Palm trees on sandy beaches, coastal roads lined with stalls selling coconuts and papaya, hectare after hectare of banana plantation, and a very Arabian village seemingly stuck a few decades back in time…
On first appearances, Salalah does appear to be undergoing a major identity crisis. Centuries ago, this beachside town hugging the southern coast of Oman in the Dhofar province was the centre of the frankincense trade route, which not only meant the area was super-prosperous, it also smelt damn good.
Now that frankincense is no longer more valuable than gold (way to go, economic progression), the ancient trade routes are now covered in tarmac and the old caravan sites are now UNESCO-listed ruins. So, why the heck are more and more people flocking here each year? This is why.
While the likes of Dubai, Riyadh and Muscat bake under ridiculous summer heat and their inhabitants complain because it distracts them from the fact their eyes are slowly being poached, Salalah happily catches the edge of the Indian monsoon during the khareef season. This misty weather transforms the usually rocky, Mars-like mountains into undulating hills of green, green grass that would make Tom Jones weep into his tea. It’s a chance for regional tourists to bundle their families into 4WDS and make the trip south to get all those nature feels out, picnic on the grass, feel the rain on their skin and see waterfalls that aren’t in malls. Check it:
Any route you take through the area will be 50 shades of breathtaking, but be warned: if you plan on driving to the wadis (valleys), make an early start – come 11am, you’ll be hit with bumper-to-bumper traffic. At least the roads are lined with plenty of stalls selling cut fruit, juice and, rather oddly, inflatable water toys.
Want to get your nerd on? Head to the Museum of Frankincense Land on the coast and be rewarded with scale models of ancient settlements, artefacts, and sleepy security dudes (who aren’t models, so don’t poke them). The Museum is the place to learn about Salalah’s significance on the trade route and is a great chance to get some culture into ya. It’s attached to the Al Balid Archaeological Site, home to centuries-old ruins and a resident flock of ducks that, impressively, understands the give-way footpath code.
For a place to rest your head make tracks for Salalah Beach, where you’ll find some chic new hotels (strongly recommend Juweirah), restaurants and shops. But Salalah’s nature game is strong, so, really, spending too much time holed up in your hotel room is like going to McDonalds and eating a salad.