One of the most stunning places to visit in the Middle East, Jabal Akhar offers spectacular mountain views, adventure travel, and rich cultural experiences.
The thing that struck me the most when I first visited Scotland, where my husband is from, was how green the hills were. Luscious emerald green thanks to more than abundant rainfall.
The opposite observation struck me about the Hajar mountains, which stretches from Oman to the Western tip of the United Arab Emirates. That it seemed so brown and barren, just full of rocks with the occasional spiky brown plant that looked like it could use some offerings from a water can. It is the desert after all.
But Jabal Akhdar, which means “Green Mountain” in Arabic, is situated in a unique location 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) above sea level where it receives enough rainfall to support local agriculture – crops of pomegranates, apples, apricots, figs, pears, plums, almonds, walnuts, and olive trees.
The mountain range is dotted with Omani villages and in many areas, villagers have dug terraces in parts of the mountain for growing crops.
Jabal Akdar is also reknown for the Damask roses that cover the mountain slopes in large swaths of pink throughout April and May. These Damask rosed are distilled to make Omani rose water – a staple in every Omani household for frangrance, culinary and medicinal purposes.
With its rugged nature full of natural beauty, hiking trails and adventure travel (like rock climbing, cave exploration, rapelling) Jabal Akdar offers lots for the casual hiker and the adventure seeker.
For those seeking cultural and historical experiences, you won’t be dissapointed either as Niswa (the city where Jabal Akhdar is located) was once the capital of Oman and offers tourists the chance to visit ancient forts, castles, mosques, traditional souks, and to see the famous pottery of Bahia.
Five things To Do in Jabal Akdar:
1) Nature Walks
You can enjoy short or full-day excursions. With two young children (ages two and six), we opted for the shorter hikes of 2-3 hours.
- Walking atop the “Falaj” irrigation system (dating back to AD 500) where water is channelled from underground sources to support agriculture and domestic use;
- Hiking along a wadi and exploring abandoned settlements while learning about the local plants and endemic animals;
- Marveling at the terraced agriculture sloping out of the mountains and smelling the elegant aroma of Damask roses (and having local families show you their rose water distillation process).
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Hiking in #Oman: easy trail from our hotel, along a wadi, to abandoned village of Sarab. . Forgot sunscreen and sunburnt today but forging ahead with more outdoor #hiking! . This area is known for its Juniper forests, Damask rose plantations (where rose water is distilled), terraced farms, and HIKING TRAILS! . Blog post coming soon! . Staying at Alila Jabal Akhdar @alilahotels which is a 2-hour drive from Muscat. . . #jebelalakhdar #jabalalakhdar
2) Adventure Treks and Cave Exploration
Serious hikers will want to ascend to the highest point in Oman – Jebel Shams – at 3,004 meters (9,856 feet) for breathtaking views.
Where we stayed in Jabal Akdar, the hotel had many different hiking options on marked trails. There were a few rather difficult hikes that were accessible from the hotel via foot or via four-wheel drive vehicle with a hired hiking guide.
Highlights will include incredible views of gorges and valleys, seeing some of the oldest Juniper trees on the Arabian peninsulas, hikes through pomegranate fields, and visiting abandoned villages as well as witnessing life in local communities.
Al Hoota Cave is a must see. It is over five kilometers long and is a fascinating ecotourism site. Once restricted only to experienced cavers equipped with ropes and safety equipment, it was officially opened in 2006 as a “Show Cave” with guided tours and accessible to the general public.
Besides the usual cave attraction of stalactite and stalagmite formations, there is an underground lake in the main cave which is inhabited by thousands of blind, transparent fish, who rely on floods to carry in nourishment from the outside world.
There is a tourist train that runs between the Al Hoota Cave Visitor Center and the cave entrance – seems like it would be fun and interesting, especially for the kids. Check the cave’s official website for updates.
3) Visit Nizwa Fort and Nizwa Souk
Nizwa is considered the birthplace of Islam in Oman and was once it’s capital and a major center of trade, religion, and exploration. Nizwa Fort is the largest fort in the Arabian Peninsula – it was built in the 1650s but its underlying structure goes back to the 12th century. You can explore its maze of rooms and climb to the top of the tower by way of a narrow twisty staircase to enjoy a 360 degree view of Nizwa.
Nizwa Souk is famous for its Bedouin silver jewelry and vendors sell fresh produce, spices, pottery, and leather goods.
4) Experience the Friday Goat Market
Go early in the morning (before 7:30am) to witness the live auctions where local farmers trade goats, cows and sheep.
I stumbled upon this blog post from LivingIf.com that details what it’s like to be in the midst of all the market action:
As we watched and tried to discern what was taking place a young Omani man whom spoke English gave us a crash course in goat buying 101. He gave us the run down on the prices of goats, which could be anywhere from $100 USD and up. The most expensive are Omani goats, which are far superior to Ethiopian goats. You can tell the quality of the animal by their coat and the best quality goats were beautiful even to my untrained eye. However, to purchase the goat I had my eyes on would have set us back $1000 USD.
5) Explore Jabreen Castle
Admire Omani craftmanship found in the castle’s amazing ceiling murals, beautifully carved doors, and in the Arabic calligraphy and frescos that adorn its walls. Jabreen Castle was built in 1670 as a palace for the Iman and his family.
The castle is three stories tall, features two towers, numerous receptions halls, dining areas, meeting rooms, a court room, a library, and classrooms.
- Al Jabal Al Aktar Tourism: Waleed was our guide for the hike through the Damask rose plantations and Falaj system. He was very knowledegable about the region and the local flora and fauna. Contact info: Waleed ( 9989833) or Abid (92945542). Email: [email protected]
- Hotel concierges can also provide local tour guides and operators.
- Fly to Muscat International Airport in Oman. Jabal Akdar is a two-hour drive from Muscat.
- The drive from Dubai takes 5 to 6 hours.
- Trekking season runs from September to May and the best time to hike is between October and April.
- Damask roses bloom in April and May and pomegranate season is generally September/October (to see the Fall harvest).
Where to Stay
- Alila Jabal Akhdar <<– click the link to read about our recent stay at this luxury hotel.
- Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar – opening July 2016