With an abundance of natural beauty, spectacular mountains, windblown deserts and a long unique coastline, Oman represents the Arabia like it used to be before the discovery of oil. It boosts low-rise towns, traditional Bedouin values and a really fascinating way of living.
After leaving UAE, we entered the Musandam Peninsula that although part of Oman (guarding the Strait of Hormuz), it is separated by the east coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Accessible but still isolated, this beautiful peninsula is well worth a visit. It is renowned for its rugged inland beauty while its coastline consists by inlets known as khors (deep-water bays). With only a couple of days before our ferry departed for the four-hour crossing to the rest of the country, we managed to drive through the mountains around Jebel Harim, explore the few accessible khors and spend a couple of days inthe provincial capital, Khasab. It is a unique introduction to the country’s beauty. Our ferry ride brought us to Sohar, Oman’s second city and home of the explorer Ahmed Bin Majid.
Here and with Sohar lack of sights of interest we experienced a true Omani hospitality that started with a random talk on the beach where we camped that night and ended up with an invitation for breakfast to a local house that followed a visit to the owner’s farm. A great start to any overland adventure! Next was a visit to Nakhal, a traditional town between the flat plain and the Hajar Mountains that rise vertically behind the village, creating a backdrop to one of Oman’s best-known forts. Built on the foundations of a pre-Islamic structure, the towers and entrance were the only places that we managed to see (and take pictures of) as it was under restoration.
Following the road under the fort led us through thick plantations to a hot spring. We as foreigners were not allowed to swim here in order to protect and respect the modest way of living of the local community. After a quick look around we headed towards the capital.
Muscat is scenically located between the mountains and the sea, with old forts, excellent museums, and an impressive opera house, is really a delight to visit. Its name means safe anchorage and the sea plays an important role in the city’s life even to this day.
Muscat has a character quite distinct. There are very few high-rise blocks with result an attractive, uniform city that retains its elegance. Also for a capital, Muscat is quite conservative in nature, requesting of visitors to dress and behave accordingly.
On the other hand though, it offers a warm sense of Omani hospitality and an opportunity to connect with the country’s rich heritage. Here we had arranged an overlanders’ meet up with fellow Greeks that happen to travel in Oman. After spending a day with Costas and Eirini, exploring the old town and the Sultan’s palace area, we retreated to the one of the surrounding coves for another night under the stars. It was great meeting you both, Costas and Eirini. We hope our roads cross again in the near future.
Continuing with our social time in Muscat and before leaving the capital, we visited our friends Adam and Lori and their two lovely children, Casimir and Chesapeake, that we had not seen since 2014 (the last time we visited Oman). They welcomed us to their home and we enjoyed four days of the warmest hospitality that an overlander can only hope for. See you next time, Collins family!
The next day we continued south, with destination the little village of Tiwi, a fishing community that looks much like any other in Oman. However, this small settlement is flanked by two of Oman’s most beautiful Wadis, Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi. While the first makes up for a two-hour trek to the natural pools deep in the Wadi, the other offers a scenic drive through the canyon all the way to its top. They are both worth spending as much of your time as possible.
After another overnight camp next to the seaside outside Tiwi, we reached the city of Sur with its fine cornice, two forts, a small souk and a collection of excellent beaches. Sur, except for a supply line for the trip further south, also serves as a base for the turtle reserve of Ras Al Jinz and Ras Al Hadd. Our pick was Ras Al Hadd that is surrounded by the Indian Ocean to the east and Khor Garami, an inlet, to the west.
We spent two nights at Ras Al Hadd and although the turtles were not around to visit, we still got the feeling of the place that is something of an outpost. Keep in mind that this is the eastern most point, not just of Oman, but of the whole Arabian Peninsula. Next up was the Wahiba Sands, a destination in its own right really. This beautiful sea of fine dunes could keep you occupied for days. It was possible, and highly challenging at the same time, to drive right through the sands from north to south.
However provisions, petrol stations or any other help, in case things went wrong out here, were non existing away from the desert camps at the northern part of the dunes. So we decided that for our itinerary the best way to explore the sands was to drive in for about 80 km, spend a night under the stars and take an alternative route on the way back out to the small hamlet of Al Hawiyah.
Those two days of exploration were not by any means less rewarding than the crossing itself because that way we got to experience the quiet sound of the desert nights, followed by magnificent sunset and sunrise over the dunes, while socializing with the few locals. That gave us some idea on how the desert’s inhabitants live.
Further to our route south and after crossing the eastern part of the Wahiba Sands, we were up for a big push through this empty part of the country where the oil rigs are (and pretty much nothing else). It is a very flat, empty area with occasionally a fishing hamlet here and there and in general nothing to write home about.
The south part of Oman is a world away from the interminable gravel desert that separates it from the north. Its historic frankincense trade, great beaches, laid-back atmosphere and its ethnic mix make it a distinct and fascinating place to visit.
As the coast turns into rocky mountains that drop straight into the sea, the boring dusty road gives way to magical lookouts, scenic wadis and an unparalleled photogenic scenery in general. We spent a couple of days exploring this area before we reached the east of Salalah. Starting with Khor Rouri, that is located in one of the prettiest bays, it was hard to imagine that 2000 years ago this place was the trading post of the frankincense route and one of the most important ports on earth.
Nowadays little remains of the city except some excavated ruins of Sumhuram Archaeological Park. Next up was Wadi Dharbat, a popular picnic site, with an impressive waterfall that spills over the cliff face, 300m below to the plain. Here water is collected in luminous limestone pools, making it a pleasant refreshing alternative to the day’s heat. Finally we drove through Taqah, a pretty fishing village, at the end of the white-sand beach that extends all the way to Salalah. We are not sure if it was the time we arrived in Salalah, but as we entered, a heat wave really got to us. The city’s geographical position, sandwiched in a plain between the mountains and the Indian Ocean, might have something to do with it, making it look deserted during the daytime hours.
Things change though just before sunset, when the sea breeze kicks in and the city cools down and comes alive with pretty much everyone of its inhabitants on the road. What a difference! We are not sure if the way to get here was the highlight or the city of Salalah itself. But with time spent exploring the city’s surroundings, the Sultan’s beach palace, the frankincense museum on the site of the ruins of the Al Balleed old trading port and the city’s white sand beach that extends for many kilometers, as a whole the 750km drive to get to this part of Oman was more than worth the effort.
We spent a total of two days exploring the city before we jumped on the highway, taking the fast inland route back north to the dramatic, mountainous region that still stands as Oman’s number one destination. Based out of Nizwa, we set up exploring the spectacular scenery, including Jebel Shams (Oman’s highest mountain), Wadi Ghul and some of the country’s best forts Nizwa, Bahla and Jabrin.
When exploring Oman’s highest mountain, Jebel Shams, we found out that this is probably the only mountain, at least that we have come across, that is not best known for its peak but for the views of the spectacularly deep Wadi Ghul that lies alongside it, locally known as the Grand Canyon of Arabia.
While there was nothing to do exactly at the top, the area is still a wonderful place to overnight, take photographs or have a picnic. Oman’s final destination was the Hajar Mountains, a spectacular drive that passes through remote, rugged country and affords some of the best views in Oman. Our final stop was the town of Ibri, a rather modern town that links to the new road for the border of Saudi Arabia. This place has very few sights to keep a visitor busy, so beside a quick visit to its newly renovated fort, it was just an overnight stopover.
Oman has been a wonderful surprise in total, for us. Although Rochelle has lived in Musandam Peninsula in the past, she as well as I had underrated this unique country, that although still keeps itself far away from the tourist budget list and brochures, it has an identity on its own that is worth getting to know. Our advice is to come here as soon as possible before the last real Arabia gives way to the modern eccentric way that the peninsula picked as a modern way of living.