A Short Getaway From Dubai
When planning a trip, I often overlook some of the great locations that are close at hand here in our region for more grander sounding destinations. This year I decided I would make an effort to try and search out some of the gems closer to home to explore. First on the list was a visit to the beautiful Jebel Shams in Oman. Lucky for me, I have a friend (Nicole) who is also an adventure seeker who happily jumped at the idea of Jebel Shams as well. We decided on a three-day camping "Lite" trip at the top of Jebel Shams, the highest point in Oman. The highlight would be the "Balcony Hike" on the inside rim of the canyon at 3000m. The two of us packed up 6 tween/teen boys and headed for the mountains!
Being from Canada and Switzerland, Nicole and I have some experience being on a mountain but no experience on the inside of a canyon. We also had no experience being the lead camper. No experience driving up the side of a very steep mountain with hairpin turns. No experience leading a hike at the top of a canyon. Lots of "no's" :-) However, the thought of a super adventure with our boys outweighed any negatives and before we knew it we were fully packed and on the road to Oman.
Getting to Jebel Shams from Dubai
From Dubai, the drive is fairly straightforward. Drive to Al Ain and head to the Mezyad UAE border crossing to Oman. Warning-there are a few border crossings to Oman in Al Ain. Make sure you use the Mezyad crossing. I made the mistake of thinking there was only one crossing and wasted an hour trying to locate Mezyad. Once through the border, you stay on Highway 21 for three hours until you reach Amlah-Kubarah Rd. Here you turn off and make your way to the base of the mountain.
As we drove along, we eventually left the desert behind us and saw the landscape change into a very rocky, vegetation-free terrain. At the base of the mountain, we turned one corner and were amazed to see the abandoned village at Wadi Ghul right in front of us. We quickly pulled over to take photos. Next time, we will have to stop and take a closer look. The farms at the bottom were amazing.
Driving to the Top of Jebel Shams, Oman
Next, it was time to start the drive up Jebel Shams. The road was much steeper, had more bends, and longer than I had expected. For much of the drive, you are really on the edge of the mountain with no guard rails. It is partially paved, partially not. Needless to say, I was quite relieved to reach the top. We stopped for a much-needed stretch and walk to take in the view at the top before heading to our camping destination.
Setting up Camp on top of Jebel Shams
When I say Nicole and I opted for "Camping Lite" this is what I mean. We wanted somewhere with bathrooms, a shower, and a safe place to pitch our tents. I had heard it was very windy at the top of the mountain and I had visions of our tents, with us in them, being whisked off the side. When we found out it was possible to camp inside the walls of the Jebel Shams Resort, we thought it was worth investigating. We found out they had bathroom facilities we could use as well as the option to buy breakfast and dinner at the resort. It was a no-brainer. This is where we would "camp."
The kids happily got to work setting up all the camping equipment. They had so much fun figuring out where everything would go, how things worked and what they were for. They did a great job.
After the set up was complete the boys were happy to go burn off some energy. They were thrilled to see a volleyball net and a soccer ball ready to take some abuse. The six of them instantly formed teams and made up some version of volleyball/soccer that kept them occupied for hours. Literally, hours. Nicole and I went for a small walk behind the resort to watch the sunset. To say it was spectacular to see the sky change colour multiple times would be an understatement. Just amazing.
The Balcony Hike, Jebel Shams, Oman
The next morning we woke up early, had a nice breakfast at the resort, and were on our way to accomplish what we came for - The Balcony Hike on the inside rim of Jebel Shams at 3000m. Finding info about this hike is a bit difficult. Basically, from the resort, you drive around 3km to the VERY small village of Khateem. Here you can park your car and walk to the trailhead. We were focused on starting our hike so we didn't spend too much time looking at the village - we saved that for after the hike. When you first walk to the edge it's a little intimidating on where you should take your first step but then you see the trail flags and the path is easy to spot. The views are absolutely stunning. You will take a few minutes before you start walking just to try and take it all in. You feel like you are on another planet. Spectacular.
We set off at around 9:30 am and it was already starting to heat up. Warning - You must wear a hat, sun protection and bring lots of water with you. I'm not sure how far we walked before we took our first break, but probably not that far. There was a lot of stopping for photos, chatting, and admiring of the landscape.
As a last minute thought, we threw in a slingshot from home that never gets used. On a rest stop, the boys pulled it out and had fun learning how to use it. What better time could be had than to launch stones off a canyon at 3000m??? Some had had more practice than others but all the boys got the hang of it by the end.
Finally, the slingshot was put away. We had some more hiking to do. The distance of the hike is not extremely long but it takes time to climb over rocks and carefully make your way around some very steep ledges. If I was giving my recommendation, I would say that ten years old and above is a good age to attempt this trail.
After a few hours of hiking, we made it to our turn around point at the Hanging Village. The abandoned village literally looks like it is hanging on the side of the mountain. I have no idea how people lived here, but it was really fascinating discussing how we thought it might have been. We spent some time investigating and eating our lunch at this mysterious place.
Time to turn around and head back to the start. The walk back is uphill most of the way so make sure you have some water to get you to the end. There is a different perspective of the canyon on the way back so expect to stop again for photos. I promise it is near impossible to take a bad shot in this setting. Every single one will be beautiful.
The final uphill climb.
We did it! I would say the total hike took about 5 hours but that is including lots of breaks for snacks and photo taking. Make sure you bring your camera, the photos will be spectacular.
The Village of Khateem
At the end of the hike, we took some time to walk around the tiny village of Khateem. It consists of a few small, stone buildings. While everything in this landscape is a very neutral grey/orange hue, including the buildings, the doors popped with colour. Nicole and I, like many, have a love of doors and windows. This was right up our alley. Of course, all the friendly goats just added to the entertainment.
Late Afternoon at Jebel Shams Resort
Nicole and I had thought that the boys might be tired after a long hike in the sun. Wrong. Tired no. Hungry yes! The boys pulled out the camping stove they had learned to use the day before and became master chefs of the deliciously awful, Ichiban noodles. They were in heaven cooking up these salty treats, laughing at the ingredients, and relaxing while they ate.
Now that the boys were fed, we thought they would rest. Negative again. They proceeded to play, the volleyball game they made up the day before, for the next 6 hours straight!!! Nicole and I decided to leave them and go for a nice walk. The trees in this almost Mars-like setting were very interesting. Some looked like they had hands wrapping around them.
After dinner, we made our second campfire of the trip. The boys tried a flint to start the fire to no avail. Matches and paper were required to get our little fire going. It was really fun to sit around the campfire with the boys, roasting marshmallows and hearing their conversations. You find out some surprising things just by listening :-)
Our final morning came quickly and the boys did a great job helping us pack up the cars. We had some carrots left over so we went to find some goats to feed. You definitely don't have to look hard for these funny little creatures walking about. And with carrots in your hand, they will find you! The goats were great fun to watch, interact with, and photograph, and photograph, and photograph... :-)
After the goat feeding, it was time to drive back down the mountain. Happily, this turned out to be easier than the drive up. We decided we would make a quick stop at the Bahla Fort before heading back to Dubai.
Bahla Fort, Oman
The Bahla Fort, in Bahla, Oman, is a United Nations World Heritage Site. You wouldn't know this by visiting it as there isn't any information about it on the premises. It is the biggest fort in Oman and has been beautifully restored but don't expect to learn anything about it there. You will need to read up on it before or after your visit. The entrance fee is very little and well worth it so take a bit of time to go and have a look. The boys were less keen to see this site. I think they had the evenings social engagements back in Dubai on their minds. They didn't give us any grief as we walked through but I don't think they were as impressed as they were the day before with the hike. We even had to remind them at the end of the tour what the name of the fort was :-0 Regardless, it was really enjoyable to walk through.
The Original Fort
The rebuilt fort.
If you love doors, windows, and passageways, you would like a visit here.
This gentleman followed us around the fort pointing to everything he helped build. He was so proud of his work, and rightfully so. He also took great care to make sure no one bumped their head on the short door frames.
Like I mentioned, the boys were not as into this part of the trip. It was a combination of being a little tired, hot in the sun, and wanting to make it back to Dubai to go to a very anticipated social engagement. But they were not annoying or bothersome as we walked through. They just followed along. I loved taking their photos as they patiently waited for Nicole and me to finish the tour.
There is something very regal about the Omani. They always look so dignified in their attire and are genuinely friendly, nice people. I was so happy that these men allowed me to take their photo at the end of the tour. The perfect way to end a fabulous trip in Oman. If you are looking for something a bit different to do with your family, I strongly recommend a visit to Jebel Shams. A great adventure is waiting for you!