Our trip to Rajasthan: Pushkar

The narrow, winding streets of Pushkar

Our primary reason for stopping in Pushkar was to break up the drive from Jaipur to Jodphur. Pushkar turned out to be a delightful, interesting, pedestrian-friendly town with lots of neat things to see and some great food. Definitely worth a quick stop!

Watching our lunch get made

Warily watching the world go by

We stayed at Inn Seventh Heaven, a quirky, fun haveli that M loved running around. There were cats to chase, elephant statues to investigate, stairs to climb, and swing benches all over the place, plus a water feature in the middle of the ground floor. Honestly, I think the most fun he had in Pushkar was probably exploring the hotel.

Looking up from the inner courtyard at the haveli….

…. And looking down into the same courtyard

Pushkar is a popular for pilgrimages because of its sacred Hindu lake and many ghats. A ghat is a set of stairs leading down to the water, and there are usually several ghats all for the same body of water. There are more than 50 ghats at the Pushkar Lake. One of the few temples to the Hindu creator-god Brahma is located in Pushkar, and this is also a popular draw.

A temple by a ghat

One thing to note about Pushkar is that because it is a devoutly religious town, almost all of the food there is vegetarian with no eggs. They still eat cheese and yogurt, and the main protein source is legumes. So be prepared for weak breakfasts if you like protein in the morning.

We were particularly glad to have a Pushkar city guide because he took us around the town in the evening. Experiencing the temples at prayer time was one of the more spiritual experiences I’ve had, and something we never would have done without our guide. We walked all the way around the lake and he got us into the Brahma temple 5 minutes before closing time (and showed us the best inexpensive place to store our shoes without having to worry about them getting stolen).

Pushkar lake, ghats and temples at sunset

We were pleasantly surprised by Pushkar, and unless you plan on doing some of desert adventuring based out of Pushkar, I think you probably only need to spend one night. After waking up early to wander around Pushkar Lake during sunrise, we ate breakfast (which left us all hungry an hour later), and we were on our way to Jodphur!

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Our trip to Rajasthan: Jaipur

The Hawa Majal or “The Palace of Winds” is basically a facade; it is not a real building.

There’s so much on the internet about Jaipur already, I don’t have much to add.

My first-ever thali. Sadly nothing else on the trip was quite as good!

We stayed at the Pearl Palace Heritage Hotel (which is separate from the Pearl Palace Hotel) and it was wonderful. Our room was interesting and fun, and the breakfast area was super quirky. There is no restaurant on the premises, so they offer free tuktuks to their sister hotel, the Pearl Palace Hotel, which has a restaurant. The restaurant there is amazing: very good inexpensive food and excellent thalis.

We wanted to spend some time with elephants while we were in Jaipur. We found an elephant sanctuary called Elefantastic, and we had a really great experience. It was a bit canned and the guy seemed preoccupied with our potential TripAdvisor review (which I never gave), but we enjoyed ourselves and M loved it, so we were happy.

Our elephant for the day. The orange chalk line across her forehead kept the oil that was massaged into her scalp from running into her eyes.

We got to paint our elephant with natural mineral-based paints (where these colors exist in nature, I have no clue). It seemed gimmicky initially, but it was much more fun than I thought it’d be.

My handiwork

At the City Palace

We did all the normal stuff in Jaipur: the Hawa Mahal (much smaller than I thought it’d be), the Amber Fort (much larger than I thought it would be), the City Palace, etc.

Inside the Amber Fort

More of the Amber Fort. Picture don’t do it justice.

Between our city guide and driver, we were well taken-care-of, and the guide did a good job of being understanding of the limits of sight-seeing with a 3-year-old. Jaipur is worth the trip!

Salalah: Wadi Darbat

Wadi Darbat waterfall

It’s time for the khareef, southern Oman’s monsoon season. Last year we went took an epic road trip to Salalah at the end of the khareef and I never got around to writing about some of the cool stuff we did. But I’m doing it now, just in time for you to go to Salalah to see it for yourself!

During the khareef, the two most interesting sites at Wadi Darbat are the big waterfall and the little waterfalls and ponds. There is also a lake, which is there year-round and, compared to everything else, is not spectacular. It is also full of the parasite schistosomiasis, so you can’t swim in it.

Approaching Wadi Darbat, you can’t help but notice the travertine curtain and the big waterfall. There are three ways to see this waterfall: you can hike towards it from below, you can drive/walk up the hillside for a beautiful unobstructed view of the whole thing, or you can explore it (carefully) from the top of the travertine curtain. First we drove to the parking lot and then walked up towards the waterfall. After that we drove up the hillside (you need 4WD for this, or you can walk) to get some more lovely views.

The river flowing down from the Wadi Darbat waterfall

View of the Wadi Darbat waterfall from the hill

Driving up towards Wadi Darbat, you’ll notice some nice little waterfalls and ponds off to the right. There’s a parking area, or you can also just park on the side of the road. This is a fun spot where you can spend hours walking around, exploring. There are clean public toilets near-by and also lots of food stands, selling snacks, toys and bug repellant.

So many beautiful little waterfalls and pools

These colors are so pretty!

Just before you reach this area, it’s possible to pull over and hike to the top of the big waterfall. This is a pretty, easy walk and the view from the top of the waterfall is impressive. There are also more of those beautiful turquoise pools.

Looking down from the top of the waterfall

If you drive all the way to the end of the wadi, the road ends in a parking lot by a lake. We didn’t even get out of the car here, but you can go for boat rides and rent paddle boats. Just don’t swimming! Schistosomiasis, a snail-borne parasitic disease, is endemic in the mountain water around Salalah.

Don’t get schistosomiasis!

I would recommend going to Wadi Darbat first thing in the morning to beat the crowds. When we went there in the beginning of September, there was hardly anyone else, compared with the several-hour wait just to drive up the mountain a few weeks before.

Wadi Darbat is completely unlike anything else you’ll see in Oman, and it’s definitely worth going all the way to Salalah to see during the khareef.

Jebel camping and PCS feelings

Sunset over Jebel Akhdar at the Alila

Oh, man. Things here have been nuts. I’m apparently terrible at following my own advice, and I’m scrambling to get everything done. In addition to stress-shopping at the souk whenever I get the chance. I just bought eight hand-painted (supposedly) Turkish bowls and plates that I don’t really need. But they’re very pretty and I will eventually use them, I swear.

Which one should I buy? How about all of them?!

We’ve been filling up the time with squeezing in as many more Oman adventures as we can. We recently got back from a four-day trip to Jebel Akhdar, and it  was more incredible than I’d even imagined. We spent the first night camping and then we spent two nights at the Alila, which was running an insanely awesome special. If you spent two or more nights, it was 99 OMR (about $250) for the room, plus breakfast and dinner. This is a hotel where the rack-rate for the cheapest room and just breakfast is over $700. It was easily one of the most delightful hotel experiences I’ve ever had, and definitely the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in.

Endless skies at Jebel Akhdar

I think sometimes people tend to forget that the mountains are so much more temperate than Muscat, because when we went to both Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar there was hardly anyone there. The temperatures were downright pleasant and it was perfect hiking and camping weather. I even had to wear long sleeves at night!

Sunrise over Jebel Shams

Our campsite on Jebel Shams was stunning. We were perched along the rim of the canyon, but with enough rocks and ledges just over the side that  the kids weren’t in danger of immediate death if they went over the side. The views were incredible, and everyone had fun keeping the goats away from our campsite. The goat deterrent methods of choice where to run after them banging pots and pans, or to just throw your arms in the air and run after them screaming bloody murder.

Goats and tents on the edge of the Grand Canyon of Arabia

The only problem came around 10:30 pm when a raging wind picked up and started battering our tent. Nate and I are not small lithe people and our tent and cots, plus M in his pack and play and our bodyweight was easily  more than 400 pounds. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel the edge of the tent picking up and moving my cot. It was terrifying. I was so worried that our tent was going to be blown over the side of the canyon. Nate assured me that that was physically impossible unless a tornado picked us up, but I lay there watching the wind rattle our tent like a salt shaker and resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t going to be able to sleep that night.

Eventually I did fall asleep, only to be woken up by the sunrise at 5 am. Fun times. At least there was hot coffee and sausage gravy with croissants for breakfast! We don’t kid around when it comes to camping cuisine. That reminds me: I should do a post on all the incredible campfire food we’ve made.

Breakfast with a view

Anyhow, the following weekend we camped on Jebel Akhdar, where there are a number of areas for camping. We chose one with higher elevation because it would mean cooler temperatures, and we found a plateau area with huge trees perfect for camping. We positioned the tent so that it would be shaded in the morning, and the tent stayed cool until we packed it up around 10 am. First time that’s happened in Oman!

Our tent is in the shade!!!

M loved this campsite because it was full of flat rocks and creepy-crawlies. Spiders, lizards, butterflies, beetles, ants, etc. We let him run around, jumping from rock to rock and exploring while we cooked dinner and finished off some of the wine we brought back from France last year. We all slept like babies and woke up at 5:45 am when it sounded like a herd of donkeys was running around outside our tent. I sat up and looked out the window, and this was, in fact, the case.

Donkeys, taken through the tent window at 5:45 am

With these camping trips behind us, we’ve basically finished all our big Oman adventures. We’ve checked almost everything off the bucket list, and now we’re wrapping things up. We’ve sold our cars and our nanny has signed a contract with a new family. We got our Windhoek housing assignment, made a downpayment on a car, and we’re interviewing housekeepers/nannies.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been sucked up into a whirlwind of crazy forward momentum when all I want to do is slow down and savor everything. We have such a short amount of time in the States, it’s going to be utterly insane, and before I know it we’ll be in Windhoek. There’s a certain amount of excitement and giddy anticipation that comes with any move, but also trepidation and dread. Moving to a brand-spanking new country is scary: making friends, finding new favorite restaurants, figuring out what you can buy at which grocery store, finding the best routes for walking Athena, driving on the other side of the street, adjusting to new jobs, getting M situated at school, etc. At least in Windhoek I’ll be able to comfort-eat bacon whenever I want. And there’s a wine bar five minutes from our new house.

Oh man, Oman. We’re not done with you yet! I plan on squeezing as much awesomeness as I can out of this incredible place.

Driving in Oman: rules, rules and more rules

View from the Muscat Expressway on a Friday morning

The best way to experience Oman as a tourist is to rent a car and hit the road. This is a very easy country to drive in, and most of the roads are really well-maintained. However, we have made some mistakes and picked up a few pieces of info along the way that might be helpful for anyone planning to do some driving in Oman.

First, car rentals. There are several car rental companies at the airport and if you want to really explore, make sure you rent a 4WD vehicle. However, make sure you get unlimited mileage. Lots of companies impose a 200 kilometer per day limit, and if you exceed that amount you have to pay out the nose. For example, if you rent a car for seven days, you get 1,400 kilometers. We learned this the hard way. Europcar is one of the few companies that does not have a limit, and you have to book online in advance.

Khor Najd, with its fun twisty crazy road

Second, driving in Muscat. There are a lot of rules/guidelines which you need to always follow, and the consequences can be serious.

Here are the biggies:

  1. NEVER EVER RUN A RED LIGHT. You will have to spend a night in jail. When the light starts flashing green, prepare to stop. (I’m not kidding)
  2. ALWAYS FOLLOW THE SPEED LIMIT. If you don’t know what the speed limit is, follow the speed of traffic. (There are traffic cameras everywhere)
  3. NO ROAD RAGE ALLOWED. No flipping the bird, no hand gestures, no yelling, etc. (The police will get involved and you will go to jail and be deported. Once again, I’m not kidding.)
  4. ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR ANYONE TO PULL IN FRONT OF YOU.
  5. PRACTICE DEFENSIVE DRIVING.
  6. DO NOT PULL ALL THE WAY UP TO STOP AT A RED LIGHT. This is considered running a red light. You’ll notice that the locals stop a good distance back; follow their lead.

Here are some other helpful guidelines:

  • At traffic circles, those entering the circle need to yield to those already in the circle
  • For most lights with right turns, there is a designated right turn lane and you can turn right even if the light is red
  • If you come to an intersection without lights, drive like you have a stop sign
  • Watch out for maroon and white striped cars: these are student drivers
  • There are speed bumps everywhere
  • Just because there are arrows in a lane pointing in different directions doesn’t mean you can go any of those directions from that lane. It means you can get to lanes from which you can go in those directions from that lane. So for instance if you need to turn right, get in the far right lane.
  • Waze, maps.me and GoogleMaps give turn-by- turn directions here. Maps.me is helpful if you don’t have cell service because you can download the maps in advance.
  • On narrow, twisty mountain roads, honk your horn when you’re going around a turn to warn anyone coming in the other direction

Traffic can be a little more lawless outside of Muscat and away from the traffic cameras. Also, watch out for camels. They do whatever they want, including walk through the middle of the highway. Donkeys and goats also do this, but camels are the most dangerous.

Camels don’t care

Third, I also recommend buying a copy of “Oman Off-Road.” It’s available at Border’s (there’s a shop in just about any mall) or at Al Fair grocery stores. The book costs about 20 OMR ($50) and is definitely worth it if you plan on doing any exploring.

Lastly, if you really want to explore, you need a four wheel drive vehicle, and you need to be comfortable using the four wheel drive capabilities. If you want to drive in the sand you also need to have a gizmo to let air out of your tires down to 20 PSI and also an air compressor to put air back into your tires.

Now, go forth and explore! It’s going to be incredible!

Nate drove down this while I hyperventilated and swore.

The Sugar Dunes are impossible to reach with a 4WD vehicle

Good luck exploring this road in a sedan!

Ain Sahban Sulphur Springs

Surreal Ain Sahban

I’d seen photos of Ain Sahban but I could never figure out 1) what it was called, or 2) where exactly it was. But then one day some friends mentioned it, sent a GPS point, and invited us to go on an adventure. We can’t say no to that!

The drive there went great until we were literally a mile from the springs. We reached a point where the road was blocked by a bulldozer and a rock cutting tractor-thing. A rockslide had completely blocked the road and these guys were working on clearing it. We had driven 2 hours and 45 minutes, and we were not giving up. So we parked the cars, gathered all our water bottles, slathered ourselves in sunscreen and walked towards the springs in the hot 100 degree mid-day sun. Luckily after about five minutes of walking an Omani driving an SUV came towards us and told us he’d give us a ride. Woohooo! It was about a 5 minute drive to the springs, and we were all very grateful to not have had to walk the whole way.

Along the road to Ain Sahban, before we encountered the rockslide

The springs are a beautiful light blue, like cotton candy. The water was nice and cool, and it didn’t smell bad, which was surprising since it’s a sulphur spring. There’s clay in the rocks and M got his first-ever spa treatment! We spent over an hour exploring the spring, climbing around, floating in the crazy-colored water and coating ourselves in clay.

The view looking up Ain Sahban

The water looked like cotton candy

All that white residue made the rocks really easy to walk on and not slippery

One thing that I loved about Ain Sahban, especially compared to every other rocky place with water in Oman, was that it was not at all slippery. The sulphur left a chalky residue on the rocks, and you could literally walk up the little waterfalls. It’s also mostly pretty shallow, so it’s a great spot for kids. The water gets deep in the narrow part between the spring walls, but otherwise it’s no more than three feet deep. But M wore his floaties as a precaution, just in case.

We walked up these little waterfalls!

This narrow section is the only deep part

Floaters!

Now, how to get there. Plug “Ain Sahban” into Google maps and you’ll drive north towards Sohar, turn left towards Al Buraimi, and eventually find yourself on a dirt road. If you follow that road until the end, you can park, and carefully climb down through the terraced farmland into a wadi. Turn left (away from the ruined watchtower to the right) and follow the wadi upstream. You’ll eventually reach the springs, after maybe a 5-10 minute walk. Apparently there are also beautiful deep pools by the watchtower.

The view towards the watchtower from the parking area if you decide to hike in

The relatively-dry wadi hike

Conversely, while driving on the dirt road that ends by the wadi, you’ll see a sign for Ain Sahban telling you to turn right. You can follow that sign (and a few clearly-marked others) and you’ll find yourself on a road right next to the springs. If you’re not up for adventure, this is the easiest route. The other route is definitely more fun and interesting. You could do the first route in a sedan, where you hike in to find the springs, although you’d have to take it pretty slowly. The second route has a wadi crossing, which was dry when we went, but it could involve crossing some water, so I’d recommend a higher clearance vehicle for that one.

I’m glad we finally had a chance to explore Ain Sahban, which is now one of my favorite surreal spots in Oman!

Logistics for a trip to Musandam

Along the road to Khasab

We recently got back from a trip to Khasab in the Musandam peninsula. Musandam is separated from the rest of Oman by the UAE and is located right across the Straight of Hormuz from Iran. We found that there are lots of things to consider when planning a trip to Musandam, and here I’m going to lay out all the options!

Note that this information is only for Khasab; there are other destinations in Musandam like Lima and Dibba. We didn’t travel to those places so they’re not mentioned below.

Khasab coastline near Bassa Beach

How to get to Musandam:

  • Driving: We chose to drive because we have a 4WD vehicle and we wanted to explore the mountains and other areas.  Plus we wanted to avoid the added expenses of buying plane tickets for three people and a rental car. Assuming there’s no traffic, the actual driving takes about five and a half hours. The expressway basically goes all the way to Hatta, but make sure you leave Muscat with a full tank of gas. Once you pass the Barka/Rustaq exit there are no more gas stations close to the expressway until you’re practically at the border. The borders can add an extra hour or two, possibly more. We crossed at Hatta and at Sha’am (past Ras Al-Khaimah) and the Sha’am border was, by far, the worse of the two. Hatta was a well-oiled machine and Sha’am was a mess. Friends advised us to “bring a can of bacon bits and let M run amok” on the UAE side in Sha’am.  Luckily it didn’t quite come to that, but I did tell him that if he wanted to start screaming that would be okay.

The practically-empty eight-lane expressway will take you all the way from Muscat to the border

Depending on the route you take, you might see the interesting industrial side of the UAE

  • Flying: The main disadvantage to flying is lack of transportation in Khasab. There are no official rental car companies, like Enterprise, Budget or National in Khasab. However, you might find that you don’t actually even need a car. If you book your activities (diving, mountain “safari,” dhow trip, etc) through a tour operator, they will pick you up at your hotel. While we were there we ran into a German tourist who had planned to fly to Khasab, but wound up taking a bus because Oman Air grounded all the planes that fly the Muscat-Khasab route, all of which are the seemingly ill-fated Boeing 737 MAX 8’s.
  • Ferry: There is a ferry that goes from Shinas to Khasab and back. Shinas is about 2.5-3 hours by car from Muscat and the ferry appears to take 3-5 hours (the times on the website vary so wildly it’s hard to know what’s accurate). You don’t really gain any time by taking the ferry, but you do avoid all the border shenanigans. The main problem with the ferry is that it only runs each route twice a week in the afternoon. Currently the ferry to Khasab only leaves from Shinas on Sundays and Thursdays, and the ferry to Shinas from Khasab only leaves on Tuesdays and Saturdays (current schedule with times here).  The National Ferries Company boats are really nice, and it’s not an uncomfortable way to spend the afternoon, assuming your schedule fits with theirs.

The Khasab harbor

Whether or not to camp in Musandam: All the good camping in Musandam is in the mountains. You could camp at Khor An Najd, but there is no privacy, the beach isn’t nice, and there are no discreet toilet facilities (other than the lagoon). Beach camping could be possible, but you’d be right by the main road. We chose to stay at a guest house which suited our needs just fine. In hindsight, we are particularly glad we didn’t camp because it would have been cold, wet, windy and miserable. And we would have gotten stuck up on the mountain after all the rain that washed out the roads.

How to budget your time: Seeing the fjords and the mountains are the two main must-do’s in Musandam. If you arrive in the morning on Day 1 and leave at night on Day 2, you could fully experience these two things. We spent one day scuba diving, another on a dhow trip, and our last day we went to the Khasab castle and tried to explore the mountains. If you’re flying and you want to go scuba diving, note that you’ll have to stay at least 2 nights because you have to wait 24 hours before you can fly after the last dive. There are both half day and full day dhow trips available, and I’d recommend a full day because you’ll get to see more of the fjords and there will be more time for snorkeling, swimming, etc (assuming the weather isn’t terrible).

Along the mountain road outside Khasab

The fjords of Musandam

Eating in Khasab:There’s a Lulu Hypermarket which is the perfect place to stock up for picnics and lunches on the road. We bought deli meat, peanut butter, and Nutella to supplement our guesthouse breakfasts. Most of the tour operators and guesthouses will take you to a fresh fish store where you pick out your fish and then they’ll drive you to a restaurant that will grill your fish. Novelty aside, this was not the best grilled fish we had in Khasab. Our favorite restaurant was a little Iranian place called Restaurant Wadi Qada. It was expensive (for Khasab, but standard for Muscat) but the owner tells you what’s fresh, the pomegranate juice is amazing, the food is top-notch, and the tea is great. I even liked the halwa, and I don’t usually like halwa. Al Shamaliah Grill Restaurant is another popular restaurant, with a good variety of grilled and Indian dishes. The kid’s meal is chicken nuggets, fries, and a hamburger bun. We combined that with a lemon mint drink, and M was in seventh heaven. Notably, Al Shamaliah will deliver, so if you don’t have a car you can just give them a call! There are a number of other restaurants in Khasab; these are just the ones we went to.

Call the phone numbers at the bottom of the menu for delivery!

Iranian tea at Restaurant Wadi Qada

Iranian halwa is less greasy than Omani halwa

Grilled fish at Wadi Qada

Delightfully empty aisles at the Khasab Lulu

A trip to Musandam might be a lot easier than you’d expect, and it’s definitely a part of Oman that is worth visiting. Hopefully you’ll have better weather than we did!

The Musandam coastline along the road

Our trip to Masirah Island (plus some tips)

White sand, fishing boats and turquoise water: welcome to Masirah Island

Over the long weekend for President’s Day we went to Masirah Island and it was amazing. We had a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach mostly to ourselves and the weather was perfect.

We collected shells and M used them to decorate the bushes

You can camp just about anywhere on the island, except on the military bases, and a friend gave us the turn-off spot for the camping area that her friends always use. We drove down a sandy dirt road until we reached a spot that looked good right by the coast, down the beach a ways from some fishing boats, and we set up camp.

The area around our campsite

We spent the days exploring the beach, collecting shells, and building sand castles. M kept himself busy looking for crabs, until he lost his footing on some rocks, stuck his hand into a crevice to keep from falling, and a hiding crab pinched him. My god did he scream, poor kid. The evenings were spent cooking, drinking wine, taking pictures of the sunset, and reading around the campfire. It was a lovely two days and I just wish we’d had more time.

When the red wine’s been sitting in a hot car and you’re out of ice, you have to improvise to cool it off

Campfire spaghetti and meatballs: some of the best I’ve ever had!

Sunset at the “crab rocks” by our campsite 

We spent some time driving around the island and exploring a little, but mostly we just stayed on our stretch of beach. As usual, I have a few trips to help you make the most out of your time there:

  • You can drive around the island in a sedan, but to really explore it you need 4WD. Only count on being able to drive on the paved roads in a sedan. We definitely would have gotten stuck several times if we hadn’t had 4WD.

Good luck exploring this “road” in a sedan!

  • The west side is less windy than the east side.
  • There are several options for sleeping other than camping on the island. There’s a kite surfing camp plus a number of other hotels.

The colorful tents at the kite surfing camp

They even have rules

  • Bring everything you anticipate needing with you. Chances are you’re not on the island for more than two or three nights and you’ll want to spend the time enjoying the beaches or exploring, rather than driving 45 minutes one-way back to town for supplies

The thriving metropolis of Hilf

  • If you take the road from Sinaw to Mahoot, you might see some camels practicing racing or some actual camel racing! You will also see an amazing sign in Mahoot for a “tire puncher” shop. I think they meant “tire puncture.”

Practicing camel racing!

If you’re thinking about making the trip to Masirah, do it! We loved it, and we are really bummed out that we don’t have the time to make another trip there before we leave. Once again, Oman never fails to impress us with its natural beauty.

How to get tickets for the National Ferries Company

The NFC ferry to Masirah Island

We recently returned from a trip to Masirah Island, and the most difficult part of the trip was getting the ferry tickets with the National Ferries Company (NFC). Today I am here to explain exactly how to make a reservation, pay, and, importantly, actually get the ferry tickets with step-by-step instructions so you don’t make the same mistakes we did!

NFC ferries are labeled with the destination on the side

It’s a catamaran ferry!

I will make one caveat: maybe there’s an easier way (and I’m missing something huge). If there is, we are completely unaware of it. However, if you follow these instructions, it should be a relatively painless process.

  1. Email reservation@nfc.om with the ferry dates and times you want, round-trip. Ferry schedules can be found here. Attach copies of the front and back of your vehicle registration license and copies of the passport biodata page for each traveler. Also give them your phone number. They responded to my email quickly, giving us the reservation the following day.
  2. Print a copy of the reservation and go to the office in Muttrah (by the flour factory) to pay. You must pay in advance of the trip.
  3. Now you are ready to drive to the ferry dock, with your payment and reservation confirmation in-hand. When driving to Shannah port, you have to turn right to drive down the long narrow jetty to the pier. Rather than turning right, turn left first to go to the National Ferries Company office to get your actual tickets. This should not take long. [Side note: ferries usually start boarding about 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time and I’ll tell you now that there is not a lot to do at the dock other than take photos and roast in the sun.]
  4. Board the ferry and give your tickets to the NFC employee. Make sure you keep your reservation and payment confirmation papers.
  5. When you are ready to board the ferry to come back from your trip, once again you need to get the actual tickets. On Masirah Island, the NFC office has clear signage and is almost directly across from the ferry dock.

You have to get camels to the island somehow…

Overall, we were really impressed with the NFC ferries. They were good-sized catamaran ferries with separate air-conditioned cabins (with clean bathrooms!) for families and men. M had a blast running around in the cabin with all the little Omani kids. The sun deck is bare-bones, and has no shaded areas and only benches to sit on. And the thin cables under the railing weren’t enough to keep me from worrying about M falling overboard.

The roof deck

I’d definitely rather take the NFC ferry than any of the other options! “Safety first,” indeed.

Some of the other Masirah ferry options available

SAFETY FIRST

You couldn’t pay me enough to get on this boat

 

Tips for visiting the Salmah Plateau

The setting sun behind the Salmah Plateau, from Fins Beach

There’s a lot to do between Muscat and Sur: Wadi Shab, Bimmah Sinkhole, Wadi al Arbaeen,  and Fins Beach, just to name a few favorites. The Salmah Plateau is  easily over-looked for those low-lying and easily accessible attractions, but everywhere you look, there it is, in the distance. It’s a beautiful, desolate area in the Eastern Hajar mountains, with barren vistas spanning for miles. The plateau is dotted with beehive tombs and herds of camels, and you will come across some small villages and goat herders, but that’s pretty much it.

The Salmah Plateau in the setting sun

I can see for miles and miles…

We recently had a five-day holiday weekend, and we wanted to go camping and escape the crowds. With the sheer size of the plateau and its relative inaccessibility (compared to someplace like Fins Beach), we decided to spend the night amongst the beehive tombs at 1,500 meters above sea level.

The view of the sunset from our campsite

It was an incredible journey and something I’d highly recommend for anyone who wants to truly venture off the beaten path and experience Oman at its best. It’s also a surprisingly short drive: only about 90 minutes to the first turn-off to go up the plateau and then another 1-2 hours to the tombs, depending on how much you stop.

Dirt roads, sunshine and mountains

While planning your trip to the Salmah Plateau, here are some things to think about:

  • Only 4WD vehicles can make the trip. On our way up we passed a vehicle coming the other direction, and they stopped and told us their rented little AWD Mazda was unable to make the ascent. You need a vehicle with some power (and good brakes).
  • It gets cold at night. I think it probably got down to 15C while we were there, if not colder.
  • Bring snacks and water for the people who live on the plateau. We passed an old shepherd who asked for food, not to mention countless children and other villagers. Next time we’ll keep water bottles, a bag of dates, candy, and snack packs of Oman chips in the car.
  • Download a map that you can use on the plateau ahead of time. There is no cell reception on the plateau. I recommend maps.me but with some serious reservations (more on that in my next post).
  • Fill up on gas by Bimmah Sinkhole. There are no gas stations on the plateau.
  • Bring a buddy in another vehicle and walkie-talkies. We joked about needing walkie-talkies, but it turns out they actually would have been really helpful. It’s also good to have people in another vehicle in case something happens to one of the cars.
  • Take road at the Fins exit on the Muscat-Sur highway to go up the mountain. There is another exit a few miles down the highway that also goes up to the plateau, but it is paved and incredibly steep which makes it less-than-idea for the ascent.

Because any real Oman adventure has to include camels

It would be possible to take a day-trip up to the Salmah Plateau, but I would recommend camping and staying the night. Watching the sunset up there is a magical experience, and you do not want to drive down from the plateau at night. We lucked out and found an amazing camping spot that already had some cleared areas for our tents and a fire pit. You will need to make sure you bring all your own firewood, food, and water, plus cots or thick mats for your sleeping bags.

Next up: what we did, what we saw, and what went wrong!