Five-star, naturally: glamping in the Emirates

Under the stars and over high-thread-count sheets, glamping has arrived in the UAE.

A two-room caravan on a Dubai beach, from Prestige Motorhome Rentals, is great for the family. Victor Besa for The National
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It’s a dilemma that faces many of us when planning a weekend break in the Emirates. You want to get closer to nature – to spend the evenings laying under the stars, feeling the warm glow of the campfire on your face and the sand between your toes – but you don’t want to have to duck behind a dune to use the toilet, or feel the sand sticking to your face when you wake up in the morning.

For those who seek the perks of camping without the undesirable hassles, try “glamping” or “glamorous camping” – a phenomenon that’s popular in Europe and is now also catching on in the UAE.

Travel companies provide the camping essentials for you, so you don’t have to spend hours agonising over how to put up the tent. In many cases, they also throw in many other creature comforts to ensure you experience the best of outdoor living, without the stress.

Foot of the mountain

Absolute Adventures has an “adventure centre” in Dibba that can be rented out for groups of up to 14 people, sharing a dorm room with bunk beds and a separate double bedroom. The traditional stone lodge also features three bathrooms, a kitchen and majlis, and is filled with antiques. It’s set in an expansive courtyard with a pool for cooling off, a firepit (firewood is Dh20 a bundle), a hammock, barasti huts and a Bedouin tent. Fresh linen and towels are provided. The Adventure Centre is set in the Hajar Mountains across the road from Dibba Beach. True to its name, activities include rock climbing, deep-water soloing (rock climbing on sea cliffs), mountain biking, kayaking and paddle boarding.

The bonus is you get the whole place exclusively to yourselves. The downside: who gets to sleep on the top bunk?

The cost for six guests staying at the weekend is Dh1,950 per night during high season (until April 30).

For those craving greenery, the chalets in the Green Mubazzarah Park, at the foot of Abu Dhabi’s tallest peak, Jebel Hafeet, include a designated barbecue area and plenty of space for the kids to burn energy. The park is home to a mini train ride, a boating lake, a swimming pool and offers a chance to let tired feet soak in the hot springs streams that run through it. A two-bedroom chalet costs Dh950 per night.

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Deluxe glamping resort

Banyan Tree Al Wadi resort’s Al Sahari pool villas resemble Bedouin tents on the outside, but are lavishly furnished on the inside.

Although Al Wadi is an upmarket resort rather than a campsite, and therefore has its own restaurants, you can choose instead to cook the food yourself on a private barbecue, and staff can also set up a campfire for you. Take a picnic hamper out with you into the reserve, or indulge in a four-course meal on a watchtower overlooking the nature resort. Outdoor pursuits include archery, a falconry show and children’s nature trails. This resort gets you close to wildlife, including oryx and gazelles, while still basking in luxury. The pool villa costs Dh3,250 per night.

Overnight desert safari (with a dash of glamour)

Arabian Nights Village provides the standard dune bashing, belly dancing, shisha, sandboarding and camel rides that you get on most desert safaris, as well as its own herd of Arabian oryx and fat bikes, too. When the day-trippers head home, you can kick back under the desert sky and listen to live oud music or campfire tales, before heading to bed in an air-conditioned goats hair tent or cabin modelled on one of the UAE’s traditional homes.

The Village prides itself on offering a genuine digital detox – there’s no Wi-Fi or television in the accommodation. The next morning, take a dip in the swimming pool before heading on the long, bumpy desert road back to the modern world. A suite for two adults and two children costs Dh2,560.

Platinum Heritage Tours is a desert safari operators used by many a celebrity when visiting Dubai. Its Bedouin camp, nestled in a private royal desert retreat, is accessed in a “museum-quality” 1950s Land Rover.

Cultural activities include henna, bread making and Arabic coffee making, and when you wake up in the morning in your traditional tent, you are joined for your Arabic breakfast by a local Bedouin, who can share his stories of life in the desert. Adults pay Dh895, children Dh695.

For more adventurous souls, Abu Dhabi Adventure Tours can take you camping in the vast dunes of Liwa. The overnight camping costs Dh2,800 for up to four people.

Xventures can build you a private desert camp, complete with mobile toilets and hot-water showers, in the Al Khatim desert between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Price depends on inclusions.

On the farm

“The Retreat”, which is set to open next month, provides deluxe lodgings inside a working farm at Al Bidya, Fujairah. The 15 canvas tent units have frames made from steel with wood and glass frontages. En-suite bathrooms are made of traditional stone, and the wooden furniture is all hand carved.

The fruit tree farm is located just by the UAE’s oldest mosque and just across the road from the beach, so activities on offer include paddleboarding and kayaking as well as mountain trekking and bike riding in the wadis. Seawings will be providing seaplane transfers to the retreat from Dubai. The price is yet to be announced.

Splash and stay

Umm Al Quwain’s Dreamland Aqua Park might not be as fancy as the water parks in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but for a similar price, you can camp overnight in either wooden cabanas, which house up to four people, or igloo tents.

Spend your days sliding down chutes and your evenings playing tennis, swimming and firing up the barbecue, with meat provided. A campfire can also be set up on which to toast marshmallows, and a sound system provided for music. Accommodation is equipped with air mattresses, pillows, sleeping bags and a coffee percolator.

The weekend rate for a family of four is Dh1,100 for a cabana or Dh950 in a tent, which includes water park access for two days, a barbecue cabana-side dinner and continental breakfast and lunch at their Atlantis restaurant.

Beach benefits

Xventures offers bespoke glamping packages on one of the sandy islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi city. They provide pick-up and drop-off by boat or yacht, and set up the beach with the necessary tables, shade, barbecue, music, games, and whichever camping equipment is required. Although most clients provide their own food, Xventures can cater and sail a private chef to the island, for an extra Dh10,000 for 15 people. The price varies depending on the package.

Dolphin Khasab Tours offers a dhow cruise into the fjords of Musandam in Oman, with a “very high probability” of seeing dolphins. After stopping off for snorkelling, glampers are taken to a secluded beach where electricity, firewood, music, sporting equipment and fresh water for bathing are provided on top of standard camp fare. Another option is to sleep in sleeping bags on the dhow itself. Adults pay Dh600, children Dh300 and those under 4 are free.

Glamping review: our glamping experience in the caravan trailer used by the stars

It’s a little-known fact that the trailers movie stars use when they’re shooting films in the UAE can also be hired out for mini-breaks. Prestige Motorhome Rentals have four motorhomes and four trailers, which have been frequented by the likes of Aishwarya Rai, Hrithik Roshan, Nicole Kidman (while shooting the Etihad commercial) and the cast of Brad Pitt’s film War Machine and Star Trek Beyond. The word “trailer” isn’t usually associated with “glamour”. But if it’s good enough for Kidman, then it’s good enough for me.

For the holiday side of its business, Prestige will set up the trailer or motorhome for you either on Dubai’s Umm Suqeim Beach, or on one of two public beaches in Fujairah.

We chose to have our trailer hooked up on Umm Suqeim Beach, with fantastic seaside views of the nearby Burj Al Arab and the Palm. We were positioned among about 12 other caravans of all shapes and sizes, just a few feet from the sea. Our 32-foot trailer came with two double bedrooms and two single beds in the living area, so it could sleep up to six people at a squeeze. The kitchen was equipped with a toaster, kettle and various other home comforts, except no pots and pans – and you also have to remember to bring your own deckchairs.

The awning out front provided welcome shade, and when the sun went down, we could turn on the outdoor lights.

It was a wonderful feeling to be able to wash the sand out of my son’s hair in the shower when he got too grubby, and to slip back inside later to enjoy the AC when the sun got too much. This trailer is about as glamorous as you can get – when you’re spending the night on a public beach, at least.

One of the best things about caravanning, wherever you are in the world, is the social scene. The glampers next to us invited us to share their food, and by the end of the night, we were playing games together.

For the price – Dh3,500 per day, plus drop-off and pick-up fees – a family could probably stay in one of the nearby hotels. But then you wouldn’t get to hear the waves lapping as you drift off to sleep, or see the sun rising over the Palm upon awakening. For that, this experience is well worth the cash.


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