Salalah (pronounced Sa-lá-lah) is Oman’s second largest city and the capital of the Dhofar province. It has the biggest sea port in the Arab Peninsula, a colorful, subtropical city that owes much of its character to Oman’s former territories in East Africa. Salalah is known for a climate phenomenon called Khareef, the period between June and September when temperatures drop to a “cool” 68-78 degrees Fahrenheit and it is often raining. This unique weather pattern is when the whole city turns green and attracts visitors from all around the world. From the north, the city is surrounded by a mountain range that turns green with spectacular waterfalls during the Khareef season. From the south, it has a long beautiful coast that is embellished with white sandy beaches.
Salalah has seen rapid development in recent years, the industrial port is gaining importance and the government is trying to build up local industry. Yet despite the growth, the area exudes an old-world charm with camels roaming the beaches, traffic-free roads and groves of frankincense trees lining the nearby Dhofar Mountains. The bazaar area, Al Husn Souq, still has a lively orientatl vibe, there are back streets waiting to be explored and long, narrow lanes with shops selling species, incense and traditional garments.
Frankincense has been produced here since ancient times and you can smell it everywhere - streets, shops, hotels, even inside the airport. The culture of the Dhofar province is closely linked to the Hadramaut region in nearby Yemen and therefore different from the north of the country. The city is an ideal base for exploring this relatively unknown part of the country.
Things to See and Do
Sultan Qaboos Mosque
Salalah is home to one of the most famous Sultan Qaboos mosques in Oman. The mosque is located in the city center and is an architectural wonder. It has two big domes, and two tall minarets, all of which are white and ornamented with golden shapes. The mosque’s interior is decorated with beautiful lanterns, the walls are engraved in unique patterns and the floor is covered with green rugs. Reflecting the wonderful Omani architecture, the Sultan Qaboos Mosque is one of the must-visit attractions in Salalah.
Taqah Castle is one of the most popular castles in the Dhofar Region, and one of the most beautiful in Oman. This castle was built to be the residential house of a tribal leader called Sheikh Ali bin Taman Al Ma’shani, who was the grandfather of the mother of Sultan Qaboos. The castle now has several museums that exhibit weapons and tools that were essential to the old Omani way of life. Between its architectural design, plantations and ancient contents, the castle is a unique place that must be included in a visit to Salalah. Don’t forget to wait for an unforgettable view of the sunset from the famous point in the castle.
Al Marneef Cave
The Marneef Cave is located near Al Mughsail Beach in Salalah. The allure of this place starts with the surrounding mountain that has several benches for tourists to enjoy the stunning view of the beach and the blowholes – Al Marneef Blowholes, which are also called Al Mughsail Blowholes or Fountains. These holes in the ground are known to be sea caves, through which sea waters come, creating beautifully high fountains that splash water around them. Between the white sandy beach, the beautiful mountain, the deep cave and the lovely fountains, Al Marneef Cave is the perfect escape for all nature lovers.
Take a Boat Trip
Enjoy the crystal waters of the Sea of Oman, and the surrounding beautiful mountains and white sandy beaches of Salalah through a trip in a local wooden Omani boat. Whether a short or long trip, a boat journey will offer a beautiful experience, where you can relax and watch the remarkable natural beauty of Salalah and the Dhofar region.
Al Balid Archeological Site
Al Balid is an open archeological site that is situated on the Sea of Oman and is near to Al Husn Palace and Salalah’s famous Haffa Souq. It has been established as one of the UNESCO World Heritage unique sites in Oman. It was a famous ancient city in Salalah, whose ruins are now a highly appealing attraction of the city. There are information signs near every ruin and regular tours that will take visitors around the site.
Sumhuram and Khor Rori Archaeological Site
Khor Rori or Sumhuram is a famous archeological site located in Salalah. It is the ancient capital of Arabia’s frankincense trade. Discovered by English archaeologist and explorer James Theodore Bent in the late 19th-century, the site was founded in the 1st century B.C. and grew into a city in the first century A.D. with about 300 to 500 residents. This fascinating site provides an overview of the ancient town, and the crystal waters of the Sea of Oman, and is a must-visit attraction.
Tomb of Mohammed Bin Ali
Housing the remains of Mohammed Bin Ali, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, the tomb's two white onion-shaped domes appear like an oasis on the horizon against the area's rocky brown terrain. As with most tombs in Oman, the interior is plain with a simple green cloth covering the holy burial site. The cemetery that surrounds the site is particularly intriguing. Hundreds of old headstones, many toppled over or precariously awry, dot the landscape. Spend some time wandering the headstones, and try to imagine the stories of the people buried here.
Golden sands, glowing crystal waters, clear blue skies, colorful birds and breezy weather: Salahah is a perfect place to relax and enjoy an unforgettable beach vacation. Below are a few beaches worth checking out in the Salahah area:
Al Mughsail - The drive to Mughsail is stunning, with the azul colored ocean on one side and huge mountains on the other side. Enjoy the scenic limestone Mountains on your drive to the beach, and the thrill of the roller coaster roads. The beach is a beautiful 3 mile stretch of blue water and white sand with mountains on both sides, a picture perfect spot.
Al Fazayah Beach - On the western side of Salalah, the drive here is another roller coaster of hairpin roads that leads to the softest white sand beach. It is a treasure hunt to get here, but worth the ride to enjoy the 3 mile long pristine white soft sand with clear water and a stunning landscape as the backdrop.
Ad Dahariz Beach - Located on the eastern side of Salalah, this beach is easily accessible by a 15-minute drive from any part of Salalah. This white sand beach is surrounded by coconut trees and has a beautiful gazebo to sit under the shade on the benches and enjoy the view of this stunning beach.
Al Haffa Beach - Located within the city, the Al Haffa Beach is a major beach in the area great for bird watching and since the port is near, you can enjoy the view of ships from afar.
Taqah Beach - Located in the coastal town of Taqah, about 20 miles from Salalah, Taqah Beach is a unique spot where mountains, desert and sea provide a picturesque landscape, perfect for bird watching. It is also a fishermen’s hub, with lots of fishing boats. The town itself is famous for its historical Taqa Castle.
Options in Salalah for shopping are increasing with construction of new shopping malls and commercial centers. The major mall is Salalah Gardens Mall. Al-Husn Souk is the souk (market) spread over a number of alleyways next to the sultan’s palace. It is a colorful, lively souk scented with aromatic frankincense and one that has many traditional garments and items to purchase. The main chains of supermarkets are Carrefour and LuLu. They are open daily from 8am - 10pm. On Fridays most supermarkets are open all day and the shopping malls are open from 10am until midnight.
The most common souvenirs are tea sets, jewellery, saucers, pitchers and Omani dresses. You can get handmade Omani crafts at the Souks and museums.
Given that Oman is a very conservative and traditional country, the nightlife is quite subtle and low-key. It's more common for the locals to go to coffee shops and relax with shisha and a cup of coffee rather than go clubbing. However, there are bars in hotels. But tourists can hit the growing nightlife scene in Salalah by checking out the many pubs, live music venues and coffee shops. Top bars of Salalah include: Holiday Inn Bar, Al Mina Restaurant and Bar, the Oasis Club, Hilton Hotel Bar, and Crowne Plaza Bar. It is worth noting that alcoholic establishments are pretty much exclusively located at the many hotels and resorts that are dotted throughout the region.
One thing the nightlife does not lack in Salalah is a wide variety of music. While other locations may have a certain culture or genre that their live music clings to, here you’ll find a broad scope to explore. Hit the town and experience music from Arabic, African, Indian, Lebanese, South-Indian and Filipino bars.
If you’re looking for an English sports pub sort of atmosphere, there’s Mayfair. It is a very popular place for people to gather and watch their favorite sporting events over a few beers. The bar is also popular for its elegant atmosphere, with dark brown furniture and a cozy feel.
For something a bit more lively, there’s the Al Luban Night Club. It is an exuberant locale featuring exquisite food and performances by artists both locally and internationally renowned.
One of the most popular night-time hotspots in Salalah is the Al Khareef Pub, which is completely lively with activity during certain seasons. It offers a sophisticated yet casual ambiance with a spectacular backdrop of the Arabian Sea.
Most of the food served up in Omani cafés and restaurants comprises a mix of Arabian standards (shwarma, kebabs and meze) alongside the ubiquitous biryani and other lacklustre Indian and Pakistani-style fare.
Arabian (aka “Lebanese”) food is based mainly on grilled meats. If you want to eat well and on a budget in Oman, your best bet is the humble shwarma, spit-roasted chicken and/or beef carved off and served wrapped in bread with salads – the Gulf version of the doner kebab (also served laid out on a piece of bread on a plate with chips and salad – the so-called “shwarma plate”). Other Lebanese- and Turkish-style grilled kebabs are also common – places styling themselves as “Turkish” cafés/restaurants are often the best for this sort of food. Common dishes include the Lebanese shish taouk (chicken kebabs served with garlic sauce) and Turkish-style kofte (minced spiced lamb) kebabs.
Traditional Omani dishes provide an interesting, lightly spiced blend of Indian and Arabian culinary cultures, although they only rarely make it to restaurant menus. The nationwide Bin Ateeq chain is doing its best to revive local culinary traditions, while in Muscat places like Kargeen and Ubhar serve up old-fashioned creations like harees laham (lamb with wheat in cow ghee) and shuwa (slow-roasted meat cooked in a clay oven).
Note: If you decide to visit places outside Salalah city (good advice for traveling anywhere in Oman), remember to carry some food packed for emergencies (fruits, fruit juices, sandwiches recommended) as there are few restaurants outside the city.
Perhaps the most distinctive local drink is traditional coffee (gahwa) – although this doesn’t bear much resemblance to European coffee. Arabic coffee is traditionally served in tiny handleless cups, without milk and sugar but flavoured with spices usually including cardomom or cloves – intense, aromatic and slightly bitter.
More conventional coffee, often described as Nesafe (or “Nescoffee”), is also available, as is tea. Fruit juices are also often good, especially in local shwarma cafés and other Lebanese establishments. You may also come across laban (buttermilk).
One of the most unique local shops in Salalah is its famous fruit huts. They can be found almost everywhere near the roads and on the beaches. They serve natural fruit juices, but are most famous for their mouthwatering coconut drink, which they serve in its shell.
Alcoholic drinks are relatively difficult to come, and often expensive. Beer is usually a stereotypical selection of European lagers (Heineken, Carlsberg, Amstel, Tuborg and so on), either canned or on tap. Alcohol is available at high end hotels, Woodlands Restaurant (in the airport) and Oasis Club (near the port). Liquor permits are only available to non muslim expatriates.