Desert dreams instead of deserted dreams? Oman has them starting right away in doubles. Whenever tour operators (rightly) praise the world’s largest sand desert – the Rub al-Khali in the southwest of the country – the sediment grains in the eastern sandbox rub their pupils melancholically. For the often unrecognized beauty in the east of Oman is often overlooked by the dimensions of its competitors. In fact, however, Sharqiya Sands not only unfolds all its magic to you like an unknown map during the day, but awaits you for stargazing together in the Wahiba Sands desert camps. Wahiba Sands, by the way, is another name for the sandy treasure chest – as is its Arabic equivalent, Rimal Al Wahiba.
The epitome of wanderlust deluxe – experience sand desert Sharqiya Sands actively or in silence
The glittering sandbox is named after the Bani Wahiba tribe and has settled in the region of Janub ash-Sharqiyya. The area around ash-Sharqiyya is segmented into a northern and southern part. The dimensions of the Wahiba Sands are large, but manageable: like a towel, they stretch over the arid land, 180 km long and 80 km wide.
On a desert tour, Sharqiya Sands offers you plenty of sand in the gearbox on about 12,500 km². If you have taken your road trip through Oman with a suitable desert vessel, you can conquer the desert valleys with your vehicle. You can reach Sharqiya Sands – starting from Muscat – southeast after about three hours driving time and one hour and twenty minutes south from the port city of Sur.
Two accesses to the desert offer you pure off-road feeling on different routes. On the one hand, you can swing directly at Bidiyah Castle on the tracks of previous vehicles. You first drive a distance of 24 km on shuddering gravel, before the dune mountains push towards you on sandy paths in front of your windshield.
In Bidiyah, the exclusive desert camps have also set up camp for the night, so you can linger here for the time being and enjoy the magic of seclusion in complete silence. A second option for entry is the village of Al Wasil, from where it continues with a mixture of gravel and sand roads. The dunes run streamlined with the traces of the north-south wind, so that the dunes have formed longitudinal formations. Your route will be between the longitudinal dunes in the wadis “milled” by other vehicles.
Into the sand flurry – the desert is alive
Even though you may find it hard to believe and only the grained monster stares at you far and wide, there is an amazing amount of life active in the Sharqiya Sands desert. In addition to the desert camps, where you as a tourist are spoiled with all the trimmings, wandering Bedouins have set up camp on the edge of the desert. Since the Bedouins are a people among themselves and do not want any curious pairs of eyes on them, photography is prohibited when entering the desert until their camp. At best, you can catch a glimpse with a bit of luck if you conquer a dune and the wind is favorable.
Unsurprisingly, there are hordes of camels in the Sharqiya Sands desert. However, you may also encounter the white camel. Its silhouette stands out in stark contrast against the red-gold dune mountains. The rare desert ship is threatened with extinction and therefore a real rarity. Photo Time! Also encounter wolves, foxes, mongooses, feral cats and a biodiversity of more than 16,000 invertebrates as well as hundreds of birds.
Beyond the fauna, the flora inspired by the proximity of the sea with its high moisture content has also settled in Wahiba Sands and stretches you a shady umbrella here and there with the sprawling umbrella acacia. Perfect for a little breather in the scorching heat of the Omani sun. Around March, Sharqiya Sands can get heavy downpours every now and then, so just a short time later, many small green bushes pop out of the sandy soil like knobs. In addition, at the western and eastern ends of the desert, there are ghaf trees that have formed into forests – a favorite place of desert nomads and their animal herds. The floristic quartet is rounded off by lush morning dew.
A stunning highlight awaits you with the bizarre looking aeolianites of the Sharqiya Sands. The edges of the petrified dunes can be found in the easternmost tip. They stretch along the coast of the Arabian Sea. The contrast alone between the red-golden dune sand and the deep blue sea is a real sensation. Worldwide, they are the largest geologically contiguous formations of petrified sand dunes. Blink at the golden rock bathed in sunlight and capture the unique, mineral-influenced wind mix of sea and desert.
Further on, an orange-red racing ground lies at your feet and invites you to up- & downhill into the gigantic dunes. Enjoy the breathtaking sunset of Sharqiya Sands in a silence you may never have known before. The air cushions created between the layers of sand muffle the sounds of life and capture all the sounds that flow subconsciously to the human brain in everyday life. More inner contemplation can hardly be realized. By the way: It pays to get up early! The moment when the desert comes to life at sunrise is almost more magical than sunset time.
The driving itself you should be confident and requires your full attention. The highest credo – as in all other deserts of the world – is that you never go alone into the golden waves. Many tour operators offer guided desert tours through Sharqiya Sands, where you will be accompanied by locals. No one knows the challenges better than they do. On top of that, you will certainly learn one or two anecdotes from the everyday life of the Omanis.
Before it starts, – pfft! – let the air out of your tires first. This gives you ground grip and is already worth a first souvenir photo. It gets tricky in the southern part at the sickle dunes, because they can make your orientation difficult due to their wanderlust. Be careful with your gas pedal, because too much speed will send sand fountains flying around your ears faster than you’d like. Nevertheless, it can be stated that Sharqiya Sands can be a sandbox for desert newbies to feel before heading into the Rub al-Khali.
In, out – and then? – Must-sees around Sharqiya Sands
You will find the small oasis village near Bidiyah – the northern entrance to Wahiba Sands. To do this, follow National Road 23 on the way from Ibra to Sur. Although you drive the way to the oasis on asphalt, the wind has under-sanded your 4WD-powered vehicle to a golden yellow. The ancient core of Al-Mintarib, with its 13th century fort, has a number of cultivated gardens.
A souk may not be missing, of course, and is used by the Bedouins for basic supplies. The full ballet of bustling activity awaits you in Al-Mintarib every Wednesday. If you want to be alone in a fort, you have the chance to do so in the castle, which is visited by only a few tourists, from Sundays to Thursdays from 07:30 to 14:30. Inside, there is an ancient draw well, the living and armor area, and at the very top, a gallery that gives you a fabulous oasis panorama. From here you can set your sights on the mighty dune ridges of the Wahiba Sands.
In the southeast of the Sharqiya Sands desert – where orientation becomes a bit difficult – you will come across the small idyll Khuwaymah. The sleepy little town has an almost Western feel to it, hanging lazily in the ropes of the shimmering glow of midday sun. At least you can fill up your tank here, even if the gas station seems a bit prehistoric. The oil industry in Oman is also honored by the oily little garages.
Hardly anyone here seems to have any stress – rather trouble and hardship to fill the time. Because somehow this one seems to stand still. Use it to pump up the pressure of your tires again and treat yourself to a cool drop in one of the manageable grocery stores. While he beads down your throat lasciviously, your next domicile is already looking forward to a visit from afar.
If you’ve ever been to the east coast of Oman and maybe even an avid sportsman, Khuwaymah now gives you the unique opportunity to bump along gravel roads all the way to the fishing village of Al-Ashkhara. Here you will find one of the best kite surf spots in Arabia and lie down on the sole of the wind in the best wind conditions. Al-Ashkhara Beach is lined with small stone huts, is about 15 km long and is a popular place for locals to stop for a picnic.
Geological formation of Sharqiya Sands desert
Driven by the northern trade wind Shamal, the Sharqiya Sands formed during the Quaternary era. The Shamal was simultaneously met by the monsoon from the southwest, creating a desert duo added from the southern and northern Wahiba. It is believed that the north-to-south running dune lines of the northern Wahiba section are also the result of the monsoon. They are also called mega-ridge sand systems – named after the sharp ridges of the North Dunes, up to 100 meters high.
In the geological stratification system, the desert heaps carbonate sand in cemented form under the sand at the surface. Beneath it is hidden the still quite young alluvial soil – so-called alluvial soil. It is believed to have originated in the Wadi Batha during the Paleolithic (the Old Stone Age). It should be located about 200 m below the interdune surface. Moreover, wind erosion is believed to be responsible for the almost straight plain of the southwest of Sharqiya Sands. The Sharqiya Sands were once populated by the Al Wahiba, Hikman, Hishm, Al-Amr, Al-Bu-Isa and Janaba tribes.
360° Emergency Compass for Sharqiya Sands
If you need consular assistance in Sharqiya Sands, please contact the German embassy in Muscat. The phone number is +968 2469 1218. Postally, it can be reached at Diplomatic Area, Al-Khuwair, Jami’at Al-Duwal Al-Arabiah Street, Muscat. For the shortest route you need just over 2 hours driving time from Bidiyah.
It is not to be hoped for and yet it may happen that you have to visit a hospital. You will be at Bidiyah Hospital in no time. You can find it at the coordinates 22.452704, 58.803062 and reach it by phone at +968 25 583535. Expect it to be a bit crowded here. On the other hand, Ibra Hospital is very well rated by former patients. Here the phone number is +968 25 587100. It can be visited at the coordinates 22.662517, 58.592230.
Both hospitals are located near the Wahiba Sands access point at Bidiyah Castle. Remember to carry the details of your health insurance abroad and, if possible, a certificate in Arabic issued by your insurance company. Safe is safe!
The Police Station Jalan Bani Bu Hassan on the route between Bidiyah and Al-Ashkhara will help you in case of emergency under +968 25 550420 or the nationwide emergency number 9999. The coordinates of the police station are: 22.084644, 59.293729.
If your car breaks down during the road trip or you just want to feel the wilderness – you can grab a cab in Ibra at the cab stand for an extraordinary tour.
Restaurants around Sharqiya Sands – small but nice selection
If you’re in the mood for a restaurant visit outside of the desert camps, Rawazen Restaurant in Ibra is a fantastic choice. In a very cultivated ambience, Indian, Turkish and Oriental cuisine caresses your palate and that with a very friendly service and at an extremely acceptable price. From meat to chicken to fish, pasta, rice and vegetarian specialties, you can confidently draw from the full range.
Shopping around Sharqiya Sands – Shopping in seclusion
Zaher Shopping Center
In Bidiyah, at the coordinates 22.436965, 58.801216, you will find a tiny shopping mall. It is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and offers everyday goods.
Al Asalah Mart
About 5 minutes by car from Bidiyah Hospital, you will come across Al Asalah MArt Supermarket at the coordinates 22.450778, 58.814009. Here, too, the basic supply is ensured.
Overnight stay in Sharqiya Sands – own tent vs. star tent in desert camp
Even if you’re allowed to camp wild in the desert, the gorgeous desert camps in the north are worth the financial sin. In the exclusive Desert Rose Camp, Thousand Nights Camp and Arabian Oryx Camp directly between the sand giants, every wish will be read from your shining eyes. Oman at its best!