Breaking the Rules: Desert Safaris After Dark

Often called the Las Vegas of the Middle East, Dubai has a nighttime cityscape dotted with the usual suspects: Euro-style clubs, visiting DJs and niche establishments -- think discos dealing in Arabic or Persian pop.

But just outside the city, you'll find rule-breaking desert parties and after-dark safaris. Think of it as an Arabian fantasy -- "1,001 Nights" with a modern twist.

Not all safaris happen under the hot sun. This lesser-known nighttime version makes for a more intimate alternative to the club scene. A sturdy four-wheel drive takes you outside the city lights into the desert, over and through the sand (an activity known locally as "dune bashing") and out to a faux Bedouin encampment for an Arabian feast under the stars.

This is part eight in's 10-part special series on nightlife around the world. Click here every weekday through May 9, 2008 for the latest story.

Alcohol is generally not allowed in Dubai outside of hotel-sponsored clubs and restaurants, but the night safaris serve beer and mixed drinks in open air.

"It's definitely nice to be in the dunes. … It's a nice break from the city," said Kareem Missoumi, who grew up in nearby Abu Dhabi. "It'd be a good way to pregame, especially if you hang by the pool all day, come back and are ready to hit the town."

Out in the sands are camel rides, belly dancers and "sand surfers" who ride the desert slopes on a snowboard. At the encampment you can lounge with a "shisha" -- a water pipe for smoking flavored tobacco -- ceremoniously lit by a man wearing a white robe, the Emirati national dress known as a "dishdasha." In another corner a local woman dressed in traditional black "abaya" will give you a henna tattoo.

The party crowd reflects the diversity of Dubai, as groups of tipsy 20-somethings from around the world take in the desert night.

"It's a good time," said Sandrea Hwang, a New Yorker visiting Dubai on an extended flight layover. "Definitely a good way to see the desert."

Short of starting a desert party on your own, there are a number of tour providers who can set one up.

Oasis Palm ( can take you out for five hours around sunset for 150 dirhams (around $42) per person, or arrange an overnight for 180-230 dirhams ($50-$65), depending on the season.