Arabian nights- Camping in the desert with kids.

Travelling towards the desert area during our Oman road trip, suddenly the landscape seemed cloudy and overcast with poor visibility. From inside the car looking out it felt cooler, however the temperature gauge was increasing steadily. The wind picked up slightly and we realised that the cloud was indeed sand. We were in a sandstorm.  Thankfully not a big or long lived one, but amazing to see how the whole sky transforms. 

Our desert adventure began on the petrol station forecourt,  as all good adventures do, learning how to deflate your tyres before driving across sand dunes. A necessary step to ensure we did not get stuck en route. We met some fellow explorers on the way to our camp so set off in tandem or perhaps in caravan is the way to describe. Much like driving in snow, Daddy the driver declared. Though I’m not sure how much we take that seriously since he also declared upon arrival at our camp that, and I quote, ‘there’s more sand in the desert than I expected’. Hmmm the Geography degree may need revisited. 

Anyway we journeyed first through what seems like a sandy road but then quickly were directed up a steep sand dune and off road we went. This is why I hired the 4WD. There would be no chance without it, you would be stuck. A 14km journey took about 30 mins through the spectacular  red sands of the Wahiba or  Sharqiya Sands as it is known. Dunes after dunes, red sand as far as the eye could see, with a few hardy desert bushes and trees thrown in. A few solo camels wandered past and we found a few families of them at various routes. Nestled in the flat plain surrounded by dunes either side we arrived at our destination the Sama Al Wasil Desert Camp. If you are feeling a little more cautious or don’t have a 4WD you can arrange that the camp meets you at the nearest town and transports you. 

Sama Al Wasil – our home for the night

We were met by friendly and helpful staff who showed us our room. We had a little house, with 2 bedrooms and a bathroom and the all important air conditioning. We would not have survived the 47 degrees centigrade temperature otherwise! The camp is set up with small houses surrounding a central tent for relaxing. There’s some tents further back and dining tent. All meals are provided with the fee. It’s well set out, clean although as it’s situated in the desert there are some creatures that appear at night. The children were not fans of the large beetles that scuttled across the floor. We were given bug spray in our room but didn’t need to use it and no one seemed to get any bites. 

We headed off up the sand dune to witness the sunset. It was hard, hot work clambering up. The two little ones didn’t make it the full way to the top. There was a handy rope provided to help pull yourself up. I discovered Miss 10 is much fitter than me! Roasted, soon the winds picked up and a small rain shower cooled us down. It was strange to see and feel the large raindrops coming down the sand dunes. As quickly as it started it ended. Standing at the top of the dunes, all you can see is sand dune after sand dune across the horizon. The silence and the emptiness struck me, other than the sight below of our little desert camp. The view of the sunset was spectacular- the golden sun reflecting over the red and golden sands. The most fun part – running down the warm sand with my feet sinking in up to my waist.

The darkness dropped quickly, and we retired to get ready for our evening meal in a Bedouin styled tent below a tapestry of stars. Traditional Omani fare, the children enjoyed experimenting with grilled camel, curries, bread and rice. There was plenty to choose from, and the little adventurers got stuck right in. Mr 5 declared the camel delicious (tough as anything it was). Miss 7 tried it, and since the camel ride the following morning has now become a half hearted vegetarian. The Bedouin people are nomadic desert dwellers who have travelled across the region. With modernisation and urbanisation, there are concerns that this way of life is eradicating. Little bellies full, and tired after our drive, and our desert exploration we headed to bed before an early start.

We stayed in the family accommodation, a two bedroom chalet with comfy beds and a good bathroom. It was clean, cool and perfect for our requirements. The little adventures slept well, with dreams of nights and the stories they have heard.

We were up not long after sunrise, to meet our new travelling companions, three camels and their young guides. First, the fascinating prints of all the nocturnal life of the desert was evident around the camp. We wondered and guessed who had been exploring, David Attenborough eat your heart out! Mr 5 and I went together, and the girls had their own camel each. It was a jerky transition from sitting to standing, but we were off. We went on a 30 minute ‘safari’ around the flat plain, then across some sand dunes. Again muscles that are evidently not used regularly made their presence known as I gripped on. Skinny Mr 5 declared a sore bottom after a while, and Miss 7 delighted beamed throughout. Thirty minutes was long enough for most of us, I think Miss 7 and her camel could have continued under the sweltering sun for much longer.

We worked up a healthy appetite for breakfast, and returned to our tented dining area for delicious and filling buffet breakfast. We said goodbye to our desert friends, and set off to the next destination in our road trip, with pockets and shoes unintentionally full of seemingly half the Wahiba desert that we continued to find for days afterwards, and our hearts full and memories a plenty of our magical escape in the middle of the desert.

There are other activities you can arrange for the desert including dune bashing for extra costs. There are a number of other camps in the area, with different degrees of luxury. As summer is not peak tourist season there were not many operating. We would recommend Sama Al Wasil, they were very attentive and made it a memorable experience. If you go to Oman, do not miss out this experience, it is something you and the children will never forget.

Practical tips

  • It’s very warm in the desert, bring long sleeved light clothes to give you as much coverage as possible. We used our head scarves that we had bought early on in the trip which protected the children’s heads and necks.
  • Book your camel ride for early in the morning before it gets too hot. We found 30 minutes plenty, I think any longer would have been too much.
  • Hire a 4WD car, and do some research into desert driving. Go to a garage just before you go off road and get your tyres deflated. Remember when you come back from the desert to re-inflate them. If you are not feeling so adventurous, then request someone to meet you and guide you or pick you up from the local garage
  • Sama al Wasil is situated near Bidiyah in Oman. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Muscat, but we came from the turtles in Ras al Jinz. Route coming soon to the blog.
  • Pack a small overnight bag with your essentials for the night – you can safely leave everything else in the car.
  • We didn’t need to use it, but insect repellant could be necessary at other times of the year.