Destination Guide

The Travel Well Guide

The Rub' al Khali

City: N/A       State: N/A       Country: Saudi Arabia
The Rub' al Khali is one of the largest sand deserts in the world, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, including southern Saudi Arabia, and areas of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The desert covers some 650,000 square kilometers, more than the combined land areas of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France and almost the land area of Texas.Largely unexplored until recently, the desert is 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long, and 500 kilometres (310 mi) wide. Even the Bedouins only skirt the edges of the desert. Nonetheless, tour companies do exist that offer GPS-equipped excursions into the desert. The first documented journeys made by Westerners to the Empty Quarter were those made by Bertram Thomas in 1931 and St. John Philby in 1932. Between 1946 and 1950 Wilfred Thesiger crossed the area several times and mapped large parts of the Empty Quarter and the mountains of Oman.Rub' al Khali, meaning the Empty Quarter, is also known as the Great Sandy Desert. This vast area, 1,000 km long and 500 km wide, is virtually uninhabited and, until recently, largely unexplored. Formed over 2 million years ago, this great sand desert occupies over 25 per cent of Saudi Arabia, and stretches into Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. Some 40,000 years ago this was a fertile area, covered with a number of lakes that were filled by monsoons that subsequently moved on to Egypt and India. Remnants of this era can still be seen in the perfectly fossilized teeth of hippopotamus, and the bones of water buffalo, long horned cattle, goats and gazelle - even freshwater shells have been discovered.Today, 24 bird species, 31 plant species, arachnids and rodents are the only things that can survive the harsh environment. Nomadic Bedouin move around the outer edges, but before 300 AD, when the desertification was not as severe, caravans carrying frankincense crossed the Rub' al Khali, stopping at cities now lost in the shifting sands.

Climate | When to Visit

Visit during: March to September

Directions | How to Reach

By Air: Saudi Arabia is a large country, which makes flying the only comfortable means of long-distance travel. State carrier Saudia has the best schedules, with near-hourly flights on the busy Riyadh-Jeddah sectorBy Rail: The railway network in Saudi Arabia is seriously underdeveloped, with only one line running between Riyadh, Al-Hofuf and Dammam, but it's still the only passenger train service in the entire Gulf.

miscellaneous | Important Information

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