Wahiba Sands, Oman: Desert Camp Travel Guide

Nestled in the heart of eastern Oman lies a mesmerizing landscape that is home to one of the most breathtaking deserts in the world – the Wahiba Sands. This vast expanse of sand dunes covers an area of roughly 10,000 square kilometers or around 6,200 square miles. It’s not your average natural wonder, as it also offers rich lessons about Oman’s history and cultural identity.

The Wahiba Sands boasts an array of stunning landscapes, from seas of towering dunes to pristine wadis that offer a refreshing respite from the scorching sun. Also known as the Sharqiya Sands, the desert’s unique topography and rich cultural heritage make it a fascinating destination that offers a unique adventure.

Aerial view of the Wahiba Sands in Oman

From dune bashing to camel riding, exploring the Wahiba Sands is an experience like no other. Huge thanks to my friends at Oman Travel for taking me into this awe-inspiring desert and allowing me to experience its wonders and culture. So, buckle up and get ready for an unforgettable journey through the heart of Oman’s stunning Wahiba Sands.

The Bedouins of the Wahiba Sands

The Bedouins who live in the Wahiba Sands have a unique lifestyle that blends tradition and modernity. Many of them work in cities and own two homes, but their traditional homes in the desert are spacious and equipped with modern amenities, including strong blinds to protect from sandstorms.

Holding a platter of Kabsa with my Bedouin host and guide

Camels are a significant part of their lives, with many families breeding race camels and selling them for high prices. Despite the challenges of living in the desert, such as encountering dangerous reptiles and insects and sandstorms, the Bedouins have developed a mindset to prepare for and accept nature’s fury. They live in and around desert camps, preserving their culture and way of life.

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My Experience in the Wahiba Sands

After exploring Muscat, the national capital, for several days, I headed out to the Wahiba Sands with my guides Ahmed and Ameer. The 24 hours I spent in the desert was the highlight of a magical 10-day trip through the country.

My Bedouin guide and Ahmed from Oman Travel

We had a fantastic Bedouin guide, who taught me a lot and cooked us some drool-worthy food. But more on that later, because before you travel to the Wahiba Sands, there are some things you need to know.

Wahiba Sands Checklist

  • The optimum season to experience is during the winter months between November and February. The temperatures are unbearably high any other time of the year.
  • A 4×4 is necessary for driving through the desert, as you will reach a point where there are no roads. You’ll need to let some of the air out of your tires once you get there. If you’re traveling with a local guide, they’ll already know this and will likely do it for you.
  • Wear light, breathable, and light-colored clothing. Even during the cooler months, temperatures in the desert can soar well into the 90s and 100s Fahrenheit. The lighter your clothing, the more comfortable you’ll be.
  • Sunscreen is a must, regardless of your skin tone. The Omani sun is no joke, and can easily burn your skin if you don’t apply it regularly. I also suggest bringing a hat or wearing a traditional headdress to shield your head and face.
  • Wear sandals. Sandals will allow your feet to breathe in the heat, but they’ll also protect your soles from the sand, which bakes under the hot Omani sun during the day. Don’t make the mistake of walking on the sand barefoot!
  • Stay hydrated! This is a given, but because of the sweltering temperatures and beating sun, it’s important to drink lots of water to avoid heat exhaustion and dehydration.
  • Pack some warmer clothing. Temperatures can plummet in the desert at night, so you want to make sure you have some warmer clothing with you in case it gets too chilly.
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Coming to the Wahiba Sands

Part of the way through our drive through the Wahiba Sands, our Bedouin guide joined us and drove us to our campsite. It consisted of six tents, including one with three beds, a kitchen, and a bathroom area. There was also a covered area where we could gather to eat and relax during the hottest part of the day.

Our relaxation area in the Wahiba Sands

When we arrived, apples, oranges, and water were there waiting for us. But it was then time to prepare lunch. Our guide, a native who had attended college in Sur, built us a fire.

Trying Omani Bedouin cuisine

I enjoyed two fantastic meals during my time in the Wahiba Sands. My first was kabsa, a traditional Bedouin dish that combines basmati rice with chicken and vegetables. To make it, our guide boiled the chicken in a pot over the fire and then added red onion, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, dried lemon, and an array of spices.

Making kabsa in the Wahiba Sands of Oman

While it cooked, we ate some sweet, mashed dates with a dash of cumin. We enjoyed them with some fragrant Arabic coffee with saffron and cardamom.

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Dates with cumin

Like most Middle Eastern and South Asian countries, rice dishes are meant to be eaten with your hands rather than a fork or a spoon. The kabsa is no different. The technique to eating it is similar to the one I learned in India–scoop up the rice, allowing it to rest on your middle, ring, and pinky fingers. Then, use your thumb to push it into your mouth!

Kabsa

The kabsa was hearty, tender, and flavorful despite the use of no oil. The spices, lemon, and chicken gave it a tangy, herbaceous flavor.

Meeting Camels

One of the most popular activities in the Middle East is dune bashing in a four-wheel drive vehicle. However, a more traditional form of traversing the sand dunes is by riding a camel. This is an activity that has been practiced for centuries, allowing riders to experience the desert environment in a unique and thrilling way.

Meeting local camels

But I wouldn’t be riding these camels, just meeting and observing them. The Bedouins kept them roughly a five-minute drive from our camp. Some of these camels are for racing, while others are just for show. There were also some mothers with their babies, so I made sure to keep my distance. An angry or annoyed camel is nothing nice!

Dune Bashing

Following that, we went on a thrilling ride through the dunes of the Wahiba Sands! I had the opportunity to experience this before in Qatar and it was an enjoyable adventure! Going up and down the dunes is always a wild ride, similar to a roller coaster. I don’t recommend doing it right after eating or if you have a sensitive stomach, though!

Dune bashing in the Wahiba Sands

Once we had returned to the camp, we ventured back out into the desert. The temperature had significantly diminished since the sun had begun to set, so we could actually go out into the sands without any shoes on.

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Dinner in the Wahiba Sands

For dinner, we enjoyed an incredible lamb under the stunning night sky of the Wahiba Sands. First, our hosts placed the lamb meat in a pot with water and a variety of spices, including cardamom, cloves, and black pepper. Then, they dug a hole in the sand and put a stone inside before building a fire on top.

Late-night cooking in the desert

They used a combination of tamarind sauce, garlic, red chili, black pepper, salt, and vinegar to marinate some chicken legs. Then, they mixed some cooked rice with the lamb and cooked it over the fire.

Eating orsia and liver curry in the Wahiba Sands

The chicken was cooked to perfection, with a tantalizing blend of spices. They also mashed the rice until it reached a consistency similar to mashed potatoes. The dish is called orsia and is typically eaten during Eid. They also added a rich liver curry, which made for an earthy, creamy and tasty meal that filled my belly and had me craving more!  

Explore the Wahiba Sands for yourself

Exploring the Wahiba Sands

When you visit the Wahiba Sands, you can’t help but fall in love with it. Its wonderful mix of culture, history, and natural beauty is a combination you can’t beat. Once you add in the friendly and welcoming locals and the thrilling adventures, it’s easy to see why this is among the top travel experiences in Oman. I highly recommend it, so book a trip to Oman today to have your own Wahiba Sands experience!

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