Arriving in the airport I was pleasantly surprised how small and new it was. Its a good combination usually! At the time of landing it appeared that we were the only flight landing which meant going through customs should be straight forward enough.
As I walked towards customs clearance I seen that there was a visa desk but nobody was at it, there was also a Bureau de change beside the desk but I took no notice. As I was a GCC resident I thought I didn’t need a visa so I walked directly to customs. I was directed back to the bureau to get a visa. There was a visa for GCC residents but it was better value than other tourists.
Note the german text also, every guest in my hotel was german too it seemed. Random.
I only had Qatar (QAR) money on my so they were happy to use that and provide the visa with a 1 (OMR) omani riyal processing fee for the foreign currency. After this I was on my way through customs with no problems. Down the escalator and my bag was waiting for me on the belt.
Car rental at the airport was very straight forward. Downstairs from arrivals, I handed in my licence, passport and credit card to be scanned. A deposit of 150 OMR was secured on my credit card and after a quick check for scratches and couple of signatures and away I went.
- Always take pictures of the car before you leave anyway just in case, your phone will have a time stamp to prove any marks/scratches were there before you left if needed.
- For maps I always use ‘Maps.me’ It works offline so is great where ever you go but for a problem that is not so relevant in a small airport like Salalah but is helpful none the less, is to pin point the pick-up/drop-off point for your car at the airport to make sure you get back to the right area on return. Sometimes the can be trickier that you would think.
I didn’t order a GPS but there was one in the glove compartment so I used it anyway. That’s not the first time that’s happened to me either but maybe I just get lucky, otherwise I use the app maps.me. I swear by it.
I had already pinned quite a few places on maps.me of where I wanted to see and the the airport was planted right in the middle of some to the south and my hotel to the north so I debated going south before checking in at all to save time but in the end I went to the Hotel for check in anyway. It would mean doubling back on myself at some point but I was on my own for this trip so I had time to spare and always enjoy a good drive when you have a view to match (by the end of the weekend I would have covered 600km!). My hotel was outside the town of Salalah itself, it was a resort that had a few five star hotels, along with a corniche/promenade, beaches, cafes and restaurants all together, It was like its own little town, and while it may not given a true representation of what its like to stay in the real Salalah, it had me, and I already wanted to come back before the weekend was over. I stayed In Fanar Hotel & Residence. My check in was straight forward, and even though I was early, there was no problem with getting me to my room straight away.
I lay up for a short while while I decided my plan of attack and where to see first. I set off around 2pm and I decided to get one of the furthest things out of the way first because I could catch another on the way back and not have to head in that direction again, making it easier to navigate for the rest of the weekend.
The drive was nice and there were many camels on the road at different places. It didn’t matter if the road was 120kph there could still be a camel crossing at any point so although I was never caught off guard, it’s important to keep your eyes on the road when driving in Salalah. I also noticed a good few speed cameras along the route and with the speed limit changing without me noticing a few times I may have been caught speeding, Im not sure but I didn’t get charged after the rental anyway!
On the way to my first stop (Wadi Dawkah – Frankincense Trees) There was a Police stop. Now there was no problem, I was just waved through and didn’t have to stop but I had read that you are meant to carry your passport for these stops just in case and I forgot so maybe I got lucky! As you drive out the dual carriageway you might wonder how you are going to get to the trees as they are on the left side but you are driving on the right. Not to worry there is a break in the median and an easy left turn sorts you out. Its very safe as you can clearly see on coming traffic, and it this location it’s pretty sparse anyway.
***Pin Drop (Wadi Dawkah – Frankincense Trees): https://goo.gl/maps/v8tJYrnaVBM3Lbqy6
I must admit the experience was= underwhelming but I’ve heard of Frankincense so many times in religion and the three wise men that it was cool to see from that standpoint alone (The reality was they were just trees, and they could have been any tree but there is a process where they cut the tree bark in a certain way and it produces the frankincense – There is a souk in Salalah where you can see and buy some if you wish – I’ll mention that later).
On the way back I took a detour to drive some winding roads . This would become a theme. Unfortunately couldn’t get any cool pictures but so fun to drive. On that note, whether you are on a local road or a 120kph expressway, look out for camels, cows, goats and donkeys there are everywhere haha
Pin Drop (Winding Road): https://goo.gl/maps/DoUWENquthzXgAnm8
On the way back towards Salalah I decided to check out Al Baleed and the Frankincense museum. I thought the museum was for frankincense and as I wanted to see it I was keen, but it wasn’t that was just the name of the museum due to the local connection to the area. The museum was a museum of history for the area. Al Baleed was a nice area to walk around but nothing special to look at in terms of history, most buildings completely destroyed and what is there is largely rebuilt modern clearly. The entry ticket was for both so it is a 2 birds one stone job.
Pin drop (Frankincense Museum and Al Baleed Heritage site): https://goo.gl/maps/DVZY5UggapVQBfd49
After that I drove down to the frankincense souq (mentioned earlier) but on the way there was a nice coastal beach I stopped on to admire the view. The sound of crashing waves wasn’t something I was accustomed to in the part of the middle east I lived in so it was a nice change. After that, I went to the nearby souk where just to see the frankincense, I just wanted to see it haha! You can even pick up some Myrhh here. All you need is a drop of gold and you are laughing.
Pin Drop (Frankincense souq): https://goo.gl/maps/Yt7q8F9JbbLVVZEs5
I did a U-turn at that point, I had enough exploring done for one day and started to head north towards the hotel but on the way back to the hotel I noticed these fruit stalls on the side of the road… there was a lot of them and I was peckish so pulled in, I got 6 bananas, 1 mango cut up, and 1 cup of pomegranate seeds for 1 Oman riyal. All sooo fresh and tasty. Great value!
Back to hotel I got in a run and found a nice place for dinner called the island on route so after i finished the run, gym and got showered I went down to reception and get a golf cart to the restaurant which happened to be about 100m away but I got slightly disorientated on the run and had no idea it was the close. A good feed, and a WALK back to the hotel had me in for an early night with a big day of exploring to be done tomorrow.
First up was Wadi Darbat. It is one of the more famous images when exploring Salalah but the thing about a Wadi is means valley or low area that only has water during rainy season, so the google location wrong for the area you have in your head, its essentially a river. There is a sign that tells you we’re to turn (and maps.me showed me the right place) but I ignored it and followed google as I asked the guy in the hotel (and showed him the picture) and he assured me google was right. It wasn’t. When I got to google location it was dried up, monsoon season is over… so although it was still the same wadi it wasn’t the famous part. I knew I’d see the sign on the way back so I just followed the road and found the place easily. I could saved myself half an hour if I just went there first, Although the views along the way were something else for the middle east, as you drove up through the higher areas it got greener and greener it wa like driving at home in Ireland in some parts.
Pin Drop (Wadi Darbat): https://goo.gl/maps/vxtR3DGh8n7cEP9eA
Next up was Ayn Athom (google it, my picture doesn’t do it justice if you get there at the right time of year)… this time I followed my maps.me location and it brought me right to the place, accept it was already dried up… a pity as the pictures of this I seen previously looked great. Thats the problem with visiting Salalah, it has a monsoon season from July to September due to the location and nearby mountains, its creates a unique rainy season rare to the middle east at that time of year. But once the monsoon season is over many of the areas dry up quickly. So timing is key when visiting Salalah.
Pin Drop (Ayn Athom): https://goo.gl/maps/c3phFbKBnDz1TG156
I was in two minds whether I’d travel to Mughsail beach (the far side of Salalah) today or tomorrow but I decided to go for it. I wasn’t disappointed. The beach and views were amazing. Just down from the beach was the blowholes, not that impressive, probably due to tide times but there was a little hill that I was advised by a friend to climb for great views and the didn’t disappoint either!
Pin Drop (Mughsail): https://goo.gl/maps/bubJp4fLsP1XxNJo9
Next I had to decide on whether I’d try go to Fayiza beach or not, I knew it was ‘off road’ but didn’t know exactly how off road it was.. also I seen a few cars drive in that direction so I thought maybe everyone was doing it… This was the road to Yemen, not that it mattered but maybe some people were going there I wasn’t sure.
I drove up the toad and when I got to the point where I had to go off road (6km from the beach) I was already several hundred meters up from sea level and had come through some valleys and winding roads down and up to get where I was, another beautiful drive.
I decided to give the off road a try. The road was not paved but completely fine to drive on. However, the further I went, the less safe I felt. I think technically it was fine, but I was on my own, nobody knew I was there and I only had a relatively small car, not a 4×4. Although the road wasn’t right beside the cliff it felt like it was as I drove with the horizon in view and it was steep in some parts which is generally fine but with the loose dirt etc. I wasn’t keen. I decided to turn back. I knew at the time that I could have kept going but my mind was playing tricks on me, and everything I had seen today was already amazing. I didn’t feel a 6km trip down a dirt road to see one beach was worth the risks at the time. Do I regret it? No. Would I advise others to keep going if they are in the area? Yes, sure, I really think it was safe and that I overreacted.
Pin Drop (for Fayiza Beach): https://goo.gl/maps/xcf7kito2SFkNn4s8
There is also a ‘hidden beach’ that I missed with a great view from the main road along the way if you want to stop for a look also. But you need to stop in the right place, I missed it, just to the left down that valley in the picture below.
Pin Drop (hidden beach):https://goo.gl/maps/UY6Z9Zsfx3Y5oGXe8
On the way back I enjoyed the winding roads and heading into my friend at the fruit stall for a top up.
There was one other place I wanted to visit called Ayn Khor but I reckoned it would be dried out too (similar to Ayn Athom) based on its location. There was a bit of off road involved to get to this place also but it was nowhere near the coast. I have read that a normal car is fine to drive there but a 4×4 is preferable in monsoon season.
Pin drop (Start of off road to get to Ayn Khor): https://goo.gl/maps/z8UCCkvzSNyEUKyZ9
Pin Drop (for Ayan Khor Waterfall): https://goo.gl/maps/Mzb2qimAPPXwRsiZ8
So anyway I decided it was time to enjoy the 5 star resort I was in (great deal on Qatar airways holidays!) rather than just use it as a bed. I lay up on the beach soaked up the sun, read a bit before going for a run and gym session. This was starting to feel like a very productive holiday. Dinner was in the island again, the location was just too nice to resist, and the beer nice too. Fresh fish (Seabream), healthy option this time. I managed to walk down and back this time!
My flight the next day wasn’t until 10pm at night so I decided to fit in some more site seeing before heading back to the hotel to check out/lounge by the pool until it was time to go to the airport. So first I headed just north of my resort to Taqah Castle. Nothing amazing but it had a nice view of the surrounding area, as i meandered through the local town streets there was a guy driving at me up the wrong way (it was very slow, speed bumps everywhere) but as soon as he seen me he was all smiles and joking and apologising, there was friendliness everywhere you turned in this part of the world.
Pin Drop (Taqah Castle): https://goo.gl/maps/NYVEfBZ7d4hqLMuZ8
I had a quick look at the beach here before continuing on again to another archeological site (Khor Rori). It was 2 OMR entry but it was cash only and I had none on me at this point so I just took pictures from outside.
Pin drop (Khor Rori): https://goo.gl/maps/khyvK8H6KbDGZMeN6
On the way to the site I noticed what looked a waterfall over by Wadi Darbat. Investigate I did. I drove to the end of the road and seen a car parked, out popped a couple locals and away they went down the path, I felt like I was in the right place.
The view got better the further I walked. What a view considering I didn’t plan on seeing this. My friend who visited recently sent me pictures of this water fall calling in Wadi Darbat but I took no notice as I thought the google location I went to before that was dried out might have been that location and everything I knew of Wadi Darbat was of the area I have shown you above. Regardless I was here now and I was very happy I found it. Map wise its very close to the other area, just off another road. but If I was exploring again, I would definitely visit these two areas one after the other.
Pin drop (Wadi Darbat Waterfall parking): https://goo.gl/maps/vypfnbtpCcCR18pR9
After that I felt fairly accomplished with myself for 2-3 day stint exploring and I headed back to hotel. With a late check out granted, I got in a final run and shower before stuffing my face with all the great fruit and checking out. Then it was time to chill by the pool for the rugby then chill by the pool for the football. Its a tough life.
There were so many Petrol stations through the trip so I left the refill until the end thinking I could easily fill up as soon as I left the hotel but as I drove to the airport the Petrol light was flashing for about 20km and I hadn’t seen one, typical! Finally I found one, empty to full 8.3 OMR. Great value for about 600km I did over the last three days.
Once I got back to the airport there was no one at the car rental desk just a box saying drop the keys in here… seemed strange but job done and I got a message from my bank later that night saying the deposit had been refunded. An unusual but straightforward service provided.
Typical of Oman hospitality even though there was an argument at check-in (in Arabic) about god knows what. The airport police made an appearance and joked about arresting they guy before they all laughed and lived happily ever after. After checking in I made my way to customs, no queue again, and this time I was greeted by a lady who asked me where I was from and told me I was beautiful haha not sure thats protocol for customs but it put a smile on my face and was the perfect way to end my stay in genuinely one of the nicest places I have ever been.
Tips and Prices:
Rent a car, you really need to if you want to see Salalah
Consider if you want to seen Salalah as green as possible go between July and September (Khareef season) but the skies may be much more grey during this time. Thats why I opted for early October, blue skies and still the remains of the Khareef can be seen, although I did miss out on one or two ‘must see places’ be cause of this. It’s a tradeoff you will have to decide yourself. I have no advice for Salalah at any other time of the year, it could be great but I haven’t research it…
Visa 5 OMR for GCC residents (28 days)
Visa 5 OMR for non GCC residents (for 10 days)
Wadi Dawkah – Frankincense Trees – Free
Frankincense Museum and Al Baleed Heritage site – 2 OMR ‘per car’ I was on my own but presumably its the same price for 5 people if you are in the same car.
Wadi Darbat – free
Ayn Athom – free (although this was dried up at the time of my visit, maybe they charge when its flowing) – Also drive up the road to the left a bit after the waterfall pin drop and you can get a nice view from above
Mughsail beach and blowholes – Free
Fariya Beach viewpoint – free
Taqah Castle – free
Khor Rori – 2 OMR
Petrol – approx 8.3 OMR for 600km worth in Mazda 2.