Salalah in southern Oman is just a short flight from Dubai and boasts vibrant bazaars, historic forts and picturesque wadis. A place which feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the UAE, this up-and-coming destination should definitely be on everyone’s 2017 travel hit-list. The city and its surroundings have several claims to fame. Just east of Salalah are the ruins of Samharam where – legend has it – the Queen of Sheba once reigned. Salalah is also known as the perfume capital of Arabia. Frankincense trees surround the city, and locals have tapped and traded the precious resin for more than 6,000 years.
To add to the fun, Dhofar’s varied climate attracts a profusion of wildlife. Camels, goats and cattle wander freely in the highlands, which are also home to ibex, gazelles, hyenas and Arabian leopards. Birdwatchers won’t need binoculars to see the vast flocks of flamingos, herons and egrets and if you sign up for a boat trip, you may be rewarded with sightings of one of the 21 species of whale and dolphin found offshore.
To help with your adventures in Salalah, we have compiled a list of things to see, activities to undertake, and most importantly, where to stay.
Activities for the adventurous
Intrepid travellers will enjoy a trip to Wadi Darbat, a valley full of green mountains and fresh water springs, with the impressive claim of Dhofar’s most photographed sight. Tawi Atayr (Well of the Birds) and the Taiq Sinkhole are also destinations to tick off the bucket list, the first showing off various dramatic sinkholes that dot the porous limestone of the Salalah mountains, the second, even more impressive, is the world’s third-largest sinkhole. Meanwhile, Al Mughsail beach is another picture-perfect spot, with majestic waves crashing through naturally formed blowholes; spurting water jets several feet into the air.
Activities for culture lovers
Home to the revered frankincense tree, the cause for celebration, revelation and trade for millennia, Salalah has an intriguing past steeped in myth and folklore. According to legend, the Queen of Sheba derived great wealth through trading frankincense from her coastal palace, Samhuram at Khor Rori, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, not only is it used in medical practice, its fragrant scent pervades every shop, alley and mosque, where you will be able to pick up bags to take home. The story is best told in the Land of Frankincense Museum, located adjacent to the resort, where you can see an impressive collection of artifacts from all stages of Arabian settlement. There is also the Al Baleed Archaeological Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring ancient ruins belonging to the 12th century trading port of Zafar. You can pay a visit and wonder through the site, before heading out to explore other historical gems including the 19th century Taqah Castle and the Mirbat Fort. There is also Al Hafah souk, the largest and oldest in the city, and there’s not much you can’t pick up here. As well as being tempted by the rich scent of the frankincense vendors, you may find yourself tarrying and haggling at stalls offering knitwear, local ceramics, lanterns and wood carvings.
Activities for adrenaline junkies
Adrenaline junkies wishing to up the ante can take part in activities such as wadi bashing, hiking and 4×4 expeditions to discover ancient villages and encounter nomadic tribes people in the Salalah mountains. In addition, the fertile waters make for excellent sport fishing, with an opportunity to catch marlin, tuna and sailfish. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy sea trips to watch pods of dolphins playing in the early morning sunshine or wander along empty beaches to witness turtles hatching, whilst those looking to venture further afield can take a thrilling trip into the awe-inspiring Empty Quarter, one of the world’s largest deserts.
The Khareef Season..
During the monsoon season known as khareef, from June through September, this corner of Arabia is brushed by the Indian Ocean monsoon, with rain blanketing the region, turning the dun-coloured coastal plains and mountains emerald green and visitors witnessing misty pastures, waterfalls and dripping green forests swathed in swirling mists and dense fogs. Throughout these months, you can venture into the verdant mountains, which come alive with wildlife, including ibex, gazelles, hyena and Arabian leopards, whilst birdwatchers can spot vast flocks of flamingos, herons and egrets. The annual Khareef Festival, which runs from mid-July to August, celebrates the monsoon season with any array of concerts, traditional performances and cultural displays.
Where to Rest Your Head
Situated between a long, scenic beach and freshwater lagoon, Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara brings a new level of luxury to Dhofar, allowing you to explore the unique charms of this emerging destination. Conveniently located just 15 km from the airport, the resort sits within easy reach of Salalah city centre and an abundance of cultural treasures and thrilling escapades. Comprising 136 rooms and villas, the resort offers indulgent luxury with handcrafted furnishings and rich textures throughout to enhance the contemporary Middle Eastern ambience. The resort’s 40 Premier and Deluxe Rooms all feature a spacious bedroom, ensuite bathroom with rain shower and separate bathtub, walk-in dressing room and media hubs with portable Bluetooth speakers alongside a terrace or balcony. Meanwhile, eight one-bedroom Villas and 88 one and two-bedroom Pool Villas entice with personalised villa host services and separate living areas, with Pool Villas benefiting from private temperature-controlled swimming pools, the first of their kind in Salalah. To keep you well fed, three exquisite dining venues showcase an array of vibrant cuisines from South East Asian to Mediterranean.