Anyone who’s been to Oman will tell you that it’s unlike any of its West Asian neighbours. While most Arab countries impress with hyperbolic architecture and glitzy entertainment, Oman’s draw is more understated. From the omnipresent Hajar Mountains to the elusive sand dunes and expansive waterfront vantage points, the country has steadily been gaining favour with nature lovers who take their shot of adventure with a splash of luxury. We list four such outdoorsy holiday experiences in Oman.
Glamping at Wahiba Sands
Named after the Bani Wahiba tribe, this desert region is synonymous with Oman’s adventure scene. All the cool kids were sandboarding there in the ’90s and haven’t stopped since. The fun begins along the two-hour drive from the capital, Muscat, to Wahiba Sands. Cutting across the Eastern Hajar mountains and the Selma plateau, the route is dotted with ancient villages and beehive tombs built by the Umm Naa community (2500BC). Prepare for pitstops like a trek through the UNESCO town of Bahla, renowned for its fort souk and pottery, and a walk through the date plantations of Birkat al Mauz. The Wahiba Sands desert is a sinuous, wind-sculpted terrain. For a heart-racing experience, try dune bashing in a 4×4 under the experienced hands of local drivers. Some tour companies even let you get behind the wheel. Eco-friendly desert activities include dune bashing, camel rides and sunrise/sunset hikes to the top of the copper-toned dunes.
After a long dusty day, rest assured in Hud Hud Travels’ Bedouin-style tents that offer all the frills of a luxury resort — plush mattresses, cosy linen, a private al fresco bathroom. The Arabian-inspired campsite also comprises a large majlis filled with books, boules and
Trekking around Jabal Akhdar
Part of the Hajar Mountain range, Jabal Akhdar enjoys a Mediterranean microclimate in an otherwise desert region. It is known for fruit orchards that grow world-class pomegranates, apricots, figs, grapes as well as almonds and walnuts. In a bid to protect the area’s biodiversity, in 2011, Sultan Qaboos established the Jabal Akhdar Sanctuary for Natural Sciences. From canyon walks to cave explorations, the destination is an eco-traveller’s dream.
For those looking for a luxury option, there’s Alila Jabal Akhdar. Perched 2000m above sea level, the boutique resort is crafted in indigenous sandstone. Its low-slung architecture is reminiscent of neighbouring villages, while its culinary offerings are inspired by Omani traditions. The five-star resort curates a host of outdoor activities such as treks to the agricultural village of Al Ayn and the abandoned village of Wadi Bani Habib, and leisurely trails across terraced farms and wadis. Thrill seekers: get your fix along the Via Ferrata, launched earlier this year, which starts just below the ridge and trails down the mountain face across a steep section of rock. Hike into the wadi, and onward into the village of Al Khutaymi, hidden in a cave in the wadi floor. Your effort will be rewarded at the coolest natural pool in the region. Jabal Akhdar can be accessed via a 4×4 and is approximately a two-hour drive from Muscat.
Unwind in Salalah
With coconut palm-fringed beaches and banana and papaya plantations, Oman’s second city is a subtropical paradise. Its khareef (monsoon) season is from mid-June to mid-August. The resultant verdure, a rarity in the Middle East, makes the capital of the Dhofar region a popular getaway with locals from neighbouring countries.
A top choice is a spa-cation at Al Baleed Resort by Anantara, set between a beach and a freshwater lagoon. Designed like an Arabian villa, the spa’s offerings incorporate wellness traditions from West Asia, Thailand and India. It also boasts Salalah’s first hammam and rasul (cleansing ritual) facilities. No visit to Salalah is complete without a drive into Rub’ al Khali (Empty Quarter), the world’s largest continuous sand desert that stretches across four countries: Oman, UAE, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Past tiny villages, surrounded by desolate dunes, lies the erstwhile caravan oasis of Shisr, claimed by UNESCO to be the fabled Lost City of Ubar that’s mentioned in the holy Koran.
Diving in the Musandam Peninsula
Its fjord-like landscape has earned the Musandam Peninsula the title of ‘Norway of Arabia.’ Pink-tinged cliffs dip into azure seas: what lies beneath is a relatively unexplored world of hard and soft coral, eagle rays, tiger sharks, sea turtles and more. Scuba diving in these warm waters is a solitary, meditative experience.
Stay and dive with Six Senses Zighy Bay, a hideaway that’s sectioned off from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. Perched on the Hajar Mountains, the resort is best accessed by road from Dubai or Abu Dhabi via a border stop. Once there, daredevils can choose to tandem hand-glide from a plateau into the main reception area. The property has been built in response to the rocky terrain and modelled on local villages. A marina and dive centre offer water-based activities such as scuba, snorkelling, hand-line fishing and a cruise aboard a dhahab, a restored 90ft-long traditional Omani dhow.