In southern Oman, discover ancient trading posts, historic towns, lush green landscapes, vast deserts and coconut-fringed beaches.
The surprisingly lush region of Salalah on the coast was once the starting point for caravans on the ancient frankincense route, and it still retains a wonderful air of mystique. Its name, besides being endlessly satisfying to say, translates as ‘The Shining One’ – with the influence of the passing monsoon making it unusually fertile and dotting it with coconut and banana trees rather than the date palms of the more arid north, it’s not hard to see why. Lounge on the beautiful coconut-fringed beaches, and explore the ribbons of green pastures that run inland through the region.
Salalah was traditionally the home of the Sultan of Oman, although the current ruler, Qaboos, was born here but bases himself in Muscat. The story of the region’s rich history is told at the fascinating Museum of the Frankincense Land, in the Al Baleed Archaeological Park – an atmospheric place where you’ll find the ruins of the ancient port of Zafar.
The surrounding region of Dhofar governed itself until the mid-19th century and has a culture as distinct as its climate, its numerous tribes influenced by centuries of frankincense trading with peoples from all over the world. In the area to the east of Salalah is the evocative town of Mirbat, once the capital of Dhofar and a centre for the breeding of Arabic horses, and the ruins of the ancient city of Sumhuram.
The Empty Quarter, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world, is aptly named, with nothing but sand stretching for 1000km across Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen. The sands are dangerous and exploration should not be attempted alone; Umm al Samim is a treacherous region of quicksand first described by Wilfred Thesiger, the great explorer and writer. Guided treks into the desert are available, led by some of the people who know this region the best, the Bedouin.