'Imagine", says my guide Majed. "All of this green!" I'm visiting in January, and the wadis around Salalah are still temptingly full of water, though the waterfalls have stopped and the hills are less than verdant. But even at this time of year, the floor of Wadi Darbat, a pleasant 30-kilometre drive from the coast, is blanketed in grass and framed by handsome mature trees. Camels move languidly up and down the shore, pausing to drink. The clear, green-tinged water looks inviting, but signs warn us against swimming due to the unfortunate presence of parasites. We content ourselves with a short trip on a motor boat, quietly arranged by Majed. We brush past reeds and spiky palm trees but can only go so far as the water level allows. It isn't difficult to imagine the ethereal, mist-filled setting during Khareef (Arabic for autumn), and photos confirm I have slightly mistimed my visit.
From June to late September, partly thanks to the Dhofar Mountains, Salalah catches part of the south-eastern monsoon, which is important for the area’s year-round supply of water. While western visitors flock to Oman in the winter for the sun, Gulf travellers pay a premium to experience a few days of thick mist and light drizzle in summer, with some driving more than 1,000km from Muscat for the privilege. Here are some of the recommended spots.
Dhofar has more than 360 natural springs in and around the mountains and foothills of Salalah. Some of the most beautiful and popular include: Ayn Arzat, Ayn Sahalnoot, Ayn Hamran and Ayn Harzeez. Some hotels offer tours of these springs during Khareef.
Wadi Darbat and the Tayq Sinkhole and caves
North-east of Salalah, inland between the pretty, historic seaside towns of Taqah and Mirbat, drivers follow the mountain road until they round some jagged cliffs at the entrance. Waterfalls and rock pools are at the end; many families picnic in the rain. About 15km after Wadi Darbat, across green plains during Khareef, is one of the world’s biggest sinkholes. From the viewing deck, follow the path down steep slopes to the pool, so deep you can’t see the bottom.
Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve
Just east of Wadi Darbat and doable as a long day trip from Salalah, this vast nature reserve around a dramatic 1,500-metre escarpment is the last refuge of the Arabian leopard; wolves, striped hyenas and caracal are also present, as well as several endemic and rare trees and historic villages. A permit is needed in order to visit and this can be arranged by local tour companies.
Mughsail Beach and Al Marneef Cave and blowholes
About 40km west of Salalah, the spectacular Mughsail Beach is even more dramatic during the Khareef, with enormous crashing waves and dark clouds. Al Marneef Cave is not really a cave but a wall of eroded limestone, leading to three impressive blowholes which, during the Khareef, send jets of water up to 30m into the sky. Beyond Mughsail, the road winds slightly inland through usually rugged desert, which is greener thanks to the extra moisture. The road leads west to Al Fazayeh Beach, which is actually a 7km stretch of coast with lookout points and gravel access points to various beaches. Unfortunately, what you gain in greenery you lose in activity. During the Khareef, swimming in the ocean is prohibited as it is too dangerous in most places. If you hire a car in the region, a 4x4 is recommended. Be prepared for foggy conditions.
Rakyut and Dalkut
Carry on along the scenic route 47 towards the Yemeni border, about two hours drive from Salalah, and you’ll travel through mountain passes and wadis dotted with frankincense trees. Khor Kharfot, the name of which is taken from the Arabic khor (“inlet”) and earlier Mahri term Kharfot (“the monsoon rains have brought abundance”), is the coastal mouth of Wadi Sayq; the uninhabited area is especially green from monsoonal water draining from the mountains. Environmentalists have petitioned for it to become a protected area.
This coastal wetland area near Taqah is set around Sumhuram, a pre-Islamic archaeological site connected to the frankincense trade dating back to the first century BC. The coastal flats and marshland around it make it a good place for birdwatching.
From June to mid-September, the effects of the south-east monsoon bring the maximum temperature in Dhofar down to about 27 degrees. Day-to-day, the weather can vary, with some days cloudier and wetter than others; take clothes for all weathers and good walking boots or shoes and bear in mind that some slopes may be slippery.
The Salalah Rotana Resort is offering two Khareef deals until September 30, a weekend package (minimum two-night stay) and a two-night package including a full day tour of Mughsail Beach, Ayn Garziz, Ayn Razat, Ayn Tobrok and Ayn Athom. The packages cost from Omr 153 (Dh1,460) per night including taxes.
During the Khareef, swimming in the ocean is prohibited as it is too dangerous in most places. If you hire a car, a 4x4 is recommended. Be prepared for foggy conditions.