Desert Glamping in Oman

 

One of the things I was most excited about on our trip to Oman was spending a night in the desert, an activity that has long been on my bucket list.  I did lots of research on which camp would be best for us because there are a lot of desert camps in the Wahibah Sands (also known as Sharqiya Sands), a sea of sand that stretches across 12,500 square kilometers.

We found some quite luxurious camps with air conditioning, bars, and one even had a pool…but the reviews of these places had a common theme:  “It was so nice after they turned off the generators!”  That’s right, it’s the desert so any power has to be supplied by generators and they are noisy…not exactly the peaceful desert night we had envisioned.  In the end, what we were dreaming of was an intimate, authentic desert camping experience and we found just that at the Nomadic Desert Camp.

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This turned out to be the perfect choice and was exactly what we were looking for.  The camp is owned and run by a Bedouin family that has lived in the Wahiba Sands for generations.  We met in the afternoon at the meet up point in Al Wasil where we had to have air let out of our tires in preparation for desert driving.  Lukasz was very excited about this part of the adventure!  You must have an SUV to drive in the desert, but if you don’t the camp can provide transport at an additional cost.

After an exciting drive, we were shown to our thatched hut, a little room woven from date palm leaves, with four single beds, a dresser, and mosquito netting.  The camp had no electricity but did have running water with shared toilets (the hole in the ground kind), sinks, and showers.  It was perfect for one night, but some of the families there had made the camp their base for the week which might have slightly worn off the charm for us… but seemed to be just fine for them!

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The camp was lovely and peaceful and the kids couldn’t get over how fun this giant sandbox was!  After getting settled, it was time to go for a drive to meet some of the family’s camels and to watch the desert sunset.

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Driving through the dunes for a camel meet and greet. 

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Hello, lovely!  

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I had no idea how sweet camels could be!  This girl was three years old and she absolutely loved to be cuddled.  Whenever we would stop petting her and start to walk away she would follow us and nudge us asking us to pet her some more.  So cute!

 

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Before we left we got to try camel milk, which tasted mostly like cow’s milk just warm and a little sweeter.  I was surprised that our adventurous six-year-old didn’t want to try it, but absolutely shocked when our picky three-year-old walked right up to try it…and liked it!

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After lots of camel snuggling, the sun was starting to set so we drove to the base of a big dune where we climbed up and watched the beautiful show.

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A dune upon a dune for the best view!

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The way the sand changed colors with the setting sun was so beautiful.

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After the sun set, we made our way down the dune and our guides were waiting with a small fire where they had made coffee to serve with dates.  There was a very peaceful, relaxed vibe in our small group and fortunately for us there was another family with two young girls so the kids quickly made friends.  They were so excited to see a lizard scamper across our circle and were on the lookout for more wildlife, but apart from camels that’s all they saw.  The drive back to camp was interesting in the dark, but luckily it was short!

Back at the camp we had time to get cleaned up a bit and then dinner was served buffet style under a tent.  The food was plentiful and delicious, actually probably the best meal we had in Oman.  After dinner, our guides had prepared a fire with cushions all around to lay back and get a glimpse of one of the clearest skies I’ve ever seen.  We were served hot tea and it was really one of the most magical nights…until the boys got a bit too giddy and then it was time for us to retire to our hut!

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The next morning we awoke bright and early to a delicious breakfast, including freshly baked Arabic bread.

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Baking the bread for breakfast.

After breakfast it was time for the camel ride, and the boys could hardly wait.  I was personally a bit nervous for the camel ride, but after seeing how gentle they were the day before I was convinced to give it a go!  The guides led us on about a 15 minute loop through the desert, which was just perfect for the kids and they absolutely loved it.

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This kid talked non-stop, he was so excited!  And weeks later is still talking about camels.

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After the ride it was time for us to pack up and say goodbye to the desert and our friendly hosts, but it was certainly a unique and wonderful stay!  It was exactly what we had envisioned for a desert camping glamping experience and we would highly recommend it.  This camp was one of the cheaper ones I came across, probably since they don’t have to pay for the generator or the swimming pool ;), which was even more of a bonus.  The meals and camel ride were also included in the price of the stay.

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Definitely a highlight of our Oman adventure!

 

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Luxury in the Mountains of Oman

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We spent an incredible 10 days in Oman and will have a full itinerary coming soon, but in the meantime I wanted to highlight a couple of our favorite Omani adventures.  After a night in the capital to adjust to the time zone, we headed for the mountains for some luxury and relaxation.  The drive is easy, only about 2.5 hours from Muscat, but it does require an SUV for the last part.  After passing a security checkpoint, the road curves steeply up for the last 45 minutes before you reach the Alila Jabal Akhdar, which sits at 2,000 meters above sea level.

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The designer retreat is located high in Al Jabal Al Akhdar translated as Green Mountain, which is a bit misleading as it is mainly barren, rocky limestone.  There are, however, a handful of villages on the plateau that live up to this name and are extremely fertile producing pomegranates, roses, figs, almonds, apricots, apples, grapes, lemons, peaches, and walnuts.  The most notable thing when you arrive here and step out of the car is the more comfortable temperatures-at night there was even a slight chill in the air.  We had only been in Oman for one night, but the more comfortable temperatures were definitely welcome!  I can imagine this must be quite an escape in the height of summer.

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When we arrived, we were welcomed in traditional Omani fashion with kawha, a strong and bitter coffee flavored with cardamom, and dates.  Then it was time for a tour of the stunning surrounds.  The hotel is set on the edge of a canyon with jaw dropping views down into the gorge and across the Hajar Mountains.  The remote location of the hotel only adds to the magical and exotic feeling of the place.

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The hotel has 86 rooms (suites and villas only), but still manages to feel small and intimate.  We were shown to our canyon view suite and immediately decided we’d be happy to stay for the remainder of our trip in this calm and blissful setting.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the plans or the budget so we decided to make the most of our 24 hours here!

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Our first mission was to hit the pool and this infinity pool with canyon views was just perfect.  I had read reviews about the water being cold, but that issue seems to have been resolved as the water was a very comfortable temperature.  There was also an indoor heated pool with jets, like a large jacuzzi.  Sun beds, loungers, and drinks from the bar or your in-room mini bar made this a pool you could hang out at for a while!

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After a fun afternoon of swimming, the boys had a chance for bath time in the beautiful soaking tub before dinner.  Who wouldn’t love to relax in this tub?!

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We watched a gorgeous sunset over the canyon and then headed to dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Juniper, named for the juniper trees that grow in the mountains of Jabal Akhdar.  Our booking included half board, but thankfully the food was not buffet style-you could either order a la carte or share the tasting menu.  We opted for the tasting menu and two kids meals and everything was good and well presented.

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The kids had already stayed up past their bedtime so we didn’t have a chance to stop in the bar for a night cap, but I loved the design.  We went to bed along with the kids because I had plans the next morning to get up early for sunrise yoga.  The spa offers free yoga at 7 am on certain days-generally on the weekends, but since the hotel was quite full for the Easter holidays they offered it all week.

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This was one of the highlights of the trip for me!  I love yoga anyway, so having a yoga class on a deck overlooking the canyon listening to the birds chirping was just incredible.  Yoga mats, towels, and bottled water were provided and after the class there was fresh fruit and hot tea.

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The other bonus of getting up early was watching the sunrise in this stunning location.  After some sunrise photos and getting zen’d out at yoga, I read on our balcony with some coffee while waiting for the guys to wake up for breakfast.  I can’t imagine a more perfect morning!

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Breakfast was a nice mix of a small buffet and an a la carte menu along with lots of yummy fresh juices.  After breakfast we had promised the kids they could check out the kids club so we dropped them off for an hour and went for some gym/pool time.  The kids club included tons of toys, dress up costumes, art supplies, a foosball and air hockey table, xbox, and movie room and they also organize activities like walks around the area throughout the day.  Our two didn’t want to leave!

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The hotel also does a cute little ‘passport’ for the kids, that looks just like a real passport.  The kids collect stamps for different things-checking in, kids club, eating a good dinner, etc., and when they fill a page they get a treat from the restaurant-either cookies or a milk shake.  They loved it!

There is an almost 3 km trail completely within the grounds of the hotel called the Butterfly Trail that we wanted to explore, so after checking out, we loaded up the car and hit the trail.  The scenery was incredible and there were fun stops along the way for the kids including the traditional hanging clay jugs to drink water from, view points, and play grounds.  The kids also loved finding the painted white butterfly trail markers.

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While certainly on the pricey side (especially at the Easter holidays), this was probably the most incredible hotel we have stayed at.  After seeing pictures and write ups, we decided it was worth the splurge for one night and I’m so glad we did.

The only thing I didn’t like about the hotel was that before arrival they ask you to fill out a checklist of your preferences.  I completed the online questionnaire about a month before our stay (long enough to completely forget about it) and there were questions about everything from pillow to bath to food preferences.  I didn’t think much of it and then upon arrival, the coffee table in our room was completely decked out with snacks and drinks.  We realized that the alcohol was not complimentary is it was a good sized bottle of gin and the price was listed on the mini bar menu, however there was no pricing information anywhere for the food.  We assumed it was complimentary and then at check out found the charge for the “welcome snack platter.”  A bit cheeky of the hotel since we had never ordered it, simply answered their questions about what snacks we like.

Other than that, we enjoyed everything else about our stay and would definitely recommend the hotel for a very unique luxury experience!

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The juniper tree the restaurant is named after. 

After we checked out of the hotel we made our way to the nearby Diana’s view point, which is famous for Princess Diana’s visit to the spot in 1986 and now currently inside the grounds of the newly built Anantara Hotel.  The view is of the terraced villages that produce the roses and fruits mentioned at the top of this post and of the canyon and surrounding mountains.  The views are absolutely stunning and we had decided that we would also stay and have lunch at the hotel.

We had been tempted to stay at this hotel instead of the Alila as their introductory prices were better than prices at Alila, but once we visited we knew we had made the right decision.  We preferred the smaller, more intimate feel at the Alila.  The food at lunch was good, but the service was incredibly slow, and very expensive.  The views however, really are amazing and the location is well suited for trekking and hiking on the nearby terraces.

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It was a wonderful start to our trip and in the next post I’ll share the details about our overnight adventure in the desert!