Abu Dhabi has a nice harbourfront and some beaches, some very posh hotels with maybe slightly too fancy restaurants and a very few licensed bars and clubs where foreigners (and locals who dress as foreigners) can get a drink. You can visit the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Mosque most mornings and the lush Khalifa Park whenever the mood takes you. And then that’s about it unless you leave Abu Dhabi for the desert.
Several tour companies offer variations of dune bashing, the practice of driving a 4×4 at breakneck speeds into sand dunes as big as houses and being launched almost vertically into space, but the best are the comprehensive packages of which dune bashing is merely the highlight.
A comprehensive tour means an overnight stay at a Bedouin encampment in the desert, complete with dinner, quad-biking, camel rides and, naturally, belly dancers. The Bedouin experience is a little contrived and touristy but it’s tremendous fun with the right attitude and the quad-biking alone is worth the trip.
Then everyone — about forty of you — are invited to climb into the ubiquitous white trucks for a roller-coaster ride through the desert. It’s hectic and a little frightening but there are roll bars and seat belts and drivers who at least give a very convincing impression of people who know what they’re doing. If you can, try to get the passenger seat. There’s no bad seat and you won’t be disappointed regardless where you sit but at the front the spectacle is complete and the surprise when you hit the dunes is in no way lessened by the fact that you clearly see it coming.
Don’t bother trying to record the experience. You likely won’t be able to hold your camera steady and in any case you’ll want to concentrate on the physical sensation that really won’t translate all that well to your photo album. Above all you won’t want to miss an aspect of the ride that you may not have considered — the endless, seamless, awe-inspiring expanse of the desert. You can’t capture that feeling with a camera but in real time it’s like no view you’ve ever had, unless, perhaps, you’ve ever been lost at sea.
So far as I know all of the available tours, which typically start by bus in the centre of Abu Dhabi or will pick you up at your hotel, have sterling reputations, particularly with regards to the value/price ratio. They typically charge about dh250 (roughly €50) and it’s cheap at twice the price.