SONARA CAMP - Magical Desert Safari Escape

It is the time of year for outdoor activities when we bid farewell to summer in Dubai. Pack light and get ready for a magical desert safari escape in the heart of the Arabian Desert. Enamored by nature and inspired by a love of the Saharan desert, Sonara Camp’s unique dining experience with an overnight stay in an authentic and luxury camp is simply unforgettable, your One-Thousand-And-One Arabian nights journey is no longer a dream away. mylifestylenews writes.

An easy 30-minute drive away from the bustling Dubai downtown to the gate of Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR), we were greeted by Sonara’s team at a pre-reserved time. A designated overnight car park compound is allocated outside the gate of DDCR and we hopped on Sonara’s four-wheel drive vehicle with a brief verification by the security before we steadily rumble to the desert dunes. Alternatively, a private chauffer service can also be exclusively arranged for pick up from your hotel or home in Dubai.

While DDCR is home to hundreds of oryxes and gazelles where 70 endangered Arabian oryxes were re-introduced into the protected area, now they also form the basis of today’s herd of over 400 oryxes being the largest, free roaming herd of its kind in the UAE. Our driver-guide Mr. Atiq spotted a few oryxes enroute and pulled over for us and we walked on the silky sand dunes to get a closer look in the distance (they are a little shy of humans). The desert haven for nature also consists of other wildlife species such as Red Fox, Gordon’s Wildcat, Arabian Hare, Ethiopian Hedgehog as well as both residential and migrating bird species together with other observation plants and etc.

After a short 10-minute ride on the flat and a few roller-coaster hill dunes, we arrived at the base camp with another warm welcome by Ken – another ever ready team member of Sonara already standing by with cold towel and refreshment awaited for our arrival. With No formality check-in required here, Ken gave a brief introduction of the camp site facilities and activities and we were then on our own to explore and embrace the nature of the desert's raw beauty and surroundings.

Sonara Camp is an eco-friendly establishment and sustainable with a core belief in sourcing ethical products and materials. Solar energy and zero-waste policy with specified measures essentially thought through for its operational activities in the desert well suited for eco-tourism management. Founded in 2018, Stephanie Daniel shares her passion for the desert in the form of bespoke and unforgettable desert experiences. The name Nara was born from the initials of Stephanie’s four sons, Neil, Adam, Ryan and Adrian. In Arabic, Nara denotes a small, sparkling fire where the evening fire show entertainments relay.

Our room for the night was allocated in one of the six strong weather proof wind resistant nomadic tents, with an acute sense of a minimalistic chic and an exotic safari touch designed element, the tent is well laid with two more than comfortable hotel standard mattresses. The “room” is bigger than we would have imagined and well-equipped with all the basic needs of a deluxe hotel room set up without compromising on comfort.

Shared toilets and showers are equally well designed and allocated 20 meters away from the tent.

We dropped our overnight bags and left the shoes behind. Indeed, it is the best way to get one step closer to nature by walking and soaking our foot into the silky veiled beige with a red undertone dune. It is an absolute no brainer!

Plenty of natural formation desert dunes to admire.

With almost two more hours before the sunset after we arrived and there was plenty of time for us to explore the camp site that was beautifully decorated with various semi-opened roof tent lounges adorned with a well stocked desert bar for further self indulgence.

Two wooden board swings and a big hammock sit atop the hill dunes at each corner accompanied by the infinity desert view and are most simply instagramable.

Cocoon yourself in the desert hammock.

With activities and entertainment for every age, camel treks, falconry, soft archery, volleyball, sand boarding and even wildlife drives, night safari and hot air ballooning can be arranged. Even just sit back and laid back while soaking in the autumn desert breeze, sipping your favorite cocktails during sunset and enjoying the Arabic acoustic live music plays. Never a dull moment!

Falconry in the represents the values that allowed the Bedouin to flourish, such as the sense of courage, honor and nobility, as well as the virtues of patience, willpower and companionship. Sonara Camp's falconry show is quite educational and not to be missed.

So, let the Arabic acoustic music plays.......

When the sun begins to set below the hue of golden dune, the desert light begins to fade, but the bar and the lounge switch to another sentimental ambience when the dimmed mood lights are lit. 

Another drink at the lounge before we were escorted to the main dining area via a long wooden stairway, make your own grand entrance as you please to this majestic and romantic venue that was set in a vast sunken dune with quite a well-equipped kitchen to cater for the unique desert dining.

One of a kind desert dining set up at the sunken desert dunes.

Proper dining table setting adorned with the centre piece fireplace illuminated by hundreds of hanging strings lights and a nice do up with lay back plush cushions surrounding it, making it in ideal place to mingle pre or post dinner with shisha to delight.

Thousands of mini light bulbs irradiate the entire area against the dark sky, dinning under the illuminated “stars” with the real stars above and beyond in the middle of the desert is some kind of distinct occasion and experience everyone would surely be longing for.

The dinner menu is carefully crafted to suit the occasion by Sonara’s partnered resident French Chef Franck Sanna of his seasonal menu creation. A well balance mix of Arabic and continental cuisine ranging with various appetizers from Sea bream Tahitian Ceviche served in a Crispy Cone finished with Avocado Wasabi Emulsion which was quite appetizing.

Iced-Cold Gazpacho Soup & Vanilla Oil and the flavoursome Pulled Lamb Shoulder & Raz el Hanout with Oriental Condiments and Markouk Saj Bread which was quite a significant range of savory to begin your palate ventures. Ken turned into our wait staff in the evening was generous enough to counter offer us with any second helping that fancied us and we opted for some additional Pulled Lamb Shoulder.

Slow Cooked eggplants, Garlic & Extra Virgin Olive Oil,Traditional Moutabal and Arabic bread, Tabouleh to follow as well as the creamy and delicious.

Main courses were brought to the table with Perch on the Grill, Stir-fried Seasonal Vegetables and Creamy Yuzu Sauce, the most delectable Roasted Farm Chicken Thigh & Peri-Peri Sauce and smokey well char-grilled Black Angus Picanha served with Arugula Chimichurri with side dishes such as Roasted Cauliflower and Tahini dressing, Sonara’s version of Mediterranean Ratatouille together with Local Potato cooked in Zaatar Butter.

Desserts were a little underwhelming after such an exotic combination sojourn on the palate. Strawberry and Olive Oil on a Thin Pie, Fresh Thyme and Orange Blossom Mascarpone may sound consummate yet didn’t bring out the distinctive flavours from each ingredient used. Fresh Fruit Salad, Sweet Spices syrup, Crispy Puff Cardamom was rather ordinary and not much of a shout out and the Chocolate Pie, Matcha Tea Dough, Coffee Emulsion was nothing too complex on palate and the pie was on the dry side but Chef Sanna’s cheerful personality wins back your confidence when he did his round to every table by making things work.

An interactive hawk show during dinner was presented followed by a brief memorable fire show. We stayed on after dinner by the fireplace to have a cup of tea before we headed back up to the lounge to gaze at the stars, of which most of us have forgotten - when was the last time we actually have seen some real stars up in the sky where the city is over glowed by lights. Despite the music from the bar didn’t go off past midnight, our sleep was quite pleasant. With the crisp desert breeze blown in through the little netted tent windows that was really pleasing. Natural air conditioning will do you real good and sweet dreams are truly made of these!

An absolute evening to "dine" for.

We got up before 6am, just before the sunrise, so we decided to take a slow walk to the top of the hill dune, sat on the cool and silky reshuffled new dunes from the overnight wind, watching the sun gradually coming over the horizon, which is simply magical. A desert sunrise is unlike any other sunrises you may have experienced before by the sea as it is rather more peaceful, calm and relatively zen.

Hot air ballooning activities can also be seen a couple of miles away from the camp site for those early birds to catch the first daylight and absorb the positive energy to start a brand day.

Breakfast is served at the camp’s lounge, nothing posh yet light and hearty, with the basic needs from coffee, tea, fruit juices to bread, toast and croissant with fresh fruits, ham and cheese to savour plus other add-on options such as eggs, smoke salmon or vegetable selection, but most importantly being able to set your foot back into the cool and silky dunes again while watching the calm and still morning sunrise. The experience by having breakfast in the desert doesn’t really happen too often and now it is no longer just a dream with Sonara’s excursion adventure, it is indeed one of the best ways to end with such a one-of-a-life-time must do unique experiences or on the contrary, to begin your brand new exciting day ahead from this overnight adventure. Another bucket list ticked!

Tried & Tested:

Location: 4.5/5

Design & Decor: 5/5

Room Amenities: 4/5

Housekeeping: 4/5

Food & Beverages: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Value For Money: 4.5/5

Experience: 5/5

 Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

Al Ain Road, Margham Gate

Dubai, UAE

Tel: +971 50 336 7909

Reviews are based on actual day of visit and experience. mylifestylenews reserves the right of final decision in case of any disputes. All images are photographed by mylifestylenews team without any photoshop enhancement and are the property owned by mylifestylenews unless otherwise stated.


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