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Great Outings for the Summer Months

Jebel Akhdar in Oman

We are all hoping that the summer season has passed, so that we can finally venture back into the dunes. However, October can be a month of unpredictable weather, with some gorgeous days while others are hot and humid. A trip to Jebel Akhdar during October guarantees humidity free days, with the only danger being that the nights will start to be extremely chilly from the end of the month onwards. As a result, many opt for one of the two hotels on the mountain over camping. A visit to Jebel Akhdar is also perfectly feasible as a day trip if you base yourself in Nizwa.

As outlined in our other guides, a trip to Oman requires a border crossing, where you will need your passport and some nationalities will also have to apply for an Omani visa in advance. You must also obtain Oman insurance for your vehicle, which can be obtained at the Omani border post and remember to take the car registration card, your UAE driving license and a no-objection letter (with passport/trade license copy) from the owner of the car, if it is not registered in your name.

You should allow a good five hours to drive from Dubai or Abu Dhabi to Nizwa, which is close to the base of Jebel Akhdar. The vast majority take the interior road from the Mezyad border post in Al Ain. This border post is located on the far side of Jebel Hafeet, close to the new Bawadi Mall complex. Dubai and Northern Emirates residents could also opt for the Hatta border crossing into Oman, taking the coastal road via Muscat, and then turning inland to Nizwa.

Nizwa is a good place to break your journey before the climb up the mountain. Take the opportunity to fill up with petrol and buy any last minute supplies. The market which takes place on a Friday in the parking lot outside the fort is worth a look if you happen to get the timing right. From Nizwa follow the signposts to Birkat Al Mauz (N 22° 55.381’ E 057° 40.031’), take a left at the fort and head into the mountains. After a few kilometers the road enters a narrow wadi and begins to climb.

You will soon reach a small plateau which is home to an army checkpoint, where you will need to show your car registration card and driving license. The soldier will also ask you to put the car into four wheel drive for the ascent. Only 4x4s are permitted on the road from this point upwards. If you do not have a 4×4 you can rent one, with a driver, from one of the many tourist offices near the fort in Birkat Al Mauz.

Take the ascent slowly, try to keep the revs down on your engine and keep an eye on your temperature gauge. The combination of hard work, bad Omani petrol, and lowering air pressure often results in mechanical mishaps on this long ascent, so it is better to take it slow and steady. There are numerous lay-bys with great views along the way, where you can take photos and appreciate the cooling air temperature. The road up also has a number of steep, downward sections usually combined with a surprisingly sharp hairpin bend, and therefore it is important to take all downward sections using a low gear for engine braking, so as not to wear out your brakes.

You will eventually come over the crest of a final hill and see the Sayq plateau spread out in front of you. Sayq town boasts a petrol station and two hotels (more are being built), but is not necessarily a destination of its own. If you stay on the main road you will first encounter the Jebel Akhdar Hotel, which is the more basic of the two options. Keep on heading towards Sayq, and take a left turn towards the petrol station and you will see the new Sahab Hotel on your right. A track to the right just before the hotel leads towards the cliff edge and Diana’s Point, where the Princess of Wales came to enjoy the view (N 23° 04.159’ E 057° 40.238’).

The Sahab Hotel is a good weekend destination, offering a swimming pool, and must have one of the more impressive hotel views. Perched on the edge of the cliff, you can enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery whilst enjoying your afternoon tea on the terrace. However, if you have come prepared to be more adventurous, you should take the first right turn after the Jebel Akhdar hotel (N 23° 05.397’ E 57° 50.995’), and head higher onto the mountain. The road boasts some great views, and you will by now have noticed that the vegetation consists mainly of gnarled ancient olive trees, interspersed with juniper bushes and stubby conifers which offer shady picnic spots.

Due to the nature of the rocky terrain, it is difficult to get off the beaten track on Jebel Akhdar, as you are likely to burst a tire on the sharp rocks. Take the opportunity to park the car and walk a little instead. You will be greeted with some fantastic aromas from the conifers, and the goats and donkeys which roam the mountain are very friendly. Flat camping spots are also relatively few and far between, and you are likely to have the most success on the large plateau which lies to the right of the main road after you have passed the plantation. Look for a track which takes a sharp right downward turn onto the plateau.

The Omani weekend is Thursday and Friday, so Friday evenings are usually relatively quiet. Evenings on the Jebel are always cool and sometimes freezing. It is not unusual to have snow or frost on the mountain in the winter months, so come prepared with jumpers, jackets, boots and woolly socks. Bring wood with you (don’t burn the wood on the mountain) and make a nice roaring fire. Even if it’s 30 degrees at home in Dubai, you won’t regret bringing a thermos of hot chocolate if you are camping any time after the end of October.

The top of the mountain is a warren of small roads, which wind through villages with fantastic names like “Shnoot”. There is only one road up and down the mountain, so don’t be afraid to explore, as you will eventually hit a dead end and have to retrace your steps. It is more than likely that you will be invited for dates and coffee at one of the communal open air majlis common to many of the villages. This is a great way to practice your Arabic and for the locals to practice their English. Remember to leave your shoes outside the door, and Oman is considerably more conservative than the UAE so it’s better to be wearing trousers and a long sleeved shirt (especially the ladies). If you have some fruit or snacks with you, then it’s a good moment to bring them out and share them around.

If you are planning the long drive back to the UAE you should leave the mountain by mid afternoon. The drive down must be attempted slowly, using first and second gear and even switch to low range if you find yourself using the brakes much. On your way home we recommend the chicken biryani or murg makhani in the Falaj Daris Hotel in Nizwa. You also have the option of visiting the Al Hoota Caves which lie at the base of Jebel Shams, with a visitor centre, underground train and guided tours that take approximately an hour.

A trip to Jebel Akhdar is a fair distance and is best done if you can spare two nights. We regularly do it by leaving on time after work on Thursdays or alternatively really early on Friday morning. Ultimately, it is well worth the hours spent in the car and one definitely feels like you have been away after such a trip. The roads to and from, as well as up the mountain are in good condition and generally makes driving easy.

• You will be spending the day (and perhaps night) at altitude. You may experience headaches and feel short of breath. Stay hydrated and try to do things at a slightly slower pace than normal.
• You must wear sun cream if you want to avoid sunburn as the sun is very strong. Long sleeved clothing will help to prevent a burn.
• Boots or sturdy shoes will save you from stubbing your toes on the jagged rocks, and are essential at night. Remember, there are snakes and scorpions on the mountain, so watch your step and kick a stone over with your shoe before picking it up. Knock your shoes out in the morning, or put them in your tent or on your car overnight.
• Nights (and days) can be cold, so come prepared with sweaters and jackets. A woolly hat is a great way to stay warm.
• Rain is not unusual, so a tent or awning could be handy.
• Don’t leave food around the campsite at night. The donkeys and goats will steal it overnight and probably give you the fright of your life as they clatter across the rocks making a beeline for your leftover corn on the cob.
• Take your litter back down the mountain with you, or at least use one of the many rubbish bins which line the roads.
• Try not to use up resources on the mountain (such as petrol) as all of these things have to be trucked up and down.

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