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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Just as his eyes finally close, we pull up beside a crescent of blinding-white sand against which the Arabian Sea appears all the more turquoise.

To one side is the camp—a cluster of black, Bedouin-inspired camel-hair tents that appear starkly elegant against the rock, sand, and sky. Revived by the sight of the ocean, Danny leaps into the waves. For the next hour I watch his head bobbing in the foam under the late-afternoon sun. I go for a swim, too—the warm water feels better than any bath—before retiring to the majlis, a communal tent filled with tassels, floor cushions, rugs, and low tables where guests can play chess or sip fresh mint tea.

From here, I watch the camp’s gentle rhythm take hold. Soon a fire is burning in a pit around which the sleeping tents are positioned, each equipped with a handsome double bed and solar-heated shower. Our Keralan chef, Roy, is busy roasting a lamb; the rest of the camp staff light scores of lanterns, which glimmer like stars as the sun sinks lower in the sky. It’s captivating; I feel like I’ve entered the secret heart of Arabia—and this is just the beginning of our journey. Over the next five days, we will travel across the Dhofar region into the Omani portion of the Rub’ al Khali, or Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world. The tents and staff will move with us, caravan-style, with English-speaking guides smoothing out logistics en route.

None of this comes cheap: Hud Hud charges about US$1,000 a head per day depending on the itinerary you’re after and the number of people in the party (ours consists of four adults and four children). As to whom this type of holiday might appeal to: a British rock star was just finishing his fourth tour with the company on the day we flew in to Salalah. A Swiss tycoon was another recent guest—12 travelers, four chefs, the camp’s location changing each night over the course of a week—along with a smattering of Rothschilds.

Privacy is one of the experience’s most obvious lures. But to deliver the kind of polish expected by this sort of clientele requires considerable expertise, which is what 49-year-old Englishman Sean Nelson has been busy perfecting ever since he founded Hud Hud Travels in 2007.

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