arabian oryx roaming in the dubai desert conservation reserve

Unforgettable Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve Experiences

by Dubai Travel Planner

One thing that will quickly become apparent if you are planning a day tour or even an overnight experience out into the UAE desert is not all Dubai desert tours are alike!

Whilst the scene of 4×4 crashing their way through the dunes in Dubai might be a familiar one, understandably, for many, this is not their idea of fun, nor the most environmentally-friendly approach to seeing and experiencing the Dubai desert.

Understanding that this rich desert eco system needs to be protected, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve was established in 2003. Covering an area of 225 square kilometres (nearly 5% of the Dubai Emirate), the area was designated as the country’s first National Park.

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Authorised Tour Operators in Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is the premier destination for authentic nature-based experiences in the Dubai Emirate.

In order to control the fragile desert ecosystem while still allowing visitors to connect with nature, only a very limited number of tour operators and hospitality companies are permitted within the reserve’s boundaries, and they must operate according to strict guidelines.

You cannot enter the reserve unless you are part of an organised tour group. The currently authorised operators are:

OperatorServices
Al Maha Resort & SpaAccommodation, camel treks, nature walks, horse riding
Arabian AdventuresSafari
Balloon Adventures EmiratesHot Air Ballooning
Nara Desert EscapeCamel treks, glamping, dinning
Platinum HeritageSafari, Bedouin Camp, Falconry, dining
Sand SherpaCamping and Safari
57 Heritage TourismGlamping, Safari, Dining
TravcoDining and Safari

If you are interested in free camping spots in Dubai, outside of the DDCR, check out this camping article.

It can certainly be confusing establishing which company to use when you see an endless list of Dubai desert tours advertised, so we have helped you here by picking out the tours on popular booking platforms Get Your Guide and Viator that are, in fact, based in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve rather than other parts of the Dubai desert.

We have not personally tested every one of these operators, so we’d be happy to hear any feedback in the comments – good or bad – you have about each of these mentioned; we can update our listing accordingly to be of most help to future visitors to Dubai.

Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve Visitor Centre

A relatively new addition to DDCR is the Visitor Centre. Accessible by standard 2WD vehicles at the entrance to the park, you can find it here:

The DDCR Visitor Centre welcomes you to learn more about the indigenous fauna and flora of the Reserve and how they are working to protect the fragile ecosystem of the UAE’s first National Park.

You are guided through interactive displays and audio presentations. Children will enjoy the interactive Arabian Hare guiding their journey, and there’s plentiful information on the native species, from mammals and reptiles to insects and birds that frequent the reserve.

Finish your journey with views of the reserve from the rooftop deck and refreshments from the on-site Costa coffee shop.

Interactive displays in the DDCR visitor centre dubai desert education
refreshments area at DDCR dubai desert education and learning centre
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve rooftop vieiwng platform view of the reserve
interactive displays from the visitor centre

Entry cost

The walk-in entry feee for the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve Visitor Centre is:

  • AED 35 adults
  • AED 25 kids (5 to 18 years)
  • Discounts are available for Emirates Pass holders and Emirates Platinum Cardholders
  • Open daily 10:00 am to 6:00 pm

Hot Air Ballooning in DDCR

Note that hot air balloon experiences may mention that you visit the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. They may fly over the air space of the DDCR, but in order to protect the fragile ecosystem, they cannot actually take off and land in the protected reserve.

You will find they are most likely using neighbouring farms as the launch point. Here are some bookable online experiences with views over DDCR:

  • Balloon flight with breakfast and falconry – (approx 4 hours) City pickups start from 4:30 AM in the hope of getting you up in the air for sunrise and a one-hour journey, including a falconry show from the balloon. After your balloon adventure, enjoy a cold-cuts gourmet breakfast before city return transfers. (Recommend over 5’s)
  • Balloon flight only with pick ups – (approx 3-4-hours) starting around 4:30 am for your hotel pick up, its a 45-minute drive out to the launch sites and you’ll get 40-70 minutes in the air, weather dependent.
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  • You are looking at a cost of approximately AED 1100 for kids and AED 1350 for adults, on a shared basis. If you want complete privacy and seclusion, their packages go all the way to AED 12,950.

When you look for ballooning experiences in Dubai online, most are subsidiary tour companies making the booking and transfers on behalf of the actual balloon company – eg Nice Dubai Tours or Best Dubai Trip (Via Viator)

Hot Air Ballooning in the Dubai desert takes place from mid-September through until the end of May each year. You will not be able to go hot air ballooning in Dubai over the peak of summer.

Do check out some of the other tour providers below that can combine your hot air balloon experience with other overnight and breakfast experiences.

Safari in Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

The licensed operators for daytime and nighttime safaris in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve include Arabian Adventures, Platinum Heritage, Travco and 57 Safari.

Please note that these are NOT your typical dune-bashing desert safari experiences ending in bedouin camp dinner. These are much more sedate affairs with an eco-tourism focus.

Platinum Heritage Safari

The leader in Dubai luxury desert experiences, there’s a high likelihood if the tour is advertised as Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, it is run by Platinum Heritage.

They offer a huge range of desert experiences from morning to evening, as well as camel treks and overnight camping options. Some favourites for day camps that we would highlight include:

Arabian Adventures

Owned by Emirates, Arabian Adventures is one of the premier desert experience providers in Dubai. Some of their advertised desert adventures DO involve traditional dune bashing, whereas other VIP experiences and camel riding experiences are focused on the DDCR.

Please contact Arabian Adventures directly to find out which of their programs are based in DDCR and would suit your needs best.

Several overnight camp providers include a sedate, wildlife focused safari as part of their package – more on these below!

Overnight Accommodation in DDCR

If you’re looking for a completely immersive overnight experience in the desert, these are the main providers licenced to operate within DDCR.

Al Maha A Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa

The most incredible Dubai desert views can be enjoyed from the tranquillity of your own private tent and infinity pool. This is not just any ordinary glamping; this is 5* and more.

Guests can enjoy the privacy of their own room; with only 42 luxury suites on the site, they are well spread out, and your privacy is assured.

Guests can also join in with communal dining at the resort restaurant, indulge in the spa or take a look at the extensive recreation program, which includes nature walks, camel treks, desert safari, horse riding, wildlife drives, archery and falconry displays.

Al Maha Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
Breakfast in your own private tented villa at Al Maha

Note that this property is restricted to guests aged ten and over – even more of an excuse for an exclusive romantic retreat in the desert!

Sonara Camp

Sonara Camp, run by Nara, offers evening desert safaris, dinner, and luxury overnight camps. The meeting point for that self-driving is at the DDCR Visitor Centre, or most visitors will use their door-to-door pickup service from the city.

The dinner experience runs from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm and includes a sedate desert drive, an interactive hawk show, camel rides, soft archery, live entertainment and a fire show. Kids can also enjoy a movie under the stars.

Those staying overnight will return to The Nest, which has unique luxury glamping tents nestled into the dunes. Each can fit up to a maximum of 4 guests and is fitted with eco-friendly ensuites. Overnight experiences start from AED 2650 per Nest.

They also have adaptions of their program for sunset only and dinner only – enquiries should be made directly with Nara (they’re not to be found on your normal online booking platforms so may have escaped your attention!)

Sand Sherpa – Sherpa Camp

Camps at Sherpa run from September through May and involve a private location set up with all your camping equipment provided for each family or small group (don’t worry, you won’t be sharing with strangers!)

They are ideal for those who infrequently camp in Dubai or are only passing through the city as you don’t need to purchase will the expensive camping gear yourselves – pretty much everything is provided for you, so all you need to do is enjoy your night under the stars.

Your fully equipped camping trailer includes your firewood, cooler, along with comfortable shower and bathroom facilities you can use.

After dark, bush meals are prepared while bedding is made ready, and a ranger takes you on a night tour to spot animal tracks. Enjoy your cosy night’s sleep before enjoying breakfast and a chance to meet the birds of prey.

They also offer desert safaris, focused on the indigenous wildlife and an opportunity to meet around the campfire, before you’re comfortable return to the city overnight.

57 Safari

A relative newcomer, your overnight experience with 57 Safari includes city pick-ups, followed by a vintage Land Rover nature trail experience. At your camp, enjoy a falcon show, camel rides, sisha lounge, 4 course dinner and evening entertainment.

Your overnight stay is in a luxury tent, followed by optional morning balloon rides, or go straight for the continental breakfast.

Platinum Heritage

We will mention Platinum Heritage here as well, but do note that their over overnight camp experience takes place from a neighbouring property, you’re not actually sleeping in the DDCR protected area.

You can expect an evening desert wildlife tour followed by dinner and entertainment. When the evening-only guests leave, you will head to your accommodation in traditional-style Bedouin-style stone huts (all bedding provided and wash facilities, no showers), followed by breakfast in the morning and return to Dubai.

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If you still can’t resist the pull to try some dune bashing and desert sports such as dune buggies, quad bikes and sand boarding, there are plentiful areas of the vast Dubai desert that have been set aside for this purpose.

You can read our full guide to Dubai Desert Safari pricing and comparative guide over here to help you choose the type of desert experience that will best fit your interests.

We also have a handy guide here on how to dress on a desert safari in Dubai so you can pack all the essentials you’ll need to enjoy your adventure.


Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai

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Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE and transit passengers self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our recommendation links.

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