wadi shab

The Wadis of Oman

There are several wadis in Oman and in my opinion are also the prettiest places in the country to visit.  A few are conveniently located within two hours southeast of Muscat, providing for an optional day trip for those short on time while visiting Oman. 

They are better visited, however, by staying in the nearby area.  While there is only one hotel in the closest town, Tiwi (population 1,950), there is nearby camping on the popular Fins Beach, as well as a handful of options in the larger City of Sur (population 71,150) farther south.

Camping at Fins Beach

On our week-long tour around the country with KE Adventures, we visited two Wadis…Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid.  Wadi Shab is closest to the capital city, and after touring Muscat for our first day, we ventured southeast for 1.5 hours along the new highways to camp at Fins Beach.  The small patch of sand peppered with shells lies beneath expansive dirt plains. 

Here we unloaded the giant canvas bag atop the Landcruiser which contained tents, sleeping bags, giant mattress pads more like cushions for an outdoor recliner, king-sized pillows, camp chairs and a table. As we wrestled with the tents, Sami our amazing guide, worked on dinner from the back of the second Landcruiser.

unpacking at Fins Beach near Wadi Shab in Oman

Though our first night setting up camp proved somewhat challenging and resulted in a late dinner, going to bed with waves lapping the shore under a beautiful star-filled, night sky was rewarding.  In addition, we awoke to a lovely sunrise and enjoyed extra guests at breakfast…free range camels and donkeys!

donkey joining us for breakfast on Fins Beach

Wadi Shab

More importantly, however, Fins Beach is just a short drive from Wadi Shab which allowed us to arrive at the trailhead well before many visitors who come from Muscat.  Wadi Shab is located in Tiwi, about 95 miles southeast of Muscat. It is an easy 1.5 hour drive along the eastern coast on a new highway or 14 minutes from Fins Beach.  While tourists may hike it on their own, having a guide improves the adventure.

I recommend using our guide, Sami.  Though we found him through KE Adventures, he also guides for Wadi Shab Adventures, and he may be reached directly through that Instagram page.  He grew up in his family’s home which overlooks the lagoon at the trailhead.  Not only does Sami speak very good English, he is extremely knowledgeable about the area, and is proud to show visitors the natural beauty surrounding his town.  

Sami's House overlooking Wadi Shab
Sami’s House overlooking Wadi Shab

We arrived in the small parking area at the trailhead which is located beneath the highway by 8:45am.  Here we took advantage of the only toilets before our 4-hour adventure.  Soon we boarded a small boat, operated by locals, to cross the lagoon.  The fee for the roundtrip transfer is 1 OMR and the boat ride takes less than five minutes.

boat ride at Wadi Shab

The Hike

On the other side of the lagoon, the trail passes through gardens of date palms that are owned by Tiwi residents. It is said if you don’t have at least 10 palms, you are considered poor.  February, when we were there, is the germination season for date palms.  Farmers climb the trees to plant male seed shoots into a hole at the top of the tree.  A fascinating fact I wouldn’t have known without Sami.

the lower pools at Wadi Shab

We continued on the path which gradually climbs along the jagged canyon walls as it follows a falaj, a traditional irrigation system.  The trail then crosses the wash and weaves through the rocks as it ascends past lower pools of water beneath the Arabian sun.  The lower lagoons are Tiwi’s water source, thus swimming is prohibited, but not to worry, because after an hour hike, many turquoise pools await.

The Upper Pools

At the base of the upper pools, we ditched our packs with our camelbaks, stripped down to our bathing suits, and waded into the frigid water. Once the initial shock wore off, the water felt quite refreshing.  Leaving all of our unguarded gear behind, we followed Sami who used extra caution while carrying one cell phone in a dry bag above his head the whole way. 

the upper pools at wadi shab

Though some pools are only waist deep, other areas require swimming. While we used both hands to keep from slipping on the slick, mossy rocks afoot while wading and both arms to swim, Sami masterfully snapped photos of both us and some scenery while treading water!

After about thirty minutes of enjoying the beauty, we reached a “cave” formation. Cave is in quotes as the cavern on the other side of the crevice that we pulled ourselves through included a waterfall that tumbled beneath a tall arch!  

pulling ourselves through the crevice at wadi shab
pulling ourselves through the crevice

The cavern features a rope that adventurous souls may use to pull themselves up the waterfall for a leap into the cyan pool below. While I disappointedly skipped this option due to having a recent heart procedure, I did join Page in a small crevice behind the waterfall which we inched through.

behind the waterfall at wadi shab
behind the waterfall

Though we were having a ball, in the shade, it didn’t take long to get slightly chilled, so we retraced our steps and swim strokes back to our gear where we dried off and had a snack before heading back to the car.

Along the way, we met several tourists asking questions like, “Where do we go next?” and “How do we get through the crevice?”  Though self-explanatory, it was nice to get all the tips from Sami, like “Don’t swim through the crack or you will create waves that come back on you.  Grab hold of the ledge with your fingertips and pull yourself through.”

Tiwi

We worked up an appetite after our four-hour adventure in the natural splendor of Wadi Shab and stopped for lunch at Mubarec Restaurant in Tiwi.  Sami, and our driver Muhammad who also grew up in Tiwi, ordered for us.  We had chicken, rice, hummus, a vegetable dish, cucumbers and tomatoes, and a goat dish.

Speaking of Tiwi, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a Tiwi Tale which Sami says is true.  Once upon a time, Ibn Mukarab, a man from Saudi invited some people dinner which he then killed by causing the walls of his home to tumble down on them.  A fugitive, he fled to Oman, where he lived in Tiwi until his death.

Upon his death he wished to be buried in peace which he could not find in life.  As a result, he paved the lower steps from his house to his tomb up on a hill in gold.  As anticipated, the locals dug up the gold steps, making the upper steps which are still visible today and his tomb inaccessible.  Thus, he is safely buried away from it all!

Dhow Yards

Anyway, if on a day trip from Muscat, check out the steps and consider going on to Sur and visiting the Dhow Factory before returning to town.  Here, the teak boats are still made by hand and the craftmanship is quite remarkable! 

the dhow yards near Sur, Oman

We headed this way and strolled around the boat yard for a short visit before setting up camp outside of Sur in Al Hadd near the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve as we planned on hiking additional hiking the following day.

Those who don’t wish to camp or don’t care about seeing turtles could just spend the weekend in Tiwi in order to hike the two wadis described herein or to tackle Wadi Tiwi, another more difficult option.  We, on the other hand, were signed up for a loop tour of Oman, so to Al Hadd we went.

Al Hadd and Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve

This time we found a flat, yet rocky campsite that overlooked the coast and a sandy beach below.  Due to a recent change in Omani law, we could not set up on the beach, as we could interfere with the nesting turtles even though it was not turtle season.

campground in Al Hadd

By our second night camping, we had mastered our tent setup, despite the ferocious winds and hard ground that nary a spike took hold.  We used giant rocks to secure our cozy abodes while Sami whipped up a gourmet dinner in the back of the Landcruiser.  He served us shrimp, hummus, baba ganoush, and a refreshing salad by way of a headlamp!

gourmet camp meal at al hadd
gourmet meal

After a surprisingly good night sleep and an egg and pancake breakfast with goats, we packed up our gear and headed to Wadi Bank Khalid.

sunrise at Al Hadd
sunrise

Wadi Bani Khalid

Wadi Bani Khalid is about 2.5 hours from both Muscat and Al Hadd in opposite directions.  Sami drove us down a dirt road to the trailhead where only one other car was parked.  I would have never found the start without him, as there was a well-marked trail to the left which I would have followed.

parking at Wadi Bani Khalid
parking at Wadi Bani Khalid

Instead, we passed the marked trail and a farmer’s garden as we walked over large slabs of limestone before descending to a small pool of water.  Here, Sami showed us how to climb up the trunk of a date palm that leaned at a 45 degree angle up to a narrow ledge.

climbing the date palm at Wadi Bani Khalid
climbing the date palm

The Ledge

The ledge included a few footholds and some slick handholds, worn from hikers pulling themselves up.  Anyone afraid of ledges will not appreciate this one, especially when wearing any kind of daypack aside from a small camelback.

With Sami up above, I went next.  I got to the part where Sami instructed me to sit on my butt and shimmy across.  No thank you!  Between my camera and pack, I didn’t feel confident there was enough space between the rock behind me and the ledge on which I was to pass.

For the second option, he suggested I stand, turn around, and slide across the ledge while facing the rocks that interfered with my sitting and shimmying.  That would have been fine, except the rock was so smooth that I didn’t feel a sure grip, and I was not going further.

feet on the edge
feet are on the edge

Patiently, he said, “Why don’t you take off the pack, and I will carry it.”

Well, that would have been a good option on the ground.  I wasn’t about to let go and twist around as I shed my pack!

Finally, I asked, “May I crawl across on my hands and knees?”

“Sure.”

So that is what I did! I likely shouldn’t have gone first because I scared Page and Jackie who were waiting their turn when my leg involuntarily began shaking.  Honestly, I’m just a wimp when it comes to ledges.  I imagine many would have no problems.  I even would have been fine without the pack.  But in this case, the narrow space definitely stopped me in my tracks for a few minutes.

looking up to see where we go
watching to see where we go

After finally crossing this three-foot section on my hands and knees, I climbed up the rest of the way and waited for my comrades.  It was too steep a ledge to look over and see what was happening, but after a while, with Sami’s help, Page and Jackie met me at the top. 

The Hike

Unfortunately, what goes up, must come down.  Within in minutes, we found ourselves at the edge of a low cliff.  Sami pointed out the way as we scaled down the limestone along small, natural footholds.  With the hardest part behind us, we continued forward while climbing over rocks much of the way.

looking down to see where we go
Sami showing me what I had to climb down

Weaving in and out of crevices, we reached the crystal waters, where we left our packs, shoes, and shorts, and waded in our bathing suit while covered in a T-shirt for protection from the sun and remaining climb.

wading in Wadi Bani Khalid
the wading and swimming parts

Once again, Sami completed the whole hike and swim one handed as he carried one cell phone overhead for photos while the rest of us grabbed hold with both hands, slid down rocks, swam through pools, hiked over limestone, admired waterfalls, and finally scaled down a rubbish pile of date palms to “heaven on earth”.

first waterfall in wadi bani khalid
first waterfall

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on earth, as Sami likes to call it, is an emerald pool tucked beneath towering cliffs and fed by a tiered waterfall.  I doubt if the “trail” to this splendid oasis was even half a mile, but after our challenging hour-long adventure, our arrival felt remarkably rewarding.

wadi bani khalid

We shared the pool with two mating frogs, bright orange dragon flies, and only six other guys who were cliff jumping from some scary heights.  I’m not even sure if I were cleared by the cardiologist to jump that I would have done so from the highest point, but I certainly would have joined Page who was cheered by the locals after leaping from a lower section.

wadi bani khalid
They jumped from higher than this

Oh, the tranquility and majesty of this place!  It was indescribable.  If only we could have brought our lunch and water the whole way, I would have stayed here for hours.  Eventually, we retraced our steps, picked up our gear, and ate lunch beneath the shade of the rock before returning to the scary section where we split ways.

lunch in wadi bani khalid

Page and Jackie opted to wade up the river which required heaving and pulling each other up over a small waterfall, while I went with Sami to face my fears.  This time, after he took Page’s and Jackie’s pack to the base of the date palm, he came back for mine before I scaled down the ledge with hardly a hitch! I must say Sami was worth his weight in gold! 

The End

Both wadis were great fun, and if Wadi Bani Khalid sounds too adventurous, consider a privately owned place called Wadi Bani Khalid Muqal Water Pool, good for swimming.  Our friends Mike and Ruth spent the morning here instead and loved it.

In the end, we certainly earned a bed and hot shower after two days of adventures, so we spent the night in Oriental Nights Rest House, only a 30-minute drive from the Wadi Bani Khalid trailhead.  Book Here at Hotels.com.

oriental nights rest house

The hotel included internet in the lobby, a pool, as well as a dinner and breakfast buffet.  The rooms featured marble floors with nice rugs, a hot shower, and an air-conditioning unit.  A nice and welcomed option in the wilderness! ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

5 thoughts on “The Wadis of Oman

    1. I know! Me neither. I was completely surprised and loved the wadis, desert and “Grand Canyon”

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