Nestled away inside the government-protected Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve you will find Sonara Camp – a picturesque desert activity, glamping, and dining hub. Join your friends at The HUNTR as we share our recent 16-hour experience…
Eco-friendly and sustainable, Sonara Camp brought a new desert experience concept to the region when it first opened in December 2019. Sourcing ethical products and materials, using solar energy, and a zero-waste policy, the experiences on offer include a breakfast in the desert, sunset and dinner, sunset-only, and (the focus on this feature) an unforgettable overnight adventure…
The Sonara Camp is spread over a magnificent area of picture-perfect sand dunes and is the home to lots of natural wildlife, including hundreds of majestic oryx and gazelle. Once you’ve booked your overnight adventure you can choose to arrive at the camp by Land Cruiser (5-10 minutes and included in the price) or camel (25 minutes, 200AED per camel). Arrival timings start at 3.30 pm up until 7pm in high season (October-April) and 5pm until 8pm in low season (May-September).
The HUNTR opted to arrive at 3.30 pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon in February 2021. We were welcomed by refreshments and a talented live oud player, before touring the ‘first floor’ of the campsite. Once you’ve settled there plenty of activities to busy yourself with including complimentary camel rides, an array of delicious appetizers to enjoy with drinks (alcohol is charged extra), shisha, sandboarding, soft (kid-friendly) archery, volleyball, and a meet the falcon experience and show. There are also two opportunities for a spot of retail therapy – one sand art and jewellery stand and another boutique filled with small business treasures.
When you’re ready, you can walk over to your tent to unpack and get acquainted. The HUNTR stayed inside the Lotus Tent, the larger of the two tent options, each of which can accommodate two adults and two children. The tents are furnished in a chic boho style complete with oversized dreamcatchers, rugs, and hurricane candles. We were surprised at just how comfortable the beds were – they rival any 5* hotel. Meanwhile, the toilet and shower facilities are shared but arranged into private lockable cubicles.
Once the sun has set you can journey down to the restaurant area at your leisure and prepare to enjoy a memorable feast for dinner. The menus change according to season and availability, the appetisers we enjoyed were handpicked organic crudités, homemade onion pie, wooden oven cooked pizza margarita and bufalina al pesto (our favourite), truffle and mushrooms mini clubs, and a fresh guacamole dip served with corn tortillas (these were all served in the lounge area with drinks soon after our arrival).
For starters, we enjoyed chicken shawarma in a crispy cone with avocado emulsion (so good we had a second helping), du puy green lentil soup, light masala roasted moutabal and Arabic bread, a lovely fresh fattoush fusion salad with a jalapeño dressing, sweet and sour shrimp tacos with parsley condiment, divine pulled lamb shoulder and raz el hannout with oriental condiments and saj bread. Next came ‘Perch on The Grill’ fried rice with nasi goreng flavours and cilantro salsa and a selection of tender and flavourful meats cooked over the barbecue – roasted farm chicken thigh with peri-peri, black Angus strip loin on the grill (which was really special), fresh pesto lamb chop marinated in sweet spices, roasted cauliflower with a creamy tahini dressing, Mediterranean ratatouille and the most perfect crusty local potatoes with thyme salt. Free-flowing water, soft drinks, teas, and coffees are available throughout, and for dessert, a trio of tempting treats was presented – roasted golden apple, orange blossom mascarpone, toffee topping, dark chocolate samosa, raspberry, and yuzu coulis, and sweet hummus pie, with white chocolate ganache and shredded pistachio.
We were really impressed with the high level of the food and the team’s ability to deliver such delicious and elevated dishes in the middle of the Arabian desert. Quite the feat.
During the course of the dinner, there’s a performance from a fire belly dancer on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, a memorable fire show, and on Fridays there’s the opportunity to stargaze with an astronomer. The latter didn’t take place on the Saturday that The HUNTR visited but we were in awe of the twinkling sky regardless. There’s also a ‘movie under the stars’ set-up for kids and you can head over to one of the fires to make s’mores or toast marshmallows on a stick. Plus, another falcon came to excite guests with his “fly through your arm tunnel” trick.
The evening was faultless and the twinkly fairy lights, incredible night sky, fresh air, impeccable service, and crackling fires really immerse you into the experience – allowing you to forget city life 40-50 minutes away.
With tired eyes and full bellies and hearts we retreated to our tent to enjoy the incredibly comfortable beds, before waking to catch the jaw-dropping sunrise and a spot of breakfast in the lounge area. The breakfast is included and features a selection of cold favourites like fruit, yoghurts, cold cuts and cheeses, pastries and bread, smoked salmon, plus eggs however you want them. Transfers back to your car start at your convenience and end by 9.30 am.
This is a bucket-list, must-do experience for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors, amazing food, something a little different and an immersive, joyful experience with the people they love.
Insider tips: Under 5s go free. Prices depend on various factors – discover more and book online here. Take portable battery chargers for your phones if you need them, as there is no power in the tent (although you can leave your phone charging with staff at the bar if you bring a standard charger). The desert is always more extreme in temperature than the city, so prepare to be hotter with the sun and colder with the dark. Eyewear (sunglasses – or we spotted some smart folks in ski goggles!) is a lifesaver whenever winds are forecast, however, the sunken restaurant area is protected from the elements so they are only really needed in the lounge area.