واحة ليوا

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Liwa Oasis or Mezair'ah as it is otherwise known, skirts the northern edge of the world's largest sea of sand, the Rub' al Khali or Empty Quarter. Long considered uncrossable, it is larger than France and occupies most of sourthern Saudi Arabia, as well as spreading into the UAE, Oman and Yemen. In the UAE this area is both the most magnificent and the most serene landscape in the country.

Since living in the UAE in the 1980s, I felt sorely disappointed that I hadn't really experienced absolute desert; the vast, Lawrence of Arabia style dunes I'd dreamt of, sweeping across the horizon in every direction. So once living back in Dubai and with access to my own 4x4, I was straight off down there to do some exploring. An adventurous camping trip was followed up with a far more civilised hotel stay, but both visits made for stunning scenery and that feeling of absolute isolation.

Liwa Oasis

Whilst Liwa itself is a huge crescent of settlements along the rim of the sand sea, there are some truly oasis-style pockets here and there, such as this hotel nestled in amongst the dunes.

Camels gazing proudly against the multi-coloured sands. I was most surprised to see that camels come in such different shades.


Camel feeding time

We stopped at a small camel farm where the farmer was just laying out the afternoon hay.

Little tent settlements just off the road south.

Desert tents


Quickly enough the tarred surface runs out, so it's time to deflate the tyres and get onto the undulating sands.

Sabkha or salt flats provide easy flat crossing between the dunes. These are left over from ancient floods, and the dunes slowly shift over them. I really like the blue-red-brown-white layers of this image.

Sabkha salt flats

Lone desert bush

Hardy bushes still bloom out here in the Empty Quarter, even when they don't look as spritely as this one they may still hold water in the roots.

Random sculpting of the next dune by the desert wind.



Varying patterns in the sand. Like the Sahara Desert, the sand would run and flow like water when disturbed.

A weary desert traveller takes a well deserved break as the sun begins to dip.

A weary desert traveller

Patterns in the sand

Wind blown patterns in the sand. This was late in December and although plenty hot during the day, it got a little chilly at night.

Our little tour in the desert had an excellent finish with a barbecued dinner from this handy dinner tent.

Dinner tent

Climbing a big sand dune

Climbing an enormous sand dune en famile to work up an appetite before the grub was served.

From the top of the dune we watched as a herd of homing camels came back in for the night. I guess they knew they'd be getting fed soon too.

Homing camels

Lone camel at dawn

Another lone camel investigates one of the stark green bushes in the desert sand.

The Qasr al Sarab serves as a five-star oasis for those who don't fancy the camping route, shimmering like a mirage in the distance.

Qasr al Sarab

Pool at the Qasr al Sarab

Close up the Qasr al Sarab is revealed to be an irrigated paradise of pools and streams.

Part of the hotel is set up like a Bedouin village complete with wind towers and awnings.

Qasr al Sarab

Desert irrigation

An Arab water channel flows down from the hotel towards the desert dunes. I suspect it is recycled by a pump however.

The Desert Rose, a natural crystal formation common in the Rub' al Khali and also in the Grand Erg Oriental of the Tunisian Sahara, where I first encountered it. I can't claim credit for this one unfortunately, it was on display in the hotel.

Desert rose

Red dunes at dusk

As the sun goes down the dunes shift from bright yellow to deep red.

Another of the Liwa area hotels, this is the Liwa Hotel itself where we stayed for two nights. Although not quite the super-luxe of the Qasr al Sarab it was nonetheless very comfortable and peaceful.

Liwa Hotel pool


An advantage of being this far from civilisation is the crystal clear night sky - so much so that I even brought my telescope with me. Orion is clear on the bottom right of this shot, and the distant glow is from a military base some miles away.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2013