A trip to Salalah can be done very quickly by plane from the UAE. However, we opted for a scenic coastal route from Abu Dhabi, which takes approximately 21 hours of driving one way. We crossed the border in Al Ain and then took a rest day in Muscat before continuing further south on the coastal route. Along the way, we were treated to breathtaking views of picturesque cliffs, charming villages, and vast expanses of mesmerising desert landscapes. If you enjoy road trips and are up for an adventure, or if you are in search of desert poetry, Salalah might be the perfect destination for your next trip. We embarked on this journey in July 2022 to witness the monsoon season known as khareef, which transforms the coastal town into a lush and misty green paradise.
We took off from Abu Dhabi, keeping in mind the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. Before crossing the border, we made sure to undergo the necessary tests. Fortunately, the border was relatively empty during this time of the year given the circumstances. Alongside a few other families, we patiently awaited visa processing. Although most of the formalities can be completed online, our paperwork had not arrived in time, so we had to do it in person at the border.
Our journey ahead involved several days of driving, with planned stopovers along the way. Our first stop was Muscat, which provided a quick and refreshing break before we continued our journey further south. We chose the coastal route, which was filled with lush green wadis, leading us to Sur, known for its turtle reserve. Since we travelled during the Eid al-Adha holiday, the reserve was bustling with visitors. However, we managed to secure overnight tent accommodations. The tents were surprisingly comfortable, and a short hike to the nearby hills rewarded us with impeccable views of the Gulf of Oman.
At the reserve, there were two guided tours each day, one at 9 PM and another at 5 AM. Due to the holiday season, both tours were full. Nevertheless, we made it to the beach where hundreds of turtles from the Indian Ocean come to nest each year. The guides made commendable efforts to keep people at a safe distance to avoid stressing the turtles. This was our second visit to the reserve, and despite the occasional lack of respect for the turtles from some visitors, we still cherished the experience. We witnessed the awe-inspiring sight of a big mother turtle laying approximately 100 eggs, and we observed numerous tracks left behind by other giant turtles as they made their way to the ocean.
In a few weeks, the baby turtles will hatch and attempt their perilous journey to the water. Unfortunately, their survival rate is quite low due to the presence of predators. Consequently, protecting the nesting areas becomes crucial for their survival.
Continuing our journey southward, we made a decision to spend the night in Duqm, which was conveniently located midway along our route. The road stretched out before us, long and serene, with thankfully minimal traffic. As we drove, the wind carried gusts of sand, reminding us of the scorching summer heat. Despite these conditions, the drive served as a refreshing experience, clearing our minds. To enhance the atmosphere, we tuned in to an Omani radio station, immersing ourselves in the captivating melodies of Arabic tunes. The music made the passing road all the more enjoyable.
Occasionally, we came across small towns along the way, many of which were incredibly picturesque, worthy of capturing in photographs. Whenever possible, we made stops to appreciate their charm, quickly capturing a snapshot before continuing our journey.
As we ascended to the elevated plateau, our curiosity led us to veer off the main road for a while. To our astonishment, we discovered a breathtaking canyon that left us speechless. The heat and wind intensified the experience, making it all the more exhilarating.
Continuing our journey, we encountered cliffs emerging from the previously flat desert plains. As we neared the Yemeni border, we prepared ourselves for the presence of border patrols and checkpoints. Some checkpoints required the presentation of passports and visas, so we made sure our documents were in order.
Arriving in Salalah, we settled in at a beach bungalow. Although we were a fair distance from the town, we were conveniently close to the majestic Baobab trees and the Wadi Darbat Waterfalls. Unfortunately, when we attempted to visit the waterfalls, we discovered that access was closed. Puzzled, we inquired about the reason at our reception, only to learn that a fatal accident had recently occurred, and a search was underway for the victims. Additionally, there was another area closed off by the police due to a tragic incident where an entire family was swept away by the sea. These grim occurrences served as a stark reminder to heed safety precautions and stay within designated areas. The khareef season presents considerable dangers, and it is crucial to adhere to warnings and remain vigilant regarding extreme weather conditions. Swimming in the sea during this time of year is strongly discouraged.
We found ourselves enthralled by the power of the monsoon, which playfully toyed with us during our rest stops near the sea. The waves, whipped up by the ferocious winds, were a sight to behold, resembling wild galloping white horses. Attempting to capture photos of the frothy wave crests was a challenging task, and we proceeded with caution.
Driving around in awe, we observed that everything was engulfed in a thick, misty fog. Mountains barely peeked through the moisture, creating an ethereal atmosphere. Since our plans to visit Wadi Darbat were foiled, we navigated our way to the grand baobab trees. Surrounded by impressively lush greenery, this part of the Arabian Peninsula showcased nature’s magnificence. The bottom of the wadi revealed a crystal-clear mountain stream, inviting us to explore and hike its surroundings. Among the trees, we encountered a giant baobab worthy that dwarfed our presence. Deviating from the circular hiking path, we ventured towards a massive sinkhole teeming with diverse flora and fauna. The melodious chirping of birds reverberated against the steep walls of the circular cliff, creating a lively ambience.
On our way back, we stumbled upon a curiosity: “Gravity Hill”. This place boasted an astonishing optical illusion. If you positioned your car at the “bottom” of the hill and left it in neutral, it would appear to “magically” move uphill, and surprisingly quickly at that. It is worth noting that this spot can get quite crowded, with people attempting various driving stunts to capture the perfect photo or video. However, by paying attention and respecting others, its possible to capture some impressive shots yourself. And let us not forget the ubiquitous site of dozens of camels being led by their herders to add even more charm to the scenery.
There are plenty of sights to be explored in and near by Salalah. We could not resist embarking on a quest to search for the mythological “Atlantis of the Sands”, said to be located in the Ubar archaeological outpost. According to legend, this lost city was destroyed due to its frivolous nature. Opting for a more adventurous route, we ventured along a dirt road, which injected doses of adrenaline as we crossed recently-flooded wadis with their muddy surfaces. With careful manoeuvring through gravel and mud, we successfully navigated our way and reached the destination after approximately a 90km ride. Remarkably, as soon as we crossed the mountain range, the weather underwent a drastic change from misty and foggy to a dry desert climate.
Since the Dhofar region is renowned for its frankincense, we made a stop at a park where, if fortunate, one can witness the precious tree sap collecting on cut branches. This sap serves as the source of the fragrant oil, widely used in burning bakhoor rituals, as well as in churches, temples, and the perfumery industry.
On our journey back to the UAE, we opted for the desert crossing route. A 12-hour drive via vast desert plains on a newly renovated highway. Despite this, we planned a night’s stopover in Nizwa’s old town, where restoration efforts are currently underway. The old town boasts numerous charming establishments, boutique hotels, cafeterias, and restaurants, making it a delightful place to explore.
From there, we swiftly crossed the border back into the UAE. During the remaining drive, we were enveloped in silence, allowing the scorching heat to bring a realisation that our adventure was coming to a close. In quiet reflection, we reminisced about the trip, cherishing the memories we had created along the way.