Oman may be a small country, but it has a wealth of natural attractions that make it a top spot for adventure
The outdoors is truly where it’s at in Oman, and you should take full advantage. A classic day out is to drive two hours south of Muscat to Wadi Shab. It takes several hours to scramble over the rocks and swim through pools of water as you ascend the wadi, but it’s a whole lot of fun, capped off by the cave pool at the end, which is a cross between a secret agent style lair and nature’s best adventure park.
If you’ve still got some energy to burn, stop at Bimmah Sinkhole on your way back to Muscat. This turquoise lake has a couple of natural rock shelves that offer excellent diving opportunities. Be warned, however, as it takes a brave soul to jump from the highest ones – although you’ll likely see plenty of Omani youths jumping in without a care.
Away from the coast, there are plenty of adventures to be had in the desert. Many companies offer off-road driving, and you can also test your skills at sandboarding and sand cycling. We recommend you stay into the evening and go camping under the stars. Wahiba Sands is still occupied by Bedouin tribes and it’s well worth pitching a tent there for a deeper insight into Omani culture. There are many tour operators that have semi-permanent camp sites amid the dunes, so while you won’t exactly be roughing it, it’s still a brilliant way to get back to nature.
Climbing is another popular activity in Oman thanks to the country’s stunning landscape. Hire an experienced guide (something that’s especially important even if there is even the slightest chance of rain, and a resulting flash flood). Start at Snake Canyon and make your way through the narrow gorge, cutting through the Al Hajar Mountains. If you’re worried about aching feet, you can always take the easy route by strapping yourself into the zip line and whizzing across at speed. It’s great fun.
Trekking is another top outdoor pursuit, and Oman’s wadis will make the experience all the more pleasurable due to their spectacular panoramas.
Next, consider heading underground to explore the Oman’s wonderful cave systems. Leading the pack is Al Hoota Cave, located at the foot of Jebel Shams, which contains a rich ecosystem including four lakes, and spans a whopping 4.5km in size. Rare blind fish – garra barreimiae – can be spotted in the water, along with many other animal species including bats, arthropods, mollusks, spiders, snails and water beetles. Another worthy stop-off is Majlis Al Jinn, the second-largest known cave in the world. For safety reasons, the actual chamber has been off limits to the public since 2008, although permissions are granted to some experienced adventurers by Oman’s Ministry of Tourism (check out the crazy base-jumping videos on YouTube.) You can still go to soak up the view. Following a steep climb – you’ll need to go in a four-wheel drive – a spectacular vista awaits. Plus it’s a great place to camp, see the stars, and explore the cave entrances. Take care, however – even the smallest drop is 130m.
If you still haven’t had enough of Oman’s rocky terrain, be sure to visit the Rocks Garden in Duqm. The site is currently being upgraded so there aren’t many amenities, but you’ll see towers as well as balancing formations of sandstone and limestone worn down by the ocean over millions of years.
If you’ve got the kids in tow, getting an up close look at the native wildlife is sure to bring a smile to their faces. There are a number of national parks that will please animal lovers of all ages. Prior permission is required to venture into the forest at Al Saleel National Park in the Sharqiyah Region, but once that has been granted, a safari car can be arranged by the sanctuary free of charge. During the weekends this is subject to availability of the driver, but they will normally let you in to explore on foot, so you can look out for the gazelle that wander freely.
To see the country’s prized Arabian oryx, you’ll need to make a date to visit the Arabian Oryx Protected Area in the Al Wasta region. Great efforts have been made in recent years to upgrade the site, which reopened in 2017 with a healthy number of the rare species. Also take your binoculars to catch a glimpse of some of the 450 species of birds that live there too, including Indian rollers, little green beaters and purple sunbirds.
If you’re planing your trip between May and September, you’ll be right on time for spotting another rare species – this time sea turtles. At Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve you’ll see four different species of turtle arriving on the beach at nightfall or pre-dawn to lay their eggs. It’s a magical sight. You can stay the night in one of the resort’s eco-tents for added fun.
Let’s not forget the many other creatures of the sea either: a dolphin orwhale spotting expedition makes a great day out. Dolphins are often seen jumping through the waves at many points along the coast. Popular tours leave from Khasab, in the north, as well as from Muscat to the Dimaniyat Islands, and all the way down south in Salalah.
With so many fascinating finds beneath the surface, it may come as no surprise that the diving and snorkelling opportunities in Oman are excellent, with sightings a guarantee. The aforementioned Dimaniyat Islands Nature Reserve is one credible dive site. Made up of nine islands, it’s home to a 100-hectare nature reserve, including eye-catching coral reefs, and offers excellent opportunities to see all kinds of marine life, whether in shallow waters or heading to the deep.
Alternatively, why not hire a boat and take it easy? Sail along Musandam’s Strait of Hormuz, leaving from Khasab, and you’ll pass by the spellbinding sight of rugged mountains. Venture overboard for some snorkelling action, and check out the colourful fish flapping their fins by the rocks.
Game fishing also makes for a memorable day out. You could catch anything from yellowfin tuna to marlin, with lots of tour operators ready to help you cast off, including Nomad Tours in Muscat, which was established in 2006.
If you’re a natural on the water, head south to Masirah Island where you can flex your arm muscles during some high-octane windsurfing. This area is a sure thing for wind and waves, with some swells measuring up to six-feet high. For surfers, Joe’s Point at Aseelah (about 40 minutes south of Ras al Hadd) is a popular spot and is suitable for all abilities.
Astonishing natural sites can also be seen in the south, such as at Tawi Ateer Sinkhole: a 975,000 cubic metre sinkhole in Salalah. The natural wonder boasts spectacular views of the inky-blue waters below. Equally fascinating is the region’s Khawr Ruri – a UNESCO World Heritage-listed lagoon that’s home to prehistoric ruins. The port was often mentioned in Greek, Hellenic and Arabic historical scrolls, being the main port for the export of frankincense in Dhofar. While you’re there, venture to the nearby Khawr Al Baleed, which is also UNESCO World Heritage listed and overflowing with historical significance.
More generally, a whole guidebook could be written about things to do in Salalah. Aside from its stunning landscapes and rich history, the region is shrouded in a light drizzle and cooling mists between June and early September during Khareef, when it catches the edge of the Indian monsoon.
If the only type of watersports you have in mind are more to do with plunge pools and Jacuzzis, you’ll be pleased to learn that Oman’s spa game is strong. One of the best in Muscat is The Spa at The Chedi Muscat, which is set along a beach, so you can catch a glimpse of the waves lapping the shore as you indulge in a pampering treatment. CHI, The Spa at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa will give you a VIP experience – you’ll be whisked to your own personal spa villa to unwind with soothing treatments. If a traditional Thai massage sounds like your idea of heaven, book yourself into the dedicated suite at Anantara Spa at Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara. And be sure to try a detoxifying hammam ritual while you’re there.
When you’re done finding your balance, you may feel ready for some retail therapy. Oman offers some unique shopping opportunities in the form of bustling, vibrant souks that provide an insight into the culture, with the chance to take home a rich selection of keepsakes. If you’re in Muscat, Mutrah Souq is the place to go. With its winding alleyways and shop-lined side streets, it’s a real life Aladdin’s den. Here, you can embark on a treasure hunt for everything from frankincense to gold and pashminas. For an even more traditional experience, Al Mintarib Village Market takes place every Tuesday in Wilayt Badiya in A’Sharqiyah North Governorate. With everything from daggers to native palm leaves sold here, you’re sure to find a souvenir to suit. Be sure to get there early however, as it’s only open from 6am to 10am. Every Friday, Nizwa Souq holds its weekly livestock market where farmers gather to trade their cattle, goats, and camels. It’s a wonderful sight to behold. Those staying in Salalah, meanwhile, should pop to Al Hafah Souq. Shaded by coconut trees, it’s a fragrant environment in which to shop, as aromas from the plentiful offering of Middle Eastern perfumes fill the air. You’ll find a variety of other products too, including traditional textiles jewellery, and artisan buys – a veritable gold mine for mementoes.
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