Trekking in the Oman Mountains

May 21, 2013 23 Comments »

oman trekking
There are plenty of spectacular mountain hikes in the Al Hajar Mountain Range

I packed my down coat rather skeptically – but on day 3 of my Oman hiking trip, I found myself eagerly unpacking it and putting it on – in addition to my gloves! When you think of the Middle East – you probably don’t think of mountain ranges and freezing temperatures. However, it was the mountain ranges of Oman that I found the most fascinating part of my travels. The Al Hajar mountain range, located in the northeast of Oman, served not only as the agricultural hub for the country but also historically as the geographic barrier that kept Oman free from invasions. Historically this region is also where some of the largest battles were fought in Oman’s quest for unity. Today, the government has thrown large investments into the development of this area, especially in the area of road construction. The road we took up into the mountains was new and spectacularly created – full of hairpin turns and steep climbs – this was not for the carsickness-prone!

For me, the Al Hajar range served as my playground for four days of my Oman mountain trekking tour, as well as a photographic muse. We hiked in the warm temperatures during the day around Jebel Akhdar and Jebel Shams and then would set up camp and prepare for the temps to drop to freezing as the sun went down. Most of the hikes require a guide, and you will also need a 4×4 to get to many of these locations.

Balcony Hike – An Nakhr Balcony

It’s referred to as Oman’s Grand Canyon, which is located on Jebel Shams (the mountain of the sun). Jebel Shams is the highest mountain in Oman (and eastern Arabia) at 9,800 ft and is part of the Al Hajar range. The Balcony Walk (An Nakhr Balcony) is a well-marked trail that runs the rim of the canyon. This 4-hour out-and-back hike will dish up some of the best views in Oman. You will pass by abandoned villages and find hidden waterfalls. Plus, I can guarantee you’ll have a few daring goats following you along the way, hoping you may drop a snack! The hike was moderate and, at times, narrow if you are scared of heights like me – but it can be done in tennis shoes as there is no real technical trekking required.

See my Essential Hiking Gear List

Now that you’ve chosen a hike, you need to know what gear to take with you! Don’t leave on your hike without these hiking gear essentials.!

View photography of the Oman balcony hike here

Military Training Hike

As our guide, Rob, briefed us on the hike we’d be doing the next day and described it as an old military training route – I should have known that it would be challenging. This was an actual trail of sorts, but it wasn’t well marked, and a guide was a necessity. There were occasional purple splashes of paint along the rocks/trails that revealed the route for the military recruits – but not really a good enough breadcrumb trail for civilian tourists like me. Rob led us down wadis into little villages, across dams, over high plateaus, and along the rim of steep canyons. It was a challenging 5 ½ hour hiking day, but the views were worth it. My favorite part of the day was our lunch spot – perched high up on a ledge with a view of the valleys below.
View photography of this hike here

Abandoned Villages

We took off from camp and blazed our own trail through the heart of the Western Hajar mountains. After a few hours of walking on top of the cliffs enjoying the cool air and expansive views, we dropped down into the wadi via some old steps and into two abandoned villages. The village located in Wadi Bani Habib was crumbling – but they did give us an idea of what village life used to be like not that long ago. These villages were abandoned not due to fighting but due to progress. As Oman started to develop in the mid-eighties, the Sultan had schools and roads built in strategic locations. As villagers in the wadis wanted to send their kids to school and have access to roads, many of the villagers ended up moving closer to the schools, forming new villages in easier-to-reach locations. Many of the towns in Oman are quite young, and as development and tourism continue, they continue to experience growth. A guide was required for the hiking we did, however you can easily visit the old abandoned villages by car and a small walk down into the wadi on nicely created steps for tourists – more info on visiting Bani Habib here.

oman trekking bani habib
Hiking through the abandoned village in Wadi Bani Habib
Door abandoned village Bani Habib
Door abandoned village
Bani Habib
A view of the abandoned Bani Habib below with a view of the new village above.

Smelling the Roses Village Hike

The Jebel Akhdar, meaning (The Green Mountain), surprisingly provided some lush, terraced landscapes to hike through. Due to Jebel Akhdar’s location and unique weather, Green Mountain produces a variety of fruits, but it also produces some essence, which proves to be quite valuable. Rose bushes dot the terraced mountains of Jebel Akdar! Rose water essence is produced and sold locally and exported throughout the UAE – Oman rose water is big business in this area. Seeing the levels and levels of pink rose bushes perched on the terraces with a backdrop of jagged brown mountains was a sight to behold. This is why one of my favorite hikes we did was through villages (Al Aqar & Al Ayn) following the filajes (irrigation canals) and the terraces. Villagers were out harvesting the roses, the air was fresh and rose filled, the views were spectacular, and the hiking was steep. This was one of the few times where we really came in contact with the locals and could see how they lived and worked.

View photography of the Rose Terrace hike here

If you are interested in Oman mountain trekking like this, then be aware that some of these hikes require a guide,  one option is to check out Exodus’s Oman hiking tour itinerary. It was a super way to get to these lesser known hiking areas as well as get a feel for the culture…and do photography!

Jabal Akhdar photography,
Photographing the Al Hagar range

Disclosure: While in Oman, I was a guest on Exodus Travels’ Oman Hiking Tour. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own.

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