Visiting Oman's Empty Quarter: Everything You Need to Know

The Empty Quarter
The Empty Quarter | © Robert Haandrikman / Flickr
Gehad Medhat

The Arab world is known for its wide deserts, especially the Rub’ Al Khali (the Empty Quarter), with its golden sands. Here is everything you need to know about the famous Rub’ Al Khali Desert for your next visit to Oman.

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What is the Empty Quarter?

The Empty Quarter is the English name for the Rub’ Al Khali desert, located in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. It is the largest continuous sand sea in the world, with an area of 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 sq mi), and 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long and 500 kilometres (310 mi) wide. The Al Rub’ Al Khali desert is shared by four countries: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

The surface of the desert is covered by reddish-orange colored sand dunes, which reach around 250 metres (820 ft) high, and several lake beds. It is believed that the lake beds were originally shallow lakes formed by monsoon rains thousands of years ago, and only lasted for a few years.

Al Rub’ Al Khali, as one of the most significant sand seas in the world, has been featured in several international films, such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Matrix, The Panther and many others.

The Empty Quarter Sand Dunes © Nepenthes

How to get to the Empty Quarter

The Empty Quarter is located in the Governorate of Dhofar in southern Oman, so it is better to fly to Oman through Salalah International Airport. Tourists can also fly to Muscat International Airport, but from there will need either to fly or drive to Salalah by car or bus.

Several companies provide tours and guides to visit the magnificent sandy desert, such as Al Fawaz Tours,, Original Travel, Light Foot Travel, and Oman Day Tours. Tours include one-day trips through the desert with a skilled Bedouin guide, 4×4 driving and camping under the bright stars.

Activities in the Empty Quarter

Visitors can enjoy a 4×4 drive in the desert or a camel ride, or camp out on the dunes. One of the best experiences in the Empty Quarter is to spend some time with the Bedouins of the desert. Visitors can enjoy listening to old stories about Oman, its culture and the desert. They will be introduced to the lifestyle, homes, and food of the Bedouin people.

Best places to stay and eat in the Empty Quarter

Due to the harsh environment of the Empty Quarter, there are no touristy places or facilities such as hotels. However, tourists are encouraged to spend a night or two camping on the stunning dunes, under the clear sky and the bright stars of Dhofar. Tour companies have camps with tents.

As for food, most companies have local Bedouins cook traditional Omani food for visitors. Other companies prepare their own food.

Weather in the Empty Quarter

The region is classified as “hyper-arid”, which means that it lacks water for the growth of plants or survival of animals. Rainfall is less than 3 cm (1.2 in) every year. The daily temperatures are between 47 °C (117 °F) and 51 °C (124 °F).

Empty Quarter Desert © Land Rover MENA

The people of the Empty Quarter

Despite the severe environment of the Al Rub’ Al Khali desert, several tribes from the Arabian Peninsula have managed to establish life on its sands. Most tribes that live there do so close to the edge of the desert. Few roads exist to help settlers find water spots and oil production centers.

Desert Safari © Robert Haandrikman

Tips to follow before you visit the Empty Quarter

Bring light clothes, big hats, high-quality sunglasses and a jacket and sweater for the cold nights. Due to the conservative nature of Omani culture and the Bedouins, don’t bring short clothes or swimwear that is very revealing.

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