The legendary Empty Quarter (Rub al Khali) is one of the world’s largest and most famous deserts, stretching northwards from Oman into Saudi Arabia, Yemen and up into the western UAE. The scale of the desert is jaw-dropping: a thousand kilometres long and five hundred wide – bigger than France, Belgium and the Netherlands combined. Most of the desert consists of huge swathes of dunes reaching heights of up to 300m, interspersed with gravel plains and occasional salt flats, such as the notorious “quicksands” of Umm al Samim – first described by Thesiger – which even local Bedu ventured into only rarely and with extreme caution.
Most of the Empty Quarter lies within Saudi Arabia, although there are significant portions in Oman, stretching across the northern sections of Dhofar and Al Wusta and into Al Dhahirah, which is where you’ll find the Umm al Samim. The scale of the dunes and the largely pristine natural environment (particularly when compared to the Wahiba Sands) is as memorable a taste of the desert as you’re likely to get anywhere – although expeditions into the sands should only be attempted with a proper guide and full equipment. The cheapest way to explore the desert is by signing up for an overnight trip with Al Fawaz Tours or via Salalah Beach Villas. Upmarket tours with a Bedu guide can be arranged through Safari Drive (wwww.safaridrive.com).