Oman’s frankincense-scented souks and lavish beach resorts are undeniably beguiling. But to discover the true soul of the sultanate, you have to head across the sands to where dramatic desert landscapes meet ancient Bedouin traditions. And we know just the luxury outfitter who can take you there.
By Sophy Roberts
Photographs by Bill Phelps
Africa’s classic mobile camping safaris have come a long way in the last 10 years: tents have been given stylish makeovers, while camp cuisine now runs to caviar and Kobe beef. Despite such sybaritic lures, the raison d’être of these experiences remains access to the African savannah’s migrating herds. But a luxury camping vacation in Oman, where the elephant and wildebeest are naught? Here, the connection is different, with the mobile camp bringing to mind the great British writer-explorer Wilfred Thesiger’s travels among the Bedouin in the late 1940s, immortalized in his classic Arabian Sands. As Thesiger’s writing declares, tents are culturally true to the way the Bedouin once traveled before they built palaces on their fields of oil—a nomadic provenance instilled with seductive romance.
For years I have wanted to fall in love with the Arabian Peninsula. And for years I have failed, stymied by the counterfeit culture found amid the glitzy resorts and marble shopping malls of places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. So when I heard about Hud Hud Travels, a luxury camping company based out of Muscat, I was reminded of Thesiger’s Arabia, and my interest was piqued. I hoped I’d be able to go deep into the country—specifically Oman’s under-visited south—and experience a landscape and culture that had nothing to do with the snow parks, waterparks, or big-name fashion boutiques that belong to the modern Middle East.
Getting there, however, requires some effort: our overnight flight from London to Muscat is followed by a bleary-eyed hop to Salalah, the sultanate’s southernmost city, and then another two hours in a car for the drive up the coast to a small horseshoe cove. This will be our first campsite, located on an empty strand just beyond the fishing village of Mirbat. My enthusiasm begins to waver as the day’s heat intensifies and the road we’re following deteriorates into a sandy track. I have my seven-year-old son, Danny, in tow and he’s now bad-tempered, dusty, and exhausted.