Roughly 250 kilometers from the capital city of Muscat lies the stretch of the magnificent Wahiba sands, also known as Ramlat al Wahiba. This is the desert as you’ve always imagined it: a huge, virtually uninhabited swathe of sand, with towering dunes, reaching almost 100mt in places, sculpted by the wind into delicately molded crests and hollows with the shades of color from Orange to hues of Amber. Tourist resorts apart, there are no permanent settlements in the sands, although some local Bedouin still live here in somewhat ramshackle temporary encampments, particularly on the southern fringes of the sands around Al Ashkharah.
Otherwise, Wahiba remains hauntingly empty, although the endless tracks churned up by cavorting dune-bashers tearing around the sands in their souped-up 4WDs. As a general rule of thumb, the further into the sands you penetrate, the more dramatic and untouched the landscape becomes.
In the south is a vast expanse of flat sand dotted with treacherous salt flats, it is also home to a populous of migrating birds. There is also quite a considerable variation of animal and plant life despite the arid desert’s harsh climate.
The dunes themselves follow a surprisingly regular pattern, as a glance at Google Earth makes strikingly clear, running in long lines from north to south – an orderly sequence of so-called linear dunes formed by the conflicting winds blowing in from the eastern and southern coasts and meaning that travelling across the sands from north to south is significantly easier than tackling them from east to west. They are also constantly on the move, shifting inland at an estimated rate of 10mt per year.
The principal attraction of a visit here is simply the chance to be out among the dunes and enjoy the enchanting sunset, and to spend a night under a starlit sky in the desert. All the camps lay on various desert activities. Dune-bashing is a popular, if not particularly restful way of exploring the sands; camel or horse rides offer a more peaceful alternative, while other activities include sand boarding, trekking and quad-biking.
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