There are so many wonderful places to visit in Oman and the UAE for weekend trips with kids where there’s plenty of adventure for parents and children to share and enough fun for those who don’t have kids as well. Two of myrecent favourites are Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi, a few hours outside of Muscat, and Jebel Akhdar, which is roughly a five-hour drive from Dubai.
Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi are almost a bit too far for a weekend away from the UAE, but definitely doable for a long weekend. If you do want to explore, but can’t get more than a few days away, you can fly to Muscat and hire a 4×4 at the airport.
Wadi Shab is roughly a two-hour drive from Muscat, and you’ll experience windy mountain roads with breath-taking scenery for most of the journey.
Once you reach Wadi Shab, you can take small boats from the car park across the wadi, which will get you started on the path. In the hotter months, make sure that you bring plenty of water, as your walk to the wadi is about 45 minutes with very little shade – expect even longer if you’re travelling with kids. After the initial hike, you reach a big pool of greenish blue water. It’s at this point that you need to dump anything that you don’t want to get wet, so make sure that you leave all of your valuables locked in your car, and jump into the water. After 45 minutes under an unforgiving sun, your first dip is complete bliss.
You swim through the water for about 20 minutes until you reach a cave. When you’re doing the swim with kids, having life jackets or swim floats can make things a little easier, as there are parts of the water that can be as deep as 3-4 metres, especially inside the cave, where there is not much to hold onto.
There’s an old rope inside the cave that adventurous explorers can climb up on, but the rocks are slippery, so don’t expect to get too far! After visiting the cave, there are plenty of rocky ledges that you can climb up and jump into the water. The water is a good 3-4 metres deep at this point, so it’s safe for jumping in. In WadiShab, there are not many creepy crawlies in the water, but do expect to meet plenty of toads, most of whom are quite content (for a while) to be picked up and manhandled by children.
After our big day in Wadi Shab, we headed over to Ras al Hadd Turtle Reserve at dusk, where we saw Green turtles laying eggs and burying them in the sand. It’s a special sight, no matter what your age is. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see one of the tiny turtles trying to make it back to the sea. Sadly only 2-3 out of the 1,000 that hatch actually make it to sea, with many getting munched by crabs or other large fish waiting for them by the water’s edge.
On our second day, we drove to Wadi Tiwi, where you drive up a very steep mountain road, past old villages to the top. From there, we walked past a local village and then into the wadi. You definitely need a 4×4 for this bit, as the road is very steep, but certainly exhilarating. Wadi Tiwi is great for families with adventurous kids, as well as anyone without kids. The walk to the wadi is about 10 minutes from the village. Once arriving at the wadi you can leave anything you don’t want to get wet, then begin to circumnavigate your way through beautiful rock pools filled with crystal clear water. You can easily spend all day at Wadi Tiwi splashing in the water and exploring. Depending on how much water is flowing, you might even encounter a waterfall or two. Eva, my seven-year-old, had decided that the old falajes (aqueducts) were much like a water slide at Wild Wadi and spent a good hour whooshing down them.
On the way back to Muscat, we passed by Dabab Sinkhole, which is a little over 100kms from Muscat. The sinkhole, inside a park, is accessible for everyone, complete with stairs to reach the bottom. It’s good fun to cool off in the heat, and there’s a few rock ledges that the more adventurous can jump from. If you’re lucky you might see a few of the locals jump in from the very top.
If you’ve not had much experience in the wadis, joining a group for the first time might be a good option.
Jebel Ahkdar is a great mountain to visit if you’re relatively new to 4×4-ing and camping in the region. If you don’t have a 4×4, there are even places that rent them at the base of Jebel Akhdar. The mountain is about 3,000 metres high, but it has a road that can only be accessed by 4x4s, which goes all the way to the top. There’s a police checkpoint at the bottom of the mountain where they’ll check your driving license, Oman insurance and the suitability of your vehicle to make it up and down; beware, the road is steep!
There are plenty of camping spots to find around the mountain and lots of big and small hikes in the area. For kids there are a number of walks through villages, complete with falajes for them to jump in and out of, and breath-taking scenery. Hikes are marked by yellow, white and red flags painted on rocks and buildings, so it makes it really easy to find your way.
As there are a number of inhabited villages on the mountain there are also a few small shops selling necessities and a petrol station – so if you run out of basics, there’s always somewhere to stock up.
Groups that organise regular adventure trips include:
UAE Trekkers: www.uae-trekkers.com
Adventure Emarat: www.meetup.com/Adventure-Emarat
Dubai Offroaders: www.dubaioffroaders.com
Words + Photos by: Jen Hardie
Jen is an avid boxer, scuba diver, runner, rock climber and hiker who can often be found exploring the very best of the UAE and the world with her two kids Matt and Eva.