When thoughts turn to Oman, the first image that likely springs to mind, without a doubt, is that of the desert. Vast stretches of land engulfed in silence and tranquility. Personally, I never imagined that a terrain consisting solely of sand could evoke such deep emotions.
Be it composed of towering sandy dunes or rugged, rocky formations, the desert presents unparalleled experiences. It is an essential destination to incorporate into your itinerary, regardless of whether you are traveling north or south, for a few days or more.
The Omani Deserts
The Omani Deserts are a striking and arid landscape in the Sultanate of Oman, located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. These deserts are characterized by vast expanses of golden sand dunes, rugged mountains, and rocky plateaus. Oman has three deserts, one of which is the largest expanse of sand in the world.
Sharqiyah Sands ( Wahiba Sands )
The heart of Oman is embraced by the vastness of the Sharqiyah Sands, a desert widely recognized by tourists arriving in Muscat. Locally known as Wahiba Sands, it derives its name from the Bedouin tribe that calls it home. This desert attracts visitors not only due to its well-organized services, facilities, and plethora of activities but also due to its convenient proximity to Muscat, merely a two-hour drive away. Spending at least one night here is highly recommended to fully immerse oneself in its charm.
Rub’ Al-Khali ( The Empty Quarter )
The second significant desert, Rub’ Al-Khali, colloquially known as the “Empty Quarter” owing to the legend that Allah left the fourth part of the Earth unfilled, is one of the largest deserts globally, spanning a territory of 650 thousand square kilometers across Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Emirates. The ever-shifting sand dunes, reaching staggering heights of over 250 meters, are composed of gravel, chalk, and occasional marshy patches, showcasing an awe-inspiring spectacle that varies in hues from ochre to deep crimson with the changing light and seasons.
Jiddat al-Harasis – The Hidden Gem
Tucked between the two aforementioned deserts lies the lesser-known Jiddat al-Harasis, a desert characterized not by sand but by rocky terrain. Despite its elusive nature and challenging accessibility, this desert holds significance globally due to the concentration of meteorites scattered within its expanse. Surprisingly, it serves as a sanctuary for an unexpected variety of wildlife, including 170 bird species, the reintroduced Arabian oryx, caracals, and red foxes.
Where to Sleep in the Desert of Oman
When considering accommodations in the Wahiba Sands desert, various options await, each catering to different budgets and preferences. These solutions are primarily situated in the northern region of the desert.
Types of Structures
In the Sharqiya Sands desert, the term “spartan” often fails to align with affordability. Despite the absence of private bathrooms and, at times, even electricity (apart from that provided by evening generators), many Spartan Bedouin tents are surprisingly expensive.
The pricing of these camps is at the discretion of the Bedouin owners, offering varied curtain designs and interior furnishings, catering to individual tastes. However, these accommodations genuinely provide an authentic Bedouin desert experience, featuring black tents, external bathrooms in cabins or tent structures, and basic kitchenettes. The focus is on embracing nature, vast spaces, the celestial expanse, without excessive luxuries.
What to Do in the Desert in Oman
Typically, travelers arrive in the desert before sunset, seeking to witness the breathtaking beauty of the moment. This often follows a day of exploring a Bedouin house, an ancient village like Ibra, or indulging in a refreshing swim in a wadi.
Numerous tour operators, camps, and guides offer an array of excursions and activities. These include camel excursions, dune-bashing – an adventurous driving experience down steep dunes, quad trips, leisurely walks, sand-boarding, and visits to Bedouin settlements complete with animal enclosures.
Exploring the Sharqiya Sands also presents an opportunity to engage with Bedouin women, who enjoy increased social visibility. Observing them craft their colorful clothes and traditional masks can offer a culturally enriching experience.
Don’t miss the chance to savor Arabic coffee served in small, strong, and unsweetened cups – an unforgettable taste of local tradition.
Finally, find a serene spot on a dune and relish the moment as the sun bids you farewell from behind the horizon, illuminating the desert with an array of captivating hues. Capture the dunes from every angle, as the gentle waves formed by the wind mirror the undulating ripples of the sea. Embrace the tranquility, as you immerse yourself in the serenity of the desert.
How to Visit the Desert in Oman: Do it yourself or with a Guide?
Discover how to explore the Desert in Oman, either on your own with an off-road vehicle or with the guidance of local experts. Learn about entry points, lodging options, and the importance of local guides for a safe and enjoyable desert experience.
Exploring the Sharqiyah Desert
If you opt for a self-driven adventure, you’ll need an off-road vehicle. The Sharqiyah desert is the most accessible, with main entry points from Al Wasil or Bidiyah. Within the Wahiba Sands, there are established trails that run from north to south, leading to various lodges and camps concentrated primarily in the northern region.
Convenience at Your Stay
Alternatively, you can park your vehicle at the desert gates in Al Wasil or Bidiyah and arrange for a transfer provided by the accommodation where you plan to spend the night, unless you prefer independent camping.
Navigating the Dunes
When it comes to scaling the dunes, it’s advisable to enlist the assistance of local guides. Whether they are freelancers you’ve contacted or guides associated with your camp, they possess invaluable knowledge about navigating the terrain and understanding potential hazards.
Embarking on Rub Al Khali Adventure
Explore the awe-inspiring Empty Quarter desert in Oman, one of the largest and most famous deserts globally. Rub Al Khali presents a different challenge, as there are no built structures within. There are three primary ways to explore this region.
Organized Desert Tours from Muscat and Salalah
The first option involves participating in guided tours organized by local operators, traversing the desert from Muscat to the south or vice versa, with overnight stays in mobile camps set up along the way. This typically entails a multi-night journey through the desert.
Salalah Desert ( Empty Quarter ) Tour
The Empty Quarter Located just a two-hour drive north from Salalah, this tour offers a unique desert adventure. The overnight tour begins at 1 pm, taking you through the picturesque Qara Mountain range, offering stunning views of Salalah city. You’ll traverse canyons at an altitude of 800 meters above sea level. Your first stop is Wadi Dawkah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a natural park known for its famous Frankincense trees, including the prized Boswellia sacra variety.
Continuing the journey, you’ll pass by the town of Thumrait, with a rich history as an important point on ancient caravan routes and home to Frankincense trees. Next, you’ll head towards the vast gravel desert, where you’ll find the Lost City of Ubar (Wubar), another UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its historical and religious significance.
After exploring the ruins, you’ll venture into the Empty Quarter, or Rub al Khali, for an exhilarating experience of driving and rambling on the mesmerizing sand dunes. Witness the enchanting desert sunset, a truly unforgettable sight.
As the sun sets behind the sand dunes, you’ll have the opportunity to walk barefoot on the golden desert sands.
For this adventure, be sure to bring a hat, sun protection cream, and sunglasses. Wear comfortable and respectful attire, and consider bringing a scarf or cap to protect against sand on windy days.
The tour may not be suitable for individuals with back problems or health issues, pregnant women, infants, and young children. Optionally, you can arrange hotel accommodations and flights for your trip. There’s also an overnight stay option in Bedouin tents. Don’t miss the opportunity to embark on this remarkable road trip, taking you through Dhofar Mountains, Frankincense trees, archaeological sites, and the mesmerizing Empty Quarter, offering an unforgettable adventure.
Desert Trip from Muscat
Lastly, you can consider a day trip from Muscat with a local guide. Arrive at the Wahiba Sands in a private 4×4 with a local expert guide where you will explore Oman’s natural wonders. A thrilling dune bashing and a visit to a Bedouin house are among the unique desert activities. Upon leaving the desert, you will drive to Wadi Bani Khalid, one of the most beautiful wadis in Oman. Surrounded by the rocky mountains and palm trees, the crystal-clear
waters of its natural pool make it perfect for a refreshing swim.
Unveiling Ubar and the Surrounding Area
Many Salalah tour packages include visits to Ubar, a city likened to an Atlantis of the sands, known for its enigmatic charm. Depending on your choice, you can embark on a two-hour each way trip or opt for an overnight camping experience.
Expert Advice and Precautions
Both desert regions require some level of expertise and caution, especially if you decide to explore independently. It’s crucial not only to possess driving skills but also to be well-versed in handling your specific off-road vehicle or pickup. Before entering the desert, deflating the tires is necessary, and reinflation is essential once you exit.
Consider Local Guides for Desert Tour in Oman
In either case, enlisting the support of a knowledgeable local guide is highly recommended. From my personal experience, their expertise is invaluable in ensuring a safe and enjoyable desert expedition.
If you need further assistance or wish to organize your excursion with local guides, please feel free to reach out to us.