Our Arabian adventure began in what we came to think of as the ‘golden triangle’ of Oman: Muscat, boasting the largest chandelier in the world with 1,227 light bulbs and housed in the Sultan Qaboos Mosque; the Hajar Mountains with soaring rocky vistas and home to Oman’s grand canyon of Wadi Ghul; and the rolling dunes of Wahiba Sands. These destinations in themselves gave us a flavor for the diversity of Oman, but with 11 days on our hands and over 1,140 kilometers of road to cover from north to south, we knew that there was more to this country than the well-trodden tourist route in the north.
The southern province of Dhofar is the Land of Frankincense, home to Salalah, the second city of Oman and the birthplace of Sultan Qaboos himself. What sets this region apart from the rest of the country is the annual Khareef, or monsoon, which runs from May to early September in conjunction with the heavy rains of Southern India as it lies roughly on the same latitude. During this season a light but constant drizzle falls with a low misty cloud, and the surrounding mountains turn from a dusty beige to a lush green.
Where the rest of the country’s produce is predominantly dates, Dhofar’s crop consists of coconuts and bananas which are sold on the local fruit stalls lining Salalah’s streets. When the region starts to dry, the coconut trees and banana plants add wide splashes of vibrant green to the Dhofar’s palette outside of the Khareef months. Between May and September, camels descend from the mountains as the roads become too slippery and it isn’t uncommon to see a herd of around 200 in the city itself. We therefore think that the optimum time to visit is late September to early October, when the rains have passed and temperatures have risen, but the lush greenness remains. However, the season from October through to April is still a wonderful time to visit the region.
Over the few days of our visit, our driver Ali, full of local knowledge, showed us the sights of Salalah and its surrounding coastline. We started our first day with a visit to the Museum of the Frankincense Land, learning about the production of frankincense starting from the tree’s growth, through the harvest of the gum, and finally to the local ports, (one being the nearby Khor Rori, an archaeological site well worth a visit) which dispersed this incense throughout the world’s legendary trade routes.
Oman’s towns and cities are home to numerous markets, and Salalah is no exception. We visited the souks selling fresh meat and the local catch, including hammour and king fish, as well as a colorful array of fresh fruit and vegetables. A particular favorite were the stalls found on the fringe of the city, with ribbons of camel meat on offer for the hungry locals at lunchtime, and those tourists with a more adventurous palate… of which we were neither! Nestled in the center of Salalah, lies a maze of frankincense shops with the locals sorting out its different grades and enticing you into their shops with their welcoming smiles. A wonderful perfume pervades the streets as you meander through.
Salalah’s coastline boasts long stretches of white, sandy beach, notably Maghsel which is also the location of the fascinating blow hole. We are not scientists or geographers by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems that the waves combine with pressure to force a jet of water up through a hole in the rock. Who needs Dubai’s Downtown fountains when you’ve got this natural phenomenon?!
Until recently, Salalah has very much been a vacation destination for GCC citizens, escaping the blistering heat of their countries for the cooler climes of Dhofar during the Khareef. So popular is it that locals even move out of their houses and set up camp on the outskirts of the city in order to let their homes to these Arab guests. There is even a festival to celebrate the Khareef, the annual cultural extravaganza. However, it is becoming a renowned vacation spot amongst western tourists, either as a fly-and-flop destination in itself, or as part of a more diverse itinerary combined with the north, lying only 50 minutes from Muscat with Oman Air.
As such, it is an exciting time for the region with the new development of Salalah Beach within easy distance of the city, just a 20-minute drive. Salalah Beach is a marina concept, with private apartments and villas for sale, as well as up-and-coming luxurious hotels which are set to be completed in the next few years. At present, Juweira Boutique Hotel is king of the marina, with just 64 rooms and suites, two sizeable swimming pools, two restaurants and a gym. Small shops and cafes will soon be dotted around the water’s edge, giving it a buzzy atmosphere and making Juweira the hub of the resort. For those keen golfers, two 18-hole courses are also under way, and for sun worshippers a small private beach is just a short walk from the hotel.
A more recent addition to Salalah’s beach offering is the Salalah Rotana Resort, offering a more luxurious experience. This is larger than the Juweira but is set out in clusters, giving the hotel more of a village feel, so it doesn’t seem too large for guests who prefer an intimate atmosphere. Some rooms have ocean views which we highly recommend, as it’s absolutely beautiful!
After our short but sweet trip to Salalah and Dhofar, we really think that this southern province adds a further spice to the current Scott Dunn experience and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get under the skin of Oman. Visitors will find the same welcoming and friendly faces that you would come across anywhere in the country, as well as being greeted in the traditional Omani style – with Arabic coffee and delicious dates. A trip down to Salalah is a wonderful alternative to Muscat, for guests in search of some winter sun combined with the exotic smell of frankincense. For, as one local put it, if you haven’t visited Salalah, you haven’t truly experienced Oman.
To find out more information on our customized vacations to Oman, give one of our Consultants a call on 020 603 3555 or visit scottdunn.com.