2019/07/11

Oman’s far south of Salalah - Coastal bliss off the beaten track

Location

Where to stay in style & what to do on a four-night stay

Salalah, Oman’s second-largest city not very far from the Yemeni border, is quite different from the capital of Muscat. It is much quieter, relatively unspoilt by tourism and boasts some kind of micro-climate. And it is usually not the place you visit on your first visit to Oman as it is best reached by a domestic flight from Muscat. My husband and I did not make it here until our fourth stay in the Sultanate but were glad that we finally did it!

General

As I highlighted in my previous two posts about Oman – an overview and a report about the mountainous region of Jabal Akhdar –, this country owns a versatile landscape that one would not expect from a desert state. Of course, there are sandy areas but also fantastic beaches, beautiful coastlines and a magnificent green mountainscape.

Economy

The city of Salalah with a population of about 300,000 is located on the southern coast of Oman and is the capital of the Dhofar province. It is also the birthplace of the current sultan, Qaboos bin Said.

Thanks to the incense trade, fame and wealth were brought to Salalah in ancient times. Frankincense has been produced here for many centuries and it is still omnipresent,
although nowadays, it has lost most of its importance. This loss of significance went hand in hand with Salalah’s decline. In the past years, efforts were made to catch up with modern development by upgrading its industrial port. Efforts have also been made to promote tourism but the big boom has not arrived (yet).


Climate/Best time to go

Salalah boasts some kind of a micro-climate. Although having a hot desert climate, its summers are cooler than in the north of Oman and in the neighboring countries of the Arabian Peninsula. This is due to the so-called phenomenon of khareef. The region is touched by monsoon winds between June and September and the temperatures drop to “cooler” 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit). It rains almost every day and the landscape transforms from desert in a lush green environment. During the rest of the year, it is hot in Salalah although temperatures seldom go over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

While June to September here are popular for Middle Eastern tourists (when the temperatures are soaring in their countries), European and “normal beach vacation makers” will usually not appreciate these conditions. The perfect time for a visit for them is from October to April.

Due to the micro-climate in Salalah, fruits like coconuts and bananas as well as some vegetables can be grown here, what makes this city quite green also in dry periods and results in pretty color spots throughout the urban area.

Get in & get around

Salalah can be reached by car from Muscat in about 10 hours (1,050 km/652 miles), but I would advise against doing it as the drive is supposed to be scenic only on the section between Muscat and Nizwa. Afterwards it seems to be rather flat and boring, the road and horizon appearing to form one never ending continuous mirage.

The best way to get to Salalah is by plane. Oman Air flies from Muscat about three times a day and the flight time is about 90 minutes.

If you want to explore Salalah’s surroundings, a rental car is essential as there is very little public transport available. An extensive and ever-expanding network of modern roads is here at your disposal.


Activities

As mentioned, many Arabian tourists pay Salalah a visit in the khareef season from June to September. During this time, the khareef festival is also run to celebrate this spectacular season, featuring traditional performances alongside stalls selling Omani handicrafts and typical food.

From October to April, Westerners especially come here to make use of the beautiful white sandy beaches of Salalah.
While there is a focus on beach vacations, an increasing number of tourists also makes day trips in the immediate surroundings. Whereas the city of Salalah does not have abundant places of interest, there are several worthwhile things to do nearby, for nature lovers as well as for people interested in culture.

Before going into these activities, here my recommendation where to stay here as a discerning traveler.

Where to stay in style

The one and only place to stay for travelers seeking luxurious accommodation is Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, opened in 2016.

Maybe this luxury hotel will be joined in the time to come by another one as there is an ongoing development in work, in fact another Alila property (see here my post with my review of the other one in Oman – in Jabal Akhdar, in the mountains). I do not have information about the project progress. I read that it should have been opened already but this is apperently not the case. At least there is a corresponding sign on site.
As to the location, it is not exactly close to Salalah but in Mirbat, more than a one-hour drive from Oman's second-largest city.

Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara

Now to the hotel where we had a great four-day stay!

Location

The hotel is situated between the beautiful white beach and a lagoon at the city’s east end, bordering the Al Baleed archaeological site. The setting is great, near the city center yet secluded enough to be considered as peaceful beach destination. It can be reached in a 20-minute drive from Salalah Airport.

Rooms

Out of the 136 rooms comprising of premier and deluxe rooms as well as one- resp. two-bedroom villas my husband and I opted for a one-bedroom beach villa
and friends who accompanied us for a one-bedroom lagoon villa. These accommodations come with personalized villa host services and separate living rooms.

And our rooms were heavenly! My husband and I stayed at the only beach villa without pool – the ones with pool would have been better of course but they seemed a little too expensive – and our friends were upgraded to a lagoon villa with pool
so that they could stay near to us! These accommodations are extremely spacious (176 sqm), with a generous bedroom,
a huge living room with a kitchenette,
a lovely bathroom
and a private garden with direct beach access (pool villa only),
all of them with locally inspired touches in the decoration and furnishing.

Facilities

The public spaces also show a design influenced by Omani architecture and culture, be it the lobby
or the way buildings are built and laid out, with the local coastal fortresses in mind.
The swimming pool in combination with different decorative pools is a feast for the eyes.
And the beach is gorgeous, long and wide with white sand and lots of space.
There is a gym along with a spa and hammam, further activities include beach and water sports as well as tennis. And there is much to do for children and teenagers, with an outdoor play area and children’s pool as well as separate kids’ and teens’ clubs.

Ambiance/Staff

What struck me most here, was the strong service orientation. Throughout our stay we experienced a warm hospitality. As we stayed in the villas, we could make use of a private butler service, which was great. Toodtu, our butler did a terrific job, kudos to her! A highlight were the activities around the birthday, which two of our party celebrated. On three occasions throughout the day attention was paid to this special date.

Food

A great range of eating options is on offer here, from the main restaurant Sakalan
providing all-day international dining with an Omani touch, to Al Mina
with a beachside Mediterranean cuisine for lunch and dinner as well as Mekong
featuring a taste of southeast Asia (for dinner only.) While we tried out all three restaurants and considered them as good, I especially liked Mekong for its high quality food from Thailand, China and Vietnam.

What to do on a four-night stay


Day 1: beach

When spending four nights in Salalah, the first day, which is most probably only half a day due to the arrival, is – in my opinion – best spent to get to know the hotel’s offerings and at the exceptionally beautiful white beach, also as an enterprising traveler as I am.

Day 2: Salalah city tour

Before heading further, I think it is always a good thing to explore the area in your immediate neighborhood. When staying at Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, this means Salalah’s most important attraction, Al Baleed Archaeological Park (an UNESCO World Heritage) and Museum of the Land of Frankincense, right next to the hotel.
Apart from the mentioned archaeological site, the city of Salalah does not have many sights. Notwithstanding that, a short city tour provides the much-needed sense of place. While Al Baleed Archaeological Park can be visited via free shuttle bus from Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, you need a car to explore the city.

Point of interests here are the following ones. Walk through the grounds of Al Hosn Palace, the palace of the Sultan of Oman. You cannot enter the premises, but it gives you an idea of its size.
Make a stroll through Haffa Souq right adjacent to the Al Hosn Palace, a traditional market where frankincense is sold amongst other things.
A short drive away you will find the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, which can be visited also by non-Muslims. We decided to skip this attraction as we had already gone to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat.

At the city’s east end – about a 15-minute drive from the mosque – there is one of Salalah’s most beautiful beaches, Ad Dahariz Beach, which is very popular among locals. You find here a (lighted) walkway, gazebos and an array of coconut trees.
Make a stop at one of the fruits stalls in the area to feast on locally grown coconuts, bananas or papayas.

Day 3: east of Salalah

You can expect here a mix of cultural and natural points of interest.

First stop on this tour is Taqah, a fishing village, with a small fort worthwhile visiting.
Next is Wadi Darbat, one of the region’s most scenic ones, a valley with minty streams and cascading waterfalls.
Camels are a common sight almost everywhere you go, most probably you will have to slow down more than once to let them pass the highway.
Not long after leaving Wadi Darbat, you come to Sumhurum (Khor Rohri), another archeological site (an UNESCO World Heritage). Here the remains of an ancient city situated at one of the most important frankincense ports in the antiquity can be found. While the site is less extensive than the one in Salalah, it is more thoroughly excavated and restored. A plus is the lovely natural setting between coast and hills, which contributes to the appeal of the place, a must-do activity!
A possibly last stop before returning to Salalah is the town of Mirbat, home to a castle and old merchant houses in need of renovation. A nice spot to contemplate here is the old harbor, a sandy cove dotted with boats.

Day 4: west of Salalah

This is the direction to go if you want to enjoy one of Oman’s most spectacular mountain roads, the Zig Zag Road to the plateau of Jabal Al Qamar (Moon Mountain). This trip is more about enjoying the wonderful mountain scenery than going from one sight to another.
First stop here is the tiny village of Mughsail, where a long pristine coastline catches your attention. In the rainy season (khareef) Arabian tourists come here in swarms for three natural blowholes, blasting jets of sea water in the air. Outside the monsoon they are less memorable and sometimes even cease to blow altogether.

After climbing up the mountain road there is a parking lot on the left side where you reach – after a few steps – a superb viewing-point. The most insanely beautiful hidden beach can be seen from here, supposedly called Fazayah Beach.
If you have enough time, why not walk down and have a swim here? But check out such an undertaking with the hotel’s concierge first as I have no idea how to proceed and how much time you need for this.

When driving in this mountain range, encounters with camels seeking to cross the road are for sure. Be prepared to stop when camels are around!
At an altitude of 1,000 m (3,281 ft) – and after the first military checkpoint, bring along your passport –, you have reached the highest point, marked by a radio mast. Enjoy the panorama when the weather permits it and either drive on towards Yemen or return to Salalah.

Overall

Salalah might be not the first place to go if you think about traveling Oman as it is preferably reached by a domestic flight from Muscat. We needed four attempts until we made it here, but we are pleased that we eventually managed it! This lesser visited paradise of the Gulf is certainly worth spending four nights. Not only is Salalah the ideal beach destination – with a fantastic hotel on site that will satisfy even the most demanding guests –, but there are quite a few things to do for enterprising travelers, too!

Date of visit: April 2019



Pit it for later

The post Oman’s far south of Salalah, coastal bliss off the beaten track first appeared on Swiss Traveler

No comments:

Post a Comment