One thing you’ll read a lot about when you research Oman is wadis. So what is a wadi? Usually it’s a dry river-bed, and some you’ll drive past without noticing, but some others are spectacular ravines perfect for hiking, swimming or both.
Another thing you’ll see a lot of when planning a camping trip to Oman is the warning not to pitch your tent in a wadi. I can definitely see why you’d want to: the wadis are usually lush, relatively speaking, and often seem to protect you well from the elements. But if it starts to rain you may get surprised by a flash flood, and that’s one thing you don’t want.
We visited two of the wadis that have been adapted to tourism but not overwhelmingly so: Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Shab.
Wadi Bani Khalid, the perfect oasis
We spent most of the day at Wadi Bani Khalid, arriving in the late morning and scoring a great spot in the shade beneath a palm tree right next to the poolside. There was no entrance fee or parking fee, toilets were available free of charge and there’s a restaurant on site. I don’t know what their prices are like given that there’s no competition, but this being Oman, they’re probably not overcharging.
We brought swimwear and towels, a change of clothes, a plastic mat to sit on, some books, lunch and plenty of water and sun lotion.
The water was so refreshing, as this was our first swim (and honestly second contact with water) since arriving five days earlier, so we really enjoyed swimming. There are some spots for jumping, some for swimming, and various depths. And plenty of room for everyone, even after a lot of other visitors had arrived around noon.
One funny thing was the little fish in the water that will nibble on your feet if you put them in. They didn’t touch me when I was swimming, but with just the feet down I got one of those Asian fish pedicures free of charge.
How to get there
The road that goes to Wadi Bani Khalid is on the inland highway 23 between Muscat and Sur, a very short drive from Al Wasil where we ended up after spending the night in the desert. It’s a new, paved road but goes a bit up and down before finally ending by a parking lot surrounded by palm trees. It’s well signposted with the brown signs leading to tourist attractions. You can definitely reach Wadi Bani Khalid with a 2WD.
When we arrived in the morning it was no problem finding a parking spot, but as we left the parking situation seemed a bit more chaotic. It’s about a five minute walk from the parking lot to the pools, so make sure you bring everything you’ll need so you don’t have to go back and forth several times like we did.
What to wear
Both men and women should wear a loose t-shirt, and while men can wear loose shorts as well, women should cover the knees. We saw some tourists wearing tiny bikinis or speedos, but that’s just not okay. Be respectful to the locals and cover up when you’re swimming. Besides, it’s really nice to have wet clothes on in the heat, you’ll stay cool much longer after a swim.
A hike down Wadi Shab
Wadi Shab is supposedly Arabic for “gorge between cliffs”, and that’s not a metaphor. The wadi opening is just below the highway, which isn’t that pretty, but if you’re lucky you can get a parking spot in the shade, so that’s something. The first pool is just by the parking lot and you can’t really see much, but for 1 OMR you’ll be taken across the water in a small boat to where the trail starts on the other side. There’s one coffee shop on each side of the water if you didn’t bring food or water.
We took the boat across the water and started walking. It’s so hot when you’re out in the sun, so cover up properly and bring lots of water. We walked into the gorge, first on a trail between little farms and then across big rocks for a bit, before it all opened up to the upper pool where lots of people were swimming.
We were a bit unsure about the swimming, as there are signs everywhere saying you shouldn’t do it. But loads of people were swimming, so I guess it’s alright. If you do swim, make sure you dress appropriately. We had woken up at the beach and were headed toward another beach, so we didn’t really need to go in the water. Instead, we just relaxed under a cliff for a bit before turning back.
How to get there
Wadi Shab is just off the highway between Sur and Tiwi, very close to our camping spot at the beach in Fins. There are signs on the highway, and you’ll see the wadi when you drive down. The parking is a bit of a mess, but if you arrive early it shouldn’t be a problem. If not, I’d recommend that you park along the road leading down to the parking lot instead of taking the risk of having other cars block you on the way in. You can definitely visit Wadi Shab with a 2WD sedan car, as it’s right next to the new highway.