Mar. 7, 2019
Now known as the Sharqiyah Sands, the Wahiba Sands are Oman's geological and ecological wonder that burst onto the international scene in 1986 after the Royal Geographical Society found a 12,500-sqkm carpet of rolling and shifting dunes, home to an astonishing 16,000 species of invertebrates, flora, and fauna. Named after the local Bani Wahiba tribe, the desert boasts sand dunes up to 100m high and 170km long. Still home to the Bedouin who live in temporary encampments, there are no permanent settlements to be found except for tourist resorts.
The principal attraction, then, is simply to be out among the dunes, have a glimpse of a traditional way of life that is fast disappearing, and spend a night in the desert. Other activities include sandboarding, trekking, quad-biking, and dune-bashing, which is a popular, if not environment friendly, way of exploring the desert; camel and horse riding–sometimes guided by locals–offer more peaceful alternatives.
The further into the sands you penetrate, the more dramatic and untouched the landscape becomes. It is the desert of imaginations, as evident from its mixed geography: in the north are wide flat areas dominated by mighty, reddish, stratified dunes, parallel and up to 20m high, to the east the dunes pile up to 100m against the ocean, on the west the desert is prevented from spreading by the regular floods of the Indam and Halfayn wadis, and in the south, at Barr El Hikman, is a vast expanse of flat sand dotted with treacherous salt flats, home to huge populations of migrating birds.
It is possible to visit the Wahiba Sands as a day trip, but a destination in their own right, these beautiful dunes could keep visitors occupied for days.