Oman: Into the Heart of Arabia

  • Setting up lanterns at the beach camp near Mirbat.

    Setting up lanterns at the beach camp near Mirbat.

  • Baobab trees in the Dhofar mountains.

    Baobab trees in the Dhofar mountains.

  • Hud Hud’s tents come with embroidered bed linen.

    Hud Hud’s tents come with embroidered bed linen.

  • A camel skull.

    A camel skull.

  • Sean Nelson plotting the next day’s journey.

    Sean Nelson plotting the next day’s journey.

  • Skiffs on the beach at Mirbat.

    Skiffs on the beach at Mirbat.

  • A seaside mosque seen from the ruins of an old fortress in Mirbat, some 70 kilometers east of Salalah.

    A seaside mosque seen from the ruins of an old fortress in Mirbat, some 70 kilometers east of Salalah.

  • Beach access in Salalah.

    Beach access in Salalah.

  • Sweet pomegranate is served fresh at camp breakfasts.

    Sweet pomegranate is served fresh at camp breakfasts.

  • A cup of cold fresh water is among the simplest, but most valuable, luxuries in the desert.

    A cup of cold fresh water is among the simplest, but most valuable, luxuries in the desert.

  • Hud Hud camp staff prepping a spot for seaside sundowners.

    Hud Hud camp staff prepping a spot for seaside sundowners.

  • A fisherman competes with a congress of gulls for the sardine harvest.

    A fisherman competes with a congress of gulls for the sardine harvest.

  • Rock pools up the coast from Mirbat.

    Rock pools up the coast from Mirbat.

  • Candle lanterns shed soft light on Hud Hud Travels’ desert camps.

    Candle lanterns shed soft light on Hud Hud Travels’ desert camps.

  • An encounter with a local at the fish market in Salalah, Oman’s second-largest city and the birthplace of Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

    An encounter with a local at the fish market in Salalah, Oman’s second-largest city and the birthplace of Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

  • Caves at a wadi picnic stop in the Dhofar Mountains.

    Caves at a wadi picnic stop in the Dhofar Mountains.

  • A camp staffer.

    A camp staffer.

  • A Dhofari boy.

    A Dhofari boy.

  • The scenic route.

    The scenic route.

  • One of Hud Hud Travels’ younger guests having fun in the sun amid a dune field deep inside the Empty Quarter.

    One of Hud Hud Travels’ younger guests having fun in the sun amid a dune field deep inside the Empty Quarter.

  • A majlis (meeting tent) at Hud Hud travels’ Empty Quarter camp.

    A majlis (meeting tent) at Hud Hud travels’ Empty Quarter camp.

  • Wind-sculpted sand dunes amid the trackless expanse of southern Oman’s Rub’ al Khali, or Empty Quarter.

    Wind-sculpted sand dunes amid the trackless expanse of southern Oman’s Rub’ al Khali, or Empty Quarter.

  • Camels remain a common sight in fast-modernizing Oman.

    Camels remain a common sight in fast-modernizing Oman.

  • A lone thorn tree provides a rare sign of life in the desert.

    A lone thorn tree provides a rare sign of life in the desert.

  • A Salalah merchant.

    A Salalah merchant.

  • A fisherman’s haul.

    A fisherman’s haul.

  • Low tide on the Arabian sea coast near Mirbat.

    Low tide on the Arabian sea coast near Mirbat.

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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.

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