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Asia > Middle East > Empty Quarter
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Sunset in Rub al Khali

The Empty Quarter (Arabic: Rub'al-Khali) is the expansive desert in the southeastern interior of the Arabian Peninsula, the largest continuous body of sand in the world.

Understand

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.

Talk

If you do encounter people here, your best bet for communication is probably Arabic.

Get in

Liwa Desert near Hameem
  • 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.

Get around

Towing the 4WD out of a sand dune in the Liwa Desert

Never drive in the biggest sandbox of the world alone! A caravan of 4WD vehicles is the only sane option 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.

See

The Empty Quarter is all about nature and wildlife

Do

Eat

Drink

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.

Stay safe

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.

Go next

This region article is an extra-hierarchical region, describing a region that does not fit into the hierarchy Wikivoyage uses to organise most articles. These extra articles usually provide only basic information and links to articles in the hierarchy. This article can be expanded if the information is specific to the page; otherwise new text should generally go in the appropriate region or city article.