A Jebel Shams day trip can be very rewarding with the right schedule! In this self-drive itinerary, we will tackle some of the best things to do in Jebel Shams, including the Jebel Shams Balcony Walk and Misfat Al Abriyeen. I will also touch on a few recommended tours for those that aren’t driving, as well as accommodation options for those wishing to stay a night in Jebel Shams.
A few goats bleated. Their head bobbled up and down in the chilly breeze. Their short legs treaded carefully along the rocky cliff. One stopped several feet away from me, shifting curiously with the beeps of my camera. It stood there for a minute before striding off with the others, looking for patches of grass in the otherwise deserted mountain hills.
In the background stands the tallest peak in Oman. Its rounded edges reached calmly for the sky. Its deep gorges graced gently against the plains. Jebel Shams sat motionlessly against the dimming sunset, soaking in the last bit of color that dyed its peaks and valleys pink and purple. Stretches of steep, rocky paths rolled into one another, each more gradual than the last.
It was my last week in Oman when I decided on a spontaneous road trip to Jebel Shams. I grabbed some snacks and water. A while later, my friend picked me up before we drove out of the busy Muscat streets filled with weekday traffic, across the well-maintained highway hugged by mountain ranges, through deserted land and small villages, towards a stretch of mountains that touched the clouds.
Through the lens of your eyes, zoom out of the winding roads and take in the countless elevation and wadis, the vast bright blue sky looking over rolling hills, unpaved roads and patches of lush date plantations, traditional villages, and little people, a world uncomplicated by banal urbanity and studied sophistication.
As a part of the Al Akhdar Range, Jebel Shams sits 3000m above sea level and overlooks the town of Al Hamra. This mountain is jagged and rough, which is in stark contrast to the warmth offered by the elevation in regions with more humidity.
Due to the formation, I suggest that you tour Jebel Shams with a four-wheel drive. You can compare affordable car rentals here. For those that aren’t looking to rent a car, you can also book private drivers with a charter car for a Jebel Shams day trip.
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Jebel Shams Day Trip
Also known as the Mountain of Sun, Jebel Shams is noted for its picturesque view of the deep, vast Wadi Ghul parallel to it. The wadi is dubbed as Grand Canyon of Arabia, as it runs through sharp rock faces that shoot up to 1000 m and higher. Sitting 3 hours away from Muscat, a day trip to Jebel Shams is possible if you rise early and sleep late. Although, many would recommend spending a night in the rocky elevations.
The first stop during your Jebel Shams day trip is Nizwa Fort, followed by Al Hoota Cave and Misfat Al Abriyeen, a traditional village that rests quietly amongst the mountain ranges. The road to Jebel Shams is well-maintained and offers a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.
Nizwa Fort is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Oman. Due to its size and close proximity to Muscat, it is a great destination for a quick getaway.
Situated in the traditional town of Nizwa, the castle was built in the 1650s and maintains some of the architectural layouts. The restored fort is beautiful and imposing. It serves as a great reminder of Nizwa’s significance throughout Oman’s long history.
There is a maze of rooms and passageways that lead to the center tower. A guide will accompany you inside. The cost is OMR 5 and you can grab photos of some impressive exhibitions.
Al Hoota Cave
Al Hoota Cave has discovered hundreds of years ago and was officially opened as a tourist attraction in 2006. This cave is 5 km in length and is located on the way to Al Hamra. If you are planning a Jebel Shams day trip, a stop at Al Hoota Cave will give you a glimpse into the interiors of the Al Hajar mountain ranges.
In addition to unique flora, you will come face to face with bats and blind fish. A guide will accompany you at a cost of OMR 7 and the entire tour will last around 45 minutes.
Misfat Al Abriyeen (مسفاة العبريين)
Misfat Al Abriyeen is an ancient mud village that lies in Jebel Shams. Following Al Hoota, continue on Bahla road to Al Hamra, where you will arrive at this peaceful oasis for a taste of tradition and customs.
Unlike its surrounding, Misfat Al Abriyeen is decorated by lush date plantations. You will find a number of cars parked on the outskirts of the village.
Leave your car along the road and head into the village on foot.
The village is over 300 years old and maintains much of its original structure. With narrow alleyways and mud-built homes, there is a charm to Misfat Al Abriyeen that instantly takes you back in time.
The cobble-stone paths wind up and down the maze-like passageways towards the back of the village, where you can walk alongside the Dalai system that sits beside the edge of the boulders above fields of date palm trees.
If you’d like to stay here for the night, Misfah Old House is a great choice!
Jebel Shams Oman Balcony Walk
Following Misfat Al Abriyeen, head up to Khateem, where you will park your car. (You do need a 4WD to get here). Red, white, and yellow markers highlight the start of the trail. The trek has a length of 4 km and can last up to 3-4 hours back and forth. You can also do a guided hiking tour if you don’t want to drive there and hike by yourself!
Although the trail isn’t paved, it is a relatively easy trail that inclines gradually along the rim of the canyon.
The most beautiful part of hiking the Jebel Shams Balcony Walk is that you will be walking along the edge of the cliff while peering into the impressive depth of Wadi Ghul. The path spirals through the cliffs up Wadi Nakhr and ends in the abandoned village of As Sab.
Despite the rocky track, the path is wide enough to ensure that you won’t tumble into the depression below. An hour and a half into your journey, you will arrive at a few ancient houses and a waterfall that marks the end of the trek.
Jebel Shams Day Trip Tours
If you aren’t planning to drive from Muscat to Jebel Shams, I’d recommend doing a tour instead. You can opt for a private tour of the Hajar Mountains. A driver will accompany you through the mountain ranges, Nizwa Fort, as well as to the beautiful Wadi Ghul. The best part of going on a private tour is that you can negotiate the route and make some small customizations according to your interest.
We reached Al Hamra around late afternoon. From here, I could see sharp ridges that dived into one another. Unlike the ranges in Muscat, the mountainous masses seem to only offer refuge to those that seek adventure.
There are two distinct routes that lead to Jabal Sham peak. If you are only doing a Jebel Shams day trip, I recommend that you drive up the Bahla road from the town of Al Hamra.
Otherwise, go for the unpaved back road between the mountain ridges as it provides a better view of the canyon below.
We opt for the latter.
The journey quickly took us away from the paved roads and took us hobbling up and down patches of loose rocks, dirt, and rainwater from the days prior.
As we started to ascend, the trail became increasingly narrow and rough. An hour into the journey, the width of the path barely had the capacity to hold one car, when at times, two vehicles would squeeze expertly past each other.
There was no guardrail for safety and no convex mirror for around-the-corner visibility. It was all skill and luck and prayer.
Although I was a tad nervous, it gave me great comfort that my friend had plenty of experience navigating these roads. So, I sat back, tried to blast some AC/DC with the sporadic WIFI connection, and enjoyed the landscape ahead.
The higher we climbed, the better the view.
After a few small villages and vast bottomless depressions, the sun had already begun to descend. The sky was tinted by a deep orange that faded into a pastel pink. I urged my friend to drive a tad faster (which you shouldn’t do)-I really didn’t want to miss the sunset!
We bumped up a bit more towards the summit and finally found parking at the top of the elevation, where the rugged terrain flattened into a massive plateau.
The sky was dyed with an incredible range of colors. The departing rays painted clouds in orange and yellow. Layers of pink and purple coated the valley below.
Out of nowhere, a group of goats jogged past the parking lot toward the cliff. They sought out patches of grass with no interest in the surrounding landscape. Clearly, they were accustomed to the view.
Where to Stay in Jebel Shams
If you are only going for a Jebel Shams day trip, a trek around the Balcony Walk and a hike through Misfat Al Abriyeen will keep you busy for some time. Although the drive between Muscat and Jebel Shams will last around 8 hours back and forth, it’s worth the effort!
For those looking to stay in Jebel Shams for a night, you can either camp on the plateau, or spend the night at the Jebel Shams Resort.
Jebel Shams Camping
Camping was how we (somewhat successfully) went about the night.
After the sun, we drove along the trail past the Jebel Shams Resort to the cliffs nearby. Beware, the trails will end but you can continue to navigate forward! Since wild camping is legal in Oman, we decided to set camp along the ridges.
Unfortunately, this Jebel Shams Camping experience did not go as smoothly as we hoped. Since it was still scorching hot in Muscat, we thought a tent and some warm blankets would do us well in the mountains. Of course, we were way off with our climate calculations.
It got increasingly colder in the evening. When we began setting up the tent, we noticed that the wind also grew in strength. Luckily, we have a few things in the car from previous camping trips. I took out everything-shirts, clothes, dresses, and bundled up into a ball.
Our fire kept getting blown out and the tend almost flew away. I ended up sleeping in the car that night instead.
Nonetheless, the morning was beautiful!
Jebel Shams Hotels Oman
Of course, as long as you bring adequate camping gear, clothes, and food, camping in Jebel Shams is a wonderful experience. Otherwise, opt for one of the Jebel Shams hotels in Oman, which is also a great choice to enjoy the sunrise and sunset among the peaks.
Jebel Shams Resort
The Jebel Shams Resort sits at the peak of Jebel Shams. It is a great place to stay for the night as it overlooks the impressive canyon below. It also sits near the starting point of the Balcony Walk, which means a place to relax after the trek.
The resort offers Middle Eastern style chalets, bike rentals, and jeep tours.
Sama Heights Resort & Spa
Sama Heights Resort is another great option to spend the night in the mountains. This eco-friendly resort sits at an altitude of 2100 m and offers incredible views of the surrounding ranges. They also offer recreational activities including hikes and rock climbing.
The View Hotel
The View Hotel is located 1400 m above sea level is great for those who would like to stay at a lower altitude. It still offers beautiful views of the surrounding valley and acts as a great place to spend a night or three.
Their in-house restaurant has a terrace that is perfect for sunset.
Map for this Jebel Shams Day Trip
Below are a few extra resources that can help make your Muscat trip smoother:
Find affordable flights on Kiwi, a booking site that mixes and matches flights from different airlines to find the best/most economic route (Kiwi offers a money-back guarantee if you miss a connection).