Al Dhafra Festival: everything you need to know about Bedouin life

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Al Dhafra Festival, known as “the greatest showcase of Bedouin lifestyle” anywhere in the world, is now under way in Abu Dhabi.

Each year, about 25,000 camels and their entourages descend on this remote area on the edge of the Empty Quarter for what can only be described as a beauty pageant for camels. It’s easy to spot the winning camels because their faces will be smeared with a red paste made from saffron. In July, it was announced that the total prize fund had also increased to Dh110 million ($30m), across 2,937 categories.

So if you’re looking to visit Al Dhafra Festival, here is everything you need to know.

What is there to see and do?

In addition to camels, there’s also a traditional souq. Here, you can learn about traditional Emirati crafts, such as Sadu (weaving cotton and wool), Telli (embroidery) and Khous (weaving palm fronds), and sample famous Emirati dishes. And there will be no shortage of things to buy.

There are also ongoing competitions throughout Al Dhafra Festival, including for classic cars, salukis, falcons, Arabian horses, handicrafts and dates. There’s truly, something for everyone.

When and where is the festival taking place?

Al Dhafra Festival runs just south of Madinat Zayed in Al Dhafra Region of Abu Dhabi. The event started on Wednesday and runs until Saturday, January 22. Events are scheduled to take place from 10am until 10pm, although celebrations and preparations happen around the clock.

Where can I stay?

Al Dhafrah is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Abu Dhabi city. However, with the cooler temperatures, a lot of fun can be had around the festival’s campfires after dark, so it is worth spending the night.

Most hotels in the area, including Tilal Liwa Hotel, Western Hotel – Madinat Zayed, and Liwa Hotel get booked up early, but camping is open to all. Do not expect a quiet retreat, however.

Al Dhafra is a social gathering. Bring extra food and get your coffee pot ready to welcome guests. Alternatively, be prepared to accept many invitations to tea.

The festival is predominantly a man’s world, but women are welcome everywhere. Women can camp in a designated family section near the traditional market and use washroom facilities at the on-site Tilal Liwa Hotel. Both men and women must dress conservatively at the festival.

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