Oman Part 5: Salalah and the South

This is the fifth of six posts on our visit to Oman in March-April 2022.

If you just want to see the pictures from this part of our trip go here.


Salalah is in the very south of Oman, not too far from the border with Yemen. We took the 90 minute flight from Oman on a very new and clean Omanair plane. The modern airport terminal at Muscat was completed in 2018. It is very well designed, spotlessly clean and with plenty of lifts caters well for passengers with a lot of luggage or have mobility issues. It has room for far more passengers than we saw when we were there. We were given a snack and drink on the short domestic flight.

Our guide for the south met us off the plane and it was immediately clear that we were in a very different part of Oman. While we could see the mountains in the distance, it was much greener than the areas we had been to in the north. We had read that Salalah has a very different climate from the rest of Oman with a rainy season called the khareef from June to August.

Coconut palm

Coconut palm

We were taken first to a coconut plantation and vegetable market which was teeming with all kinds of produce some of which we did not recognise. There was a large pile of coconuts and plenty more scattered around.

Coconuts, Salalah

Want to buy a coconut?


Salalah has been a major centre for the export of frankincense since ancient times. The Museum of the Frankincense World is another modern building in the traditional Omani style. True to its name a frankincense tree is growing in the centre of the courtyard. It looked much more healthy than the rather ragged one Saqer had shown us on the way back to Muscat.

Museum of the Frankincense Land,

Museum of the Frankincense Land, Salalah

As its name indicates this museum is not just about frankincense. It shows how, beginning in ancient times, Salalah became a large centre of trade for frankincense. There are displays of boats and Omani seafaring in one main room. Another room has a collection of ancient artefacts including a some with hieroglyphs. All, including a map of trade routes, is well-documented on large information boards in both English and Arabic.

Frankincense is a resin. It is tapped from the bark of the tree and then allowed to solidify before being burnt to release its aroma. There are different colours and grades. It is still widely used in Oman and in the souq there were plenty of people selling it.

Frankincense shop

Frankincense shop

Before leaving the Museum we were able to briefly look at the Al Baleed archaeological site next door to it. The city of Zufar was founded three thousand years ago here. It covers a very large area and it was very hot and so we did not look at it in detail.

Salalah Rotana Resort

Our sightseeing for the day was done and we were taken to the Salalah Rotana Resort which one of several hotels by a lagoon complex about 13 miles east of Salalah.

Lagoon near Salalah Rotana Resort

Lagoon near Salalah Rotana Resort

This hotel is imaginatively laid out with several different low rise buildings and we had a large room which required a golf cart to get there.

Most of the other guests seemed to be Eastern Europeans on full board package tours. We were hungry but did not want a large buffet lunch and so the restaurant manager organised some plates of meze for us.

The hotel is on the beach and is also a very short walk from the lagoon which Martin explored in the afternoon.

We went back there in the evening to eat dinner at the aptly named Island Restaurant which is reached by a short pedestrian bridge.

Sunset dinner by lagoon

Sunset dinner by lagoon – yes, we did get some food after dark

Camels and Flamingos

There was plenty of choice in the hotel breakfast buffet and we were soon ready for exploring to the east of Salalah.

We had been told that we would see more camels in the south, but not that they were everywhere, wandering around on the roads which made driving interesting. They must all belong to somebody – our guide told us that his family owned a lot of camels and many more goats.

Camels on the road

We passed camels corralled into pens. Our guide said that they were for sale. We wondered how this ship of the desert drinks and whether we would see any by or in water.

The guide also stopped the car so that we could photograph some flamingos by the sea.

Flamingos near Salalah


We stopped at Taqah which is the first real town east of Salalah. Most of it is modern and again the beach area has not been spoilt by high rise buildings. From a small ridge above the town we were able to look down towards the fort and a very unusual minaret on a mosque.

Taqah Fort and Mosque

Taqah Fort and Mosque


The archaeological site of Sumhuram is situated on a wide inlet named Khor Rori which is just east of of Taqah. It was once a major town and port and the remains of buildings there are extensive. Recent excavations date it back to the fourth century BC. Sumhuram survived for eight centuries until, as experts believe, the entrance to the inlet became impassable because of a sand bank. Among the remains is an inscription in the rare Epigraphic South Arabian script.

Some workmen were carrying out restoration at the site.

Building work, Sumhurum

Building work, Sumhuram

It is an easy walk from the site down to the water where we found some camels with their feet in the water trying to get a drink.

Camels in water, near Sumhuram

Camels in water, near Sumhuram


We moved on further east to the town of Mirbat, first to the fort which was of interest for the square windows and an unusual tower hexagonal tower. Inside we found more life size displays of Omani life and a map of trade routes from Salalah and Muscat.

Fishing is a sizeable industry in Mirbat. There’s a fish market and plenty of small boats. On a larger boat some men were mending their nets and were not bothered by me photographing them.

Mending nets, Mirbat

Mending nets, Mirbat

In the distance some birds which looked like black storks were perched on the top of the dome of a mosque.

Storks? on dome of mosque

Near Mirbat we went to see the Mausoleum of Bin Ali, a beautiful white building with onion domes. It’s dedicated to a 12th century scholar who came from the area now known as Yemen. Next to it is a cemetery with thousands of headstones many of which are just upright stones.

Mausoleum of bin Ali, Mirbat

Mausoleum of Bin Ali, Mirbat

Wadi Darbat

On the way back to the hotel we took a detour to Wadi Darbat where there is even a waterfall which had water in it in the dry season. The water tumbled into a wide river. More camels were trying to get to the river for a drink.

Martin with our guide at Wadi Darbat

Martin with our guide at Wadi Darbat

There’s a much wider expanse of water further up the wadi where at some times of the year it’s possible to go out on a boat.

Back at the hotel we ate the buffet lunch and later on took a walk along the beach where some tourists were returning from a camel ride at sunset.

Camel riders at sunset, Rotana Resort

In the evening we tried the hotel’s version of an iftar meal. Most of the other guests ate indoors but we enjoyed an outdoor meal in a pleasant temperature and with no mosquitoes or other bugs.

Ain Razat

Just east of Salalah are a number of springs which have become local tourist areas. The areas surrounding them are quite green. At Ain Razat there is a picnic area where you can walk up to a large cave for a better view over the green areas, some of which were large enough to be called fields. Some cows were wandering around there.

Cave at Ain Rabat

Cave at Ain Rabat

Mugsail Blowhole and Beach

The rest of our excursion on the last day was to the west of Salalah where the mountains soon come down to the sea. At Mugsail there are several blowholes one of which performs frequently. It was a short walk from the car park under a large overhanging rock to get to it. We were able to watch it for a while and I did manage to get some reasonable pictures among the many failed ones.

Mugsail blowhole

Mugsail blowhole

At one stage the road ran alongside the 6km Mugsail Beach is quite stunning. It was almost deserted, perhaps because it was Ramadan and perhaps also that it is near the border with Yemen. The mountains in this area are as much if not more spectacular than those we had seen west of Muscat, but we could not go any further south as it was so close to Yemen.

Our guide took us to see a very old frankincense tree which was growing out of some rocks. We were able to see the resin coming out of its bark.

Frankincense resin on old tree

Frankincense resin on old tree

Salalah Town

We did see a little of the town of Salalah on the way back to the hotel. The gold market street was quiet probably again because of Ramadan but a few of the shops were open.

Gold souq, Salalah

Gold souq, Salalah

We asked the guide to take us to a Lulu hypermarket where we bought sandwiches for lunch and managed to choose some dates to take home from the huge variety on display.

Last Night and Going Home

A few of the shops around the lagoon were open when we went there again to eat at the Island Restaurant on our last night.

Our flight on Qatar Airways to Doha the next day was scheduled to leave at 5am, which is definitely not our favourite time. We were supposed to be at the airport two hours before and the guide said his brother would come for us at 2.30. The hotel reception had assured us that somebody would be available to take us and our luggage to the hotel front at that time, but nobody answered the phone when we tried to reach them at 2.15. Eventually Martin set off walking round the deserted site and found a security guy who helped us. I spotted somebody else lying down asleep in reception.

The driver was waiting and we got to the airport which is just on the edge of Salalah in plenty of time. Like the airport at Muscat the terminal is large, modern and clean. It was almost deserted except, much to our relief, a modern coffee shop which also served French-style patisserie. There were only five flights on the departure board.

I did wonder after our experience there whether the Omanis were planning to develop the airport at Khasab but its location in a valley between high mountains would not be suitable for a big increase in air traffic.

It was just daylight when we reached Doha. The contrast between the high rise buildings in the centre and the smaller low rise buildings spreading out into the desert was stark.



As the plane descended we could see construction everywhere presumably because of the football World Cup. There was plenty of evidence of building work at the airport but we arrived at a terminal which was far too small for the number of passengers who were milling about. At least our flight to Manchester was on time as there was nowhere near enough space for all the passengers to sit down at the departure gate. The plane was full and the food on it wasn’t too great. Emirates next time, I think, if we go to this part of the world again.

Picture Gallery: Oman Part 5: Salalah and the South

Click to enlarge

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