A weekend exploring the Al Hajar Mountains in Northern Oman
Updated: Aug 29, 2018
Sites to visit:
1. Drive to Wadi Damm from the Nizwa-ibri Road. This track takes you down a stoney track in the wadi bed until you reach a cluster of houses and a dam. This is where you park the car as the track ends here. Follow the little falaj (local man-made stream which they use to irrigate/transport water to their farms) on the left hand side until you reach a large pool where you can swim. Keep a look out for local lizards and birds!
2. Drive to the Ghost Village of Ghul from Al Hamra. It’s worth parking the car and taking a stroll through the Ghost Village. However, the best view of the village as a whole is from the track. This track then continues into the Al Hajar Mountains, passing through other picturesque villages and wadis.
3. Drive through the Al Hajar Mountains and visit Lower Little Snake’s Canyon (drawn in blue on the map). The canyon can be accessed via three different tracks, two which leave the Rustaq-Miskin Road and the third route from Al Hamra. It takes about 4 hours to drive all the way through the mountain range from one side to the other. Allow about 3 hours to spend at the canyon itself and make sure you take the following: a wetsuit top or a 2mm wetsuit, a rope, a waterproof bag with essentials. Ideally you want to be doing this in a group with at least two vehicles. Before heading into the canyon, I recommend you drive one vehicle to the exit of the canyon so that you can hop in once you’ve finished, avoiding the long hike back up. Don’t forget to take the keys with you in your waterproof bag! Back by the entrance to the canyon, there is a campsite: a flat terraced bit of land with minimal rocks that sits out of the wadi, making this a safe place for an overnight stay even if it rains. Entry to the canyon is a short 20 meter walk from the campsite. You can’t miss it and you will hear the cascading water of the first mini waterfall inviting you to descend. Lower Littler Snake’s Canyon takes you through a very narrow and deep canyon, approximately 3-6 meters wide, over various waterfalls and cascades that you either slide down, jump or climb. Towards the lower end of the canyon, you swim through a dark cave approximately 10-15 meters long. If it has just rained, debris can collect here but hold your breathe and persevere, at this point there is no going back! Once through the cave, the canyon starts to open up, taking you through a boulder field and scattered pools, terminating at a cluster of houses in the wadi bed. Watch out for all the goats, they will eat anything and everything! Visiting the canyon is best done during the winter months but make sure to check the weather forecast prior to going. It is not safe if there has been heavy rain due to the increased risk of a flash flood. The track from the canyon to Al Hamra is very picturesque. This 2-hour drive climbs towards one of the highest peaks of this mountain range, reaches around 1500 meters and gives spectacular panoramic views. Keep your windows and air conditioning system closed as the track can become very dusty. Along the way you will pass a nice green oasis called Balda Sayt and several interesting cliff-top photo opportunities. When scrambling along the rocks to admire the views, be careful not to get too close to the cliff edges as the rock in Oman is flaky and can crumble easily. At the highest point, the temperature can feel significantly cooler, dropping 10-15 degrees Celsius, so a light jumper is recommended, especially if visiting in the winter months.
4. Alila Jabal Akhdar Hotel sits at 2000 meters above sea level on the Sayq Plateau and can be accessed via Birka Al Mouz. Even if you don’t want to stay at the luxurious mountain-top hotel with a pool, the views from the plateau are worth the drive. Alternatively, you may be able to find a camping spot. The track passes a sheer cliff drop into a gorge, terraced plantations and farms, finishing with incredible panoramic views across the Al Hajar Mountains towards Jebel Shams Peak. There are multiple off-road tracks to explore along the plateau and the gorge edge.
5. Experience some of Oman’s history with visits to the old forts at the towns of Nizwa and Bahla. Even if you choose not to enter inside the forts, they provide an impressive and imposing vision of old Omani architecture. If you find yourself strolling around either of these towns past 6pm, I highly recommend grabbing a delicious local chicken shawarma and fresh avocado juice with ice and honey, from one of the local shawarma shops.
6. If you have time, visit Al Hoota Cave or hike to Jebel Shams Peak, which means Sun Mountain in Arabic. All hikes to Jebel Shams are accessed from the track that passes through the Village of Ghul. There are three routes to Jebel Shams Peak marked with coloured flags: the easiest hike is the Al Nakhur Rim Hike that starts at Al Khitaym Village and takes you along the rim of Al Nakhur Canyon (Grand Canyon); harder hikes are the Al Khitaym to Wadi Ghul Hike and Jebel Shams Summit Hike, the last of which can be quite demanding and will take about 10-12 hours roundtrip.
Need to know:
If visiting from Muscat, allow a 3.5-hour drive.
If visiting from Dubai, allow a 5.5-hour drive.
A 4x4 vehicle is recommended. Some of the tracks are narrow dirt roads, quite steep in places, passing through creeks and small pools of water in other places.