Travel: Off the beaten track in Oman

A weekend trip to the neighbouring Sultanate of Oman can pack more action than your average holiday by the sea

For someone who has spent many a winter driving to and fro from the Hatta, Buraimi and the Ras Al Khaimah borders that divide the UAE and Oman, another weekend jaunt to the neighouring country is hardly an occasion to, well, scream with glee.

Yet all that has changed, with the Oman’s tourism department working overtime in recent years to promote the country as the ‘it’ place for adventure sports, thrill-seekers from world over have voted this destination as one of the top 100 places to visit for that much-craved adrenaline rush.

Today, adventure enthusiasts can experience it all: scuba diving off the Mussandam coast to encounter breathtaking coral reefs, cave trekking in the one of the world’s largest underground chambers at Jebel Bani Jabir, hanging off a mountain cliff while abseiling at Jebel Shams or even exploring the world famous turtle reserve at Ras Al Hadd.

Says Justin Marks, a freelance adventure guide in the UAE, “Oman has really positioned itself on the world map with the active promotion of its natural resources. The diverse landscape and the access to several different sporting activities in close proximity has given adventure lovers exactly what they have been missing in this region.”

With its close proximity and border-crossing ease, Oman has turned into the ideal weekend destination for those who crave a little adventure and a whole lot of thrills.

Here’s Emirates 24|7’s list of the best of the rest in adventure-tourism in the Sultanate.
 
Via Ferrata

If movies like “Cliffhanger” and “Vertical Limit” had you at the edge of your seats then Via Ferrata is a sport designed just for you. This adrenaline-pumping ride involves climbing up a series of rungs that are bolted into the rock face.

While you get the real experience of climbing the mountain – using ropes and carabineers to keep you locked in – you won’t have to sweat worrying about your next foothold or handhold.

Holiday in Oman organises the crossing of the infamous Snake Canyon in Oman, via Via Ferrata. Here you traverse the walls of the canyon, zipping across five high wire crossings along the route, while the dramatic drops and views of the canyon make this an adrenalin rush for the adventurous.

The second Via Ferrata sees you traversing the sea cliffs at Bander Khayran, looking down onto the marine life in the turquoise waters below.

No previous experience is required, and trained guides are always on hand to show you the ropes.

It is advisable to carry sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and wear trainers and loose fitting clothes. A daypack is also required to carry two litres of water on the journey.

Average cost: Dh590 per person and a minimum of three people are required.

Cave diving

Not your average everyday adventure, cave diving has become one of the most sought after thrill rides in Oman. Lowered into the dark recesses of underground chambers, you can explore some of the most interesting spots in Oman, including the Jebel Akhdar Massif, Kahf Hoti (the longest known cave in Oman, which stretches up to five kilometers), several caves in Jebel Bani Jabir — the most impressive being the three deep shafts that enter the chambers of Majlis Al Jinn, one of the largest underground chambers ever discovered in the world.

While serious experience is not required, a basic level of fitness would prove to be an added plus point.

Average cost: Dh1600 per person and not suitable for those under 16 years.
 
Sea Kayaking

Explore the majestic fjords and coastal waters of Muscat, as you gently paddle in one- or two-seater kayaks. As you gently guide your kayak through the calm waters, do keep a lookout for colourful schools of fishes, rare birds, and if you are really lucky, turtles.

After a fun-filled ride, head to your own private cove where you can don your mask and fins and cool off snorkelling in the warm Arabian waters.

The adventure can be undertaken for half-day, full day or even multiple days – every adventure is tailor-made to suit our personal needs.

Lifejackets are provided for the trip, and it is advisable to apply sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses for the duration. Also carry a towel and your swimsuit to explore the underwater world up close and personal.

Average cost: Dh590 per person for a day trip and a minimum of two people are required bookings. This activity is not suitable for children under 10 years.
 
Abseiling

Whether you are a complete novice or an experienced abseiler, this is one adventure you cannot afford to miss. Set to a background of a breathtaking vista in the mountain ranges of Muscat, this thrill ride is exactly what it promises – sailing down a vertical cliff wall using secure cables and your feet to guide you down. And once you’ve safely descended down, you can enjoy a vertical trek back to the top for another go, or opt for your picnic lunch.

Your day starts off with a 1-2 hour ride through stunning wadis and mountain ranges, before you reach your destination. After a full safety and equipment briefing, you are off on your adventure. Taking it in turns, you’ll abseil down the wall — which could be anything from 16m to 60m high. Abseiling can be undertaken as a half-day, full day or multiple day activity.

It is advisable to wear sunscreen and wear a hat, sunglasses and loose-fitting clothes for the experience.

Average cost: Dh590 per person, with a minimum of two people required. This activity is not suitable for children younger than eight years.
 
Trekking

If flying through the air is not your thing, why not explore Oman with your feet firmly planted on the ground. The country holds many opportunities to explore on foot, either in the mountains, the wadis, the desert, or even a combination of all three.

Breathe in the high mountain air and the spectacular panoramic views at 2000m above sea level or explore areas closer to the waters, as you stroll through the rugged terrain along the coast. There is a wide range of day or overnight tours, with something suitable for all ages and abilities.

Trekking can be undertaken as a half-day, full day or multiple day activity. A typical day trip includes a guided trek, transport to and from the hotel, drinks and a picnic lunch.

It is advisable to wear sunscreen and wear a hat, sunglasses and loose-fitting clothes for the experience. Also, carry a pack sufficient to hold a minimum of two litres of water.

Average cost: Dh1400 per car, based on four people in a vehicle.
 
Turtle reserve

Experience a true wonder of nature, as you set off to see mothers nesting and baby turtles breaking to the surface of the beach – all in one evening! Hop into a four-wheel drive to head to the turtle reserve at Ras Al Hadd where a relaxing dinner at a three star hotel awaits you, before going out to see the turtles come ashore to lay their eggs and the new arrivals make a dash for the sea by the light of the moon.

Should you wish to watch, you can rise early to see the turtles heading back to the sea and the last of the babies heading out to newfound freedom and completing the circle of life in nature’s dance.

This is an overnight trip and includes a guided tour and transportation, overnight accommodation, Turtle beach permits and soft drinks.

Average cost: Dh820 per person.
 
Hot-air Ballooning

Soar the skies with a sunrise trip over the stunning Wahiba Sands desert in a hot-air balloon. This hour long trip gives you a majestic birds-eye view of the towering sand dunes, as you float along without a care in the world. If you’re not a morning lark (think 5.30am departure), then maybe you should opt in for the sunset float and do remember to pack your camera for some spectacular shots.

The trip includes pre and post trip tea, coffee and juice, a post flight breakfast, and a commemorative certificate.

Average cost: Dh1,000 per person.
 
Scuba Diving

The coral reefs in Oman are world-renowned, and among the best in the region (second only to maybe Sharm El Sheikh). The crystal clear waters of the Arabian.

Gulf offer some great sites where you can still explore untouched and untamed coral reefs that host a variety of marine life that are unique to this region. From parrotfish, angelfish and honeycomb morays to turtles, dolphins, sharks and sting rays — you will be amazed at the variety, the colour, the size and the number of fish to be seen.

All scuba-operating companies here offer escorted dive trips out to the main spots, which include the famous Daymaniyat Islands, Bander Khayran, Fahal Island, Cat Island and Cemetery Bay. Most of them are PADI certified and use state of the art diving equipment.

 

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