Oman was a country that was barely even on my radar before I ended up booking a flight with a layover in Muscat. I knew it was in the Arabian Peninsula, but that was about it. Once I started to do my research, it quickly became apparent that the best thing to do was visit the Wadis in Oman. These are true oases in the middle of the desert, and it’s almost impossible to describe just how incredible they are! The pictures hardly do them justice. We had 5 nights, and planned our Oman adventure around the best Wadis in Oman.
You can also watch our visit to the Wadis on YouTube!
What is a Wadi?
Do you know what a wadi is? I didn’t either before planning to visit Oman. To me, it sounded like something out of a StarWars movie!
According to Merriam-Webster, a wadi is defined as:
- the bed or valley of a stream in regions of southwestern Asia and northern Africa that is usually dry except during the rainy season and that often forms an oasis
- a shallow usually sharply defined depression in a desert region
Basically, a wadi is an oasis in the middle of the desert…which is pretty freaking cool!!
The best part about the wadis in Oman, is that they often maintain a decent amount of water all year long, even during dry season. They’re the perfect place to cool off on a warm desert day.
General Tips For Visiting the Wadis in Oman
- The Wadis listed here are all quite touristy, and many female tourists will wear a Western-style bathing suit. However, the local culture is such that this really isn’t acceptable. Out of respect for the many locals that also visit the Wadis, you’re best to wear a full-piece bathing suit at a minimum, or better yet swim in leggings and a tank top or t-shirt.
- Bring a few snacks and a LOT of water with you!
- Take advantage of the toilets when you have the chance.
- Bring extra sunscreen as there isn’t a whole lot of shade.
- You’ll often be most comfortable in water-shoes.
- If you’re not a strong swimmer, or if you’re traveling with kids, bring a small floatation device.
- Each of these can be visited on a day-trip from Muscat, but it’s way more fun to stay outside of the big city. Sur and Ibra both offer easy access to the Wadis. If you had to pick one, I’d choose to stay in Sur.
The 3 Best Wadis in Oman
We didn’t have a whole lot of time in Oman, and as much as I would’ve loved to follow a culture-rich itinerary, it just wasn’t going to happen. So, we decided to focus our visit on Oman’s Wadis. Since we only had a few short days for our Wadi-hopping adventure, I did a ton of research to ensure we were going to visit the best Wadis Oman had to offer. Randy and I are still divided as to which one was the best, so I think I got it right! If you only have time to visit one, I think you’d be happy choosing any of these three. But, if you have the time, a visit to all of them is highly recommended.
Wadi Bani Khalid
Wadi Bani Khalid was Randy’s favourite, and is one of the most popular Wadis to visit in Oman. It’s a bit of a trek to get to, and you either have to book a tour from Muscat or rent a car and drive yourself. You can definitely visit as a day trip from Muscat, or you can visit as part of a short road trip (my recommendation). Whichever way you choose to visit, it’s well worth the effort!!
The drive through the mountains is relatively brown and desolate. As you approach the parking lot a few palm trees begin to appear, the only indication that there might be fresh water lurking below the dry & dusty surface. A small concrete channel carries a trickle of water, leading the way through the bush towards the oasis.
The first site of the wadi was exactly what I imagined it would be. Palm trees lined the edges of a crystal clear water pools, and kids were jumping off rocky ledges into the green water below. The larger pool gave way to a smaller stream that meandered through the rocky cliffs and out of sight. The first pool looked lovely, but we were curious about what could be found further upstream. After walking past the bridge and over a small rocky outcrop we came to the perfect place to enter the water.
There was a small ledge in the rocky outcrop where we put our towels, clothes, snacks and shoes. I’d pre-warned the girls about the “nibbling fish”, but it still took a few tries to get them in the water. Kacela kept jumping up on me anytime one of the little fishies touched her foot! The rocky bottom was a bit slimy, and we didn’t have water shoes, so I kept having to brace myself so I didn’t fall. I don’t blame her for being startled by the fish, it was a bit strange at first.
If you’ve ever done the “doctor fish”, where little fish nibble the keratin (dead skin) off your feet, it was basically the same. Except the fish were all different sizes, with some of them being a couple inches long! They also seemed to dive-bomb our feet. So although it didn’t really hurt, when they torpedoed into the fleshy ball of my feet it felt like I was being poked by a squishy stick. I don’t think it actually hurt the girls either, but it was uncomfortable enough that it did take a bit of getting used to it. (You can see the fish in the water in the pictures, they’re not small!!)
Once we were past the ledge and swimming through the deeper water, the nibbling fish went away. We were able to just settle in and enjoy the cool water and incredible scenery. The water was deep, and the cliff edge didn’t have a whole lot of places to grab. This meant we were periodically swimming without the opportunity for a break. This wasn’t problematic, but it was nice to be able to mentally prep for the swim, especially with the kids.
Within one of the canyons there was a chain to hold onto, and further upstream the pool had some rocky outcrops and places to rest. Of course, once the water was more shallow the little nibbling fish reappeared!
Once we’d had enough of the pool and canyon (and the nibbling fish), we grabbed our stuff and headed further upstream towards the cave. We didn’t find the cave, but we did find a shallow section with a small waterfall that the kids could slide down. It was definitely less stressful because we weren’t worried about them getting tired and drowning, and there were fewer people this far up the wadi.
It’s 100% worth spending a little extra time, and venturing further up the wadi. The water pools and experience changes many times along the way, and I think you’re missing out if you only visit the first one! That said, Calais’ favourite thing was jumping off the bridge into the first pool. She watched a bunch of local boys do it on our way in, and worked up the courage to give it a try as we were leaving. I think she’s gonna be a bit of a daredevil!!
As we made our way back to the car, we slowly started to heat back up again. It was surprising how much cooler it was in and around the water! Even the heat didn’t stop Kacela from collecting garbage along the way. Even somewhere as beautiful as this seems to have a trash problem…it’s SO sad 🙁
Things To Know Before You Go To Wadi Bani Khalid
- There’s a large parking lot at the entrance to the Wadi, but it’s a popular spot for locals, so show up early to ensure you get a parking spot…especially on the weekend!
- The water extends a long way upstream, and each area is different. It’s worth staying for a few hours and taking the time to explore the different areas. Although it’s possible to swim through these different zones, the cliff edges are rather steep most of the way and there’s not a lot to hang onto if you get tired. In a few places there are rocky outcrops, or a chain to grab ahold of, but these are few and far between. You’re better to walk along the path between the different areas, and jump into the water periodically when it looks inviting!
- There’s a cafeteria and bathrooms on the far side of the first big pool. It doesn’t have a huge food selection, and it’s quite expensive, but it’s there if you want or need it! These are the only bathrooms too, so it’s worth taking advantage of them before you head further up the wadi.
- Little nibbling fish are present everywhere, but there are more of them in the shallow waters. They don’t hurt and aren’t anything to be worried about, but it’s definitely nice to be prepared for them ahead of time.
- This is a popular place for locals, especially on the weekend. We saw families set up in the shade with bar-be-ques and giant feasts, who were clearly planning on spending the whole day. It seemed like a great idea, and would be fun to come more prepared to spend the day.
- There are lifeguards present at the lower pools, which provides some peace of mind, especially when it gets busy!
- The turn-off from the highway is well marked, just watch for the sign (as seen below!).
Find Wadi Bani Khalid:
Where to Stay: Wadi Bani Khalid a 3-hour drive from Muscat, so we chose to get a head start and spend the night before in Ibra. This allowed us to get up early in the morning, and enjoy the Wadi before it got too busy in the afternoon. If you really wanted to beat the rush, you could stay at Oriental Nights Rest House, right before the turn off from the highway up into the mountains to the Wadi. There’s a small town before the Wadi parking lot, and I scoured it for any signs of accommodation. Shockingly, there were none! I couldn’t find anything searching online, and I didn’t see anything along the side of the road. I’d imagine this is likely to change in the future, but for now the town of Ibra or Oriental Nights Rest House is your best bet.
My initial plan for the Al Sharqiyah region of Oman, was to visit Wadi Tiwi, but once we arrived and realized it was a long’ish road into the Wadi, we changed our minds and decided to visit Wadi Shab instead. This turned out to be a great decision!! Wadi Shab took a bit more effort to visit compared to Bani Khalid, but it was 100% worth the effort.
After parking in the shade in the well-marked parking lot, we boarded the boat to take us across the wadi to the starting point for the hike.
The hike was longer than I expected, an to be honest it was slightly precarious at times!! I’m a tiny bit afraid of heights (that’s totally an under exaggeration, I’m TOTALLY afraid of heights, especially when it comes to my kids being around heights!), and there were a few places where the ledge was high enough that I felt a bit queasy to my stomach.
The pathway was busier than I anticipated given the number of cars in the parking lot. It wasn’t crowded, there were stretches of time where we didn’t see anyone else, but of course the areas where the path was narrow and there was a large drop-off was always when we ran into other people.
Thankfully we all survived the walk, and after about 45 minutes we were awarded with spectacular views of the wadi in which we could actually swim! The water ran alongside the path for part of the hike, but it was far enough below us that we couldn’t swim in it. It was a bit of a tease, but it definitely made us more excited to finally arrive at a swimmable pool!
There were lots of shaded places in the rocks around the pools where we could put our stuff down. Everyone seemed to be quite trusting and they just left their stuff while they went swimming. We decided to follow suit, and found a shaded area with a rocky ledge where we could put our clothes, water and snacks.
The girls enjoyed splashing in the first pool for a bit, and then we decided it was time to venture deeper into the wadi. Each pool was different, and there were plenty of places to stop and play for a bit. The first 2 pools were shallow enough that even I was able to touch a fair amount of the time. The walk between pools was a bit rocky and hard on the feet. We managed, but it wasn’t at all enjoyable!! We saw a few people turn around, but I’m glad we persevered.
In the second pool, the girls enjoying climbing up on one particular ledge and then jumping into the water below. We pretty much had to drag them away to keep exploring up stream.
The big attraction at Wadi Shab is the cave where the 2012 Red Bull Cliff Diving Final was held. The pool ahead of the cave is quite deep, but has shallow ledges running up either side so there are lots of places to hang out and relax. At the end of the pool is a narrow slit in the rocks that you have to swim through to get into the cave. I had no idea what to expect, and was a little bit nervous as I entered.
The slit opened up into a large cavern with a waterfall pouring in at one end. People lined the edges, grabbing onto the outcrops to catch their breath and take it all in.
While we were inside there was a local guide who climbed way up to the top and jumped from the Red Bull Cliff Diving ledge. It was pretty impressive, and gave Calais the courage to jump from the waterfall. Everyone cheered when she jumped in, and she resurfaced just beaming and incredibly proud of herself.
Inside the cave, to the left of the waterfall, is a small area where you can almost climb out of the water. It’s narrow enough to rest your feet on one side and your back on the other, and really truly relax for a bit. Also, if the water level is just right, you can swim under the rocks and pop up beneath the waterfall. We did both of these things with the girls before deciding we were tired enough that it was time to head out of the cave and back into the sun!
The depth of the pool and the absence of a good ledge to rest on, meant Randy & I were tired from holding the girls. Randy especially was starting to get tired, because he had Kacela riding on his back for the majority of the time!
The walk back was hot, but at least we had a bit of an idea of how long it would take us. There were fewer people so I was able to relax a bit more with the drop-offs! Plus, a lot of the walk was now in the shade, so it was significantly more comfortable. When we got to the boat I was a bit sad it was over. It was such an incredible, unexpected adventure!
Things To Know Before You Go To Wadi Shab
- You have to take a boat across the pond to the start of the hike. When the water level is low it’s possible to walk this, but for the low price it seems more reasonable to just support one of the local boat drivers. The return boat trip was 1 OMR ($3.25 CAD) per adult, and the kids were free. You pay the whole amount initially, and then don’t have to worry about having money for the way back.
- It’s about a 45min walk from the boat “dock” to the first swimmable pool. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and carry enough water for the walk there AND back!
- If you want to venture to the cave, you’ll have to swim through 3 pools. There are shallow areas and ledges where you can stop and catch your breath. If you’re visiting with kids, I’d suggest having some kind of floatation device for them. This will make the visit a LOT more comfortable. Also, if you’re not a comfortable swimmer yourself, it would be worth having something to help you float.
- Once inside the cave there are a few places to hold onto around the outside, but no ledges. I always felt like I was scrambling to keep myself comfortable. Also, be prepared for people as it can get crowded.
- The bottom of the pool is rocky, and the walk between two of the pools was quite hard on our feet! Many of the locals were wearing water shoes, they knew what they were doing. I don’t think these are an absolute must-have, we managed without, but they would make it a lot more comfortable. We did see a few people turn back because the rocks were hurting their feet.
- The only facilities are a bathroom and food truck in the parking lot, and a small canteen near the boat dock. Make sure you carry enough food and water for your entire visit.
Where to Stay: Wadi Shab is 150km from Muscat, and 50km from Sur. It can easily be visited on a day trip from Muscat, but you’ll likely need to drive yourself. We chose to stay in Sur at the Al Basateen apartments. They were a great price, and right across from the beach. It was also an easy drive out of town to Wadi Shab. If you wanted to stay even closer, you could stay at the Wadi Shab Resort, which is also right on the beach.
Find Wadi Shab:
Technically this isn’t a Wadi, it’s a sinkhole, but it’s still a beautifully clear oasis in the desert that’s incredible to swim in.
Bimmah Sinkhole, also known as Hawaiyat Najm, is North of Wadi Shab, on the road back towards Muscat. It’s incredibly quiet and peaceful in the morning, but gets busy during the afternoon due to it’s close proximity to Muscat.
As you approach the sinkhole you’d have no idea it’s there. The earth looks like a barren desert until you get right to the edge. For safety reasons there’s a large brick wall around the sinkhole, making it disappear into the landscape even more! Concrete steps lead down the edge of the hole into the peaceful, crystal clear pool below. There’s lots of space on the surrounding rocks to leave your things while you take a dip in the water.
The ledges on the far side of the sinkhole provide a great place to jump into the water. There are ledges at all different heights, the only downside being that you have to swim across the pool to get to them. It was fun to watch the other people doing backflips into the water.
At the other side of the pool there’s a small stream that disappears into the rock. You can swim along the stream, under the cliff, for a short ways until it stops. It was amazing how different it was under the cliff versus out in the open. I wish we would’ve had more time here, but I’m glad we stopped even for a short visit. It was so quiet and peaceful in the morning, and was the perfect end to our Wadi-hopping experience in Oman!
Things To Know Before You Go To Bimmah Sinkhole:
- The entrance is free and the parking lot is quite close to the Sinkhole.
- It’s open from 8am until 8pm. Since it’s hot in the morning I’d suggest arriving as close to 8am as possible.
- There’s a great playground on the way, perfect for keeping the kids entertained after your visit.
- The small concrete house at the entrance has bathrooms and water.
- Little nibbling fish live in the water, so wear water shoes if you get squeamish when something touches your foot!
Things To Know Before You Go To Oman
Where To Stay In Oman
Muscat – Ramee Guestline Hotel
Oman is expensive, so I was really excited to find this reasonably priced hotel in Muscat, complete with a pool and a giant breakfast included. Okay, so it wasn’t cheap, but it was one of the cheaper places I could find!
Cost: 70.20 OMR ($228.32 CAD)/night for a large 4-person room with breakfast included.
Wadi Bani Khalid – Ibra Hotel
This little hotel offers small, bare-bones rooms within a short drive of Wadi Bani Khalid. The town
Cost: 22 OMR ($71.61 CAD)/room
Wadi Bani Khalid – Oriental Nights Rest House
I didn’t stay here, so I can’t vouch for how good (or not) it is, however it’s the closest you can get to Wadi Bani Khalid. Honestly, if it would’ve had availability I would’ve picked this over the Ibra Hotel.
Wadi Shab – Al Basateen Hotel Apartments
If you’re traveling with kids or a group, this is a great place to stay. The apartments are spacious with easy access to Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab, as well as the restaurants in Sur.
Cost: 21.35 OMR ($69.44 CAD)/night for a 2-bedroom apartment
How To Get Around Oman
Oman is a small country, but the public transportation system isn’t very well developed. If you plan to do any independent travel at all, you’ll need to rent a car. They drive on the right-hand side, the roads are easy to navigate and are well maintained. Traffic is minimal, and even Muscat is a manageable city to drive in. Many of the Wadis (and other attractions) aren’t easily accessed with anything other than your own car.
Don’t make the same mistake as us…pick up your rental straight from the airport! We planned to spend the first day in Muscat so I thought I’d save a bit of money and pick up the rental on Day 2. Well, it turns out, the taxi to and from the airport was more than the rental car would’ve cost for the day! Plus, we still paid for a taxi into the Corniche and back. So yes, rent a car on arrival!
Check out rental cars on my favourite, rentalcars.com!