Salalah, Oman: a guide

An excursion to Oman’s Salalah, the capital of the Dhofar region, reveals a luscious landscape and centuries of history

When you hear the city of Salalah mentioned in the Gulf, what immediately comes to mind is a colorful subtropical paradise with miles of beachfront, lots of greenery and a history that goes back to antiquity.

The city is the capital of Oman’s Dhofar region with a character resembling the country’s former territories in East Africa – Zanzibar was the capital of Oman until the 19th century. Traditionally the Sultan of Oman's preferred residence, rather than Muscat, the country’s largest city, the current Sultan Qaboos has abandoned this trend to live in Muscat since he rose to the throne in 1970. Salalah, however, still maintains a regal air with its stately properties, growing development projects and important location.

Salalah Beachfront-copySalalah Beachfront

A getaway here is like a journey into the Gulf’s long history as well as an opportunity to relish unspoiled natural surroundings. Life is slower here, more peaceful and more in tune with nature than the sprawling cities that we have come to equate with the rest of the Gulf. And getting to Salalah from Dubai is but a mere two hours by plane making it one of the region’s most convenient retreats. A trip into Salalah from Muscat, especially during the khareef, the region’s monsoon season that lasts from July to September, will reveal how vastly different the climates are between these two major Omani cities.

Salalah is renowned for its khareef that brings monsoon clouds from India amounting to a constant drizzle of rain and leaving the region rich in misty, green pastures. A year-round Eden, a luscious paradise in an area surrounded by desert, Salalah boasts plantations of bananas and papaya as well as beaches abundant in coconut trees.

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Travellers will feel as if they are in an undiscovered territory, for not many large hotels or tourist dwellings have been developed. A drive along Salalah roads will reveal endless stretches of natural terrain without one building in site. But there are some quality resort hotels in the Sultanate that make it perfect for a weekend break.

01Salalah Rotana Resort

For example, the Salalah Rotana resort is set on an 8-kilometre beachfront on the Arabian coast, in an area whose many attractions include frankincense. Known since antiquity for the many trees scattered across its hilly terrain that produce this aromatic resin, Salalah gained its wealth through trading in frankincense and became a crucial trading post for goods between the Far East, Orient and Occident.

Visitors can venture out to Salalah’s hilly landscape and experience how frankincense is harvested – by scratching the bark of a Boswellia tree until a sticky resin appears with its characteristic smell. The Museum of Frankincense offers a rich display with objects and text illustrating the importance of the scent to the region.

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For lovers of ancient history, the main point of interest in Salalah is the site of Al-Baleed, ruins of the 12th-century trading port of Zafar, wonderfully lit at night. It was from here that frankincense was shipped across the sea to India in exchange for spices.

Another ancient site is the Khor Rhori, Sumhuram, an early South Arabian archeological site that was excavated by the American Foundation for the Study of Man in the early 1950s and more recently by the Italian Mission to Oman, revealing the remains of what scholars believe to be an old Hadramite settlement dating back to the 2nd century BCE. It was most probably an ancient maritime town with contacts to the Mediterranean and India and has been labelled, together with other sites along the Incense Route in Oman, as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Center - Land of Frankincense.

Hafa-Souq PerfumesHafa Souq Perfumes 

Salalah is a mesmerising city, filled with stunning natural beauty and wildlife, and it is often described as a jewel of Arabia. It will tempt countless returns.

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