Oh man, is Oman ever beautiful! This tiny country on the Arabian peninsula is often overlooked by travelers, which is a shame. Oman has so much to offer and we found it to be the perfect mix of outdoor adventure and luxurious hotels in spectacular locations fit for a sultan. Most travelers arrive in Muscat, Oman’s capital, and find a cosmopolitan city influenced by Oman’s millennia as a key trading post between Europe and Asia. But not far outside the city are some of Oman’s most jaw-droppingly beautiful sights, which you can discover on a Wadi Shab day tour.
While you could rent a car and make the 140 kilometer drive to Wadi Shab yourself, we found it worth it to sit back and relax in Memphis Tours’ comfortable SUV and let our guide handle the logistics. We immediately learned about karak tea, Oman’s spiced milk tea made with cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and ginger, and stopped off at one of the many roadside tea shops Omanis love to frequent. We’d probably have discounted the tea stands as nothing special and passed them by on our own. We were regaled with tales of legends, the history of modern Oman since Qaboos bin Said al Said became the sultan in 1970, and got a lesson on ordering lunch like a local.
That’s the true value in a good tour guide – getting those insights you might not otherwise discover on your own. Our guide from Memphis Tours whisked us out of the bustling capital on our private guided day tour with stops at the naturally formed Bimmah Sinkhole, one of Oman’s most beautiful beaches and the spring-fed pools of Wadi Shab.
One thing we quickly learned about Omanis is that they love legends, tales and ghost stories. Not surprisingly, Bimmah Sinkhole – or Hawaiyat Najm (as it’s known locally) – has a legend. Omanis believe that a falling meteorite caused the sinkhole to form, hence it’s name Hawaiyat Najm, which translates to “falling star”.
The less romantic version confirmed by geologists is that the limestone collapsed due to erosion from the water beneath. It’s also connected to the Arabian Sea, which is just 600 meters beyond the sinkhole, by an underwater tunnel. The natural depression is from 50 meters to 70 meters wide (164 feet to 229 feet wide), since it’s not a perfect circle and 20 meters (65 feet) deep. It’s filled with a mixture of fresh and sea water, giving the water the beautiful turquoise color.
To protect the sinkhole, the local municipality developed a park called Hawiyat Najm Park with a playground, shaded picnic and barbecue areas under the palm trees and toilet facilities around Bimmah. They also installed a staircase down to the water in the sinkhole so that visitors can easily access it without needing to climb around on the limestone.
If you’re just visiting to have a look, allowing about 30 minutes for your visit is perfect. You can also swim in the sinkhole, which we highly recommend.
Our Memphis Tours guide promised us he’d show us the most beautiful beach in Oman. Having sailed by quite a few coves over our two weeks exploring and diving in Oman, Fins Beach is definitely one of the most beautiful.
We can definitely see why the Omanis love to camp on Fins Beach. Wild and untouched by any development, the Arabian Sea dances along dazzling sea cliffs as far as the eye can see.
We didn’t have time to snorkel, but would have loved to. The water is crystal clear and you can see the color variations of the reefs below. We could easily see schools of hundreds of fish just gazing out over Fins Beach.
Hot as hell and nearing 30 hours of being awake, we were really reluctant walkers by the time we began the 3 kilometer hike to Wadi Shab. But with the promise of one of the most spectacular destinations in Oman, there was no way we were missing out on taking a dip in the azure pools of this wadi.
Don’t let the ugly concrete bridge slung across the entrance to Wadi Shab fool you. As soon as you take one of the small wooden boats across to begin the hike, you quickly forget about the coastal highway and the bridge. Date and banana palm plantations immediately take over and you feel Oman’s wildness engulf you.
Wadis are dry riverbeds in between deep, narrow gorges that cut through Oman’s many mountains. Fed by natural springs, wadis have become playgrounds for locals and tourists alike to escape the heat for some swimming and canyoning.
Wadi Shab, despite there being no road, is fairly easy to access. The path is a relatively easy walk with just a little scrambling over boulders as you near the pools.
Once you reach the pool, Wadi Shab still holds many secrets. From the very first pool, you can swim back further in to the gorge through a series of pools. Each pool is unique and varies in depth. Some we simply waded across, while others were so deep we couldn’t touch the bottom and had to swim across. There’s a lot of algae covering the rocks, which can make getting in and out of the various pools a little slippery and tricky.
Eventually, it appears you can swim no further – until local Omanis urge you to swim through a small crack in the towering sandstone cliff. Heed their advice, because that small crack opens up into a massive partially submerged cave with a waterfall crashing down in to the river. There’s a rope you can scramble up the waterfall on, and locals were doing just that before jumping off the top into the cave pool.
We had no idea what awaited us at Wadi Shab, otherwise we’d have been prepared with our water housing for our camera so that we could have captured it all. You’ll just have to plan a trip to see it for yourself!
What to Bring and Wear
Wanting to be culturally sensitive, visiting Bimmah Sinkhole and Wadi Shab was the hardest day of our trip to decide how to dress for. Outside of hotels and resorts, you should cover up your shoulders and legs at least to the knee (yes, both women and men). But we were going to be hiking in 100°F+ weather and swimming, so deciding what to wear was a challenge.
Wadi Shab is a tourist hot spot, as far as tourist “hot spots” can go in a country relatively still off-the-radar of most, and you’ll see a bit of it all here. Though that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be respectful to the culture.
Women will be comfortable wearing a loose fitting short sleeve shirt, preferably something quick drying and moisture wicking especially if you are visiting in the hotter months. Capri length light pants in linen or a hiking capri is perfect. Wearing a pair of hiking shoes is best since you do have to scramble over some boulders and the worn sandstone can be slippery. Wear a swim suit underneath as there’s no where to change once you reach the wadi. I also wore a sleeveless rash guard over my bikini to cover up a bit.
You’ll have to swim and leave your day pack on the rocks, so leave any valuables back at the hotel or locked hidden in the car. You could also bring a small dry bag to put any valuables in and take swimming with you.
There’s opportunity to buy cold water along the way and at the entrance to Wadi Shab.
There’s also a stop for lunch at a delicious restaurant that was packed with locals in the small fishing village of Quriyat. Omani cuisine has Indian influences thanks to the long history of trade. We tried a typical dish of chicken biriyani, which was a sort of fried chicken with two kinds of rice and a vegetable curry that are all meant to be layered on top of one another and eaten as one dish. Fresh fruit juices like watermelon and mango are refreshing and filling.
Don’t forget to bring:
- flip flops or water shoes to wear in the pools
- a small day pack
- a waterproof camera or waterproof phone case
- a dry bag to put any valuables in
Know Before You Go
Our trip to Wadi Shab was in partnership with Memphis Tours in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own. This article contains affiliate links. When you shop on Amazon through our affiliate site, we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.