Dipping mercury levels mean it’s time to dust off your camping gear and veer away from the city. Y rounds up five must-hit locations across the Sultanate for the perfect winter weekend escape.
Maybe you’ve already seen the videos circulating across social media – blanket- and sweater-clad Omanis and expats walking around snow-covered parts of the Sultanate like it’s a clip snipped straight from a foreign film.
But we assure you – it’s Oman.
For a country associated with mid-40-degree-Celsius summers and sporadic heat waves in the months of June and July, the winter bring with it a short but welcome relief to its residents, who wholeheartedly accept the seasonal vicissitudes… though, with layers of added protection for warmth.
Oman’s winters now bring in scores of tourists from all over the world who want to connect with nature – even if that means camping out in the open in the icy-cold mountain villages of the Al Hajar Mountains.
This week, we’re going one step further – rounding up the coldest parts of Oman from the mountainous peaks of Jebel Shams, to the village of Qabil near Buraimi. How many of these Omani winter wonderlands have you explored?
This humble plateau hidden away in the confines of Jebel Al Akhdar serves up winter temperatures that will even rival those in parts of Europe. Having recorded a low of 4.9-degrees-Celsius last week [December 2], the region became the coldest in the country this month, with Jebel Shams – the nearby and tallest peak in the Sultanate – coming in close contention for second place with its sub-zero temperatures since November. Perched up on the cliff of the mountain, the green village of Saiq makes for some truly stunning shots – especially during sunset. It’s possible to camp here, though it’s best to bring a weather-proof tent and a battery-powered portable heater to crank things up inside. Also, stay clear of rain-bearing clouds, as Oman’s Public Authority for Civil Aviation predicts rain all throughout the month of December. Cold and wetness – it’s a chilly combo. Is it worth the long drive to Saiq? That’s up for you to decide.
This mountain peak remains chilly irrespective of the season. Summers will treat you to mid-20-degrees-Celsius temperatures, while winters can bring about negative temperatures and snowfall. This makes for mesmerising pictures and videos to share on social media – which is what we did here at Y in November when the peaks were covered in blankets of snow. The snowfall only lasts a few days though, and if you thought driving up there was hard in the summer (thanks to the unpaved roads), roll the dice and pray to the heavens as you head there on an almost traction-less snowy surface on summer tyres during winter. At an elevation of 3,009 metres above sea level though, the peak is the tallest in the GCC and offers visitors sights unseen in this part of the world. The photos pasted up on Google alone speak volumes of its popularity as a tourist destination.
The desert town of Qabil may be known for producing top-pedigreed racehorses for the Sultanate, but it’s now in the news for something different – becoming a stopover point for tourists looking to venture away from the city. Complementing its strategic location (close to Ibra) are its vast, towering sand peaks. The lack of settlements in the surrounding areas mean there’s very little in terms of the ‘urban heat island effect’ (a phenomenon that causes air in cities to be warmer than in their surrounding suburbs). The results are temperatures that hover around the 13-degree-Celsius mark. Pack wisely when heading to the desert, and always keep a first aid kit in hand – there’s no short of creepy-crawlies and getting medical treatment may come as a challenge.
Largely untouched by humans, the Muqshin oasis is a hidden gem in the desert sands of the great Empty Quarter. A seven-hour-long drive from Muscat, coupled with challenging dunes, put away even the hardiest of adventurers and dune bashers – though, many have been keen to take on the challenge of scouting the area and snapping up images. Temperatures here often drop below 15-degrees-Celsius, with the lowest marked at 14.1-degrees-Celsius by the Oman MET office this week. While night camping under the stars in the desert may be worth it, the arduous drive can quickly get the better of those planning on heading there.
If you like to keep things simple, you can take a trip to the mystical town of Bahla. The drive there via the highway takes no longer than three hours, and temperatures in the city are currently marked below 20-degrees-Celsius. With a multitude of ancient forts (including the famous 13th-century Bahla Fort) and time-worn settlements in sight, Bahla also remains the cultural hub of the region. Little wonder then that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It can be challenging to find camping spots here but, to tourists’ advantage, there are plenty of hotels in the vicinity.