice glow and although it was hot, it was wonderful to relax in the flickering light and enjoy the silence of the desert. After serving us some small snacks and cold drinks, our guide set up a telescope. Though it wasn’t clear enough to see any stars , we were able to see the moon, which glowed almost yellow through the desert haze.
Are you planning a trip to Dubai?
You can learn more about the history of this desert metropolis by visiting some of the lesser-known attractions in the older parts of the city. Check out my guide to the historical places in Dubai for details on must-see spots, including how to get there and what to wear. I’ve also written a post about visiting the Dubai Frame, which details how to get there, what to expect, and how to get tickets.
I’ve created a printable travel planner that will help make trip planning a breeze. This 7-page PDF has spots to fill in hotel and flight details, emergency info, must-do activities and more. It is available as an instant digital download in the Onwards + Upwards shop.
*Please note that this article was written prior to the Covid-19 pandemic so some information may have changed. I am not in any way affiliated with Arabian Adventures, nor do I get anything from promoting this tour.