The Empty Quarter (Arabic: الربع الخالي, Rub'al-Khali) is the expansive desert in the southeastern interior of the Arabian Peninsula, the largest continuous body of sand in the world.
It's tempting to call the Empty Quarter "no man's land", but that's not quite correct. Nomads do in fact inhabit parts of the Quarter at various times of year. And the territory is spoken for: the interior borders of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen are in here... somewhere. It's just that no one has bothered to actually draw those lines in the sand.
The Empty Quarter was filmed as the planet Jakku in the 2015 film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
If you do encounter people here, your best bet for communication is probably Arabic.
- In the UAE, the very northern edge of the Empty Quarter, is accessible from the Liwa Oasis, a 200 km drive from Abu Dhabi on excellent highways. The larger road, to Huwayiah, is lined with green date palms, and the other road (closer to Abu Dhabi), to Al Hamai'm, now has them growing as well -- nice for Emiratis looking to visit an oasis, but blocking the view of the desert for foreigners.
- From Saudi Arabia, visits to most of the Empty Quarter require permits from the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development, and are most easily arranged through tour agencies. The usual gateways are Wadi al-Dawasir (Sulayyil) and Sharurah, both reachable by road from Riyadh (a 550-km drive) or via Saudia flight from Riyadh or Jeddah. Najran, 300 km west of Sharurah, is also a reasonable starting point.
Never drive in the biggest sandbox of the world alone! A caravan of 4WD vehicles or camels are the only sane options for entering the soft sands of the desert. If you aren't a confident, experienced, well-equipped sand dune desert driver, Wikivoyage cannot prepare you for something like the Empty Quarter.
On paved roads, in the UAE, a road passes through the oasis towns, and a drive is possible to Tal Mireb, the tallest dune in the country, which gives a few minutes of perspective on how vast and inhospitable this place is.
The Empty Quarter is all about nature and wildlife. Expect to see a lot of sand.
The Empty Quarter's population is scarce compared to the other places in the UAE. You would have to carry your own food and be well equipped for the journey.
Alcohol is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. In the UAE and Oman, alcohol is permitted subject to certain restrictions. In the Empty Quarter, certain hotels on the UAE side do serve alcohol.
Take plenty of water with you before heading out.
Luxury hotels at the edge of the Empty Quarter can be found in Liwa Oasis, UAE.
As with all deserts, bring lots of water, make sure that your vehicle can handle the desert sands and be certain that you have a reliable means of divining direction (such as a GPS). Also, bring a reliable means of communication in case of trouble.