Dhofar Province and Salalah
Salalah is the capital of Oman’s southern Dhofar province. The region is often referred to as the ‘Land of Frankincense’, due to the vast number of trees that lace the mountainsides, which become lush and green during the summer monsoon, known as the khareef. The area’s sleepy atmosphere belies a fascinating history, and the region is also home to the best beaches in the country.
One of the first notable differences between the Dhofar region and the north of Oman is the climate. This area is sub-tropical, and so maintains balmy temperatures year-round, usually around 27 degrees Celsius. However, the sunshine does not stay all year. In the summer, normally from around June to early September the Dhofar region experiences a monsoon known as the khareef. During this time, there is usually an almost constant light drizzle, and the mountains are wrapped in curling mists. This results in the countryside bursting into greenery, with waterfalls flowing over the cliffs and springs rising up in the wadis. This relief from the scorching Middle Eastern summer heat makes the region a popular holiday destination for Gulf residents.
The frankincense trees which adorn the mountains in the region once made Salalah an important trading port. The ruins of Sumhuram lie to the east of Salalah, and date back to the 3rd century. This ancient city was once the hub of the frankincense trade, exporting this precious luxury to Europe and Asia. It is rumoured that the legendary Queen of Sheba once had summer palaces in this area.
Up in the mountains, it is possible to journey to the tomb of the Prophet Job (although the authenticity of this is often debated as there are a number of other tombs with the same claim). To the west of Salalah travellers can take in one of the country’s most spectacular vistas at Mughsail Beach. Towering mountains drop straight down into blue seas, and if you catch the tide right, you may see blow holes spouting sea water out of the rocks.
In the city of Salalah itself, there is a colourful mix of cultures. The city’s Grand Mosque is not as opulent as the Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Muscat, and yet it has its own beautiful serenity. The sub-tropical climate lends itself well to fruit cultivation, and the region has many plantations which grow papaya, coconut and banana. Stalls line the roadsides and it is possible to stop off to sample some of the local produce. Interestingly, this history of farming tropical fruit was heavily influenced by the country’s ties to Zanzibar, which was once under Omani rule.
The coast around Salalah is home to some of Oman’s most heavenly beaches. Wide stretches of powdery sand gently slope down into the warm Arabian Sea, whilst palm trees gently sway in the breeze.
Salalah is also the gateway to the Empty Quarter; one of the world’s great wildernesses. The Empty Quarter, known locally as Rub Al Khali, is the largest sand desert in the world and stretches across Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar. It is possible to venture into the Empty Quarter on a day trip from Salalah, where you can visit the ruins many believe to be the ‘Lost City of Ubar’, also known as the ‘Atlantis of the Sands’ which is mentioned in the Quran. Continue out into the desert and take in extraordinary sands dunes and enjoy the feeling of solitude.