Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

My home town: a local's guide to discovering Salalah, Oman

Lifestyle writer Janice Rodrigues shows you around the second largest city in Oman, where she was born and raised

Salalah is still mostly untouched by commercialism and offers authentic experiences, especially for nature lovers. Getty
Salalah is still mostly untouched by commercialism and offers authentic experiences, especially for nature lovers. Getty

Growing up in Salalah is what I would call a quaint experience; I got used to the idea that LuLu Shopping Centre was as big as a mall could get, and the fact that there was one branch of KFC and Pizza Hut to choose between (back in the day). Things have changed since, but Salalah is still largely untouched by commercialism and offers authentic experiences, especially for nature lovers.

My favourite time to visit

Salalah is known for its Khareef season, which is usually from the end of July until the beginning of September. During this time, tourists from all over the Middle East flock to this city in the Dhofar Governate. The reason? The sky is overcast, drizzles come at all hours, a lazy fog rolls in, greenery sprouts up everywhere and the weather is a good 10 degrees cooler than in other parts of the country. The Salalah Tourism Festival is also usually timed with the monsoon season. The exhibition offers a glimpse into traditional Omani life, food and entertainment.

A steep descent is negotiated on a trail in Wadi Darbat in Salalah. Paolo Rossetti for The National
A steep descent is negotiated on a trail in Wadi Darbat in Salalah. Paolo Rossetti for The National

My top spots

A must-visit is the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, the largest mosque in Salalah, which was completed in 2001. Head to Al Husn Souk in old Salalah to shop for some popular souvenirs, including frankincense, silver handicrafts and ittar, a concentrated essential oil that is often used as a fragrance. Finally, make some time to drive through Sultan Qaboos Street – you will find a number of thatched stalls there selling fruit. The fresh coconut water is highly recommended.

SALALAH. 16th July 2009. Tropical fruit stalls at the roadside beside the farm zone in Salalah, Oman. Stephen Lock / The National . FOR TRAVEL. *** Local Caption *** SL-salalah-044.jpg
Tropical fruit stalls at the roadside in Salalah, Oman. Stephen Lock / The National

My best advice

Explore the city’s natural beauty. Known for its white sand, Mughsail beach is a personal favourite – not only because it’s relatively empty, but because the drive there also offers stunning mountain views. Stop by the Al Marneef Cave and Mughsayl blowhole, as well as the Mirbat, Taqa and Haffa beaches. Another must-visit is the anti-gravity point located between Mirbat and Salalah – put your car in neutral gear on a downhill slope and see it move uphill.

Finally, spare some time for the wadis, jebels and springs. Wadi Darbat is a popular destination, with seasonal waterfalls and activities such as paddle boating. Jebel Samhan, located an hour’s drive away, is known for its views. Ain Razat is a natural spring that’s especially popular during Khareef.

Great places to stay and eat

Growing up, Haffa House Hotel was one of the most famous hotels, and it is open to this day. The past few years have also seen the launch of resorts including Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts Salalah and Salalah Rotana Resort that offer fine dining options.

Those looking for hole-in-the-wall joints can head to Baalbek for Lebanese fare. Pakistani restaurant Al Kutaini is famous for its chicken handi and mutton kababs, while Udupi is the top South Indian restaurant for vegetarians. Oasis Club offers live music, bowling and snooker, as well as international cuisine. As it’s a coastal city, there’s also an abundance of fresh seafood available, which is worth a try in most places. End your trip on a sweet note with a soft serve from local hot spot Al Watheeka.

Updated: January 2, 2020 05:28 PM

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