Leaving Oman’s glitzy capital, Muscat, into the Hajar mountains things change. Life is slower paced out here. It’s decisively more conservative as well. The small communities that call the Hajar Mountains home are more traditional and are deeply connected to Omani culture. If you are looking for an Arabia that has been lost in neighbouring countries, than this is the place to come. This region is also famed for being one of the most gorgeous regions in all of Arabia, deep gorges cut through jagged black mountains while villages made of stone defy gravity by clinging to the Cliff side. Nizwa and the Hajar are impossibly beautiful.
Driving the Wadi Bani Awf to Hatt Mountain Road
From Muscat you can make it to Nizwa in just a couple of hours via the main highway. There is a much more adventurous route however. The dirt track between Wadi Bani Awf and Hatt will take you across some of the Hajar’s, most beautiful scenery. There is also many small traditional Omani villages that rely solely on farming which is rare these days in oil rich Oman.
Leaving Muscat drive to Rustaq. Before reaching Rustaq you will see signs for the Wadi Bani Awf turn. After turning the road stays paved for another 20km before turning into a rough dirt track. From here on you will need a 4×4.
Following the dirt track you will cross a few smaller mountain passes before you see the pretty village of Bilad Sayt before climbing to the Sharfat al Alamayn viewpoint. From here you can see all the way to Rustaq one way and Nizwa the other. From here it’s just a short one hour drive to Nizwa.
Nizwa is a deeply historic city that is very rooted in Bedouin culture. At first glance you will notice how much more conservative it is here. Most of Nizwa’s sights are located in the walls of the old city. Not many actually live in the heart of the old city, but the ones that do retain the old mud structures that give Nizwa such an authentic Omani feel.
Right in the middle of the Old City is the fortified medieval Nizwa Fort which has long kept the city safe from invaders. The historic fort walks you through several defense techniques the Omani’s used to defeat the Portuguese, including dropping hot date oil on them and using trap doors that drop to a bed of spikes! The best past of Nizwa Fort is climbing to the top walls and seeing the views over the Old City.
Nestled in the maze like streets of the Old City is the Nizwa Souq. Many of the shops selling handmade wares have been kept up for tourism, but a large part of the souq is still widely in use. On Sunday’s there is even an animal bazaar where locals haggle over goats and sheep. Beside the livestock market is a large fish market, date market and vegetable market all with plenty of photo opportunities. Nizwa Souq is a great place to soak up Arabia’s atmosphere.
Sights of the Hajar Mountains
Al Hamra sits at the foot of the Hajar Mountains near Jebel Shams. At first glance Al Hamra doesn’t seem like much, but this small oasis town is one of the most historic villages in the region.
Al Hamra’s Old City has crumbly mud brick buildings in Yemeni style, this style of architecture is very rare to see in Oman. The old city backs onto a date palm oasis, it’s very picturesque and makes for a great detour on your way to Misfat.
Misfat is easily one of the prettiest villages in the Hajar. The stone and mud brick traditional village clambers down the side of date palm terraces created by villagers centuries ago.
Starting from the top of the village you can see all of the Misfat Valley. From here you can follow the cobblestone path that will lead you through the ancient village and into the palm date oases. Here the lush green scenery and trickle streams are beautiful. Locals adorned in old Omani style are friendly and welcoming to foreigners.
The Road to The Sun
The road from Nizwa to the foot of Jebel Shams is known as the road to the sun. This epic road takes you high into the Hajar Mountains and provides epic scenic view points and ample room for camping.
The highlight for most when visiting Nizwa and the Hajar Mountains is ascending to the foot of Jebel Shams 3009m, Oman’s tallest peak, and seeing the viewpoint over Wadi Ghul. This massive canyon is easily one of the world’s most amazing natural wonders.
The Drive to Jebel Shams is also an experience. Passing by cultivated land and abandoned stone villages until you make the journey up the road dubbed the “road to the sun”. There’s ample room for camping here as well, but because of the altitude be sure to dress warm, it can get very chilly at night.
Bahla is said to be the third most haunted place on earth. Locals believe that the fort is the home to Gin, a mysterious shape shifting spirit that can torment the living. Be sure to look out for cats as this is the favorite form the Gin like to take shape as.
Bahla Fort is also one of Oman’s most prominent and well maintained forts. The massive walls give way to a giant open courtyard, you can spend hours wondering its chambers.
Oman Travel Information
Location: Nizwa, Oman
Guide Book: Lonely Planet Oman
Car Rental: Budget Car Oman
Accommodation: I used couch surfing here