Oman’s Dhofar Region is famed for its stunning landscapes and Frankincense. Exploring the region, you will come across hints of the Frankincense trail’s once lively past; From ancient castles, caravan trails, and Frankincense farms that have been here for centuries. This is Oman’s wild frontier and has ample room for the curious traveler to wander. Whether its hiking in the groves of Frankincense trees in the mountains, camping on a remote beach, or haggling for heavenly scented Frankincense in one of Salalah’s Souq’s, this region of Oman will keep even the most jaded traveler excited. Come discover the Frankincense trail in Dhofar, Oman!
Getting to Salalah
The capital of the Dhofar region Salalah has an international airport making getting here a cinch. There are daily flights from UAE and Muscat with a magnitude of airlines. If you do not want to fly then you are left with two other options, taking the bus or driving.
If you drive from Muscat it takes about 18 hours through the lifeless Empty Quarter. There aren’t many places to stop on route so wild camping would be a great option. You can also drive the more scenic ocean route from Muscat. This route will require quite a few days to complete but makes for an epic adventure. The direct bus from Muscat also takes about 18 hours to arrive. Its very cheap only costing about 40 dollars, but it’s a very long and boring journey. At the bust station I also found direct buses coming from Dubai, this journey will take about 24 hours.
Renting a Car in Salalah
In Salalah International Airport there is plenty of options for car rentals. Just head down to the basement and shop around at one of the many different car rental companies. I rented from Salalah Budget Car, this company gave me a Saloon car for 26 dollars per day. Fuel is also very cheap here!
If you plan on doing any off road in the deserts up north, or camping you should rent a 4×4, but the price will rise drastically! Most 4×4’s started at 90 dollars per day. I rented the saloon car and all the areas I talk about in this post had paved roads that I had no problem driving with my saloon car.
Where to Stay in Salalah
There inst much for budget accommodation in Salalah, but there is plenty of opportunity to couch surf here. I ended up staying in the Jawharet Al Kheir Furnished Apartments. The apartments come fully furnished and are huge! its also right beside the mall and airport for convenience. It also only cost 40 USD per night. Honestly one of the best deals iv’e seen in the entire Middle East.
Salalah Al Husn Souq
This is what remains of the ancient Frankincense trade in Salalah. Here you can wander the narrow alleyways of Al Husn Souq in search for, you guessed it, Frankincense. There is also a broad selection of oils and perfumes made from Frankincense.
Local artisan’s in Salalah are known for the craftsmanship in making the traditional Omani cap known as the Kumma and have a beautiful selection of Omani style scarfs imported from Kashmir. Prices are low here compared to Muscat so if you are making a trip to Salalah save you’re shopping for here!
Museum of the Frankincense Land
On the outskirts of Salalah you will find the Museum of the Frankincense Land. This detailed Museum runs you through the history of this valuable resource and its significance to Omani culture. It also explains differences in the Frankincense including smells, quality and regional differences.
Outside the Museum there are pleasant walking trails through the archaeological ruins of Al Baleed the 12th century trading port of Zafar. From here the Frankincense was shipped to India and other parts of the Silk Road.
The main stretch of beach in Salalah has resorts if you want to relax, but for the most part is a place for Salalah families to wind down with a BBQ or game of beach soccer. In the evenings it’s a wonderful place to watch the sunset and smoke sheesha with locals.
Buying Frankincense in Salalah
No trip to Salalah is complete without buying Frankincense. Without any prior knowledge of this scented gum resin, you might end up feeling a bit overwhelmed entering the Souq.
Here is a few buying tips for Frankincense.
Frankincense Grades – Like most things there is different qualities of Frankincense. Essentially the greener variety known as Royal Hojari is the higher quality. The second best is the white Frankincense, this is used to eat and if burnt gives off a citrusy aroma. The draker colours are lesser quality and only used for burning.
Frankincense Oils – Frankincense oil is famous for its medicinal qualities. Its also used in perfumes and for scents in your home. Because of the process it takes to make the oil, it is quite expensive.
Haggling for Frankincense – Once you have a grip on the grades you must start haggling. Try to take off about 30 percent of the original price. Sticking to the larger well-known companies in the souq will ensure quality but raise prices.
Sights around Salalah
In religious terms this is the most sacred sight in Dhofar. For a traveler, Job’s Tomb itself isn’t particularly that exciting, but the drive up here is spectacular. Climbing high above Salalah into the northern Dhofar Mountains you will cross deep canyons, and herds of camels.
From Job’s Tomb on a sunny day you can see all the way down to Salalah. Leaving the sight, it’s a great drive to continue west and complete the northern ring road loop passing by more epic views.
Wadi Dharbat is quite different from the Wadi’s elsewhere in Oman. This Wadi is spread out in a lush mountain canyon. If you didn’t know better, you would think it is a lake!
The real draw of visiting Wadi Dharbat is to see the wild camels wading through the Wadi. It makes for a great picture and scenic environment. Wadi Dharbat is a pleasant stop to have a picnic lunch on your way to Mirbat.
Historic Mirbat is home to the onion domed Bin Ali Tomb. This shrine and graveyard has a very ancient feel to it, all the tombs are carved stone and the mosque is made of mud brick. Bin Ali Tomb is a great stop to take a few photos before you head on into the historic area of Mirbat.
In Mirbat’s Old City you will find many crumbly white washed buildings with traditional doors and latticed windows. For me Mirbat port was the most interesting point, here people work by hand on old wooden Dhow fishing boats.
The road from Salalah to Yemen is one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world. The area known as Mughsail has some of this area most dramatic scenery. It’s a quick thirty-minute drive from Salalah but feels worlds away.
Before Mughsail you will first pass by Mughsail Beach. This massive white sand beach is a gorgeous stop for photos, but I would save swimming for at Fizayah Beach. Arriving to Mughsail there is a small paved path that will take you by a blow hole and a cave before you get to the main view point. Mughsail view point really is incredible and a must see for anyone visiting the area.
Continue past Mughsail through a large canyon before climbing to the top of a coastal mountain. Here you will see the signs for Fizayah. Guidebooks say you need a 4×4 for this 6km decent down the mountain, but I had no issues taking my car.
Once at the bottom of the mountain you there is two beaches stretching over 2km. Fizayah easily competes for the most beautiful landscapes in the area. The beaches here are empty and make an ideal place for swimming and camping, you’ll have to share it with the wild camels who call Fizayah home!
Taqah Castle does not boast the grandeur size of other Forts in Oman, but it does house some very interesting artefacts and displays. This little castle is definitely worth a stop on route to Mirbat or Wadi Dharbat.
Leaving Wadi Dharbat if you continue east on the ring road you will pass the gravity road. It is not well posted so be sure to find it on Maps.me. There are many of these gravity roads around the world, but this is the first one I visited. Simply put your car in neutral at the bottom of the hill and it magically starts crawling up the hill.
There are plenty of Frankincense farms that dot the countryside outside of Salalah. One of my favourite is Wadi Dawkah located on the Norther road towards the Empty Quarter. You can find it on Maps.me or Google maps.
This farm is free to enter and usually you have the entire place to yourself. I actually picked fresh Frankincense right of the trees!
Uncharted Backpacker Salalah Day Tours
During my week stay in Dhofar I planned and did three day trips from Salalah. Using Maps.me you can mark the following trails.
Day Trip #1, East Dhofar: Salalah – Taqah Castle – Wadi Dharbat – Gravity Road – Mirbat
Day Trip #2, West Dhofar: Salalah – Mughsail – Fizayah
Day Trip #3, North Dhofar: Salalah – Wadi Dawkah – Job’s Tomb