Wihibah Sands

An overnight in the Wihibah sands might become your most memorable experience of Oman. Choose a moonless night and spend time on your back outside the tent. Above you will be the Milky Way, stretched across the sky like a silver belt, and as its backdrop will be pulsating stars, as waves of heat ripple across the sky. There are of course other places you can lie back and look at the sky in Oman, but few will offer a dark sky with the incredible comfort of a sand mattress.

The Wihibah Sands (also Wihibah and Ash Sharqiyyah Sands) is a true sea of sand, 180km from north to south, 80km from east to west, and with dunes 100–150m high. The volume of sand is enormous, probably around 1 trillion cubic metres. The northern dunes are primarily quartz and mafic in origin, with a multi-hued golden sheen from surface oxidisation, while the southern dunes are more carbonate sand, pale in colour, and formed by the prevailing south–north wind direction. In the north the wind has created vast linear dunes whose length is in excess of 50km. The ridges of the dunes have created valleys below that now contain routes from the north to the Arabian Sea.

Al Wasil and Al Raka are two large oases on the very edge of the Wihibah with extensive date and banana plantations. Al Wasil sits just to the north of the dunes while Al Raka is almost entirely encircled by them, giving a real sense of the encroaching desert. Though, with the rapid expansion of Al Raka into the dunes, it might be said that the dunes are being swamped by housing and accompanying debris. Each has a falaj in its oasis and a narrow one-way road running through the plantation so that you can easily walk underneath the canopy.

Along the eastern edge of the Wihibah near Bani Bu Hassan are extensive woodlands of prosopis (ghaf) and acacia (which are irrigated by the dew, condensed from the mist at night, dripping down on to the roots). These woodlands have long been home to Bedouin families and they have built their modern air-conditioned homes scattered among the trees. The further south you travel into the desert the more unspoilt it becomes, with perhaps a few lost camels your only companions.

The easiest and safest option to visit the Wihibah is to set up an organised trip through an experienced company or a local Bedouin guide. Alternatively, you can contact a desert camp directly.