When I was first getting my head around visiting the Middle East, I had pictures of arid landscapes and endless deserts, rather than the mountain regions and hidden oases we ended up visiting on our trip. But the desert is certainly there!
We visited the most accessible part of the Omani desert, Wahiba Sands. Whilst now formally renamed as Sharqiya Sands, this desert region continues to be occupied by bedouins, offering a glimpse into the traditional ways of living in the endless dunes.
A few notes on visiting Wahiba Sands:
- Getting there: Wahiba sands has numerous access points, which will be dependent on where you are staying. Many of the desert camps have their meeting/pick up point in the village of Al Wasil, located 2 hours from Muscat or 1.5 hours from Sur.
- Accommodation: There are numerous desert camps in the area, ranging from resorts to more basic options, such as the Nomadic Desert Camp we stayed at. It is also possible to free camp in or near the desert.
- A note on cars: If you want to drive in the desert, you will need a 4WD. We drove into our desert camp with the assistance of the camp host, who arranged for our car tires to be adjusted to a lower pressure for driving on the sand.
We drove from Ibra to the small town of Al Wasil, located on the edge of the desert. It was amazing watching the landscape change as we drove, from dark mountains to towering dunes in the distance.
At Al Wasil, we were instructed by the hosts from our camp to meet at a mosque. This was easy enough to find, as several other tourists were hanging out at the neighbouring coffee shop waiting as well! Our host soon arrived, and set about greeting us and arranging for the tires on our cars to be deflated slightly for driving in the desert. I was expectantly awaiting a briefing session about how one should actually drive in the desert, but as soon as our cars were ready our host directed us to jump in our cars to follow him!
Driving in the desert was a terrifying, exhilarating, but worthwhile experience. It felt like driving on water, with the car constantly sliding our beneath us. My arms were aching by the end of our half hour drive to the camp from gripping the steering wheel so tight out of sheer terror!
Once we arrived at the camp, we were shown to our accommodation for the night – simple huts made out of date palms, with the desert for the floor and candles for lighting. Simple, but beautiful all the same. I had barely recovered from the drive in before we were jumping back into our cars to drive further into the desert with our host!
After getting bogged a few times whilst driving (we were no professionals), our group stopped at a small fenced area to visit some camels, including this little fella!
Only a few days old, this little baby camel was already up and walking on it’s too big legs!
After everyone had finished admiring the baby camel, we jumped back into our cars and drove up a few steep dunes to a sheltered area. From here, our host explained we would wait for the sunset, and we were free to climb the towering dunes in the mean time.
Clambering up the dunes was such a surreal and beautiful experience. The desert looked endless, no matter which way you looked.
Chris and I kept climbing higher and higher, sure that the next dune would be the peak. Eventually we accepted that there was no end to the dunes, and spent the remaining daylight time sliding down the dunes we had climbed and taking in the whole experience.
The sunset was stunning. The whole experience of being in the desert made me feel so small and humbled.
Eventually it was dark enough to head back to the camp, where we spent the evening enjoying Omani hospital in the form of cardamon infused coffee, endless dates, and delicious food. Another highlight was lying on mattresses our hosts set out around the campfire after dinner and staring up at the stars. I don’t think I have ever seen so many in the sky.
The next morning we were up early for breakfast – more coffee, bread cooked on the fire, and camel milk! After eating our fill, we were advised to head outside the camp for a camel ride. This is not something Chris and I would have normally signed up for, but it was included as part of our stay at the camp.
Full tourist mode!
Before long it was time to pack up our car again and return back to the reality of the road for our final leg of the roadtrip.
We had to make our own way to Al Wasil from the camp – thankfully the track in the desert follows a valley of sorts, so we were able to make our way back without any dramas.
Looking back on these photos, I honestly don’t think my words can do justice to this experience in the desert. It was such a vastly different environment to anything I have ever been in, and it is moments like this that remind me how lucky we are to be able to explore this world.