A Wadi is a dry riverbed that in times of rain can quickly become flooded and inaccessible. As it doesn’t rain very often in Oman this is unlikely to be a problem if you want to visit. However, if it has rained do take advice before visiting.
Wadi Shab is about 90 mins drive from Muscat on the road to Sur. The entrance is spoilt by the modern highway bridge that straddles the two sides, but it doesn’t take long to lose sight of it once you start walking into the gorge.
It was around lunchtime when we arrived. The car park was already pretty full and this was on a weekday. Apparently it gets VERY crowded at the weekends.
A small kiosk was serving drinks and snacks and seemed very popular with the local population of mountain goats. They’d obviously learnt that this was a good place to pick up titbits from all the tourists. They’d also learnt that tourists make good leaning posts when they wanted to reach the juicy leaves higher up in the trees.
A small boat runs between 8am and 5.30pm and ferries people across the pond to the start of the walk for 1 riyal (£2) per person return. The man who took us across wasn’t particularly chatty, but the man on the return journey started to talk straight away and wanted to know where we were from. When we said the UK he told us how he’d studied in Bournemouth a few years ago on a course to improve his English. He also took us for an extra spin round the pond when a couple of the other passengers got excited at finding a bit of breeze and shade on the water.
The boat journey only takes a few minutes and wouldn’t be too difficult for most people to swim though no-one was swimming when we were there. If you want to get across outside of the ferry times then you have no choice but to swim. I think if the ferry is running it’s nice to get the boat even if you are great swimmer, as you will be supporting a small local business and getting (possibly) to chat to a local.
Once across you don’t need to worry about getting lost as the path runs between steep cliffs and follows the sliver of river that even in October and before the rains was still flowing.
The path is quite easy going, but is made of small stones and grit. I was wearing walking sandals and had to keep stopping to empty them out. Apparently further on, the path becomes more difficult as there are big boulders to clamber over.
We didn’t have very long as the friend I was with needed to be back in Muscat for a meeting at her child’s school, so only walked along the easy part of the path before turning back. Even though I only saw a small part of the wadi I was still impressed with how beautiful it was and I’m keen to go back and explore further on my next visit to Oman.
The full walk is quite adventurous and ends at a cave filled with water and with a waterfall cascading into it.
HOWEVER, going further takes a lot more thought than the bit I saw does. Once you get to the end of the easy part of the path, not only are there boulders to climb over, but also sections that need to be swum even in summer. From reading around it seems that these pools are quite deep and there can be currents. It’s advised that you need to be able to swim 50-100m and stay afloat for 10-15 minutes at a time without needing to hold on to anything before you attempt to get to the cave at the end. You also need to be comfortable swimming through small tunnels in the rocks where you won’t have much room for movement except to propel yourself forward.
When I checked for reviews and other people’s write-ups on Wadi Shab I found mostly positive reviews and over and over again people saying Wadi Shab is their number one attraction or activity in Oman.
But there was one one-star review on TripAdvisor that stood out. When I read it, it was a long sad tale of a man who had been in the wadi with his friends and had drowned whilst attempting to get across the pools. He couldn’t swim, but had given it a go and unfortunately had given the wadi his life in the attempt. According to the review the man had gone under and despite numerous other tourists trying to find him it was too late as they were looking in the wrong place; the current had taken his body further down the pool.
Although I would love to return to Wadi Shab and make it all the way to the cave I really don’t think my swimming ability is up to it. I would have to think about carrying some kind of buoyancy aid to help me along.
Also if planning to do the whole route, you need to think about how to carry and keep dry food and plenty of drinking water, a towel, clothes and a camera (assuming you’d want to take photos and why on earth wouldn’t you?). Remember you’ll be swimming through some tiny gaps so really don’t want to have a big bag on your back.
Think about what to have on your feet too. You’ll need something and ideally it will be something you can swim in as well as walk over grit and rocks and clamber over boulders. Maybe a pair of lightweight supportive trainers that you don’t mind getting wet?
So, in conclusion, Wadi Shab is pretty amazing and should be on your list of places to visit for a desert trip outside of Muscat. However, it is not to be underestimated. I found this post from ZigZag on Earth particularly helpful as it has step-by-step guidance and a video so you can see exactly what to expect.
Are you adventurous enough for the Wadi Shab gorge walk? Have you done similar walks elsewhere? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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