Scorching sun, humid days, heat wave, sweat and drudgery… So disheartening! Who wouldn't want to make a quick getaway into some cool retreat in search of tranquility?
Though fatigue of the long day and murmuring air-conditioners soothe us into a blurry sleep, we dream of spewing springs, aquamarine pools amidst narrow ravines, breezy beaches, remote farmed lands where they grow apricots, pears and pomegranates or mountains that rise to an altitude of serenity and seclusion.
We wouldn't say the reality could be better than our dreams especially when one resides in an 'arid region' as preconceived by the majority or when there are fewer chances for surprise holiday trips to exotic places in Europe, the Far East or elsewhere. But the reality is far better than our assumptions and, in Oman, as they say, 'if you can dream it, you can do it'.
Do it right here, they say, on the Western Hajar Mountains bedecked with lush terraced fields, on the sandy beaches where turtles nestle, on tiny islands to confront the not so belligerent wildlife, in the gorges where crystal clear streams still gurgle down mossy rocks to form emerald pools, or in the remote villages where the very traditions and congenial people would cool you off. Summer isn't that disheartening in the Sultanate, for it's still 'the coolest place in summer' among the GCC states, assert tour operators based in Muscat.
One might immediately think they are talking about Salalah and the Khareef season. Of course, Dhofar region or Salalah has been attracting tourists from across the region during the month of July-August, when monsoon showers would wake up the seeds underneath and tickle every single living thing pink. A maximum number of tourists come from GCC countries to Salalah during the Khareef season and the number has increased over the past few years, points out a spokesperson from the National Travel & Tourism – NTT Tours.
|Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain)|
- - Rises to a height of 2,980 metres
- - About two-and-a-half hours drive Muscat,
- - Temperature is around 15 degrees cooler than in Muscat
- - Incredible views of terraced farms
- - Lot of camping shelters and camping areas
- - Need a 4x4 (police will stop at check-post)
|Jebel Shams (mountain of sun)|
- - The highest peak in the Arabian Peninsula,
- - Located 240 km from Muscat via Nizwa-Al Hamra,
- - In the summer temperature is around 20°C
- - 'Grand Canyon' with a vertical drop of 2,100 meters
- - Home to around a dozen small villages
- - A place to hike, take photographs and have picnic
- - Features agricultural terraces cultivating fruits at 2,000 meters above sea
- - Located 150km from Muscat
- - The graded road leading to the village passes through many valleys
- - Enjoys moderate temperatures in summer
- - Walk up a trail stretching for 1,100 metres, comprising 700 steps
- - A mountain village showcasing traditional Omani rural settlement
- - Enjoys moderate daytime temperatures even in summer
- - Can be reached through Wadi Al Sahtan and Wadi Bani Awf
- - Tucked away in rugged hills of Rustaq, it's accessible only by 4WD
- - A gorgeous narrow mountain ravine south of the Bimmah Sinkhole in Sur
- - A breathtaking entrance and views of aquamarine pools, waterfalls
- - Opportunities for swimming and a visit to a partially submerged cave
- - Though there's no road into the wadi, one can negotiate the first km in a 4WD
We need not set aside Salalah, which is quite centred to the GCC crowd, but there are other good places in Oman for local people to go picnicking, spend weekends and for overnight stays during summer like Jebel Shams, Jebel Akhdar, Ras Al Jinz and Masirah Island, says Sanjay Bhattacharya, the managing partner of Arabica Orient Tours. "The summer temperature in these places may be a little high during the middle of the day, but it becomes cooler and perfect for evening picnics and overnight stays," he adds.
The Western Hajar Mountain range or the Jebel Akhdar range has much more to offer as it has mountain villages including Wakan and Bilad Sayt, points out Bainu Thomas, the manager (operations), Eihab Travels.
"Trips to these mountain villages and many other wadis we have here would be ideal for day picnics. And for people interested in long drives and extended trips, they could take the coastal road to Salalah via Ras Al Jinz (where the peak time for turtle watching is from June to September), Masirah Island, Duqm, Khaluf, Ras Al Madrakah and Wadi Shuwaymiyah.
|Ras Al Jinz|
- - The easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula and an important turtle-nesting site
- - Peak time for turtle watching is from June to September
- - Located 40km away from Sur
- - The area is under government protection, escorted tours available
- - Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve offers air-conditioned rooms and cottages
|Wadi Bani Khalid|
- - Most popular wadi of Sharqiyah region, its stream maintains a constant flow
- - Around 270 km from Muscat north of Al-Kamil and can be reached via Ibra
- - Features large pools, boulders and caves including Kahf Maqal
- - Springs include Ain Hamouda, Ain al Sarooj and Ain Dawwa
- - The village of Badaa is a well-known tourist stop in the valley
- - A real desert island experience with isolated sandy beaches and wild life
- - An Indian Ocean island off the east coast of Oman, 95 km long
- - Hosts all four of Oman's nesting species of turtles
- - Camping is still the most common way of experiencing Masirah
- - 450km from Muscat: Take the Nizwa road, at Bid Bid take left to reach Sur road for Sinaw; from Shannah take ferry to Masirah Island
- - The port city is witnessing major transformation in all sectors including in tourism
- - Places to visit are Rock Garden the Oman's geological wonder, old fishing villages and beautiful beaches
- - Duqm Beach, a beautiful beach known for its soft, clean sands, azure waters and cool breezes, is 20 kilometres from the centre of Wilayat
- - The Al Madina Al Duqm Hotel and Crown Plaza Hotel cater to the increasing demand for accommodation
- - Can be reached by Oman Air flights and by road (About 600km from Muscat down south)
- - Best season for visit is monsoon or 'Khareef', (Salalah Tourism Festival from 15 July to 31 August every year)
- - The coast blends with the mountains and the desert - mountains rising to a height of 1,500 metres
- - About 1,040 kilometres away from Muscat, min. temperature around 16 degree C
- - Daily flights and buses between Muscat and Salalah
- - Drive from Muscat to Salalah takes roughly 12 hours
It can be a wonderful and totally new experience with many places to watch migratory birds enroute," he adds. Besides, a cool dip in the wadis like Wadi Bani Khalid, Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi could be another good option for both domestic and foreign tourists who look for weekend getaways during summer, according to Manoj Dass, the head – Tour Oman, a division of Travel Point. Opportunity for swimming is great with these wadis maintaining a constant flow of water round the year.
Though the volume of foreign tourists coming to Oman during summer, when compared to the peak season, is less it has been increasing gradually, thanks to special summer packages being offered by tour operators. "Though the low turnout of foreign tourists have stayed the same over the years, we had been getting odd groups, doing tours and stop-over packages," Sanjay says.
Availability of hotels and guides are not an issue during summer, which helps tour operators offer more packages in tie-up with hotels at various destinations. "During summer, hotels also come out with special rates or 'stay and pay' offers and we do make special packages based on these for our partners.
This year, Alila Jebel Akhdar opened which has provided us a chance to chalk out special combination packages for summer with the new property and for the GCC market we have special Khareef packages," says Bainu.
Almost all the tour operators in Muscat have come up with special summer promotions tying up with hotels including Alila Jebel Akhdar, Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah, Rotana Salalah, Salalah Marriot Resort, Al Nadha Resort and Masirah Island Resort to attract tourists during this summer. And these packages include daily buffet breakfast, discount on meal rates, complimentary airport transfers and special rates on spa packages.
As it's a bit late for this summer, Sanjay has plans to create something new for the next summer, 'a beach and mountain combination with a night or two stay in Muscat before departure'.
"During this time of the year, the hotels offer the best price and we just need to market the period well and offer something really attractive to tourists. Many from Europe do travel in summer to avail the price advantage which we need to encash upon doing some good ground research," he points out.Need more awareness
However, the time demands additional efforts to highlight Oman as a tourism destination even during summer. "A great amount of awareness needs to be created and campaigns to be organised to promote Oman as a summer destination for which the government and the industry partners should work hand in hand," asserts Bainu. Special offers for summer from Oman Air, the hotels and the tour operators should be promoted well in advance so that it reaches the target clients on time, he adds.
Also, addition of facilities like water theme park and for water sports activities in and around Muscat will help a great deal as there is nothing much to do in the capital during the summer, according to Sanjay.
"With these add-on facilities I am sure the long summer period can be reduced. This is what we look forward to as it's also important to get a little break in summer as winter is always hard work for all of us and we need this break to recharge our batteries and prepare for the coming season," he says.
Manager (Operations), Eihab Travels
The volume of foreign tourists is very less in summer, but the numbers increase gradually, especially during the months of May and September. Many do take advantage of the low rates during summer.
Managing Partner, Arabica Orient Tours
The main challenge we face during summer season is to change the mindset of the traveler, to make them realise that, except for
a few hours, the days are still pleasant and there are some nice spots where you
do not feel the heat much.
Head – Tour Oman, a division of Travel Point
Though the tourist traffic during summer these days are better compared to the past, with lots of movement from the GCC and India, lack of indoor activities discourage families. We need aqua parks, indoor activities, etc. to attract tourists during summer.