Oman: turtles, secret beaches and hidden pools
Do you ever find that there is just one country you keep being drawn towards no matter how many times you go there? For me that country is Oman, the country I also imagine to be where Aladdin fell in love and Sinbad set sail from. A land of towering peaks, crystal pools, winding coastal roads and glorious nature. And the best thing about Oman? As of now, its still off the usual tourist track and there is no well defined itinerary that people follow. This makes Oman the perfect place to go without any clear plans and rather, create an itinerary that’s tailor made for you. Although I have written about my time in Oman previously here, here and here, this was my 4th trip over the country’s border and I still managed to find new places to visit and well… left me wanting more!
My trip was inspired by a recent move of a close friend of mine to the region and so I decided to go visit her when I had a week off work. I landed in Muscat, rented a car, drove to Sur to stay with Expat Bunny and we spent an interesting 4 days exploring the eastern side of Oman. If you’re planning a trip there, here is what you can look forward to:
Wadi Bani Khalid
Oman is probably the most famous for its ‘wadis’. The word ‘wadi’ literally translates to ‘oasis’ and that’s exactly what they are; hidden valleys tucked away boasting natural turquoise swimming pools framed by palm tress and mountains. Wadi Bani Khalid is said to be the most accessible of all these wadis and it does live up to its reputation. Despite a few hair raising inclines which are the roads that take you to the wadi, once the road ends in a surprisingly well defined parking lot, you only need to stroll a short distance before you’re greeted by this scenery.
If you are more mobile, you can walk further, climbing the steps to take you over the cliff to see even more of the wadi.
However, what I recommend is bypassing all of these if your legs allow you to and hike for around 10 minutes over some mildly rocky terrain. When you lose sight of the path just follow the sound of waterfall and by waking towards it you will be greeted with the sight of…
It is in this hidden pool that ladies can wear their bikinis and tourists can feel free because this area is hidden by large boulders. The water is warm and shallow, leading in to deeper areas for those who wish to be more daring. You can spend a perfect day here if you pack a picnic lunch and want to laze about swimming and tanning.
-Take food unless you wish to eat at the basic looking restaurant on the premises.
-You will have to dress modestly if swimming in the open pools which are considered public areas. Shorts and t-shirts is advised for ladies and men.
-There are no formal bathrooms or changing room facilities onsite but there are lifeguards.
-There is no entrance fee to Wadi Bani Khalid.
2. Secret Beach
Around 20 minutes from Sur, is what I called “The Secret Beach” however, the locals probably know it as something different. Upon arriving at the location you may wonder what is the point of sending you to see some abandoned construction but actually after further investigation you will find two amazing viewpoints and the jewel in the crown- The Secret Beach. A walk down the steps in one direction (towards the ocean) provides you with this breathtaking view of the rocky cliffs and makes for a great backdrop for photos.
A walk away from the sea awards you this spectacular view of the dramatic landscape and of course, the beach itself. They are well defined stairs leading down to the beach but they do taper off at the end which require some basic levels of fitness to climb down and back up again. The beach itself is beautiful and other than the local fishermen who come there to net fish, you should have the spot to yourself.
It’s also big enough for you to create your own secluded spot behind some rocks. Take a moment to appreciate the creatures on offer while you pause your photo taking; you will not be disappointed.
3. Pink Lakes
My photos of the pink lakes in Iran remain one of my post popular Instagram posts to date and I was keen to see the Omani version which is much less publicized. Expat Bunny and I were cautiously optimistic about the likelihood about there even being water at all since it was December- dry season. Nevertheless, we bravely set off on the hour long journey from Sur to Jalan which led us along a remarkable coastal drive filled with mesmerizing beach scenery and glimpses into village life.
The pink lakes are simply along the highway and you have to keep your eyes peeled so that you don’t miss them altogether. You may have to pull over and stop your car on the gravel on the side of the road while you go to snap some pics or there is a formal parking lot available near the coastline (but I couldn’t figure out how to get there). The lakes were quite enthralling as you can see from the photos below and I would suggest that if you don’t immediately see the deep colour try angling yourself into the sunlight which is it when it becomes more apparent. The salt is safe to walk on but makes you itchy when it gets on to your skin.
I noticed a lot of trash near these lakes and I would urge future visitors not to litter and spoil the beauty of the surroundings.
The beaches of Razz Al Had and Raz Ad Jinz are famous for the thousands of turtles that lay their eggs along the shore and 2 months later, the eggs hatch revealing baby turtles. You can visit the formal Raz Ad Jinz turtle reserve which is a museum giving you information about the turtles offers daily tours at 5am and 9pm where you can see the turtles on the beach. We opted for the less touristy option of getting in touch with a local guide who took us for a quick bite of fried fish before we went to track the turtle on the beach and then watch, under a starry sky, the turtle digging a hole of 2m and then laying eggs into it. This is a very natural experience that takes place in the pitch darkness of the night sky and camera flashes upset the turtle so it may not be one that you can document. Regardless its is an incredible experience. You can use a flashlight as a light to take photos if you like.
If you do a morning walk along the same beach, you should be greeted by the sight of this…
I recommend going with a local because the beaches are unmarked and hard to find in the dark. The locals also know exactly where the turtles lay their eggs and have the necessary permission from the conservation authorities.
Please note that this not an experience where you can touch and hold turtles- this is purely watching the cycle of life unfold before your eyes without interfering.
All in all, one would think that this trip to Oman would’ve sated my need to travel there again however it has done rather the opposite- it has only made me wonder what other gems lie in other parts of this underrated country. Normally I would never be the kind of person who returns time and time again to the same place but there is something raw, unfiltered and mystical about a country the influencers have yet to discover. While I leave them to demand free meals from restaurants in Dubai, I am quite content to grab the adventure that Oman offers me next door.
-If you are of a nationality (or GCC resident) that previously obtained visa on arrival in Oman, I would urge to make use of the new eVisa service which costs the same as the old visa on arrival. The official website is here and it takes about 30 minutes to apply for it. Since Oman has implemented the eVisa system, airlines are allowed to deny you boarding if you do not have one granted prior to departure.
-As I have mentioned before, all of these sites that I wrote about are not formal tourist sites and do not have bathroom/eating/change room facilities so come prepared.
-The best way to travel around Oman is to self drive. There is no doubt about this. The cost of organized tours compared to doing it yourself is astronomical. Remember that petrol is inexpensive in the gulf and the roads in Oman are well maintained with easy to follow signage.
-If your budget extends to it, hire a 4 wheel drive vehicle/SUV; its not that you can’t get to places in a normal car (I did ) but you will feel more comfortable in a car that can take on rugged terrain as some places not very developed.
-Out of the capital city, Muscat, the people are pretty conservative so please dress with this in mind.