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What is the Empty Quarter?

The Empty Quarter, or 'Rub Al Khali' in Arabic, is the world's largest sand desert that so intrigued the likes of Lawrence of Arabia and the explorer Wilfred Thesiger.

It stretches across vast swathes of Arabia, including the southwestern corner of Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.

Live like a nomad

Journeying into the Empty Quarter is a way to experience the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouin people, traditional roamers who travelled with their homes across Arabia. You'll travel from morning to night with everything you need being carried with you.

The Bedouin are more settled nowadays but your guide may have Bedouin heritage and can tell you more about their traditional culture.

How do I get to Oman's Empty Quarter?

First fly to Salalah, then drive north on increasingly bumpy, unkempt roads that eventually give way to sand. You know you've arrived in the Empty Quarter proper when the roads have disappeared and there's nothing but enormous sand dunes in all directions.

Getting around

Transport in the Empty Quarter is either by 4x4 or camel. You can travel further and see more by four-wheel drive, and driving through the dunes is exhilarating. Riding a camel, on the other hand, takes you back through history, travelling as ancient explorers once would have.

Whichever you choose, a separate 4x4 vehicle will travel ahead with your camping gear, while your guide accompanies you by camel or in your vehicle.

Camp under the stars

Bedding down for the night is, by necessity, very simple. Everything that you need is brought with you and you'll simply pitch up wherever you happen to be at the end of the day, with the best view available.

We'll arrange a basic tent and sleeping bag, and dinner is cooked for you by your guide over a camp stove and fire, Typically this will be a filling meat and vegetable hot pot dish.

In clear weather, the Empty Quarter is one of the best places on Earth to watch the stars as it's completely free of light pollution.
4X4 Transfer
4x4 in the desert
Banana and coconut stall, Salalah
Banana and coconut stall, Salalah

Visit Salalah and the Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve

You can combine your trip into the Empty Quarter with time in Salalah. This is a good base for enjoying Oman's Indian Ocean coastline and beaches. Inland, explore the tropical orchards surrounding the town and the frankincense trees which cover the mountains.

If you're interested in walking, enjoy the trails that run through the Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve. Here, you can walk through lush wadis, along high plateaus with views out across the reserve, and past small villages.

The nature reserve is home to many species of wildlife. You may catch site of gazelle, Nubian ibex, porcupine and hyena. It's also one of the last refuges of the wild Arabian leopard.

When to go

The best time to travel is from October through to April when the temperature ranges from warm to cool. Temperatures during the summer months can be exceptionally high. Read our full guide about the best time to visit Oman.