One of my favorite memories from Egypt was the two days and one night we spent in the White Desert with the endless starry sky, surreal white rock formations, and sand dunes glowing in the sunlight.  I’ve wanted to go back for over a decade and Oman finally offered a chance to visit a desert, albeit a different one, but a desert still.  Unlike Egypt where we hired a Jeep for dune driving and slept in a tent, Oman has infrastructure like luxury desert camps with private cabins, electricity, running water, and all-you-can-eat buffets.  If back in 2011, I thought that hiring a teenage boy named Mustafa to set up our tent, cook, and clean for us was glamping, then I was in for a big surprise at the Sama al Wasil Desert Camp.

Sama al Wasil camp advertises itself as an eco-friendly lodge located in the heart of Sharqiya Sands. The camp consists of chalets, each boasting a bedroom, bathroom, and a roomy patio, and plenty of communal areas such as a large gazebo with floor rugs and cushions for relaxation, a restaurant, and even an outdoor movie theater.  But the reason to come to camp is what’s outside the campgrounds - towering sand dunes, endless stretches of desert, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and stunning landscapes as far as the eye can see.

We decided to stay two nights.  Checking in at 2 pm and leaving at 11 am the next morning just didn’t feel like enough time to explore the desert and my biggest regret from Egypt was not booking a longer tour.  We also saw a range of activities offered on the website, from dune bashing and quad biking to camel riding, and decided that we needed enough time to do everything.  But more about that later.

The camp is located about 15 km from the nearest town, down a mostly straight sand road in a desert valley lying between two massive dune ranges.  We were told not to attempt this drive on our own, so we paid for a transfer.  A 4x4 Jeep came to pick us up at a gas station on the edge of town where we left our rental car in the shade for the next two nights.  It seemed like an easy drive, roaring down the sand road and bouncing on minor sand slopes, but probably would have been nerve-wracking to attempt this drive in a small 2x2 sedan, lacking prior experience of driving in a desert with no phone reception and spotty GPS.  With an experienced driver behind the wheel, his Bedouin scarf constantly unraveling from gusts of wind blowing through the open window, I was able to relax, enjoy the speed, and spot a few camels along the way.


At the camp, we were warmly welcomed with small cups of hot coffee and a traditional plate of dates before being shown to our chalet.  It was one of the nicer rooms we had in all of Oman, but we barely spent any time in it, dropping off our bags and immediately leaving to explore the desert around us.  The camp was located right against a large sand dune, with a long rope dangling down its steep side to assist climbers with their ascent.  As we started climbing up the dune, I realized that a few hours ago I made a terrible mistake.

We didn’t bring all of our clothes with us to the camp, leaving some unneeded items in our rental car, now parked in town.  For whatever reason in the rush to pack and get into the waiting Jeep, I left my hiking shoes in the car, reasoning that my walking shoes would be just fine for the desert.  I completely failed to account for the fact that the shoes I was wearing, the only shoes I brought with me, had tiny star-shaped holes all over the leather.  And now, with every step, my feet sunk into the side of the dune and my shoes rapidly filled with fine sand, making it impossible to keep walking.  In general, these shoes were really cute.  In the desert, they were a death trap.  Not even a quarter of the way up, I had to take my shoes off and walk up the rapidly cooling sand barefoot.  Huffing and puffing, I finally made it to the top and found that all of my efforts were completely worth it.

That first evening we sat mostly in silence, watching the sunset and the sand glittering in the diminishing glow of the sun's rays.  It was surreal and beautiful.  As strange as that sounds, that was the day I realized that deserts are all different from each other.  I have seen a lot of forests, mountains, and rivers in my life and was always aware that every forest is different from another, every mountain has its own character, and no two rivers look exactly the same.  But for whatever reason, all of my life whenever I thought of a desert, I had an image of the Sahara from a TV screen, endless golden sand waves, unforgiving and desolate.  And now, perched on top of a dune, with a Bedouin camp beneath me, nestled in a wide valley between two mountainous sand ranges, I could see that this desert was like no other.


I remembered visiting Negev Desert in Israel over twenty years ago, a rugged expanse of sun-scorched earth, barren and flat as far as my eye could see.  I thought back to driving out of Las Vegas through the Mojave Desert and its rugged terrain, punctuated by towering mesas and rocky outcrops towards Death Valley and its cracked parched earth and an occasional cactus clinging to life.  Every desert is different, with its own hue and texture, with its own stories of solitude and survival.  And this specific desert came with its own buffet.

We climbed down after the sunset to find the delicious smells coming from the restaurant, live Omani music being played by two musicians on floor cushions, and everyone lining up to try the fresh camel BBQ.  I do have to report that camel basically tasted like chicken breast, and I should have skipped it, as I later had some trouble looking the many camels we met in Oman in the eye.  There were plenty of soups, vegetables, and Western, Indian, and Omani dishes to fill any plate.  The breakfast buffet next morning was just as varied and delicious, and we ate our body weight in creamy labneh spread.

By the next morning, we had decided to spend our days in the camp doing absolutely nothing.  No camel riding (I was feeling guilty from having ingested camel the night before and we both had ridden camels previously in Israel), no dune bashing (an employee working reception told us that if we drove into the camp on a Jeep, then we basically already went dune bashing), nothing but exploring the desert on our own.

We hiked up and down dunes, discovered small mammal, bird, and snake tracks, almost got run over by a galloping herd of camels, watched Jeeps full of screaming tourists trying to mount a particularly steep hill, and just took it all in.  We spent the hot afternoon relaxing in the tent, drinking coffee and eating dates, and the rest of the time with our shoes full of sand out in the wilderness, climbing dunes for a view of sun-drenched vistas and the solitude that only a desert can offer.


Coming up next:  How not to go broke in Oman.


  1. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into the worlds of your travels. I enjoyed reading about Oman and appreciate the easy, engaging way you write about your experiences. The pictures are just like life – not staged or forced – and thus add a bit of direct vivid seenery to illustrate your points.
    Looking forward to reading more in the near future.
    Best regards,

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