The Empty Quarter
Describing the world's largest uninterrupted sand mass, explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger wrote, “It was very still, with the silence which we have driven from our world”.
Today, the magical Rub' al Khali (Empty Quarter) offers the same serene silence that it did when Thesiger scoured it with his Emirati and Omani companions in the 1940s. Even today, its fine golden and red sands shift with the winds to form dunes hundreds of feet high and visible as far as the eye can see.
Perfect for the traveller who wants an authentic and immersive adventure experience, Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter is a must-see bucket-list destination.
Interesting facts about the Empty Quarter
1. The desert covers an area of about 250,000 sq. miles (650,000 sq. km) in a structural basin lying mainly in southeastern Saudi Arabia, with lesser portions in Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
2. It occupies more than one-fourth of Saudi Arabia’s total area.
3. One of the driest regions in the world, the Rub' al-Khali is virtually uninhabited and largely unexplored.
4. Around 6,000 to 2,000 years ago, shallow lakes could be found here.
5. In 1931, Brit Bertram Thomas became the first Western explorer to cross the Rub' al Khali in 59 days, venturing across 1,300km.
3 exciting ways to explore
While traipsing through a massive desert can seem overwhelming, you don't need to rough it out to experience it. Soak up the seclusion by checking into any of the premium hotels hidden amongst the dunes, or if you fancy a super-sized adventure, get up close to the world's tallest sand dune.
1. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
Beautiful by day or under a starry sky, this ever-changing expanse of desert boasts one of the world’s most luxurious hotels - the magnificent Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara.
A fairytale destination reminiscent of the tale One Thousand and One Nights, this luxury five-star oasis resembles an old Arabian fortress town, nestled in a valley of towering dunes.
Aside from warm Arabian hospitality, exquisite interiors and sumptuous dining, the hotel also offers solo travellers, couples or families a dose of adventure, from dawn desert walks to camel trekking, dune bashing to falconry and Saluki (desert hunting dog) shows, camp-fire barbecues to fat-tyre biking, and much more.
2. Tilal Liwa Hotel
Perched on the edge of this majestic desert you’ll find the stunning Tilal Liwa Hotel, a secluded luxury hideaway with all the comforts of modern life, of course.
Discover impressive restaurants, an enormous outdoor pool with breathtaking views of the dunes, and a range of desert activities for all ages.
3. Tel Moreeb
If you’re in the Empty Quarter, try to get up close and personal with the world’s tallest sand dune, Tel Moreeb, which means Scary Mountain.
Over 300 metres high and boasting a 50° incline, this photogenic dune is a dream for 4x4 enthusiasts, with experienced bikers and drivers competing to climb to the top during the Moreeb Hill Climb event, part of the Liwa International Festival that takes place in the winter. If you prefer to err on the side of caution, simply watch dune-side and get some covetable photographs.
Frequently asked questions about The Empty Quarter
Why is it called the Empty Quarter?
The Empty Quarter is the direct translation of the Arabic word Rub' Al Khali, which is the original name of this massive desert area. The name was given due to its continuous and expansive nature.
How do I get to the Empty Quarter?
Located on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, near Liwa, the best way to get to Rub' Al Khali is to drive which can be roughly between 2 to 3.5 hours, depending on where you are arriving from. If you are staying at either of the hotels, make sure to make any reservations in advance.