Why you should visit Oman’s unexplored Dhofar Province
A highlight of my recent trip to Oman was without a doubt exploring Oman’s remarkable, yet little-visited province of Dhofar. A refreshing retreat with picturesque palm-fringed beaches, and home to one of the most remarkable deserts in the region, The Empty Quarter, Dhofar offers many riches. And not only does it make the perfect destination for a first or second time visit to Oman, or a beach holiday in itself, but also combines extremely well with some time in the north.
Teeming with coconut, banana and papaya palms, which replace the abundant date trees that are found in the north, Salalah, the capital of the province, is characterised by a distinct tropical twist that is unexpected and captivating. Dhofar is known for a climate phenomenon called the khareef, whereby Salalah and its immediate surroundings burst into an explosion of green during the summer months, which unlike the rest of the country, swelters in the intense heat. Although the rains are only kept to a few months of the year, the region remains vibrant and green year round and a is fantastic winter holiday destination.
Salalah and surroundings
The atmospheric old town of Salalah boasts some of Dhofar’s unique architecture including it’s small but impressive mosque, and a stroll through the streets and alleyways leading to the sea really do take you back in time. We also love Salalah’s exotic fruit, vegetable and fish markets, and the Al Husn souk, which come alive in the early evenings. Asides from the endless stretches of white sandy beaches on which one can easily spend many a relaxing day, I would encourage our client’s travel along the scenic and fertile swathe of coastline. Pass through the sleepy fishermen’s village of Taqah, where every March the community come together at the Taqah Festival, showcasing traditional life, heritage and music. Just beyond you will stumble upon the verdant Wadi Darbat and Jabal Samhan where you can hike beside water pools and past wild fig trees, spotting an array of coastal birds including ospreys, pelicans, flamingos and kingfishers along the way.
The ruins of Samhuram, the ancient trading port of the Queen of Sheba and the attractive old port of Mirbat, further along the coastline will take you back in time, and make charming stops on a day trip in the area. The best way to experience Mirbat and beyond is to spend several nights staying in an exclusive and private tented camp along a deserted stretch of beach. By day, there are opportunities to snorkel, fish, kite surf and more - or take things at a slower pace and explore the local fishermen towns nearby. By night, your private chef serves up a feast of Omani classics, alongside fresh seafood from the mornings catch around a roaring campfire.
We then embarked on a journey out of Salalah to trace the source of the legendary frankincense trade route in Wadi Dowkha. In ancient times, the demand for the fragrance harvested in Dhofar made southern Arabia a vital part of the global economy, with shipping connections to India, the Mediterranean and Silk Road. Our trusty expert guide, Muhammad, accompanied us to an area where the fabled Boswellia Sacra (Frankincense tree) are scattered – whose incense has been harvested by Omanis for many generations – and advised us the best place to pick this up in the Al Husn Souk. This was just one of our stops en-route to the spell-binding Rub al Khali, or otherwise known as the Empty Quarter.
Encountering the Empty Quarter
Waving goodbye to the lush vegetation, we travelled to an area remote and isolated; the next stop on our exploration of the region was The Empty Quarter. I distinctly remember the vast barren region, where mystical mountains merged into gravel plains and then one of the largest sand seas in the world, stretching thousands of miles into Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Leaving behind the main track, our 4x4 weaved through the 500ft high russet red sand dunes as far as the eye could see into true wilderness.
The Empty Quarter works as a fabulous alternative to the well-trodden path of the Wahiba Sands, and we are able to arrange yet another fabulous tented camp experience for our clients here. The mobile camp is set up exclusively for your party alone in one of the most remote locations in the desert, where the sound of silence eerily echoes into the night sky. Spend the day dune bashing and camel riding, and in the evening meet a local Bedu from the Haraizi tribe and his precious camels – a fascinating insight into the disappearing way of life of those who still depend so much on these animals. There was something quite vulnerable yet powerful about The Empty Quarter, its almighty emptiness, sense of freedom, space. A hauntingly beautiful landscape, and void chaos which one might associate the troubled Middle East with, this great desert is open for exploration and it is certainly worth travelling that little bit further for. For those searching for their next thrill-seeking desert experience, The Empty Quarter has to be up there as one of the most breathtaking landscapes in the region.
No longer is there a need to be restricted to the northern coastline around Muscat; Dhofar is an exotic land of extreme contrasts that has a history and identity which has been largely separate from the rest of the sultanate. If our clients are looking for something slightly different, and well off the trodden path, Dhofar offers an enchanting combination of experiences, and with the area recently open for exploration I would highly encourage our clients to visit.
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