The Wahiba Sands or Sharqiya Sands is a vast desert region in eastern Oman. If you ask me, an overnight trip to the Wahiba Sands is a must on any Oman travel. It certainly made our 6-day Oman itinerary more interesting!
And my recommendation would be an overnight stay at a desert camp rather than just a quick dune bashing adventure to fully soak in the beauty of this land.
There are 3 things you notice once you get to the Wahiba Sands. The first is its vastness. It is quite an experience when you first enter the desert and see the symmetry and beauty of the sand dunes. Rolling dunes and pristine land everywhere you see. Wow! You feel that there is unpopulated, untouched land still on this planet, and not necessarily at the top of a mountain or at the bottom of an ocean. The second point follows from the first, that the GPS system / Google maps is pretty much useless in this desert. The dunes shift all the time, making permanent roads impossible. You would see some tracks around popular desert camps thought. The third is what a well-suited vehicle a Land Cruiser is for the desert. But more on that driving experience later.
Thrilling drive to the desert camp
We drove from Wadi Bani Khalid, so it was afternoon by the time we reached the small town just outside the desert. A quick stop at a local tire shop to take some air out of both the Land Cruisers and we were off. Our friends were being driven by an experienced Omani driver, but my husband and I were enjoying the self-drive. Until we entered the desert, that is! Now being from Rajasthan, India, it is not that I am unfamiliar with a desert or sand dunes. But the sheer vastness of the Wahiba Sands and the height of the dunes was fascinating.
My husband Rohit was not looking for a driving lesson the dunes. But that’s what he got. He was quite psyched to follow the Omani driver in the pilot car but realized that it is almost impossible for the Land Cruiser to topple on sand dunes. He did manage to get it stuck in the soft sand though at one time. And promptly, two cheerful locals in another 4WD stopped by to give him instructions on how to reverse the car and then scale the dune again. The Omani person even offered to drive the vehicle over the dune when my husband got stuck in the second attempt. Our Omani driver in the pilot car, however, had different ideas altogether and insisted on re-attempts until Rohit made it over the dune. What a relief!
And then it was a thrilling drive, 40 km deep in the desert to the Thousand Night Camp we had booked for our stay.
Dune bashing like never before!
It was early evening by the time we reached the Thousand Nights Camp. The Omani guide wanted us back on the dunes before sunset, a perfect time to see the yellow/brown sand dunes take on a coppery hue. So after a warm welcome by the desert camp staff and quick check-in process, we were back in our Land Cruiser, this time all loaded in one vehicle since my husband wanted to leave the dune bashing to the expert!
And the Omani guide indeed proved to be an expert. Not only did he correctly predict a sandstorm making its way, but he also gave us a thrilling ride scaling the near-vertical dunes. The adults joined the kids in squealing and shrieking – part fun, part thrill, and some fear when he took the Land Cruiser on the edge of the dunes and made rapid twists and turns.
And then we got caught in the craziest of all sand storms – a chat later with the camp staff revealed that they hadn’t seen such a long drawn and ferocious storm either during their service. The 4WD got stuck with the rapidly shifting sand and while we all sat bundled in the car, our guide got the wheels unstuck by shoveling out sand with his bare hands. And you would think, it was time to head back to the safety of the camp. But no, he treated us to some more dune bashing amidst the sandstorm!
Togetherness amidst a raging sandstorm
By the time we reached the camp, the storm had picked in ferocity. The open reception area was filled with sand and it wasn’t possible to go to our rooms. The staff advised us to stay put until the storm calmed a bit. They got all the guests in one closed room and served us warm tea and delicious banana bread. We probably would have never chatted with other guests beyond small talk, but the storm raged on for a full 2 hours. And the small talk gave way to strangers who started opening up, sharing food and swapping crazy travel stories in other parts of the world.
And while we told others about our dune bashing adventure amidst the sandstorm, a Caucasian couple having fortified themselves with sweet Omani tea, had another group enthralled with their recent camel ride. They got stuck in the sandstorm in the open desert on camels. The normal protocol in such a scenario is to cut the camels loose – they are trained to come back to the camp – while the guests walked back with their guide! What an unforgettable ride that turned out to be.
Overnight stay at Thousand Nights Desert Camp
Like I said earlier, I would definitely recommend a night stay at a desert camp over just a dune bashing experience for a visit to the Wahiba Sands. Thousand Nights Desert Camp was everything it promised. The best part was its location, 40 km from the nearest town, it felt like we were off the grid. And no other camps nearby to crowd you out.
The tents and beds were clean, the toilet was quite basic. The food, both at dinner and the breakfast spread was more than basic. But the warmth and hospitality of the staff shone through when after a 3-hour sandstorm, they worked hard to shift our dinner place to an indoor room and served it hot. The next morning, the open dining area had been cleaned in the early morning hours to have it ready for breakfast.
The camp can arrange all sorts of activities – a visit to a local Bedouin family, dune bashing, camel ride, sunset or a sunrise excursion among others. The kids couldn’t get enough of the play area. There was a small pool but none of the guests could enjoy it that evening because of the storm.
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Have you visited a desert before? Share your experience with us in the comments below.
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