Walking and trekking
Oman is an extremely exciting place to trek at the moment: the country is undergoing something of a revolution, with walking trails being marked and signed for the first time, and more and more visitors being encouraged to visit by a government which seems to have recently woken up to the fact that it has something quite remarkable to offer the outdoor enthusiast. Oman is particularly enticing to western visitors as it blends the mystical feel of the east with some truly arresting, eminently walkable landscapes of limestone canyons, ragged-ridged tabletop mountain ranges, desert wadis, and many wild areas which were inaccessible until about a decade ago. This is truly Arabia’s wild east. Onesuch is the Al Hajar mountains, which stretch along the northern coast and through the north-east of the country and contain Oman’s (and eastern Arabia’s) highest point, Jebel Shams (3,075m). While its height is impressive, it’s the canyons which lie on its flanks which make this a truly unmissable destination, as they are far more interesting than the summit itself. One of the most popular treks in Oman is the Jebel Shams Rim Walk, which starts at the village of Al Khateem. Immediately the trekker is rewarded with sumptuous views of the canyons of Wadi Nakhr and Wadi Ghul (the prefix wadi refers to a river-cut canyon which often floods in heavy rain). It is a challenging, loose and at time exposed walk, which makes it ideal for the adventurous trekker who enjoys mountain terrain. The route contours around the mountain, offering breathtaking views of the canyon below. Traditional Omani markets andvillages line the canyons around Jebel Shams, as do ancient cliff dwellings and some thrilling rock climbs. Easier options for walking can be found in the Capital Area around Muscat. Wakan to Hadash is a classic walk which is very beautiful, offering panoramic views of traditional Omani life and scenery over Wadi Mistall and the extensive Ghubrah Bowl – a depression ringed by high peaks, where a number of walks leave from the picturesque mountain farming village of Wakan in the western Hajar mountains. The treks around here can be challenging, but offer a sumptuous slice of what makes this country so special.
Oman provides plenty to keep rock-climbers interested. Here you can find some extraordinary sport climbing via three terrifying via ferrata routes in the Grand Canyon region at Wadi Nakhr. There are also many multi-pitch climbing routes, both bolted or traditional. The monolithic towers of Wadi Al-Ghool in A'Dakhliyah Region reach a height of 300m and offer Alpine-style climbing at its best. The challenging south-western façade of Jabal Mishfat offers climbs from 120 to 500 m. But Jabal Misht beats all of these to the crown of Oman’s ideal climbing location, due to its huge exposed façade, which is thought to be one of the largest climbable face on the Arabian peninsula: the southeastern façade extends for 6km and rises to 850m, giving Alpine style routes of all grades.
Oman has over 3,000km of coastline, and the diving here ranks among some of the best in the world, especially off Fahal Island, the Damaniyyat Islands and (gulp) Cemetery Bay. Visibility is excellent and night diving is a big lure due to dramatic phosphorescent algae in the waters of the gulf. The limestone geology also yields an array of caves, including Majlis Al-Jinn in the A'Sharqiyah Region – one the world's largest caves and the most challenging in Oman. This is a serious cave and is only for experts (it still hasn’t been fully explored); a less technical but only marginally less spectacular grotto can be found at Al-Hotah. And this being the new Arabia, the shopping is spectacular and the dining is exquisite.
Ranulph Fiennes once tried to overthrow the government of Oman. FALSE: while critical of the Sultan’s government, Fiennes actually led several raids against the rebels who were attempting to launch a coup. He ended up being decorated for bravery.
Must see and do
- Snake Canyon Via Ferrata – a mixture of ziplines, via ferrata and wire traverses across a precipitous canyon. High adventure. Watch Julia Bradbury doing it here: http://travel.five.tv/trips_oman.htm
- Attack the desert in a 4x4 – Wahiba sands is a good place to do this. Dial it into Youtube to get an idea of what this place is like.