Next time a genie gives you three wishes, make a trip to Magic Camps Dubai your first one. It’s safe to say there’s nothing like it, because the completely private camp is set up just for you among the untrodden dunes of the Sharjah desert. Sandboard the slopes, ride camels at dawn, or explore the ethereal landscape by quad-bike – just make sure you’re back in time for cocktails at sunset and an Arabian feast created by your personal chef. When darkness falls, an ocean of stars appears, twinkling above as you bed down in your luxurious Berber-style tent.
Noon, check-in at 2pm, but both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £1884.78 ($2,488), including tax at 17 per cent.
Rates include continental breakfast of breads, cheese, labna yoghurt and jams.
1 May to 31 August
At the hotel
Communal tent for lounging and dining, quad bikes. In rooms: bottled water, soft drinks, snacks.
Our favourite rooms
The tents are all set up in the same way, so they’re all favourites. Depending on the layout of your camp, pick a pitch near the communal tent if you’re feeling social, or further away for total privacy.
Sunglasses (duh), and a tube of ache-soothing Deep Heat: you’ll be doing a lot neck-craning up to the stars.
Unfortunately the camps are not suitable for wheelchair users.
Over-2s welcome. Cots can’t be provided (children stay in their own tents), but baby mats and baths are available on request. If you're travelling with children, ask about extra bed rates for littles when booking.
The old maxim goes ‘Take only memories, leave only footprints’, but at Magic Camps even the footprints don’t last long before a gust of wind buries them in a new layer of sand. With no access to mains electricity, the camp uses mainly solar energy and candles for lighting. The shampoo, hand sanitizer and soap are organic. The toilets are the old-fashioned type – no water, just sand.
The layout is adaptable, so you can ask for your table to be surrounded with just the right number of candles.
Loose cottons to stay cool, white robes and keffiya head scarves if you want to go local.
The private chef kicks off dinner with hummus, tabouleh and other Arabian mezze, before bringing out the barbecue skewers of prawns and meats served alongside grilled vegetables and rice. You won’t go hungry, that’s for sure.
Instead of a bar, Magic Camps has a cool box with soft drinks. They don't have alcohol, but if you bring your own they'll happily chill it for you.
This is your camp, so you decide the meal times. Typically, breakfast will be around 7am and dinner will be around 7pm.
No room service per se, but just ask if you’re peckish.
Your private camp will be set up in the Sharjah desert, among untrodden dunes of golden sand.
The nearest airport is Sharjah International (45 minutes by car), but the megahub of Dubai is only 15 minutes further. Emirates fly direct from major cities all over the Europe, Asia, America… basically everywhere. Magic Camps provide free transfers from either airport for up to four guests; an additional charge applies for extra guests.
If you’re thinking you like the sound of driving into the desert yourself, think again. You’d have a hard job finding a pop-up camp surrounded by hundreds of miles of desert (and with no GPS, either). Magic Camps can provide transfers from locations other than the airport, such as other Magic Camps for US$250 each way for up to four guests, US$350 each way for five to seven guests, and US$450 each way for eight to fifteen guests.
Worth getting out of bed for
Here’s how a typical Magic Camp goes: in the mid-afternoon, you’re collected from Dubai and whisked off on a jeep safari through the desert – strap yourself in for some revved-up dune-bashing before your arrive at the camp. You’ll have time to freshen up and survey your sandy domain before sunset drinks are served on the crest of a dune (thanks very much, Smith Extra) at sunset. There’ll be nobody, and we mean nobody, as far as the eye can see, so you’ll just have the amber sun and your ice-cool cocktail for company. It’s after sundown that the real show begins: look skyward and gaze in wonder at the galaxy of stars above. In the morning, watch falcons soar and swoop in a private bird-of-prey show (US$495), or try your hand at sandboarding down the dunes. To venture further a-desert, take a quad bike for a spin (US$165), or clamber onto a camel ($US215 for a one-hour ride).
If you face west and start walking, you might find a cafe about eleven hours and a whole lot of dehydration later. In other words, stick to the camp, you nutter.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this desert camp in the United Arab Emirates and unpacked their keffiyeh and agal, a full account of their Bedouin-style break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Magic Camps in Dubai…
It’s a remarkable, unfathomable, no-freaking-way fact that there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on Earth. It’s practically impossible to get your head around, but the best place to try is Magic Camps Dubai. Spend a day here and you’ll stoutly refuse to believe it, while running fistfuls of golden powder through your fingers and surveying the endless dunes unfolding in every direction. Spend a night here, with your neck craned back and your eyes pinned wide in wonder, and you’ll understand. If you need a little time and space to let it all sink in, you’re in the right spot – alone with your thoughts and gloriously isolated from everything and everyone (except the lucky people who came with you).