Why you have to visit Omans Empty Quarter

Vast and undulating, Oman’s Rub’ al Khali is an enchanting destination for those seeking to discover the mysteries of the nomads


Empty of civilisation, but full of mystery, Oman’s Empty Quarter (Rub’ Al Khali) begs to be discovered. Crossing the borders of Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, this vast expanse of undulating golden dunes is the land of Lawrence of Arabia. Hot and seemingly inhospitable, the Empty Quarter’s shimmering sands have enchanted nomads, wanderers and kings for centuries. Easily accessible from Muscat by 4X4, bold adventurers the Empty Quarter is the perfect place to spend a couple of nights camping under the stars. From immense scenery to nomadic encampments, here’s why you have to visit Oman’s Empty Quarter.

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Nature at its purest

The size of France, the Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted desert. It’s here you’ll experience the raw power of nature. The untamed beauty of its untouched sands appears as if plucked straight from a film set. As the sun travels its course, dunes change from a dazzling yellow to a deep, coppery red. Swathes of sand shift endlessly, creating an ever-changing landscape. Occasional oases surrounded by date palm trees offer a rare glimpse of life. At night, untainted by light pollution, a carpet of twinkling stars fills the desert sky.

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Step back in time

Despite its unforgiving terrain, around 3,000 nomads have made this sandy hinterland their home. In his 1959 book, Arabian Sands, British adventurer Wilfrid Thesiger documented his time living with the Bedu for 5 years. “While I was with the Arabs I wished only to live as they lived,” he wrote. Today, the Bani Wahiba tribes live a traditionally Arabic existence in Wahiba Sands, just three hours from Muscat. Traditional black wool tents can be found punctuating the desolate setting, as the smell of strong Arabic coffee permeates the desert air.

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Desert activities

The Empty Quarter has a pace of life for everyone. From the rhythmical slowness of a camel traversing the silently rugged landscape, as the nomadic people of this region have for done centuries, or practising the ancient art of falconry, watching these magnificent birds of prey diving and weaving through the shimmering air. To the adrenaline-charged extreme sports of high-speed exploration of the shifting sands in a 4x4 (dune bashing) or on top of a quad bike. And for those who can’t be separated from their snowboard for too long, boarding down the dunes as if in the Alps.


Flora and fauna

While the sun-scorched Empty Quarter’s arid landscape means little can grow, Dhofar - in Oman’s southwest – is actually famous for its rain. Each summer, the
khareef arrives, showering the region with rain. The tail end of India’s annual monsoon, the khareef blesses this corner of the Empty Quarter with a unique ecosystem, meaning plant life found nowhere else in the country can grow. Barren desert plains make way for green, fertile wadis (valleys) filled with baobab trees, while tropical bananas, papaya, sugarcane and coconut are all harvested here. Khareef season is treated like a festival and there’s no better time to experience the verdant beauty of Dhofar.

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