Pristine and untouched white sands, crystal clear waters, scenic mountains and impressive wadis. Sounds like paradise right?! Well, my experience in Salalah was bittersweet. Imagine this. It was the last couple of hours of my trip, I had all my amazing photos taken and was about to head to the airport to catch my flight, then my phone fell down a squat toilet and I lost all my pictures, except for a handful of them I had luckily posted on Facebook that morning. Devastated is an understatement! Nevertheless, I still enjoyed my time there and want to share with you everything you need to know about Salalah including when to visit, how to get around, how long to spend there, and the best places to visit in Salalah. Read on to find out more (I just apologise for the lack of, and poor quality of my pictures)!
Where is Salalah and why is it so special?
Salalah is Oman’s second city (after its capital Muscat) and is located in the south of Oman in a region known as Dhofar, just around 200km from the border with Yemen. Located in the Arabian Gulf, Oman enjoys warm sunny weather year-round. However, Salalah has it’s own micro-climate and what makes Salalah special is it’s ‘khareef‘ season. This is actually a climate phenomenon that occurs during the summer months of June to September: whilst the rest of the Middle East is experiencing scorching temperatures of up to 50degrees, the temperatures in Salalah drop to around 25 degrees and the area experiences a slight drizzle almost all day and fog in the mountains as it is touched by monsoon winds (‘khareef‘ means autumn, or monsoon in Arabic). Locals from other parts of Oman and the neighbouring countries of UAE and Saudi Arabia flock here during June to September for their summer holidays to have a respite from the harsh weather conditions at home and enjoy some cool weather.
During khareef season the landscape around Salalah transforms from the grey and brown desert terrain to lush green valleys, making khareef season really the best time to explore Salalah and discover it’s natural beauty! Whilst this is the busiest time for tourism in Salalah (so make sure to book your hotel and car hire/guide in advance!), tourism hasn’t really picked up on an international level here, so it won’t feel too crowded or busy.
Getting to Salalah:
You have 2 options – you can either fly (recommended) or drive here. Direct flights to Salalah are available from Muscat (with Oman Air or Salam Air) or Dubai (with Fly Dubai). Flights take around 1 hour and are pretty cheap. Alternatively, although I do not recommend this option, you can drive from Muscat or even Dubai, however this takes around 14 hours and is over 1000km. Many local people choose this option and unfortunately some have car accidents because they are so fatigued from the long drive, so please take the flight if possible.
When you arrive in Salalah you will most definitely need to hire a car or organise a driver to explore this area as all the places to visit are fairly spread out and there isn’t any public transport. The roads are pretty well maintained, however there aren’t many petrol stations around so just plan out your petrol stops before you set off if you plan to drive yourself. If visiting during the popular khareef season, PLEASE be sure to book your car or driver in advance, and I would recommend to book a 4×4 vehicle as sometimes the roads can get quite muddy during the khareef season.
*TOP TIP* Make sure to download an offline map on your phone before you arrive, such as maps.me as I found road signage to be fairly poor and there is sometimes no phone signal in this region.
How long should I spend in Salalah?
I spent 2 days and 2 nights in Salalah and found this to be the perfect amount of time there. Whilst there isn’t a LOTTTT of things to see, places are quite spread out and you’ll spend at least a couple of hours each day driving. Therefore, you will need to plan your itinerary well to ensure you aren’t going back on yourself and that you are taking a logical route. I have included below the 2 day itinerary that I took.
Suggested 2 day Salalah itinerary
West Salalah: Mughsail beach and Murneef Cave, Al Fazayah beach, Ayoub tomb.
East Salalah: Taqah old city and castle, Wadi Darbat, Ayn Razat oasis, Al Haffah souq (Salalah city).
Places to visit in Salalah
There are many beautiful unspoilt beaches around Salalah, with one of the most popular being Mughsail beach (40km west of Salalah) with its beautiful white sand and blowholes. These blowholes are basically holes in the ground where water flows in from the waves crashing in from the sea, building up pressure and then releasing it by squirting up through these naturally created blowholes like a fountain. The spray of water coming up from the blowholes makes a loud noise and can reach over 20 metres high, especially during khareef season as the sea is a lot rougher at this time. If you head up to Al Marneef cave (it isn’t actually a cave but rather a path around the mountain) you can get a really good birds-eye view of these blowholes and a spectacular view of the ocean. Get here early if you don’t want people in your pictures as it can get quite busy during the day.
Al Fazayah Beach
Al Fazayah is another stunning beach too. It’s about 30 minutes drive west of Mughsail beach, driving towards the border with Yemen, and about 1 hour drive away from Salalah. The drive through the mountains is simply beautiful. The beach is 5km long with pristine white sands, crystal clear water, and a dramatic coastline with many rock formations, like the one below. I was there during the middle of the day and literally had the place to myself – that is how isolated and untouched this beach is! I much preferred it to Mughsail beach as it was much quieter, and more beautiful in my opinion. But be careful if you want to swim here as the currents can be very strong and the coastline is rocky.
The last part of the road to get here is pretty much a gravel track, and I only advise to go during daylight hours as the road is full of hairpin bends twisting, and a steep descent down towards the sea, so make sure you drive slowly. Bear in mind also that driving through the mountains can get very windy and sometimes you will be driving through fog.
Drive back in the direction of Salalah and head up Jebel Ittin mountain to Ayoub’s tomb: the resting place of the Prophet Ayoub (known as Job in the Old Testament). The drive up the mountain to the tomb is truly spectacular, and there is a restaurant nearby where I stopped for some biryani. The tomb is located inside a very simple building and is a little underwhelming, with nothing else to see except the tomb, but still worth a visit, if not for the beautiful views from the top of the mountain and on the journey too.
On Day 2 explore the sights east of Salalah:
Taqah is a quaint coastal fishing village about 35km east of Salalah. It is known for its castle, which is a beautiful example of Omani architecture and displays many cultural artefacts, giving you a good insight into local life. It is small and fairly new compared to other castles in Oman (it was only built in the 19th Century) but it is certainly worth a visit! There are also some lovely beaches around Taqah.
I stopped for a seafood lunch at the harbour here and some local Bedouins were having tea next to me. They were very friendly, and even though my Arabic is fairly limited we somehow managed to communicate. I was fascinated by their bright blue eyes (unfortunately they are not too visible on the picture) contrasting against their dark skin. I was also fascinated by their traditional outfits, so much so that one of them gave me his headscarf to wear and keep!
A further 30 minute drive east from Salalah is Wadi Darbat, one of the most beautiful wadis in Southern Oman. Wadis are basically valleys, and Wadi Darbat is very scenic and green in the khareef season: covered in lush green vegetation with a big lake running through it and even a waterfall! The mountains are often covered in a mysterious white fog here, which is really beautiful to see. One word of advice though: bring mosquito repellant as the mosquitos are crazy here!! Luckily for you though, if you do forget there are some stalls here that sell it.
Ayn Razat oasis
On your way back to Salalah, stop off at the peaceful Ayn Razat, a spring water oasis and park.
Al Haffah Souq
Head to Al Haffah souq (Salalah’s main market) in the evening – there you’ll find a lively atmosphere with many narrow lanes where you can haggle to buy incense, clothing, spices, gold or handicrafts. If there is only one thing you are going to buy in Salalah, I recommend to buy frankincense! Salalah is famous for it’s frankincense trade: it has been produced here since ancient times and you can smell it everywhere: in shops, hotels, in the streets, even inside the airport! You will find frankincense resin is very cheap here: it is one of the oldest types on incense in the world and many people burn it for spiritual reasons to bring strength and protection. I bought some when I was here and love burning it inside my house.
Accommodation in Salalah:
There isn’t much accommodation in and around Salalah – a few chain hotels, some family run hotels and some airbnb places, and the accommodation here isn’t super cheap as tourism is only starting to develop in this part of Oman. If you are going during khareef season, be sure to book ahead as the limited accommodation WILL get sold out quickly (and will be A LOT more expensive as it is high season). If you are looking for something different, a popular thing to do in Oman is to actually camp – it is very safe in Oman and is a nice and cheap experience. Next time I go I would love to try this!
What to wear in Salalah:
Oman is an Islamic country so obviously please dress conservatively. You don’t need to cover up from head to toe, just make sure you are covered from the shoulders to below the knees. Bear in mind you shouldn’t swim in a bikini if you are at a public beach – if you want to swim here just cover up with something light over your bikini. However, if you are visiting during khareef season, take extra caution when in the water in case of possible strong currents.
And there we go, that is all you need to know about Salalah. I hope you enjoy your trip down here, take lots of nice pictures, oh and ALWAYS take your phone out your back pocket before you go to a squat toilet!!
If you are planning to visit other parts of Oman, check out my Oman Travel Itinerary featuring detailed information for all the popular touristic sights in Oman!
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