One Day in: Muscat - Hiking the Desert
Updated: Jan 13
Arriving at the country of Oman by boat, whether to the ports of Khasab, Salalah or Muscat you can not help but notice, that there are many mountains in this desert country. And when there are mountains, of course, there are also hikes to explore. In this case, I want to talk about one, originating in the port of Muscat. From the physical point of view, it is a rather easy hike, but despite this fact, the whole trail is still situated on my personal top ten list. And as someone always on the lookout for a challenge, this is a rather significant accomplishment.
Four Reasons to do this Tour
You will have a great view of the port of Muscat.
You will discover the unique desert mountain range surrounding Muscat.
You will walk through a partially dried-up river bed, giving unique insights into local wildlife and biodiversity.
You will have a manageable hike, that is also suited to a broad audience, including children. Your fitness level does not be that high to manage this tour. However, you should not be afraid of heights and be sure-footed.
Starting in the Port of Muscat you first have to take the shuttle from your cruise to the port gate. Walking is not allowed on the port premises. Exiting from the bus, you will have to shake an armada of Taxi drivers, offering to drive you here and there. Following the road through the parking lot, you will reach the local market. Here you should take a short break, beneath the shady canopy of the modern building. To your left is the fish market, to the right is vegetables and meat. You should take the time, to look at both, but for me, especially the fish market was impressive. You can guess how rich the waters of Oman are by the wide assortment of different kinds of seafood on offer here.
After the Fish Market continue on and along the Corniche of Mutrah, and can see various sights her, for one the two superyachts that belonged to the recently deceased Sultan Qaboos. Often there is also a traditional wooden dhau anchored in the port, and if you are lucky, there is a chance to spot some turtles sticking their heads up out of the water. You follow the road, always staying on the waterfront until you reach Riyam Park. This park is built around the giant incense burner, which is one of Muscat's most iconic monuments. Here you can use a pedestrian crossing, reach the other side of the road, and then turn towards the mountains.
Between two old houses, a red sing marks the beginning of the path, located at an early staircase build from giant stone slabs. In many descriptions, and even on google maps, this place is marked as the endpoint for the trail. However, I would actually recommend starting here, for one simple reason: The very stairs I have just described a worn out, and very slippery. Ascending this part of the trail is far more comfortable, and far less dangerous than descending them. And for the rest of the tour, it absolutely does not matter in which direction you take, except right at the end there is a steep gravel slope that is equally easier from my recommended direction.
Before you enter a few words of warning: First, you will need sturdy shoes, with a good sole. Wherever the rocks are not smooth enough to pose a slipping hazard, they are sharp enough to make quick work of cheap shoes. Secondly, do not forget that you are entering a desert. Never go alone, bring more than enough water and always take care. And lastly: If it is raining, do not begin the hike. I once had the “pleasure” of experiencing a rainstorm in Muscat, and while it led to all the city streets turning into small rivers within hours, the effect was a little bit more troublesome in the narrow canyons through which the trail passes. I had entered the path just two hours after the storm had passed when the streets had already dried up again, and most of the water had made its way to the sea already, and even there large parts of the trail still presented themselves as a little river with quite wild rapids. I had come with one other experienced guide and even to us, completing the hike posed quite a challenge with lots of climbing along slippery walls. But I would not like to imagine what would have happened if we had been inside the canyon earlier that day when the first flash flood descended.
Now with these warnings out of the way, you can start your ascent up into the mountains. Just take a break now and then to look back, as you will get excellent views of the giant incense burner behind you. After clearing the stairs, the first section of your path feels more or less like a wide gravel road, although the rocks are slightly larger. There is also an old rusty pipeline accompanying, and even crossing the trail. It is, however, so small that you can comfortably step over it. After about half an hour, you will reach a gap in the mountains to your right. Through this gap, you can see Muscat's port, and through this gap, the pipeline descends towards the city. At this place you ascent a steep part of the trail, that is now only a small footpath up a mountainside, and soon after reaching the highest point of your hike. Now it is time to descend, again down a rather steep path and you will find yourself in a small valley, where some thorny bushes and even some trees seem to barely survive on the leftovers of the last rain. You will also find the ruins of an old settlement and even a now-defunct historic water pipe in this valley.
From here on, you can now enter the tour's real highlight, a small canyon, formed by a dried-up river. It is a truly unique landscape, with high walls of red and brown rocks, small white bands of chalk in between. You will also, likely find the leftovers from the last rains along the river bed. In particularly shady areas you can find small puddles, even months after, and around these puddles, you can find quite an assortment of local wildlife. I have seen frogs and plenty of insects, especially dragon flys. Amazingly, you can find this kind of animals even in the arid desert around Muscat. At some places the trail will demand a little bit of horizontal climbing, to get around the puddles, but it never gets challenging, unless of course, you enter directly after a rainstorm, in which case be prepared to get your feet wet.
After exiting the canyon, close to a flood protection wall, you will be required to scale another short but steep ascent and after that cross the graveyard of Mutrah to reach the city. Now you will have the possibility to go up to the restored castle and afterwards reconnect to your track at the Souk of Mutrah, where I recommend you take a break to enjoy some local cuisine.
And that is it for this hike, which in total probably takes about half a day and offers a perfect opportunity to explore the city and surrounding nature of Muscat.