Also called the Sharqiya Sands, the Wahiba Sands is a stretch desert region spread across 12,500 square kilometers in Oman. Often considered the absolute epitome of Arabia, whose rolling sand dunes have featured in many a film, this desert area is a must visit destination in Oman.
The geography is not the uniform across the entire area and while in the north one will find smaller dunes and wide flat areas, to the east one can witness dunes that pile up to 100 metres against the ocean, and in the south, there is the Barr El Hikman, a vast expanse of flat sand dotted with precariously situated lagoons, and salt and mudflats, that is home to huge populations of migrating birds. Many suggest that if you looking for the most impressive dunes you should head to the northeast, where these sandy giants can reach an enormous 300 feet high. Across the desert, there is a wide variety of rich plant and animal life that you will encounter, including gazelles, mongooses and large migrant bird populations.
The sands are also known as Ramlat al Wahiba and are so named after the Wahiba tribe, a Bedouin society that dates back many millennia. These dunes are still populated by close to 3000 people from the numerous tribes that have called this desert home for many generations. Further along the edges of the desert, the coastal region is dotted with small settlements where many fishermen make a living farming the abundant marine life present in the Arabian Sea. One can plan for a visit to a tribal settlement to get a glimpse of a traditional way of life that is fast disappearing as modern conveniences limit the need for a nomadic existence.
Various other desert experiences are available here for those looking to get the full desert experience with options to choose either day excursions or overnight stays and safaris. Some of the most popular activities here include camel rides or driving through the dunes for a sunset trip where one will cross a near-vertical descent. For adventure enthusiast,s activities like quad-biking, sand-boarding, and outdoor camping are also available at the desert. Plus if one has the time and the inclination they can also opt for full day camel safaris, and more trips to Bedouin settlements that help one get to know about the lifestyle of the tribes.
While it is considered possible, if extremely challenging, to drive right through the sands from north to south, while camping under the seams of native ghaf trees or tucked behind a sand dune, it is not considered advisable to do so alone and without a guide. This is because there are no provisions available, or fuel stations or any other places to retreat for help in the sands beyond the desert camps that are set up at the northern periphery, and in the summer heat the sands can be terrifying.
Some off-road guidebooks describe this route, but all will advise you not to venture through the sands alone. A full-day, guided desert drive through the sands from Desert Nights Camp to the coast can be easily arranged.
If you have the time it is worth spending a night in one of the desert camps that a spread across the sands as it is a remarkably moving experience where you get to witness the different avatars of the Wahiba Sands including the beautiful golden sunset, that shifts into a brightly lits sky densely studded with stars, that eventually gives way to the soft light of a desert dawn.
If you do have the time, then remembar to head out for some camel safaris, an offroad dune bashing experience, or a visit to the local Bedouin tribes to learn about the traditional ways of the desert tribes and how their traditions and lifestyles adapted to living amidst these sandy areas. Couples should definitely opt for a romantic dinner for two under the starry skies, right in the middle of the night during their stay at a desert camp in Oman.
Also if you can't spare a day or two to thoroughly explore the desert you will be happy to know that the Wahiba Sands are just four hours drive from Muscat, making for an easy day trip if that is all you have time for.
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