Everything you need to know about the Al Dhafra Festival

This showcase of Bedouin lifestyle gets under way on December 17

The Al Dhafra Festival features a variety of heritage events including a camel beauty contest. Reem Mohammed / The National
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On December 17, the Al Dhafra Festival, known as "the greatest showcase of Bedouin lifestyle" anywhere in the world, gets under way in Abu Dhabi.

Each year, some 25,000 camels and their entourages descend on this remote area on the edge of the Empty Quarter for what can only be described as a beauty pageant for camels. You can spot the winning camels because their faces will be smeared with a red paste made from saffron. Millions of dirhams will then change hands over the course of the festival, which runs until January 1, as camel dealers get down to business.

But there is plenty more going on at the Al Dhafra Festival – even for those of you who haven’t yet got the hump. Here is a guide to some of the other activities to be enjoyed at this unique event.

For more information, visit www.aldhafrafestival.ae

Here are last year's highlights:

The Children’s Village

Keeping the children entertained at a festival is the stuff of nightmares for parents. No need to worry at the Al Dhafra Festival, though – there is a whole village set aside for the kids. At the Children’s Village, you will find theatre performances, art, cookery and Bedouin dance workshops, as well as plenty of competitions.

The Traditional Souq

At 48,000 square metres, you certainly won’t be able to miss this market. Here you can learn about traditional Emirati crafts, such as Sadu (weaving cotton and wool), Al Telli’ (embroidery) and Al Khous (weaving palm fronds), and sample famous Emirati dishes. And there will be no shortage of things to buy, too, for the shopaholics among you.


There are ongoing competitions throughout the Al Dhafra Festival, including classic cars, salukis, falcons, Arabian horses, handicrafts and dates. Truly, something for everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions

When and where is the festival?

Al Dhafra Festival runs just south of Madinat Zayed in the Al Dhafra Region of Abu Dhabi. It runs from Monday December 17 to Tuesday January 1. Events are scheduled to run from 10am until 10pm, although celebrations and preparations happen around the clock.

Where can I stay?

The capital is a two and a half hour drive from the festival, but a lot of fun can be had around the festival’s campfires after dark so it is worth spending the night.

Most hotels in the area get booked up early, but camping is open to all. Do not expect a quiet retreat, however.

Al Dhafra is a social gathering. Bring extra food and get your coffee pot ready to welcome guests. Alternatively, be prepared to accept many invitations to tea.

The festival is predominantly a man’s world, but women are welcome everywhere and usually treated with respect. Women can camp in a designated family section near the traditional market and use washroom facilities at the onsite Tilal Liwa Hotel. Women and men should dress conservatively.


Read more:

Al Dhafra Festival 2017: 15,000 camels to compete for Dh38m in prizes

Idiot's Guide to Camel Beauty, part 2

Liwa Date Auction raises nearly half a million

Researchers turn to UAE camels to help find HIV cure