After four blissful days at The Chedi in Muscat, it was time to move onto the next location on our perfect Oman honeymoon! The wonderful Mohammad, our driver and guide for the day, met us in the lobby to take us from Muscat to Jabal Akhdar in the Al Hajar mountain range. One of the most popular day trips from Muscat, we decided to extend our time there and stay in a hotel in the mountains, the Alila Jabal Akhdar.
How to Get From Muscat to Jabal Akhdar
If you drive straight from Muscat to Jabal Akhdar, it will take just over two hours without any stops. However, there is lots to see between Muscat and the Al Hajar mountain range including Nizwa, Birkat Al Mauz (also referred to as Birkat Al Mawz or Birkat al Mouz) and Wadi Bani Habib, so it makes for a great day trip from Muscat if you want to get out of the city for a bit.
If you want to go all the way into the mountains, there is only two options to get there. You can hire a 4×4 and self-drive; but it must be a 4×4. There is a checkpoint at the base of the mountain just after Birkat Al Mauz and you will not be allowed to continue otherwise.
The main road (Highway 15) into the mountains is relatively new and in great condition, however I would recommend that you are an experienced and confident driver if you plan to drive up into the mountains yourself; read this post, “Tips for Driving Through The Mountains“ in advance to ensure you are adequately prepared.
The alternative is to do what we did and book a day tour from Muscat. I really recommend private tours, I love the flexibility and having local guides I always find I learn much more as well and get to see places that we probably wouldn’t have found by ourselves.
The Ancient City of Nizwa
After around an hour and a half’s drive on our mini Oman road trip, we entered the ancient city of Nizwa which was intermittently the capital of Oman between the 8th and 12th centuries.
Set within a large expanse of date palms with the stunning backdrop of the Al Hajar Mountains, Nizwa is known as the “Pearl of Islam” and is the location of two historic mosques, the Shawadna and Sa’al which date from the very early days of Islam and are said to be built in the 5th century.
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Mohammed first takes us to one of the oldest souqs in Oman, although today’s souq is housed in newer buildings. He stops and greets everyone, we figure he must be here all the time, but he actually explains that in Oman, it is customary to greet everyone, particularly those of the older generation.
We first go to where the livestock market that has been taking place for centuries is held early every Friday morning. It was empty when we were there as it was a Saturday, but Mohammad also explains that after the livestock auction there is an auction for children, they practice trading by buying and selling things like toys and pets! I wouldn’t like to come up against an Omani in a negotiation…
We take a wander through the souq, this one appears to be more geared towards tourists than the Muttrah Souq in Muscat and is more spread out and less busy. We see lots of silver khanjars (traditional curved Omani daggers), but decide they are a bit dangerous for us and buy some spices instead with our Christmas mulled wine in mind and some “tat” for my dad who wouldn’t forgive us if we didn’t come back with something tacky for him.
Next we head to Nizwa Fort, right next to the souq; constructed in the 17th century it is a fantastic example of historic Omani architecture. We had a wander around looking at all of traditional rooms which had many exhibits in them describing life in the fort and surrounding areas, before climbing up into the inner round tower in the middle of the fort.
It was a bit dark walking up the steps but a sign caught my eye indicating to look down….I realise I’m stood on a glass panel which stops me falling into the big hole in the floor; excellent, just where I want to be.
I hop off and read the rest of the sign; apparently it is a defence mechanism, the “murder hole” as it was referred to would be covered by boards and when invaded, the boards taken up so you fall in.
Another sign indicates to look up; there is a hole far up on the ceiling through which boiling date syrup would be poured. I climbed the stairs quickly. We came out into the sunlight into the middle of the round tower, but as ever, I wanted to see the view, so carried on climbing so we could see the town of Nizwa spread out before us.
Read More: A One Day Itinerary for Muscat, Oman
Here, we got another great view of our destination in the background, the beautiful Al Hajar Mountains.
Birkat Al Mauz
Our final stop, only a couple of kilometres before we started ascending into the mountains, was the abandoned villages of Birkat Al Mauz. Oman’s countryside is littered with them and all of the ones we saw on our trip were in varying states of ruin.
I got different and slightly vague reasons from all that I asked about the reasons for this; one told me that people many moved due to the precarious and increasingly dangerous nature of living on a house carved out of the mountainside, another said that many moved to the city as the country was opened up when Sultan Qaboos came into power in the 1970s.
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UNESCO World Hertitage Site: Al Falaj
Walking through abandoned villages is always a bit eerie, but I was brought back to earth when Mohammed announced he was going to show us the irrigation system…..slight pause, odd thing to look at I thought to myself, maybe I misheard him?
However, when I started asking questions I realised that I hadn’t; Oman’s water supply system has been around for thousands of years and consists of an ancient system of water channels referred to as “aflāj”.
The water is either obtained from deep in the ground, running water sources or from natural springs and are so important, have collectively been listed as a UNESCO site. There is no pumping system, just gravity is used to keep water flowing through the irrigation systems.
Walking Through the Plantations
The abandoned villages of Birkat Al Mauz overlook a huge expanse of banana and date plantations in the valley below, as well as a modern day village of the same name.
We descended into the plantation to take a pleasantly cool walk through the trees before coming back up the other side where we stopped one more time on top of a rather steep hill; the date palms against the dramatic mountain landscape looks like a real life oasis.
Ascending into the Jabal Akhdar Mountain Range
To my point earlier around mountain driving, I was glad it was Mohammed at the wheel rather than me!
Our progress is slow, mainly because I keep getting Mohammed to stop the car so I can get out and stare at the view; this is really one of the most beautiful places in Oman.
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I love heights, there is something very freeing and calming about a massive expanse below you, Danny doesn’t agree though and keeps trying to pull me back from the edge; probably a good thing to have him around as I can be a little clumsy!
The Omani army and police train up in the mountains and have to hike up them to various outposts scattered around; apparently the training is so gruelling that other countries have their armies come and train with them, including the British.
The Green Mountain
The Al Hajar mountains are mostly desert, however we are in the Jabal Akhdar area that means “Green Mountain” in Arabic, named as such as they have higher levels of rain that allow the growth of shrubs and trees. We pass beautiful damask rose plantations and as we enter a village, stalls outside houses sell distilled rose water.
The temperature in Jabal Akhdar is also noticeably cooler, an excellent escape from the heat of Muscat.
Here, perched on the edge of a cliff, is where the Anantara lies, a hotel that was on my shortlist and featured on BBC’s Amazing Hotels.
We stop at a local restaurant called Mountain Nights right next to the hotel that shares the same views, go up to the shaded terrace on top of the building and be prepared to not talk to whoever you’re with, the views into the valley below are just incredible.
We had a delicious (and cheap!) lunch before driving a bit further along and walking to the edge to gaze out into the huge ravine, with the Anantara to left (it’s hard to spot as it has been designed to blend into the landscape) and local villages and rolling rose plantations to our right.
The rocks are embedded with fossils as amazingly, the high altitude at which we are now stood used to be at the bottom of a sea.
Walking Through the Al Hajar Mountains
We drive down to one of the villages clinging to the steep valley, where Mohammed shows us a red, white and yellow sign painted on the wall, follow them for a half an hour walk through the valley to the village on the other side.
I have a great time scrambling over the al falaj irrigation systems, through the trees and narrow street of the villages, there’s a few drops though so Danny’s health and safety alarm is going off!
It’s beautiful and peaceful out here and with the cooler climates and grape vines you could be mistaken for being in the Mediterranean, until the mountains periodically come into view!
Wadi Bani Habib
Our next stop was the nearby Wadi Bani Habib. A wadi is essentially a valley that can either be dry or with water in it and fills up during rainfall. This one is dry, but lush and green along the bottom of the ravine with more abandoned villages clinging to the sides of the valley.
Mohammed explains that in Oman, when you turn 25 you are given a piece of land in the area you live, therefore over time villages move as due to the landscape, it is not always possible to expand them, or they become to dangerous to live in.
To further demonstrate his point, he takes us on a little detour on the way to our hotel; he turns down a dirt track on a narrow road down a very steep incline, Danny is not happy!
We bounce around in the back of the car and eventually we get to a modern village. Across the ravine is an abandoned village that apparently tourists now rent with a pulley system designed to send supplies across the ravine.
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Danny refuses to come and have a look at what looks like a fairly treacherous path used to access the other side below us, I understand why the villagers have relocated!
Final Thoughts: Muscat to the Jabal Akhdar Mountains
We drive back up the mountain side (Danny’s eyes are closed) and make our way to our hotel, the Alila Jabal Akhdar.
I loved making a day of it, the landscape and climate are so different from Muscat and the scenery is just amazing.
I would recommend having a Mohammed with you as well, we chatted away for a good portion of the journey and I have learnt so much about Omani life and seen some areas that I think you’d struggle to find yourself. Plus, I would not have found it fun navigating those roads by myself!
– View and book tours to the Al Hajar Mountains from Muscat.
– Check flight routes and prices with Skyscanner. Oman Air fly direct from Manchester and London Heathrow on a daily basis and British Airways fly from London Heathrow three times a week between October and April.
There are currently no direct flights from the USA, but there are lots of connection options; Muscat is only an hour’s flight from Dubai.
– View and book accommodation in Oman with Booking.com, Agoda or Hotels.com.
– Click here to buy your Lonely Planet Guide for Oman.
– Apply for your Oman Visa here. Read my full Oman Itinerary for more visa information.
– You can check out my full list of tried, tested and recommended Travel Resources here.
Wow! This looks and sounds absolutely amazing! Added to my bucket list!
How beautiful! My aunt went to Muscat and I’ve wanted to go ever since she went. It looks like an incredible adventure!
It was such an excellent trip, mountains, desert, beach and city all within a half day’s drive of each other!
Wow this seems like such an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing!
What an amazing post! I keep hearing fab things about Oman, and your photos are making me understand why! Those mountains are beautiful and I love the look of the fort (although eep for the murder hole that they’d pour boiling date syrup down!!)
p.s. I love to hear they have auctions for kids to practice selling things like toys! No wonder everyone is so good at bargaining! 😀
I know, I thought it was such a great idea! The kids that is, not the murder hole!
Man, I wish that was universal that everyone gets a piece of land when they turn 25! Cool system.
That fort sounds awesome, although I couldn’t help but think of slapstick movies with people falling through trap doors and having hot lava poured on them. I didn’t know those kinds of strategies were actually real.
I’m on the same page about not driving in places where the roads might be rough and you don’t know the area well, good call getting a guide. I don’t always think to do it in advance though. Thanks for the idea!
It took me try surprise as well, it all sounds very brutal! I can’t be bothered with the hassle of driving myself on roads like that, particularly given my driving at home could be better…. I generally find booking in advance allows you to negotiate a bit as well, so it works well for me!
Oman is one of my favourite countries in the world. These images brought back some great memories. It looks like you had a great trip.
Sounds like you enjoyed it as much as I did!
Oman looks like such a great country to visit. And this road trip looks like it has the perfect mix of things to see and do.
Such a gorgeous place – giving me some good ideas for some future trips! Also, I love dates and still miss the absolutely incredible dates I could have all the time while in Morocco.
They do some excellent dates! I have used the last lot we brought home with us tonight, baked and wrapped in bacon, delicious!
That looks like an amazing road trip! The landscape looks so unique and beautiful. In areas where the roads aren’t easy to navigate I prefer to hire a driver. Takes the stress out of it! ?
You and me both, I can’t be doing with trying to drive myself on those kinds of roads, not sure I’d enjoy it as much!
Adding this place to my list you have such gorgeous photos.
Thank you 🙂
Great article. Keep it up!