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Natalie Hensby

I recently travelled with a friend to Dubai en route to Africa. At the recommendation of another friend and our travel agent we extended our three-hour stopover in Dubai to 40 hours.

I knew Dubai was home to ultramodern architecture and luxury shopping malls. What I didn’t know is that Dubai is so much more than a cosmopolitan stopover city; it is a rich melting pot of tradition, history and culture.

Flying into Dubai International Airport my face was fixed to the window, mesmerised by the unique geography of the city.

Dubai’s city skyline is an incredible display of architectural brilliance encased with stunning desert dunes and glistening coastline.

Photo on plane looking out window


However, more fascinating than the physical landscape is the cultural landscape.

Dubai is a world of contrasts - high-end shopping malls and lively souks, balmy beaches and desert dunes, traditional eastern beliefs blending with a new western influence from the increasing expat population. The result? An exciting cultural smorgasbord.

I often find the best way to get to know a place is by chatting to a local taxi driver. Speaking with our driver en route from the airport we learnt that as 76% of Dubai’s population is male the city has introduced positive discrimination policies to ensure women feel more comfortable.

For example, only women are allowed to visit certain public beaches on Wednesdays and Sundays. Similarly, there are female-only queues at government service centres and pink taxis available only to women and children.

We discovered it was possible to explore Dubai without spending a small fortune.

After a morning swim at Jumeriah Beach we decided to seek respite from the 47°C heat and enjoy some window shopping.

In Dubai shopping centres are tourist attractions in their own right. We were amazed to find an indoor ski slope at Mall of the Emirates. Our astonishment was only matched by the world’s largest aquarium viewing panel at Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping centre.

Photo of indoor ski slope at Mall of the Emirates


The Sundowner desert safari was the highlight of our visit. We were collected from our hotel at 4.30pm by Arabian Adventures and made our way to the Arabian Desert.

After reading a safety card, deflating the tyres of our 4WD and fastening our seat belts, we hit the dunes with a convoy of 4WDs. The experienced guides drove in sequence across the dunes which made for great backseat viewing.

Photo from the Arabian Desert


We arrived at the traditional Bedouin-style campsite and watched a falcon training show. Falcons are considered a symbol of social standing in the UAE and these birds are so prized they are permitted to fly (pardon the pun) as checked baggage on flights to and from Dubai!

We stopped for photos on the dunes just in time for sunset. It was magical to watch the sun disappear behind the desert horizon.

Next up, a camel ride! I was most excited about this part of the safari having always wanted to ride a camel. Although only a short three minute ride, to ride a camel in the heart of the desert was a unique and memorable experience.

Night time camel riding tour in Dubai


The buffet dinner was the most delicious Arabic food I’ve ever eaten; fresh hummus and tabouli with flat bread, beef kofta, saffron chicken, lamb chops and vegetable tagine. In true Bedouin style we ate dinner seated on floor cushions around long communal tables under a star-lit sky.

Photo of Natalie and friend at an Arabic food buffet


After dinner we were overwhelmed with choice. A henna tattoo painting? Some aromatic shisha? A belly dancing show?

Photo of a belly dancer in Dubai


The safari was all-inclusive and one of the best value tours I’ve been on. If you want to experience the Bedouin lifestyle while in Dubai, I would highly recommend the Sundowner dinner safari.

There is an enigmatic magic about Dubai. It is a dynamic city full of wonderful surprises.

As I discovered in our brief albeit very enjoyable visit there is no shortage of things to do and see in Dubai. I’ve got a list I hope to check off when I return to Dubai; catch the Dubai Light and Sound Show at Wafi Mall, take a boat trip around Palm Jumeirah and spend time exploring Old Dubai.

Therefore it isn’t a question of if, but rather when, I will return to Dubai.

Tips and tricks

  • If you want local knowledge and recommendations, chat to your taxi driver!
  • As a woman in Dubai always observe local customs by wearing conservative clothing (covering your knees and shoulders).
  • Always ask before taking photos of other people. You are not allowed to take photos of government buildings or personnel.
  • Escape the heat at a shopping mall; there is no shortage of activities and entertainment options!

Natalie Hensby loves to travel, she is the ambassador of the Australian Government’s “Smartraveller” campaign and ambassador for Cover-More Travel Insurance.

Follow her adventures on Instagram: @nat_hensby

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.