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Oman desert safari: sand bashing and henna tattoos

17:30 AEST Sat Mar 3 2012
In the Middle East in the south-eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula is the Sultanate of Oman. Natalie Gruzlewski went there to see just what its tourism boom is all about and found a country perfect for anyone with a sense of adventure.

Oman has blended modern with the traditional and in a country made up of 80 percent desert, of course some of what tourists are invited to do involves sand. It also has rugged mountains, plush oases, beautiful beaches and loads of natural beauty.

Some of Oman's arid lands, particularly the dunes of Wahiba Sands, are so stunning they could be man-made. Lying in Oman's east, Wahiba Sands stretches 180km north to south and 80km east to west.

Desert Thunder

Desert Thunder Tours will hook you up with a guide who takes you on a true Omani-style adventure in the desert. There are two ways to go: in a comfortable vehicle with leather interior, or on the back of a ship of the desert — the camel. Natalie chose the latter and found her adventure surprisingly comfortable.

Along the way they visited a makeshift Bedouin camp in the middle of nowhere. There are around 3000 Bedu of varying tribal origins making a living from camels, goats, sheep and cattle. It's hard to believe that until around 40 years ago, all of the Omani people lived in Bedouin camps, living a nomadic existence and setting up home wherever they fancied.

Natalie was introduced to henna tattooing. The women who apply the the henna are extremely creative and you get to admire their artwork for around a week before it fades away.

Around 180 species of plants — including one recently discovered and previously unknown to science — and 200 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians roam the sands. There is evidence of human occupation as far back as 8000 BC.

Sand Bashing

This popular pastime is the Omani equivalent of skiing, surfing or white-water rafting. Dune bashers drive four-wheel drives, bikes or buggies into the open desert and have serious adrenalin-pumping fun climbing up and down the mountain-sized dunes. Dunes are made up of quartz, carbonate and ophiolitic grains and move inland around 10m every year.

Sama Al Wasil Tourist Camp

Nestled in a flat valley and surrounded by dunes of varying heights, this camp will give you the full feeling of life in the desert.

While Bedu tents are mostly made of goat hair and palm fronds, Sama Al Wasil accommodation is permanent and comfortable. There are 20 one- and two-bedroom chalets, complete with hot showers and patios. On some evenings you can experience a traditional Bedouin celebration and dance the night away. You will also see arts and crafts demonstrations.

Using the village as a base, you can explore the desert, surrounding wadis and hills all the way to the ocean.


The Sultanate of Oman, an Arab country in south-west Asia.


Sun Island Tours has two-day Desert Thunder packages from Muscat costing $970 per person twin share. Accommodation at Sama al Wasil camp, most meals, private four-wheel drive guide, sand bashing and half-day camel trek are included.

For further information

Desert Thunder Travel and Tourism
PO Box 807
Al Khoud 132
Sultanate of Oman
Ph: +968 95 555 153

Sultanate of Oman Tourism
Ph: (02) 9113 5959

Visas: A single entry "visit visa" valid for one month, or one-year multiple entry visa, is required, as is a valid passport.

Electricity: 240V/50Hz using three-pin plugs.

Time zone: GMT +4.

Currency: Omani rial.

Telephone code: +968.


It is recommended travellers see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended for areas you will be visiting. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information log on to and

User comments
Forget over westernised Dubai and take yourself to the real jewel of Arabia - OMAN. The people are truly wonderful and welcoming. They have maintained their customs and culture and if adventure is what you wish then book now! There is still an opportunity to see The Arabian Gulf as it was before mass tourism and commercialisation overtook places like the UAE.

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