Visiting the mountain ranges of Jebel Shams & Jebel Al Akhdar is clearly one of the highlights of Oman, and one that deserves 2 to 3 days at least. Of course, you can stay much longer there, especially if you are into serious hiking: possibilities are numerous, for beginners and seasoned trekkers alike.
Note that this is the only part of Oman that definitely requires a 4WD, and that reaching the mountains will mean:
- Driving up and down one of the steepest tared roads I have ever experienced to go towards Sayq – Get familiar with the motor-breaks of your car beforehand, especially if you have an automatic car, which is now the norm in Oman.
- Drive on some quite challenging, windy, dust mountain roads to go towards Wadi Ghul. Back in 2014, we called it “Oman’s Death Road”, referring to the “Carratera de la Muerte” in Bolivia. Well, In February 2022, I quickly recalled why I had felt that way back then.
- Beware that Google Maps, at least in this part of Oman, tends to send you sometimes in the wrong direction, so double check every entry.
So why go there in the first place?
- Wadi Ghul
Also called Oman’s Grand Canyon, Wadi Ghul offers some spectacular views of one of the deepest Canyons on this planet. The so-called “Balcony Walk”, following the narrow foot path hewn into the western wall of the canyon, is best done in the afternoon when the sun sets on the other side. Do not start too late this 4 hour walk though, as you will quickly be in the shade where it can be quite chilly at 2.000+ meters.
In the morning, you can drive at the bottom of the Canyon, starting at the Ghul Abandoned Village (23°8’56.49″ N 57°12’14.466″ E) near Riwaygh and finishing at Al Hajir (23°12’5.004″ N 57°12’42.498″ E), at the vertical of the viewpoint on Whadi Ghul. The landscape is superb, the very narrow dust road requires some driving skills, though…
- Misfat Al Abriyeen Heritage Village
This lovely traditional village, set in the middle of a palm grove, still displays a very well maintained falaj or traditional irrigation system. Beware that it can be crowded, with local and foreign visitors, so it is advisable to spend the night in one of the traditional guesthouses there, to be able to enjoy the quietness in the evening and in the morning.
- Snake Canyon
No be honest, this “canyon” is not particularly spectacular… But it offers a pleasant stop if you are en route from Nakhal to Misfat through Wadi Bani Awf. Be sure to stop at the top of the canyon later on that day… Nearby Bilad Sayt Village we simply missed, for whatever reason (another trick of Google Maps).
- Rustaq Fort & Nakhal Fort
If you plan to start in Muscat, visit both forts and then cross to Jebel Shams, beware that both fortresses have been closed for maintenance since 12 to 18 months and will only open sometimes in 2023 or 2024 (or later?)
I visited Nakhal Fort back in 2014 but was never able to visit Rustaq, that was also closed back then. Near Nakhal Fort, also visit Ain Al Thawarah Hot Springs – Rather be there in the afternoon when groups of kids gather there.
- Wadi Al Ayn’s Beehive Tombs
Those tombs, built approx. 3.000 BC, were once 8 meters high, but with the stone slabs falling off, most of them are only two to three meters high nowadays. You would expect such archeological treasures to be well protected and well indicated? How wrong… They are actually quite difficult to reach, since you have to walk through some private field to reach them. And both in 2014 and in 2022, we were the only souls around…
If you feel like enjoying some more mountains experience, head for Sayq via the steepest road ever (really use low gear and 4WD) – The Rose Trail offers a pleasant and not so challenging trek along the mountain through the terrasses.
Afterwards, indulge yourself a drink (non-alcoholic, remember that Oman has a 0 tolerance towards drinking and driving) at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, one of Oman most luxurious retreats, with the so-called “Diana View Point”.
Enclosed a suggest itinerary for a 3 days / 3 nights venture into the mountains:
- Day 1 – Start in Nizwa, head for the bottom of Whadi Ghul, then to the top to do the Balcony Walk and stay overnight in one of the resorts like Jebel Shams Resort
- Day 2 – Drive to the Al Ayn Beehive Tombs, then visit Jibreen and Bahla Castle en route, before driving the challenging road to the Snake Canyon and back to Misfat Al Abriyyin where you can relax in the Oasis and stay overnight.
- Day 3 – If you want to extend the Mountain Experience, head to Sayq via Al Hamra and Birkat al Mouz, enjoying the steepest road you will ever experience, and trek the Rose Path from there, before returning to Nizwa.