No trip to Oman is complete without visiting a wadi. Many people head to Wadi Shab, which is probably Oman’s most famous wadi, however it’s important to know what is involved beforehand so you are prepared as it is a little different to other wadis in Oman (and has an amazing surprise at the end!). Here I’ll take you through all you need to know and what to expect when visiting Wadi Shab!
‘Wadi’ is the Arabic name for a valley or gorge. Sometimes wadis contain rain water and sometimes they just resemble a dried-up river bed, depending on the season and recent rainfall. Oman has literally hundreds of wadis and luckily most of them are free to visit and are accessible to the general public!
Wadi Shab is one of the most popular and picturesque wadis in Oman due to it’s fantastic scenery and it being fairly easy to reach. It is popular also because it is suitable for all the family and the fact that luckily it is one of the wadis where beautiful turquoise water remains all year round! It is suitable for people looking to spend an afternoon swimming and relaxing in the water, as well as people looking for an adventure (there is a secret cave and waterfall here!) and those who enjoy hiking (it is a 6km round hike).
How to reach Wadi Shab:
The best way to get to Wadi Shab is by hiring a car. A 4×4 isn’t necessary as the car park is right next to the road, however if you plan to visit other wadis a 4×4 may be required (check beforehand).
Wadi Shab is easily found on Google maps – just type in ‘Wadi Shab parking’ to Google maps (click here to see location) and maps.me offline maps to be directed right to the carpark. Don’t worry if you don’t have GPS or offline maps because the road signs are very clear. It’s an easy drive: pretty much a straight drive from Muscat south towards Sur, and after about 2 hours you’ll see an exit for ‘Wadi Shab’. When you turn off the highway you will see a large bridge (pictured above) – the parking is just underneath this. You’ll then see the sign below at the entrance and know you’re at the right place! Parking is free and you’ll be greeted by the local goats that hang out here!
If you don’t have a car you can do an organised tour from Muscat, just bear in mind that like any tour, you will have time restrictions when you are there, and will probably be there during the busiest time of the day.
Boat ride to the start of the hike:
To enter Wadi Shab you need to take a small boat for 1-2 minutes from the car park to get to the start of the trail. At the car park you will find a couple of very pleasant local men sitting by the boats who will take you across to the other side. You’ll need to pay 1 Omani Real (£2) in cash for the return boat ride that takes you to the start of the hike.
There’s not a timetable for the boats, they just pick you up when you have finished (just stand in the same spot where they dropped you off: they’ll see you from across the water and bring the boat straight over). However, pay attention as to what time the last boat departs – when I was there in the summer the last boat back was at 6pm but during the winter the last boat is at 5pm.
Hiking at Wadi Shab:
When you get off the boat you walk down a smooth path but then it quickly turns into a stony path (this was at the exact time my flipflop broke, so yes, I did the hike barefoot like a maniac. Definitely not recommended!). It is possible to complete the hike in flip-flops and you’ll even see some of the locals hiking barefoot (again, not recommended), and most tourists I saw there came in flip-flops, but of course covered shoes are much more suitable.
I didn’t find the hike strenuous and even saw young children doing it with their parents, so if you have a reasonable fitness level you shouldn’t struggle at all. It is flat most of the way, you just have to clamber over a few boulders at some point (the ones in the picture below), but no uphill walking is involved. The hike is 3km each way (so 6km in total) but you can turn back whenever you want, you don’t have to go all the way or swim to the waterfall if you’re too tired or running out of time!
About a third of the way through the hike you will come across the first beautiful turquoise blue pool, but this isn’t one you can swim in – you are only allowed to swim in the pools at the end! After this you will have to wade ankle-deep through some slow-flowing waterfalls, however when I was there they had dried up in parts so it was pretty easy to step on the rocks and remain dry.
At one point also you’ll be above the water level, walking along the side of the gorge – be careful as it can be slippery, and there is plenty space so don’t walk near the edge. This part is really beautiful though as you look down into the canyon and the beautiful clear water and you can take some really lovely pictures here. This is where you will find this photo spot below – again, this is not the pool you can swim in, it is just a viewpoint and place to take pictures.
About two thirds of the way through you’ll have to climb across the boulders pictured above, but just look out for the subtle arrows marked on some of the rocks that lead the way towards the left side of the canyon. Whilst you are hiking, every now and then don’t forget to look up and stop to take pictures – it is really stunning.
Carry on for another 10 minutes or so and you’ll find the pool where you can swim and relax (see the picture below). Leave your clothes and your shoes on the side and take a dip!
Swimming at Wadi Shab:
Many people just relax and swim here in this pool. But if you’re feeling adventurous and are a good swimmer, bring your waterproof bag and swim until the end of this pool. You’ll then need to walk across to the next pool (there are 3 swimming pools in total here), which is why it is good to bring water shoes or bring your flip flops in a waterproof bag so you can use them for the walk as the pebbles are SO painful.
From there you’ll then swim to the third and final pool. Only swim here if you are a confident swimmer as the pool is quite long, the water is deep and you cannot touch the bottom. Once you get to the end you’ll see a small gap in the rocks just big enough for your head to fit through (if it has been raining the day before you might not be able to get through). Squeeze through carefully (you kind of need to swim sideways like a crab, or alternatively swim underwater) and you’ll see the cave and secret waterfall! (Most people have given up by this stage so not many people come here which is great!).
You can’t go inside the cave, but I’ve been told the waterfall is beautiful – I never made it that far as I was running out of time so needed to get back before the last boat!).
Word of warning:
As I mentioned, if you want to see the waterfall you will need to be a good swimmer because you need to swim for about 10 minutes without stopping and there’s not really anywhere to hang on. If you are not a confident swimmer just stay in the first pool.
Just two things I cannot reiterate enough if you plan to head to the waterfall – only go if you are a confident swimmer and DO NOT bring your bag with you unless it is a waterproof bag as it WILL get wet!
When is the best time to visit Wadi Shab?
If you visit Wadi Shab in the summer the crowds will be less, as the temperatures get very hot and uncomfortable! If you visit from October to April the weather will be much more pleasant but it will be a lot busier. Nevertheless, any time of year is good to visit as the water temperature is very pleasant year-round!
Try to go to Wadi Shab during the week (Sunday-Thursday) as it gets really busy at the weekends. However if you do happen to visit at the weekend (Friday and Saturday in Oman) please dress respectfully as many local people like to visit Wadi Shab at the weekends, as well as tourists, as it is a popular day trip from Muscat.
The boats start at 8am and finish at 5 or 6pm (depending on the time of year) so you can either head there early in the morning when it is quieter, or head there in the afternoon around 2pm and stay til the end. At around 3pm the crowds start to disappear and you’ll be able to enjoy the place without too many tourists (this is when I visited and I thought it was perfect as there weren’t many people).
How long to spend at Wadi Shab?
Allow about 3 hours here as it will take you 45 minutes each way to walk, plus perhaps you will swim to the waterfall too, and you’ll also want to relax and enjoy by the water before you hike back. Of course you don’t have to swim if you don’t want to – the views are stunning throughout the whole wadi, especially where people get in and swim. Many people even come and take a picnic here and relax for an hour or so. That being said, a fair bit of physical exercise is required and if you don’t want to do all of the hike you can turn back at any time – there are beautiful parts all throughout the wadi. Many locals even just come for a short hike, they don’t hike all the way, so don’t feel bad if you can’t complete it.
What to pack for Wadi Shab:
At Wadi Shab you will be hiking, climbing and swimming! So it is important you pack appropriately!
Remember to bring:
- sufficient water (there is no option to buy water once you have started hiking)
- suncream (there is minimal shade here and it is warm year-round here)
- try to wear a hat
- waterproof shoes or trainers are recommended as it is a hike and you may have to wade through water. That being said, I did see many people hike in flip-flops. You’ll probably want to bring flip-flops too anyway for when you’re near the pools.
- 1 real for the boat, plus if you want to buy any snacks or drinks at the stall in the car park before you take the boat across then be sure to do it. Check you are stocked up and hydrated for the hike as this will be your only chance to buy anything (it will also be your only chance to pee as there are some public toilets here too!).
If you plan on swimming, this is what I recommend to pack:
- swimming costume/swimming shorts (wear this underneath your clothes as there is nowhere to change when you are in the wadi)
- go-pro (CLICK HERE to purchase)
- go-pro floating handle so your go-pro will float if you accidentally let go of it (CLICK HERE to purchase)
- waterproof phone case (CLICK HERE to purchase)
- waterproof bag (CLICK HERE to purchase)
- goggles as the water is so clear! (CLICK HERE to purchase)
The reason I suggest a waterproof bag is because otherwise you have to leave your belongings (or seriously risk getting them wet and ruining them!) if you go swimming to the waterfall. These bags are absolutely brilliant and do a really great job of keeping your belongings, including your phone and camera bone dry. I’ve used mine a few times and absolutely love it! If you don’t have a waterproof bag you could just bring your phone in a waterproof phone case that goes around your neck and swim with this – they are equally brilliant. Or you could leave your belongings on the rocks whilst you swim to the waterfall, however personally I wouldn’t do that as I would be paranoid they would disappear when I got back.
Anything you do not need for the hike please leave it in the car! You don’t want to risk things getting wet or damaged, plus it gets heavy carrying lots of things around on a 6km round hike so just bring the essentials!
A word of warning, PLEASE be careful when in wadis. Locals told me of countless stories where tourists had fallen and died. And NEVER visit one when it is raining – the Government actually prohibits it as they can carry very strong tides and it can be very dangerous. Please don’t risk your life.
Also try not to be alone when walking – the terrain is very uneven and so if you’re alone and have an accident it could be a while until help comes. And definitely don’t go swimming to the cave alone, especially before or after rain, when the current can be quite strong and flash floods can occur suddenly. If you are a solo traveller like me, for sure you’ll find other travellers walking in the wadi (or even on the boat across with you) so chat to them and stick with them if possible. When I was walking into the wadi I was with some foreigners, then as I was leaving I walked back with one Omani local guy. Do not worry, the locals are nothing like those Jack Sparrows in Petra – Omani people are super respectful to foreigners, especially females.
Nearby places to visit:
Wadi Shab is such a naturally beautiful place – it is less of a tourist attraction and more of a natural attraction. Over the next few years though it is bound to get a lot busier as Oman continues to grow as a tourist destination, so make sure to visit soon to enjoy it before it comes too crowded! Also make sure to visit Bimmah Sinkhole before or after your trip to Wadi Shab – it is only a 20 minute drive away and is so stunning!
If you are looking for a travel itinerary for Oman, check out my detailed Oman Travel Itinerary here! Or click here to learn more about Salalah, a city in the south of Oman that experiences a climate phenomenon each summer known as “khareef”. Whilst the rest of the Middle East is baking in 50 degree heat, Salalah enjoys a pleasant temperature of around 25 degrees each day!
Alternatively, if you are looking for some traditional but luxurious accommodation in the Muscat Governorate, CLICK HERE to read my article about staying in luxury beach huts in Oman!
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