Story Gautam Viswanathan
From the southern governorate of the Dhofar, which turns green every summer and the lofty peaks of Jabal Akhdar, which receives snowfall in the winter, to the fjords of Musandam and the golden Sharqiyah sands, every corner of Oman holds a natural treasure that is waiting to be explored.
Khor Najd, Khasab, Musandam
What: Khor Najd is one of Oman’s most picturesque roads and overlooks the fjords that have earned Musandam the moniker ‘the Norway of Arabia’. Travel through twisting, turning mountain roads and explore the craggy peaks and rugged terrain of Oman’s northern governorate, whose landscape is harsh, yet breathtakingly stunning.
Why: The landscape you experience in Musandam is like nothing else found in the rest of Oman. This is a mostly mountainous region, with settlements having been built wherever a little bit of flat land has been found. To stand on the peak of these mountains and in their presence does sometimes make us appreciate nature’s vastness.
Where: Part of the Wilayat of Khasab, Khor Najd is located some 22 kilometres from the regional capital, and you embark on this memorable drive the moment you climb into your vehicle. Khasab is situated a good 550km away from Oman’s national capital of Muscat, and is accessible through road, air and sea.
The National Ferries Company runs regular fast ferry services from the border town of Shinas on the Omani mainland. Travellers to Khasab are more than welcome to take their vehicles on board the ferry. Oman Air operates regular flights to and from Khasab on an almost daily basis. Driving to Khasab involves travelling through the United Arab Emirates.
When: Like the rest of Oman, Musandam is best visited during the months from September to April, when the weather is very pleasant, and temperatures drop down to the low twenties in the day and even lower at night. Musandam does experience occasional snowfall, as well as thundershowers, so long journeys in the governorate during this time are not advised.
Warning: The road in Khor Najd is built around a mountain, and features plenty of hairpin bends and sudden, sharp turns that may not be easy to negotiate for inexperienced drivers. In addition, a four-wheel drive is best suited to navigating these high-altitude roads that are built on rough terrain.
Ittin, Salalah, Dhofar
What: A plateau overlooking the capital of the southern Dhofar Governorate of Oman, Ittin is your vantage point to witness great panoramic views of Salalah and the surrounding areas, giving you an unmatched perspective of the natural beauty of the Dhofar and the Arabian Sea beyond.
Why: It’s almost as if each governorate in Oman has its own unique landscape. The Dhofar region is home to the Khareef season, which runs from about June to August. During this period, while the rest of Middle East is contending with sweltering temperatures, Salalah and the rest of the Dhofar receives almost continuous rain, turning the otherwise brown landscape into a lush, pleasant and vibrant green.
Where: Ittin is located in the mountains above Salalah and is also said to be the final resting place of the prophet Ayoub (also known as Job in the Western world). Many people come here to pay homage to him, as well as to enjoy a day out and experience the Khareef, for Ittin is among the best spots to enjoy the rain, mist, greenery and winds that sweep across the Dhofar.
The climb to Ittin begins about 17 minutes – about the same in kilometres – to the north of the city, and is clearly marked by signs. Salalah is about 1,000 kilometres from the capital of Muscat, and both Oman Air and SalamAir, operate regular flights between the two cities, while other regional carries do launch seasonal flights. Driving from Muscat to Salalah is also possible, but this is a long journey and will take you a couple of days, while Mwasalat – the national transportation company – and many private operators also organise daily bus trips.
When: The best time to visit the Dhofar Governorate is arguably during the Khareef season between June and August. Due to high demand for hotels, rental cars and flight tickets at this time of the year, it is best to make your travel plans in advance.
Warning: As is always the case during the rainy season, the roads can become slippery, and those who are not used to driving in it could panic if they don’t know how to handle themselves. A four-wheel drive is highly recommended here because of the twisting roads that climb into the mountains.
Wadi Tiwi, Sharqiyah
What: Oman is known for an abundance of wadis, dry riverbeds that perennially fill up during seasonal rains. While entire wadis themselves normally do remain dry when it isn’t raining, in some parts of the country, environmental and geographic conditions mean lakes are formed in certain areas of these wadis, creating oases teeming with greenery.
Why: Wadi Tiwi is among the most popular wadis frequented by people living in Oman. Outside the country, though, it still remains something of a hidden gem, and to see and explore it is to experience a side of Oman that few have heard of and fewer still have seen.
Where: Wadi Tiwi is located about 110 kilometres from the capital of Muscat, with the nearest towns being Tiwi and Qalhat – which is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mausoleum of Bibi Maryam.
Getting there requires you to travel by road from Muscat before stopping at Qalhat and then taking a right and onto the road that takes you to Wadi Tiwi. If you are unsure of directions, do not hesitate to ask a local.
When: Wadi Tiwi offers a welcome respite from the heat during the summers, as many head to the country’s wadis to splash around in the clear waters and take a break from the stresses of the city. As is normal in Oman, the period between September and April is also a great time to head to Wadi Tiwi, or indeed, any other wadi in the country.
Warning: DO NOT visit any wadi while it is raining outside, or immediately afterwards. ‘Wadi’ is Arabic for a dry river bed, and these wadis fill up during the rains and sometimes overflow their banks. The current in them is quite strong and can sweep a grown man off his feet, causing severe injuries or even death.
Jabal Akhdar, Nizwa, Dakhiliyah
What: One of the tallest and definitely the most scenic of Oman’s mountains, Al Jabal Al Akhdar – the Green Mountain – has been one of Oman’s most popular destinations ever since good roads connected it with the rest of the country, and long before that as well, with locals and brave expats alike braving the steep climb up the mountain to get to the top. The reward? Some of Oman’s most breath-taking views and a stunning atmosphere.
Why: Located nearly 3,000 metres above sea level, high up in the mountains, temperatures here are at least 15 degrees cooler than they are at sea level. This, coupled with its gorgeous panoramas of the surrounding areas, soaring peaks and plunging canyons, make it a favourite for Arabs in the summer. In the winters, temperatures plummet to single-digit figures, and the mountain sometimes receives snowfall.
Where: Jabal Akhdar is about 160km away from the capital of Muscat. Visitors to the area are best off first travelling to Nizwa, the capital of the Dakhiliyah Governorate, before making the ride up the mountain. Tour guides if booked in advance will also take you up there..
When: Jabal Akhdar is great to visit all year round because of the great weather up in the mountains.
Warning: The road to the Jabal is winding and perilous, with a sheer drop protected by a low-slung guardrail on one side and the steep cliffs of the mountain on the other side flanking the narrow road up the mountain. Before the steep climb studded with hairpin bends is an ROP-manned check post. Those who have cars are asked to turn back. En route to Jabal Akhdar are vendors who will rent you 4WDs if you need them. The steep incline of the roads and the perilous hairpin bends are just as dangerous on the descent as they are on the ascent. – [email protected]
Things to remember
• While heading out on a road trip use an appropriate SUV on mountain roads and acquaint yourself with proper operation of the vehicle’s 4WD systems before undertaking any such trips. • Ensure you have adequate water, fuel and food.
• Always inform a family member, friend or acquaintance of your destination and the expected date of your return.
• Deal only with licenced tour guides and their vehicles, or they might not be equipped with the required safety measures.
• Do not camp in a wadi bed. Flash floods can be a common occurrence.
• Do not photograph private property without permission from the owner.
• Always respect Omani traditions, respect local customs, and dress properly.
Source – Ministry of Tourism, Sultanate of Oman
How to prep
Before you head out onto the road, make sure you have a journey plan prepared. If you need to prep your vehicle in advance, make sure that’s done, and do not leave anything for the last minute. Check your tyres, your fuel levels, your air pressure, and most importantly, your brakes, ahead of your journey. Make sure you know where the nearest fuel station is, as they can sometimes be hundreds of kilometres apart, and you don’t want to be caught out on the road with no fuel. Also make sure you’ve allocated time to stop and rest, because a road trip can sometimes get exhausting.