Oman with kids

Oman with kids: Road-tripping and wadi-jumping…

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The choice to visit Oman with kids seemed like the ultimate balance between off-the-beaten track travel, fascinating traditional culture but with the conveniences of the modern Middle East. Oman is comparatively smaller than its Arab neighbours. The country is renowned as being clean and safe, and Omani people respectful, gentle and polite. And, with landscapes described to align with fairytale oases, we couldn’t wait to get there.

We had one week for our roadtrip around Oman. This could likely be done in a few days if you were short of time, or more determined (or not travelling in Oman with the kids!). But for us, one week was the perfect amount of time. Our route took us to four wadi’s, and all within a days drive of Muscat.

Wondering how you will choose which wadi’s are worth your time?

Read on…

Contents

  1. Wadi Bani Khalid
    Know before you go
  2. Wadi Al Shab
  3. Bimah Sinkhole
  4. Wadi Tiwi
  5. Getting around
  6. Where we stayed
  7. Don’t forget…

Quickly, about Oman

Capital: Muscat
Population: 4,992,364
Languages: Arabic
Religion: Islam
Land size: 309,500 km2 (119,500 sq mi) 
Currency: Omani Rial (OMR)


Wadi Bani Khalid

The first on our itinerary was Wadi Bani Khalid, not far from the village of Ibra. Ibra itself is about two and a half hours from Muscat, and we loved the drive to get there. It is an incredible landscape to drive. Humungous highways that were the smoothest we had driven in months. The highways pass small villages of iconic white houses tucked up into the barren rock and valleys.

We stayed the night at Ibra and woke up early the next day to set out and find our first wadi. We were not disappointed!

Beautiful view of Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman.
The entrance to beautiful Wadi Bani Khalid.

Wadi Bani Khalid was like nothing we’ve ever seen. [Quite possibly agreeable as one of the most beautiful places we have visited!]. The water is clear, fresh and deep.

A good spot with a shallow entrance for the kids.

We swam for a couple of hours, enjoying different areas of the wadi.

Know before you go

We entered upstream in the shallow after the main lagoon of the wadi. Moving further up the river path the water is so deep you have to swim in or out. Because the rocks are so smooth, apart from the odd chain there is nowhere to hold on to.

This was one thing we had noted in our attempts at planning for travel in Oman with the kids. We had one swimming float we had been carrying since the Philippines, but didn’t know if that would be enough. We ventured out on our first day in Muscat to find swimming floats for both kids. (These were easy to find at the big Carrefour in Muscat).

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman. Visiting Oman with kids.
Beautiful, clear and deep swimming areas in the wadi.
Family travel in Oman.
Heading ‘upstream’ to a different swimming area at Wadi Bani Khalid.
Visiting Wadi Bani Khalid. The entrance to the wadi.
Arriving at the bridge across Wadi Bani Khalid.

This is popular wadi with the locals and holiday makers, so it actually has public toilets, shelters, and a basic restaurant with a buffet style lunch on site.

Find Wadi Bani Khalid

Wadi Al Shab

Wadi Shab is located in the Al Sharqiyah region of Oman, less than 2 hours drive from Muscat. (It’s easy to combine a visit here with Wadi Tiwi and Bimmah Sinkhole, which are all in the same area). Distance-wise from the main road however, Wadi Al Shab is a bit more of a trek to get to. It even includes a short boat ride to get to the start of the walk. 

We stayed in Sur the night before and once again set out early in the morning to find the wadi. From the carpark you get a boat across to the start of the trail. From there, it is about an hours walk (3km) through the canyons to the start of the swimming wadi. It is an awesome walk to get there (as awesome as walking in 38°C can be!), through a combination of lush valleys and canyons.

Parking lot at Wadi Al Shab, Oman.
The entrance and boat ride across to begin the walk to Wadi Al Shab
Parking at Wadi Shab, Oman.
Getting the boat across to start the walk to Wadi Al Shab.

The boat across will cost you 1 OMR, and you don’t have to pay for the return crossing. There will be boats waiting on the return side to make the crossing back too. The trip across is only a few minutes.

Walking to Wadi Shab with kids.
Halfway to Wadi Shab.

The lush valleys the path winds up through are the old river bed. For more than half of the way there is a path; but for the other half, in parts you need to climb over boulders and hang on to the side of the rock shelves.

Walking past donkeys on the trail to Wadi Shab. Oman with kids.
Just a couple of donkeys on the path!

From the wadi itself we stashed our bags and swam the rest of the way up to the most magnificent caves. It is a long way for little legs but the kids did really well. Plus, the wadi itself makes it well worth the walk!

Know before you go

Note especially if travelling in Oman with kids, that getting further up into the third and deepest pool of Wadi Al Shab is significantly more challenging. I would not recommend taking kids upstream without floating aids. As you reach the entrance to the main cavern of Wadi Shab – where they have held the famous Red Bull Cliff Diving World Championships – the rocks narrow right down. To enter, there is a narrow slot in the rocks that you have to swim through to access the cave. 

The width of the entrance at swimming head height it not much wider than a person, and you will need to be a confident swimmer and able to tread water for to keep yourself afloat. There are rocks to rest on before entering the cave, so do your research before making the decision to enter the third pool.

Oman with kids. Jumping into Wadi Shab.
A first jump into Wadi Al Shab.

Find Wadi Al Shab

The entrance to the parking lot for Wadi Al Shab is very close to the town of Tiwi. We stopped here first to buy a cold drink for the kids and have coffee at one of the small local cafes. There is also a basic food cart selling cold water, drinks and snacks at the Wadi Shab carpark by the little jetty.


Bimmah Sinkhole

Hayyat Najm (or Bimmah Sinkhole) is not technically a wadi, but structurally a sinkhole. The Omani name, Hawyat Najm translates as falling star, explaining the legend of a meteorite that hit the ground causing the giant hole. Scientifically however, the sinkhole has been formed naturally by the underground water source carving away at the rocks over time and caving in the sides.

It is easy to find just off the highway from Sur, and it is literally right next to the carpark (no hiking required for this one!). In parts, the sinkhole is up to 20m deep so looks are definitely deceiving. There are steps down to a big ledge and shallow parts to enter from making it ideal for swimming.

Bimmah Sinkhole, Oman. Family travel in the Middle East, Oman.
Bimmah Sinkhole.

There are no shops at the sinkhole, so be prepared with food and drinking water. There are some shady tables set up for picnic spots in the park surrounding the sinkhole. Near the entrance to the park there are toilets and changing rooms.

How to find Bimmah Sinkhole


Wadi Tiwi

Wadi Tiwi is not far from either Wadi Al Shab or the sinkhole, and is another awesome drive through traditional Omani villages. You really need a 4WD vehicle to get all the way up to Mibam Village for the closest access to the beginning of Wadi Tiwi.

To get to here you need to take the same exit off the highway for Wadi Shab and the village of Tiwi. You will actually cross over the mouth of the wadi driving over a small bridge near the beach before turning to head upstream.

Donkeys near Wadi Tiwi; visiting Oman with kids.
Donkeys wandering in the village of Tiwi.

The distance to Mibam village is geographically short; it’s less than 10km from Tiwi. But the road becomes extremely narrow and is deceptive with blind corners. There are many ford crossings where the paved roading is slippery with water and seaweed so drive cautiously. The locals drive very fast in larger 4WD vehicles which put us off as we worried about getting stuck in the narrow streets of Harat Bidah village.

Washing our rental car in Wadi Tiwi, Oman.
Gavin washing our rental car at the first ford heading to Wadi Tiwi.

A friendly truckload of local young men stopped and waved us to follow them out which was more relaxing without being the car in front around the blind corners! We also stopped to join the locals and wash our rental car at the first ford crossing on our way back!

I would recommend Tiwi village itself for a stop to explore. If we went again this would be top of our list to go back and make the full trek to Wadi Tiwi swimming hole.


Where we stayed

  • Muscat: Ramee Guestline Hotel [modern hotel, easy to find; parking; well set up room with 2 double beds; tea and coffee; huge breakfast included; swimming pool; in-house restaurant (convenient and delicious, though very expensive!).
  • Ibra: Oriental Nights Rest House [handy location to arrive early to Wadi Bani Khalid; good distance from Muscat; no town or restaurant nearby, only one petrol station/store so bring basic dinner to make].
  • Sur: Leading Wings Beach Apartments [amazing views; basic but spacious rooms with own kitchen and bathroom; very friendly staff; free parking].

We hadn’t booked ahead and turned up and drove around to find a hotel for two nights. We ended up at Leading Wings Beach Apartments which was a spacious two bedroom apartment, overlooking the impressive Gulf of Oman. The Egyptian owner was very welcoming and happy to see us exploring Oman with the kids.

Hotel room at Leading Wings Beach apartments, Oman.
Our room in Sur overlooking the Gulf of Oman.

Getting around

We rented a car through rentalcars.com and picked it up at the airport in Muscat on arrival. The airport pickup and check in process for the car rental was smooth and really easy. We grabbed a SIM card at the arrivals terminal and hopped into our rental car. We found Oman really easy to navigate with the help of online maps and clear signposting in English along the major highways.


One challenge from Oman

Ok, so this isn’t really very much of a challenge to write home about… We didn’t realise how hard it would be to find a suitable shady spot for a picnic!

With the high price of restaurant food in Oman, and the lack of choice in small village stores, we set out each day with a picnic. We envisaged this as a great way to travel in Oman with kids: we could make the most of the wadi’s and the surrounding countryside… It sounded like a great plan to us. Albeit we were picturing shady trees to stop under like we have back home, when in reality that was not quite so straightforward!

Some days turned in to a bit of a competition to find the most suitable ‘shady picnic tree’ to stop under…

A picnic under a bare tree in Oman with the kids.
It’s shady, right?

Don’t forget…

Oman is a Muslim country, and the Islamic traditions and values are reflected in the way men and women dress. The dress code is conservative, and that includes planning for swimming at the wadis we visited. Although there weren’t a huge amount of tourists in Oman fullstop; we felt sad to see that some of them completely ignored the signs and rules for swimming in the wadis. Respect local codes of behaviour and traditions of dress.

Signs at Wadi Bani Khalid, in Oman. What to wear in Oman.
Signs at the entrance to Wadi Bani Khalid in Ibra.

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