The first long weekend I had here I made sure to take advantage of it! A quick trip to the UAE’s neighbour country, Oman. An hour flight or five hour drive from Abu dhabi, Oman was the perfect destination for a short vacation away.
Day 0 – Wednesday May 4
It would be an understatement to say the trip started off a little bumpy. Our short one hour flight with screaming children and cabin lights that never shut off felt triple the length. An airport that makes you feel so uncomfortable you want to crawl out of your own skin and strange men approaching from every angle to take you to your hotel, were just some of the highlights of the beginning of our trip.
However, this wasn’t the end of our interesting introduction to Oman. Our first taxi took us twenty minutes and nine Omani Rials to the wrong hotel, this was after confirming three times our hotel name and location. It is important to note here that taxis in Oman are driven by local nationals themselves. Most taxis do not have meters, so the prices need to be negotiated before getting in. The most important, though, is that GPS systems are non-existent and without a working phone in Oman, getting around was based on a trust system that the driver knew where he was going – we learned this the hard way. We then took a second taxi, who gave us his word he knew where he was going, and drove around for nearly TWO HOURS just to end up back at the first wrong hotel. Defeated and exhausted we stayed the night (more like 4 hours) here.
Day 1 – Thursday May 5
As quick as we shut our eyes we were awake again and beginning our three day tour. We had breakfast in the hotel and given the good news that our no-show to our booked hotel wouldn’t be charged – off to a much better start now! Our tour guide picked us up from the hotel around 10 AM, I could feel the relief of the stress from the night before lift of my shoulders as we sat inside the car.
We drove from our hotel in Muscat 113KM through the mountains, how nice it was to see a landscape that wasn’t flat desert land. Our first stop was the Bimmah Sinkhole or “Dabab Sinkhole” in Dabab Village. You could swim here if you’d like.
From there we continued our drive along the coast through to Fins and stopped at the White Beach. My highlight here was seeing Eagles sitting on the sand (it would be an under exaggeration to say I was excited about this). The white sands and turquoise seas were breathtaking, the shore was nearly empty except for a handful of campers along the beach.
From there we drove past Wadi Shab to Wadi Tiwi. What is a wadi? I’m not a geologist, but my understanding is that a wadi is a valley which most of the time remains dry and floods with rainfall creating a great swimming or rock jumping spot. This year, with more than a normal amount of rainfall, the wadis were flowing with water.
Day 2 – Friday May 6
We woke at 7:45AM for breakfast and left the resort at 9:45 to spend the day at another wadi. Wadi Bani Khalid is the most popular wadi in the eastern region of Oman, and the water flows through it year round – however, more rainfall this year meant deeper water! It was much busier and a lot bigger than where we were the day before. A small walk up towards the larger pools seemed a little longer in the 40 degree heat and no real foot path.
The walk was worth it. Maybe a 2km walk up some slippery rocks and scaling down them led to an incredible view and swimming spot.
We had another local biryani lunch and then headed towards our destination to spend the evening and night in the desert.
Wahiba Sands, the desert between Muscat and Sur, spreads approximately 100km x 200km. The tranquility and peace in the desert was a nice change from spending the day in popular tourist attractions. After arriving to our accommodations, Arabian Oryx Desert Camp, we had time to sit outside and relax (imagine, sitting outside in the desert, ha!).
We caught the sunset on top of the sand dunes, but only after dune bashing our way to the top. If you’ve been on a roller coaster before then you know the feeling… hands are sweaty, stomach is in a knot and your heart is in your throat… that’s the same as dune bashing. The worst part – knowing we had to go back down. The sunset was breathtaking.
Going back down the dunes was about half as scary, if not less, than it was going up. We ate dinner and sat and relaxed by a fire, (yes a camp fire in the desert) it was nice and smelt and felt a little like summers at home.
Day 3 – Saturday May 7
We woke and had breakfast in the resort and left the golden sand behind us to head back towards the city. We stopped to see the ruins at Al Munisfeh, near the town of Ibra. (Note the modern-day power lines in contrast to the old homes and buildings).
From there we went to Nizwa, another large city in Oman. The highlight here : the souq! A traditional souq that sells everything from meat, fruit and spices to pottery, swords and gold. It was here we tried Halwa, a traditional middle eastern dessert, made with sugar, cornstarch, saffron and nuts. It tasted like nut-flavoured Jell-O – it’s definitely no baklava.
Then headed for a look around Nizwa Fort. The most visited national monument in Oman, built in the 1650s, looks not any older than a couple of years from the rebuilding and fixing they have done to it. The history remains, from the old prison cells to the date cellars.
It was then back to the airport for our flights. The drive from Nizwa to Muscat was around two and a half hours so it was a good chance to catch up on some sleep or gaze out the window and stare at all the camels on the side of the road. Our return flight was much better. It did feel a little strange, in a good way, calling Abu Dhabi “home”.