When Ed Granville visited the Sultanate of Oman recently, he was charmed by the warmth and welcoming nature of the Omanis and by the exotic and culturally rich cities, but it was the vast deserts, with their endless rolling dunes, and the spectacular ravine-riven mountains which most impressed him.
Holidays in Oman are defined by Kasbahs and mosques, mud-villages, souks, and traditional dhows plying the fish-rich waters. Yet beyond its sparkling coastline and the must-see cities of Muscat and Nizwa, any holiday to Oman must surely include excursions to its diverse rugged mountainous landscapes and undulating desert sands.
Undoubtedly the most accessible of Oman’s deserts, the fiery hues of the Wahiba Sands are a sight to behold, stretching some 200 miles north to south. This stunning setting provides a myriad of activities for both the intrepid and more cautious; seeing in the start of the day by climbing a dune for the desert dawn is a wonderful way to begin; once light it is fun to spot what animals have been out and about on the sand during the night, by identifying their tracks; camel treks and picnics in the dunes are also a wonderful adventure and some of the larger dunes present excellent opportunities for sandboarding or off-piste 4×4 driving. You might even happen across a local Bedouin camel-breeder, whose prize racing camels can sell in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for tens of thousands of dollars.
Jebel Shams, part of the Al Hajjar mountain range, is Oman’s highest point and a trek along the spectacular balcony walk offers quite unforgettable views over Wadi Ghul, known as the Grand Canyon of Oman for its dramatic vertical drops. Up in the mountains, the scenery is extraordinary, as these high stark ranges are cut by deep Wadis where traditional mud villages tend pomegranate and rose terraces that trickle down slopes many would describe as precipices.
For those wishing to experience a true Arabian adventure beyond the tick-box camel rides in the dunes, try life as a nomad and spend a night (or two) in a tented camp. The choice ranges from permanent camps such as The View near Nizwa, which offers 15 fixed tents with en-suite bathrooms and a restaurant through to full service expedition camping in campaign style luxury tents, set up deep in the heart of the desert. Though completely portable, the latter offers perhaps the best way to experience the desert in Oman, with wonderful food conjured up in the middle of nowhere.
From traditional Bedouin encampments to luxury en-suite tents, as night falls and the stars fill the clear skies above, the deserts and mountain ranges of Oman provide an almost ethereal experience, seemingly as far from the “real world” as it is possible to get.