Nizwa and Jebal Shams, Oman

Our planned travel itinerary was a loop from Muscat to Sur to Wahiba Sands to Nizwa and back to Muscat. On our fourth day we had woken up in the dunes of Wahiba Sands where we finished off the desert adventure with some mild ‘dune bashing’. We left the desert and headed to our next destination, Nizwa.



Nizwa is one of the larger cities in Oman, and also one of the oldest. It was once a centre of trade, religion, education and art. I was keen to visit the animal souq there as I had heard bedouin women trade their goats and other livestock there. Unfortunately, much of the souq was closed due to the Eid holiday, and in fact most of the city was closed. We did however manage to enter the Nizwa Fort (which is one of the most amazing looking forts we’d seen), and view the Nizwa Mosque. Some of the shops in the souq were open allowing us to observe the wonderful silverware and handicraft the city is famous for. We had some shawarmas at a very local restaurant and then the real adventure began!

Red door at the entrance to Nizwa SouqNizwa Fort with the mosque's minaret in the backgroundSonya at the entrance to Nizwa Fort
Geometric building edges of the Nizwa FortNizwa MosqueNizwa Fort's fortification walls
Nizwa Fort's arch leading to some stairsSonya at the Nizwa Fort's central towerNizwa Fort's central tower
Overlooking the date palm plantationsOmani flag at the central tower with the mosque's minaret in the backgroundNizwa Fort central tower


Jebel Shams

We headed to Jebel Shams, the highest mountain peak in Oman at about 3000 metres. It is part of the Al Hajar mountain ranges. During our research we had read that the peak is frequently visited and camping on the plateau nearby is quite popular. After a winding drive up the ranges we stopped at a few scenic look out points. There were plenty of mainly Indian expat families doing day trips from Nizwa or Muscat. One of the main attractions is the beautiful gorge which is often described as the Grand Canyon of Arabia. Since we had a 3WD we decided to explore the off road tracks. It was a bit cooler on the ranges and we wondered if our plan to camp was the best idea. Nevertheless we were intent on doing it.

After driving to a few different spots and meeting many of the local children (who were bold enough to ask for sweets – I gave them the rest of our Haldiram’s burfi – an Indian sweet, and mandarins) we found a nice spot on the edge (but not to close) of the cliff… surrounded by some rocks. It seemed to have been used as a campsite before as a few camp fires were still visible. We setup our tent and Travis used his skills from watching various survival shows – to set up a campfire. To our luck one of the local kids had a box of matches (which we had forgotten to bring with us) which he sold to us for 1 OMR – a bit steep but he could sense we needed it. Value selling, I guess. We returned it to him the following morning anyway!

We had set up our tent and the campfire and by then were eating our takeaway biryani when some Indian families looking around stopped by to make use of our fire. They were surprised to find out that we were camping there that night and keen to look inside our tent (perhaps they had not seen one before?). A number of mountain goats had appeared (they have a good sense of smell), interested to see what we could offer them. As the sunset we gathered more firewood and watched as the last of the sun shone on the gorges eliminating them in beautiful red and orange colours.

That night we slept, well, relatively peacefully. The wind was quite strong and it did get a little chilly – thank goodness for sleeping bags! In addition there were some youths parked at another lookout from us and we could hear them partying all night. All in all camping on Jebel Shams is definitely fun experience!

Jebal Shams, the Grand Canyon of ArabiaSonya at Jebal Shams, the Grand Canyon of ArabiaJebal Shams, the Grand Canyon of Arabia
Sonya feed a goat some lettuceSonya and Travis camping at Jebel ShamsTravis and many goats at Jebel Shams


Wahiba Sands – a sandy desert in Oman

From Sur we headed east along the Ash Sharqiyah coast through Ras Al Hadd, and then followed part of the Arabian Sea before heading inland.

Our accommodation for that night was the 1000 Nights Camp, located forty kilometres into the Wahiba Sands desert. After a lot of backtracking north-west into Oman, we reached the location marker, a Shell petrol station. From there we drove north passing Al Mintrib Fort, one of the last markers, we reached the last of the paved road, passing many tourist warning signs along the way. I deflated the tires to the recommended 18 psi, this was going to be interesting, I thought.


The driving to the camp was easy, even though located deep within Wahiba Sands desert, the road was frequently travelled, with many signs and other cars to follow, we were glad to not have paid the 20 OMR for the escort service. The camp was located at the floor of a valley, though it was it the middle of nowhere, it was a surprise to see it offered, electricity (though temperamental), a swimming pool, luxurious glass windowed accommodation with balcony, mobile phone signal, and even wireless (though we couldn’t get it to work). Our accommodation for the night was a cosy Arabic Tent, which even had a single electric light.


Prior to dinner, Sonya and I decided to do a bit of ‘dune bashing’, having never driven in the sand before, I was surprised how easy the four-wheel-drive made it, though I and especially Sonya  were always uneasy with what I and the car would be capable of, and as we were by ourselves, I didn’t want to take too many risks.

Back at the camp we had a buffet dinner of various Omani dishes, with the highlight being the traditional Omani Shuwa (Showa), spiced lamb wrapped in banana leaves and then cooked in an earth oven for the whole day. After dinner we were treated to a performance of traditional Omani songs and dancing, which even got the camp guests participating.

In the morning we spent a little more time enjoying the desert dunes before heading north towards our next destination, Nizwa.

Sonya and the four wheel drive at Wahiba SandsSonya on one of the many sand dunesPatterns in the sand caused by wind erosion
Looking over Wahiba SandsThe four wheel driveLooking over Wahiba Sands
The four wheel drive1000 Nights CampSonya on the tip of a sand dune
Sonya on the tip of a sand duneSonya and Travis on the tip of a sand duneSonya on the tip of a sand dune


  1. 1000 Nights Camp

Muscat to Sur, Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi, Oman

After Muscat was when the real outdoor adventure that Oman is famous for started, we picked up our Toyota Prado rental, the first time I had driven a true four wheel drive, this was going to be fun, I thought.

After stopping to pick up some supplies from the supermarket, plenty of water and non-perishable food items, we drove east towards Sur.  After one hour we reached the tiny town of Yiti, this was where we realised we had driven in the wrong direction, so we backtracked back to Muscat and went south instead.


Wadi Shab

There wasn’t too much to see until we reached the first of the Wadi’s in the afternoon, Wadi Shab. The entrance to the Wadi is marked by the main dual carriageway slung across the entrance, we parked the car and headed into the Wadi. Throughout the Wadi is lush vegetation and turquoise pools of water, at some points shoes need to be removed to cross small streams. After about one hour we reached a large pool of water, continuing past, mostly by swimming we reached the final pool, there was a tiny crack in the rocks with which only our heads could past while remaining above water. Inside the enclosed cave was a beautiful water fall.

This would have been all the more enjoyable if I wasn’t holding the camera and passports in plastic garbage bag all this time.

From there we made our way back to the entrance of Wadi Shab walking in dusklight, we were surprised by the now risen water which we had to wade through.

At nightfall we drove to Wadi Tiwi where after driving a little into the Wadi in pitch black, decided it would be much safer to either turn around or camp for the night. That night we slept in the roomy four wheel drive.

Dual carriageway slung across the entrance to Wadi ShabEntrance of Wadi ShabOne of the many turquoise pools
One of the many turquoise poolsSonya crossing a small streamSonya on the edge


Wadi Tiwi

Roosters woke us up in the morning, and we found ourselves in quite a nice spot, a bit of water and dense palm trees. Also, the first of the hikers passed us by foot, who must have parked at the main road.

We continued following the road into the Wadi, not as beautiful as Wadi Shab, I thought, but it may have been the driving into the Wadi was not the same as walking. We left Wadi Tiwi for Sur.

Morning after sleeping in four wheel drive at Wadi TiwiWadi TiwiOne of the turquoise pools at Wadi Tiwi



Sur was a really nice little town, plenty of small historic forts and castles and a great location on the port with many dhows (Arabic boat). Our arrival that day also corresponded with the start of the Islamic holiday Eid, and many families were slaughtering goats, not just to enjoy the meat during the three day holiday, but also as a tradition where the sacrifice of an animal commemorates the sacrifice of son Ishmael by his father Abraham.

A few of the places we visited in Sur were;

  1. Ayjah Lighthouse
  2. Al Hamoodah Fort
  3. Alayah Watchtowers
  4. Al Sunaysilah Castle
  5. Bilad Sur Castle

From Sur we travelled further east along the coast, past Ras al Hadd (marking the joining of Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea) to our next destination, a camp located somewhere in the vast Wahiba Sands Desert.

Sur corniche gazebo with Ayjah Lighthouse in the backgroundAl Hamoodah Fort north entranceBlood from recent goat killings
Al Hamoodah Fort east side entranceAl Hamoodah Fort north entranceGoats outside the Al Hamoodah Fort
One of the Alayah WatchtowersAyjah LighthouseDhows in Ayjah Bay
Ayjah LighthouseSonya and Travis at Ayjah Lighthouse overlooking Ayjah BayAyjah Lighthouse door
Alayah Watchtowers overlooking Ayjah BayDhows in Ayjah BayAyjah Lighthouse
Ayjah LighthouseOne of the Alayah WatchtowersKhor Al Batah bridge
View of Ayjah from Alayah WatchtowerMosque in SurMosque in Sur
Goats at random tower in SurBilad Sur CastleBilad Sur Castle


Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

Since we first arrived in the region, Oman had been on our list of places to visit. Only an hour or so flight away from Doha, we’d heard stories about the natural beauty of the country – it boasts amazing desert landscape, lush green wadis, and of course the majestic Hajar mountain ranges.

We planned our visit during the Eid Al Adha festivities, which had provided me with three days off. So along with the weekend, that gave us five days for exploring Oman.

Our night time flight into the country’s capital Muscat was smooth, we pleasantly found out that being a resident of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country, it only had to pay 5 Omani Riyal (OMR) for our visa, equivalent to about 15 USD, as opposed to 20 OMR.  A taxi from the airport to our hotel on the Muttrah Corniche was 8 OMR. We were lucky to have gotten a room facing the corniche – allowing us full view of the boats in the harbour, and the bustling activities on the riverside road.

The following day we decided to explore the Muttrah Corniche, with the thought of perhaps visiting the Muscat Fort and then heading to Old Muscat. We stopped for brekky at a local cafe for some kebabs. A further walk along to the fort and we noticed it was not open for entry. We walked a bit further along the corniche but figured it was a bit too hot to walk the full 8 km to Old Muscat. Instead we caught a cab (the driver was a friendly Omani who refused to accept a fare for the short ride – but we paid him anyway!) and explored the outside of Sultan Qaboos’ Palace (Al Alam Palace), the Mirani Fort and the Al Jalali Fort.  The current Sultan Qaboos of Oman, who overthrew his father in 1970 during a bloodless coup, is well adored in Oman it seems. He is known to have modernised the country, during an era referred to as the Renaissance. There are posters of him everywhere. Old Muscat was pretty quiet, with only a few tourists wandering around the sites.

By the time we’d finished with Old Muscat it was only midday. I suggested we go to one of the dive centres for a snorkelling trip (The Gulf of Oman is also famous for its exquisite marine life) and called the Oman Diving Centre located about 20 minutes from Muscat in Qantab. The centre has boats that depart every afternoon on snorkelling trips, based on weather and visibility. We took a cab to the centre and had a swim before the boat departed.  The boat trip was basically a crew of young Spaniards who were working in Dubai, and us. The boat took us to a reef about 20 minutes away from the dive centre and we anchored there and jumped into the water – amazing coral and fish, giving us a relaxing afternoon of snorkelling.

Muttrah Fort from the CornicheView of corniche from Muttrah FortMuttrah Fort from the Corniche
Arched hall leading to the Al Alam PalaceAl Alam PalaceSonya under a tree outside the Al Alam Palace grounds
Al Khawr mosque with the Al Mirani Fort in the backgroundAl Jalali Fort taken near Al Mirani FortAl Jalali Fort taken near Al Mirani Fort
Omani sitting on a bench near to the  Fish MarketView of the Oman Dive Center private beach from the jettyView of corniche from Naseem Hotel
Entrance to the Muttrah SoukOne of the many walkwaysVarious Arabic knickknacks
Omani frankincense burningSome jugs and containersOne of the decorated dome ceilings
LocalsSonya at the Muttrah SoukLots of Arabic lamps
Colourful head scarfsShop filled with knickknacksColourful tapestry


Oman Diving Center snorkelling trip